WHEN I WEAR ALLIGATOR BLOOD • by Marcella Haddad

The residents who still have their wits with them stare at me. Bruce is wearing what he thinks is a polite smile.

“Could you repeat that, Anne?” He raises his clipboard as if to say, I didn’t write that down yet, but I will.

“You tell me to speak more, and when I do, you make fun of me.” I complain. “I meant what I said.” I was completely joking, but I want to see how long it will take Bruce to realize that. There’s not much else to do at Crestview aside from making fun of the nurses.

I run my thumb along the edge of my wheelchair. I still have a bit of adrenaline, and I wonder if it will give me enough strength to escape this room and Bruce and his ineffectual empathetic expressions and too-short khakis.

“I don’t think you understood the question,” he says. “It was, ‘can you think of—”

“Are you naked?”

Diane speaks up, bless her. She had been staring at the dying plant on the windowsill, feigning one of her ‘madness spells’ that usually gets her out of activities. Now she looks at me, grinning wide enough to show her crooked teeth. She never tries to hide them.

“Are you naked when you do it?” she continues, asking me sincerely. “And do you dance around?”

Instead of answering, I look at Bruce. Unfortunately, he’s not as new as he once was, and the uncomfortable-while-old-people-talk-about-being-naked face he makes isn’t as enjoyable as it used to be.

“I’d really like you to take the question seriously, Anne,” he says. Even though he’s not as new, he’s new enough, meaning there’s still condescension in his voice and I don’t feel bad for teasing him. I curl and uncurl my fingers around the arms of my wheelchair.

Bruce clears his throat. “Can you think of a moment when you were happy?”

“It’s an interesting question,” says Ernest, who isn’t crazy, like some of the residents, or pretending to be, like the others. “Because it assumes that we aren’t happy now, and most likely have never been happy during our time at Crestview.”

Bruce has leaned forward, nodding a little too much along with what Ernest is saying, and his smile says that he’s misunderstood. Diane giggles.

I watch the clock, tapping my fingers along with the moving hand.

***

They are cutting the arms off the tree outside my window. Branches, I mean. Branches that used to wave at me. I am sitting in front of the window when someone comes into my room. They never knock. I wonder how old I was when people stopped knocking. I feel like it was before I came to Crestview. I start to turn my wheelchair around, but Bruce walks up beside me before I finish.

“Oh.” I face the window again, folding my hands in my lap. I wish I didn’t have to see him outside of sessions. I wish he owned another color of shorts. Maybe purple. That would cheer us up.

“Here.” He holds out a styrofoam cup.

I reach out to take it and raise it to my mouth, assuming that what I usually take in pill form is now a liquid. Bruce quickly takes the cup back.

“No, it’s—” I watch his face. I don’t know what expression it is because it’s not a fake one. He hands me the cup again.

I look down. It’s dark red inside the cup. I swirl it a little bit, but my hands don’t always obey so it sloshes dangerously. To his credit, Bruce doesn’t jump forward to rescue the cup.

I stare at the red until I realize he’s making a reference to my answer from earlier, and I look up at him, starting to hand the cup back. I had been joking. He must have known that. I’m not really crazy. I don’t appreciate the patronizing gesture.

“I realize it’s not the same as the real thing,” he says, and for once my hands stay still. I return the cup to my lap. He clears his throat. “But if there’s anything we can do to make you happy—” Perhaps I’m glaring at him a bit too hard because he swallows his ‘here at Crestview.’ “If there’s anything I can do to make you happy.” He finishes. He puts his hands in his pockets, and I take a moment to realize why it looks strange. It’s because he doesn’t have his clipboard.

I look down at the cup. Bruce walks away, even though I would have said thank you if he’d waited. Just because I’ve grown old doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten my manners.

He’ll learn that. He’s new, but he has time.

I look down at the cup again. Can I think of a moment when I was happy?

I raise the cup up to eye level. I swish it around. It’s not as thick as I imagine blood would be, but it might do. He seems to have captured the right color. I start to pour it out, controlling it as much as I can with shaking hands, watching the red dribble onto my shirt.


Marcella Haddad is a writer, dancer, and Nutella fanatic currently based in Boston.


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