The safety officer kept telling Clara to relax, but he had to be kidding. Relax with his knee pressed against her temple? What a joke. The officer's portly fingers wrapped around her arm and jerked it up. Pressure screamed into her shoulder. She wanted to roll away and run, but with her face sandwiched between his unwashed uniform pant leg and the cold hard tile floor, she couldn't budge.
"Get...off...me...assho..." Clara Blue screeched, but she'd already gone though all the air her lungs would allow. Her voice could barely carry past her own ears, turning into a dry heave before she could finish her demand.
With each struggle, the officer bent her arm a bit higher. Her collarbone wanted to snap like a Thanksgiving turkey wishbone. If only she could spin around and grab him. She'd take him by his shirt. Throw him across the long narrow hallway. A great thought, but unrealistic. Not like Clara had the strength to lift someone five times her weight and three times her age. Thoughts flowed through her head and made her sweat. God, what if he tried to rape her?
"No need to insult, esquincle," the officer insisted, "Jeu know I just doing my job." Even through his thick Mexican accent Clara picked up on his intended threat.
"Now come on, jeu need to stop all dis baby stuff," A drop of saliva smacked Clara's cheek as the officer spoke. "Just try to calmate, okay?"
Clara's eyes darted from the floor to the sound of approaching footsteps. She knew those shoes well. Black high heels tapped the tile floor with each step. The bottom of the white lab coat swung by the black dress-panted knees. She held a filled syringe in the palm of her hand.
That little needle scared Clara even more than all these big people pushing her around. "Don't...you...dare stick me," Clara muttered. Another attempt to struggle free proved to be just as futile as previous attempts. Even though Clara knew what to expect, she still let out a high-pitched scream when the sharp needle thrust into her right butt cheek. She shook her head, the only body part that could move. Her black hair swung around and stuck to her sweat-filled face.
Like a rag doll, the guard lifted Clara off the floor, letting her feet dangle inches from the ground. She could have helped him pick her up; she could have pushed with her legs. She didn't. No way would she make anything easier for any of them.
Clara kicked at the air, knowing that soon she wouldn't be able to struggle at all. How she hated that feeling of helplessness. The safety officer wrapped his arms around her shoulders and pressed his fingers against the back of her head. He yelled in her ear, but Clara couldn't make out a single word coming out of his garlic-scented mouth. Not that she wanted to know, a good bet he was just telling her to relax again.
A second safety officer, this one tall, bulky and female with long dreadlocks, hurried down the hallway in their direction. Over her shoulder she carried one of those thick padded jackets with the arm sleeves hanging down to her knees. Clara gave an intense stare at the jacket...until her vision blurred. She felt her arms release from the full-nelson hold. Finally, she could breathe again, but not easily. She blinked over and over, but everything stayed out of focus. No mistaking, though, her arms had been forced into those mocking sleeves. She wanted to fight, but the ability to struggle left her body. She could offer no resistance. Soon, she heard the snaps of the buckles along her back.
Her arms pressed against her stomach. They wound tighter and tighter until her shoulders screamed in pain. She wiggled her upper body but the thick white padding offered no freedom. The movement did nothing but increase the pounding in her head.
"Okay, put her in here," a voice commanded.
"Oh no, Mister Prick," Clara muttered.
She picked up her head. Squinting cleared her vision just enough so she could make out the man standing in front of her. The new director of the Brookhill Children's Psychiatric Residence, Clara's uncomfortable home for more than two years of her life. She focused on his wrinkled white shirt and a loosely knotted red tie, his usual attire. Cotton protruded from a rip at the bottom of the tie. His uncombed gray hair and thick glasses reminded Clara of an old elementary school science teacher she once had. She couldn't imagine how this guy could have actually been a prison warden before he came to Brookhill.
"How many times do we have to go through this?" he screamed in her face while waving his arms frantically in the air. "Can't you just wait in line and let the nice doctor administer your morning medication? Why do you keep trying to run? You know you can't leave the facility. Where are you trying to go? It's just a waste of your time, not to mention ours."
Clara didn't have an answer. She hated when these people made her feel stupid. But where could she go? They made escape impossible. She should know that by now.
"Do you understand my point at all here, Miss Blue? Do you get what I'm trying to say?"
"I get it, Mister Prick," she muttered.
"It's Flick, Mister Flick!" The arms waved with more intensity. Sweat poured down his forehead; drool leaked from the sides of his mouth. Clara ducked, hoping he wouldn't notice her smile. She couldn't help it, she found him funny. If anything, she found him to be a refreshing change from the old director, Miss Miller. Then again, so was cancer. And look what happened to her, two bullets in the head. The thought made Clara's smile grow.
Flick stood over Clara, rubbing his gray mustache. An annoying habit he did constantly, usually during stressful times...and Brookhill had a lot of them.
