"Cheshire-Puss," she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider.
"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
Rain was getting through the window of the motor car. Auntie didn't bother to do it up. She just kept urging the cabby man on.
Her daughter was possessed by the Devil himself if ever she saw it. Oh her poor sister Jessamine. If only she could have seen the way that girl cried and begged them not to take her baby sister away. Bless the girl.
But really, Saint Dymphna's was too kind for her likes.
Auntie's voice rose in hysterics, catching as she whipped out her handkerchief. What that horrible child had done to Ambrose was unforgiveable. She ought to be turned over to the police and tried for murder.
No, it was partly their fault too. George and she had always been too soft on Hester's children. They ought to have taken the younger one to the asylum the moment she began acting batty. George said it was only grief for her parents' death, but that had happened years ago. The girl was nearly a grown woman. Better if she rotted in the orphanage and none of this ever came to them.
With that condemnation pronounced, the cab screeched to a stop. I struggled against the strait jacket, but it held me tight. My ankles were the only thing I could move. The small space and the pressure of the cords against my elbows made me feel like I was being smothered. Screaming was the only defense left and I used it liberally.
My shrieks must have done a convincing job. Auntie dragged me out of the car and flung me on my face when she could stand it no more. I hit hard cobble and I could feel the rain on my back. My bun had come unraveled and muddy hair stuck to my mouth. I must have looked like a wild animal, barefoot and shivering.
I heard my aunt talking in a low, clipped tone. She said she would sign away all rights, all authority, everything I was to perfect strangers. I heard the pen against the paper and tried not to wail. It was the last thing I ever heard from my guardian, save her delicate party shoes walking back to the car.
As sometimes happens when the last thread of freedom has been stripped, I found a tiny spindle in the form of a loose clip at my knee. It must have come undone when I'd fallen. I worked on it while they tried to determine whether or not I was dangerous. In a moment, I gave them their answer.
Launching myself at the white clad men, I fought like an animal. I kicked the first behind the kneecap, collapsing him. My arms broke free. I scratched at their faces, screaming. The man Auntie had spoken to pushed the orderlies out of the way and tackled me. Howling, I bit his shoulder and dug my nails into his cheek.
It was like he didn't feel it. The doctor didn't even flinch. I was lost in his blunt jaw and unmoving green eyes. I'd seen a cat's eyes look like that once, just before it killed something.
The jab of a needle full of tranquilizer alerted me to the fact that I was now prey.
"Tell me your name."
His voice was smooth like black coffee with none of that sugary grit. I could feel it sliding down my throat, settling at the pit of my stomach. Its bitter aftertaste lingered, asking the question again in my mind. I imagined the fountain pen clicking against Dr. Shire's clipboard as a spoon. It would be ivory laced with turquoise, not plastic white and blue.
Plucking that cobweb thin thought from the air, I let it settle like honey sinking to the bottom of the cup. I'd lift the spoon out and dip it through my eye. Stir my brains around and rearrange them until they were beautiful.
"Your name, miss," Dr. Shire said again. "Do you know what your name is?"
He spoke slowly, patiently, like he was addressing a child. Shifting my elbow so it supported my weight, I rose to a sitting position on the couch. The strait jacket made even the smallest motion difficult. It allowed me to move my legs just enough to walk, but no more.
I examined his face. It was only fair. He was examining me.
Dr. Shire had a very clean appearance. Almost too clean. His collared white shirt and sack coat were a discordant sight against the pealing, filthy wallpaper. I supposed the little floral patterns had once been cheery. Now they were yellowing and revealing holes and blood stains on the asylum walls.
My gaze swung back to the house doctor. His hair was black with traces of brown. Or maybe it was brown with traces of black. It seemed to protest being slicked to his skull and stuck out in stringy chunks. The length made taming it a futile endeavor. It didn't reach far past the nape of his neck, but it was thick and unevenly cut like one of the inmates had done it with a razor.
His eyes were like razors sometimes.
I sighed and pretended to be interested in the window. Normal people liked windows.
"My name is Magpie." I said with a yawn.
"Really?" Dr. Shire made another scribble on his clipboard. "Are you sure?" When I didn't reply, he went on. "Because it says right here your name is Josephine Elizabeth Aberlin."
"That was my old name." I glanced at the records he held. "It wasn't very fond of me. It ran off one day and I never found it again."
"Perhaps you should try looking." Dr. Shire offered, one of his plastic smiles playing across his angular face.
"No," I sighed. "It didn't suit me anyway. I like Magpie. Magpies are always picking at things, always investigating, and everyone hates them for it."
"What kind of investigations do they do?"
"They find things. Broken pieces of things and make them beautiful again. Give them a home." I wiggled my arms, wanting to thread my fingers through my necklace. It was the only possession they'd left me after deeming the smashed bits of glass too dull to draw blood. I loved that necklace. It was the only thing I'd ever created that was beautiful. "That's why people don't like them. People like things to stay broken."
"Fascinating," Shire feigned enthusiasm. "But how do these things get broken to begin with?"
" My voice trailed off. Early morning fog swam in my head. There was something in the fog; headlights. A gunshot. Blood pooling under kerosene streetlamps. How odd.
"I killed my uncle." I said abruptly because it was a question I could answer and one Shire probably wanted to make sure of. "Not under a streetlamp. At the gala. As he was toasting the sale of his estate to the Claxton's. Marianne Gallagher was hanging on his arm. She doesn't know she laughs like a hyena when she's drunk. I borrowed a knife from the kitchens and slit his throat."
"I see," Shire narrowed his eyes and peered at me over laced hands. "And do you have any remorse at all? You've murdered an innocent man. You're a high class lady, an Aberlin. Yet here you are, filthy, a disgrace to your family and facing charges of criminal insanity. Do you feel anything at all, Jose Maggie? Any tiny spark of pathos?"
I shook my head. He gave me the look that meant I was going to get double shifts of emptying the chamberpots. It wasn't my fault he was mad, though he hid it with that syrupy ocean calm. I was only giving him an honest answer. Lying was wrong and I told him so. He nodded to that, but looked tired. I grated my dirty, overgrown nails on the sleeve of the strait jacket and waited for the session to conclude.
"Then you lose this."
I jerked away when he snatched my necklace, breaking the flimsy thread. Shire weighed the dull glass in his hand before pitching it out the open window. I stood up, shaking. Sweat rolled between my shoulder blades and my lip started to tremble.
"Oh, good, you can still be shocked." Shire put away his clipboard. He rang a bell on his desk and shouted down the hall. "Orderly," he called. "See the Aberlin girl to the kitchens. Dish duty. Now."
A single large tear rolled down my cheek. I turned away in time to hide it. Feelings were too precious to be squandered on someone like the doctor. He was a parasite. That was what he did to everyone at Saint Dymphna's. He ate their brains out and left them to wither.
Mr. Groggert led me out. He walked with a hunch, big meaty arms almost scraping the ground. Troll guard. That was what he was to me. The low-browed, snaggle-toothed minion of my tormenter. Grog was a man of few words. He grunted at the pile of apple sauce and gravy encrusted dishes.
I looked down at my crossed arms and back up at him. "I can't move my hands."
Grog grunted again, pantomimed washing dishes, and threw a rag at me. It flopped over my shoulder.
"I know that!" I shouted. "I can't -"
He must have thought our bonding time had concluded. He walked away, mumbling to himself. I stared at the putrid water sitting in the sink for a moment before plunging my head into it.
"My life is not in a happy place right now." I blubbed, washing the dishes with my face.