Peggy lingered on the bottom step, blinking hard to hold back the tears, and watched the car pull out of sight. At last she turned back to the house, her house, but no longer her home. Closing the door softly behind her she leaned her forehead against it and let the tears flow. Spent at last, she swallowed and wiped haphazardly at the tears that wet her face.
The silence and emptiness of the house enveloped her, she wanted to run about and turn on everything, fill the space with sounds of life, but something held her back. Such an action was like her tears, another surrender to the pain, a pain she did not wish to acknowledge.
Softly she walked about the house, looking for work to busy her hands and mind. Alas, all the surfaces were immaculate, dusted and polished; the beds all made, the laundry all done, even the toys that normally littered the floors of the children's rooms were neatly put away. Finally she came to the kitchen, seeing the tea kettle waiting on the stove she busied her hands preparing a cup of warm soothing tea. Slowly, making a ritual of it she assembled china cup and saucer on her best silver tray, neat slices of lemon arranged prettily on a small plate. Carrying the elaborate tray into the parlor she set it on a table and settled on the sofa beside it to take her tea.
Raising the warm aromatic tea to sip, she was hit with a sudden flash of anger. The tea cup flew across the room, china shattering and breaking the silence as it struck the wall. Tea ran down the pristine eggshell white wall, staining it brown and ugly, exactly the way Peggy felt inside.
Oh, God, she felt so empty, so alone, so adrift. For so long she had been wife, friend, lover, mother and now she was, what? Nothing. Well she was still a mother, at least five days a week, but weekends seemed to stretch on for years, leaving her to wallow in her own solitary pain. And now, now it was summer, the kids would be away, a whole summer alone, whatever would she do with herself?
She gazed calmly at the deep brown stain created by her moment of fury; she would leave it there, a reminder that anger was sometimes a useful antidote for the pain.
Leaving the tray with its neat slices of lemon littering the table, the shattered china cup on the carpet and the ugly brown stain on the wall she grabbed her purse and quickly left. A walk to clear her head; escape from the memories that filled the house, that was what she needed.
Not wishing to encounter any of their old friends and hear the pity in their voices or see the hint of fear in their eyes, she turned towards a part of town she had rarely visited. Once a fashionable shopping district, this area had been largely deserted, many of the little shops now closed and the streets largely empty; just the semi-desolate sort of place that suited her current mood. Even the shops that somehow clung to life here appeared dingy and forsaken, the windows long overdue for a cleaning. The sidewalks sported the occasional bit of windblown debris instead of welcoming decorations in front of the stores like flowerpots.
Then ahead on the sidewalk, a figure, no, a statue of some sort. At last close enough to identify it, she almost laughed out loud, a wooden Indian, a real honest to god wooden Indian. What sort of store would put out such a thing in this day and age? She stopped reading the single word painted on the shiningly clean window, Asylum!
There was a timid knock at the door, and the man at the desk raised his gaze slightly then dropped it back to whatever form he was reviewing, maybe never to escape again.
"Hello Mr. Hinkle-Bailay."
This time Mr. Hinkle-Bailay allowed his eyes to wander away from their allotted form, a 54-6/P Personnel Management Record to be precise, for a significantly longer interval, maybe even almost an entire quarter minute.
"You are late."
"I'm sorry Mr. Hinkle-Bailey. I came as fast as I could, but the elevator door was stuck..."
The man looked at the girl, distraught, but she obviously missed that, she wasn't even looking at him. In fact she was eyeing the beige plastic-thing-that-looks-just-like-a-dish-sponge-but-they-sometimes-call-carpet-for-some-reason.
"It's just one floor!", the man spoke as if he was far away, in a fog.
"... and then my heel got caught."
"Your heel got caught! Where?"
" ... in the grate in the bathroom." She squirted the answer with the obvious satisfaction of somebody finally presented with an easy enough question in an otherwise excruciating examination.
Mr. Hinkle-Bailay literally scratched his head while considering the girl's adventure in covering 40 yards and one flight of stairs.
"Hmmm" he said with sudden realization, "What do you know, you are indeed late, but that wasn't what I meant before."
"OH!?", the girl nearly squeaked.
"No, you see I meant generally. You were late yesterday morning, 15 minutes. You were late today, 12 minutes. Your average over the past one month, excluding weekends and holidays, was 11 minutes daily. Actually you were only on time once!"
"Ooh", the girl's squeak had turned to heaving.
"... and you must understand, we are a respectable office, with very important assignments."
"Yes, Mr. Hinkle-Bailay."
" ... and not only do we have a reputation to maintain but you set a very bad example for our other employees, who do somehow manage to get here on time."
"Yes, Mr. Hinkle-Bailay."
" ...and considering you seem to be, for whatever reason, unable to blend into our fine organization here, I am indeed sorry to have to tell you your services will no longer be required."
"Oh, but Mr. Hinkle-Bailay."
She was about to burst out crying, then she swallowed her tears and started on what seemed to be a reasonable path of logic.
".. this is my 3rd job, this, in two months ... and and... and" tears really caught up with her now.
"What am I to do? I don't think I'm doing anything terribly wrong am I? I mean, I never manage to wake in time, or stuff like that... but after all it's only 15 minutes, it never is more. And I always deliver the papers for the day, and I never lost one yet... uhh ... except that one time when a folder slid behind the filing cabinet. But then I got the super to get it out and it wasn't even really damaged... "
Mr. Hinkle-Bailay was no longer listening, his gaze had returned to the form on his desk, pen in hand he finished filling in all the little blank spaces, recording his dismissal of the girl for posterity.
"You know I really need to pay the rent somehow... What am I to do now?"
But the answer to that question, if indeed Mr. Hinkle-Bailay did supply one, will never be known, for by now a security guard had escorted the girl well into the corridor and the office door shut itself.
God, an asylum was certainly what she needed. Should she go in and see what this place was?
Taking a deep breath the normally somewhat timid Peggy opened the door and walked into the mysterious shop.
Two men were standing close to the doorway, chatting, beyond them she could see a warm and inviting room, filled with soft overstuffed furniture, shelves of books and even a game table. To Peggy's eye the room lacked a bit in what she called finishing touches, it needed a painting or two on the bare walls, perhaps a vase of flowers on the table, but it was generally cozy and inviting anyway.
The two men paused in their conversation and turned towards her, the shorter smiling broadly in welcome. He stuck out a hand to shake and said,
"Welcome to Asylum! My name is Fred. This is Manny." He indicated the man next to him.
"And John is in the back, hiding behind a book as usual."
Peggy took Fred's hand and shook it tentatively, nodded to Manny and tried to smile.
"Oh, I saw the Indian out front and I was just wondering what this place was, hope I am not interrupting anything."
"Not at all, come in, come in." Fred turned towards a group of soft chairs.
"Have a seat, I can explain things to you and Manny at the same time."
The three of them settled down and Fred began explaining his ideas about a refuge place for people with too many lonely hours, a place to meet and hopefully make new friends in a world that always seemed too busy.