Clara's legs wobbled. Her mind ordered them to stand straight and remain still, but they wouldn't respond. She felt like her feet balanced on a surfboard in the middle of an unforgiving ocean. She heard someone nearby, maybe the doctor, say that the medicine had started to take effect. A true statement; if not for the two guards holding her by the straitjacket, she'd have already fallen flat on her face. She hoped they wouldn't let that happen again.
Mister Flick's tattered black shoes stood on a floor that spun in circles. Through the dizziness, she noticed they had a rubbery texture and a pattern of holes along the top. God, were those water sandals?
The shoes turned away and disappeared. Good, she would have thrown up right on them had she bothered to eat the disgusting cafeteria breakfast. Clara heard what sounded like a key scratching in a lock nearby. No doubt to the door of the seclusion room, everyone's favorite punishment for whenever she acted up. That would be her home for the rest of the day. The shoes returned. Clara struggled to pick up her head and face Flick. She could get it high enough to see his elbow. The movement brought more nausea. Through the blur, she suddenly saw two Mister Flicks, mirror images standing next to each other.
"You need to take some time and think about your actions." Flick's voice sounded like it came through a bad long-distance telephone connection.
"Yes, Mister Prick." She struggled to get the words out. Well worth the effort.
"Just stop it, okay?" He then said to the safety officers, "I don't have the time right now. Just get her in there and we'll deal with this later."
She felt her feet dragged across the floor and through the doorway. She dropped, face-first on the floor of the seclusion room. It didn't hurt. If anything, it felt like she landed on a large mattress. The thick padding covering the floor and walls made sure of that. She suddenly wondered if the padding was on the ceiling as well. Funny, she never thought to check despite having spent more time in the seclusion room--particularly since her return to the facility--than she had in her sleeping quarters one floor above.
The door slammed shut and locked from the outside. Clara rolled herself into a sitting position with her back against the padded door. She wanted to drop her arms from underneath her small breasts. The jacket wouldn't let that happen. It never did.
"Sorry you had to see that, but it's what we have to deal with here," she heard Mister Flick say to someone outside the seclusion room. She could hear just about everything outside when she sat with her ear pressed against the door.
"What exactly is this room, Mister Flick?" a female voice asked. The voice sounded familiar. High pitched, friendly. Somehow, Clara knew this woman.
"This is one of our two seclusion rooms. It's a quiet space to give our patients the chance to calm down whenever we feel it is necessary. These rooms are a last resort, of course. First and foremost, my staff tries to contain the outbursts themselves."
Clara assumed he meant except for her.
"Who is the young lady you just placed in here?"
Clara closed her eyes, trying to put an identity to the familiar voice. One name popped into her head. But how could that be? Too unlikely, yet it sounded like her.
A second female voice, older, with a nervous laugh, spoke. "Her name is Clara Blue." That voice, Clara did recognize: Miss Murphy, the residence's social worker. "She is one of our more...well, complex cases."
Miss Murphy remained the only adult left in the facility after everything happened on that day, maybe the best day of Clara's life; definitely the most interesting. For everyone else, though, that day probably sucked.
"Complex is about the size of it," Flick said. "A military general dropped her off at our doorstep during my first day in charge. I think it's been her personal goal to drive me off a cliff ever since."
"She sounds interesting. I am anxious to work with her," the woman with the familiar voice said.
"Oh, I've taken the liberty of dividing the caseload among us," Murphy replied. "I've kept her on mine."
"I have a history of working with difficult cases. I could be of great help." Did the woman actually sound angered? If so, Miss Murphy didn't pick up on it."I agree, she is a difficult case, indeed--" She laughed. "But I've been a social worker for many years. I am choosing to keep this one."
Clara banged the back of her head against the padded door. She really hated being discussed like a piece of furniture at a garage sale.
"Okay, you two can settle on your caseloads," Mr. Flick intervened, "but believe me when I tell you, Miss Walsh, we have plenty of young men and women who could use your expertise. Janet, do me a favor and finish the tour, I have to go through my morning ritual of calling one of our board of directors so he can yell at me over something trivial."
Although the voices became lower, the conversation continued between Miss Murphy and the new therapist over who would "get" her. It sounded like Miss Murphy would keep her, although Clara couldn't understand why. She'd only seen her for a therapy session once in the last three months. It lasted all of ten minutes.
Not that it mattered, Clara never liked talking to therapists anyway. Except for one. Rick Rasner, perhaps the only adult in her entire miserable life who really cared about what happened to her. Who knew he'd turn out to be a cold-blooded killer? When his fellow killers came for him, he could have easily left her behind to rot in Brookhill. But he didn't, he took her with them. He taught her that it was okay to be angry. It was even okay to kill the people who hurt her. Everyone believed him insane, but Clara didn't think so.
Everyone thought her insane, too.