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She tried to arrange her hair so it would look beautiful. Tried to shift her clothes in a way her body would seem attractive. She layered on makeup so that the fine blemishes on her face would smooth out. Everything seemed slightly surreal. Like she was watching a play with someone else playing her role.
Scene: A girl, in front of a giant mirror in her room. The smell of pancakes wafting through the open door of her bedroom.
Characters: The aforementioned girl and the girl’s mother (in the kitchen, presumably cooking pancakes)
Lights: Mid afternoon, unseasonably hot for Chicago spring. Global warming was to blame, of course.
She shook her head, as if shaking away her thoughts.
“Kenna, you want some pancakes?” The mother asks
The girl walks out of her bedroom and replies “My name is Mackenna. Since you were the one who gave it to me, I’d rather that you stick out to the bitter end of the word. And mom, you can never ask me whether I want pancakes, the question should be ‘how many pancakes do you want?’”
The mother laughs and murmurs “I’m glad to see you’re that your appetite is back. The pills must be working. Maple syrup or chocolate syrup?”
“See, now you are asking the right questions. Are those chocolate chip?”
“Yeah, chocolate chip with a sprinkle of cinnamon”
“Then I don’t want any syrup. Three pancakes, please”
“Coming right up”
Mackenna pulls herself up on the kitchen counter and sits with her legs crossed, just like she did when she was a child.
Her mother places a plate of pancakes in front of her. Makenna takes a bite and pretends to swallow. The anxious mother, happy to see her daughter finally eating, turns to start the coffee maker.
As soon as her mother’s back was turned, Mackenna spit out the half-chewed bite onto a napkin and shoved it in her handbag. She took two whole pancakes and quickly stowed them away in her handbag. Her mother whirled around to ask
“Do you want some coffee?”
“No, mom. You know it over-stimulates me and then I go little crazy”
Her mother frowned “Don’t call it that”
“Well, it is what it is, denying it won’t make it go away”
The frowned deepened “I’m going to go shower”
“Okay, I’m going out too”
“Just around. For a walk, mom. The endorphins are good for me”
“Okay. Uh, Kenna, did you…um... did… did you take your pills?”
The mother nodded and turned around, disappearing into her room.
Mackenna put the remaining pancake in her bag and hopped down from the kitchen counter to wash her hands.
‘She’s my mother, she isn’t trying to poison me’ Mackenna thought to herself. But even though she repeated the same words to herself over and over, she couldn’t not get herself to believe them. She only thought about how her mother had touched the pancakes before serving them to her, how she had made the batter when she was in her room.
‘She is my mother she isn’t trying to poison me’ Mackenna put her hands under the stream of water and tried to wash off the poison on her fingers. She could almost see it, burning her fingers, coursing in her veins and spreading through her heart. She squeezed more soap, trying to rid her hand of the poison. She put her lips under the stream, trying to gargle the toxin from her mouth. There was a voice her head, so soft, so compelling that was telling her that her mother had contaminated her food, that she was trying to poison her.
Mackenna shut of the tap and collapsed to the floor, trying to drown out the voice that was whispering ‘You are such a disappointment, Kenna. You are nothing but a liability to everyone around you. Your father left your mother because of you. Your mother has spent a fortune on your diagnosis and treatment. You are just a crazy girl, Kenna. Such a disappointment. Why wouldn’t your mother try to kill you?’
Mackenna took deep breaths, trying to focus on anything except the voice on her head.
‘My mother isn’t trying to poison me’
‘My mother isn’t trying to poison me’
‘My mother isn’t trying to poison me’
‘My mother isn’t trying to poison me’
She repeated over and over.
Mackenna stood up, grabbed her handbag and left the apartment with shaky legs.
Fresh air helped her clear her mind, the earlier fears seemed just was they were-crazy. She walked aimlessly for a while. Looking at the beautiful city always calmed her.
Mackenna prided herself on the fact that she was local. Although being born and brought up in the same city was no attribute to her credit, she still loved that she could call Chicago her home.
A Local Tip: A mile of what could only be described a side road, North Lake Shore drive, before Milton Lee Olive Park. The road was usually empty (with the exception of a few joggers), with a magnificent view of Lake Michigan and Chicago skyline.
This was her favorite hangout within three-mile radius of her house.
She walked quicker, now that she a destination to reach.
She stood at the edge of the road, facing the lake. She took out a bottle of pills from her bag (carefully evading the rolled up pancakes). Pulled out one yellow pill, and with all her might, threw it into the lake. This was her daily ritual.
She sat down, with her legs dangling down towards the lake. She watched the yellow pill bounce in the water and slowly drift away.
Devoid of all purpose, she leaned back and laid her back on the warm asphalt. Never mind the people around who were watching her. If she wanted to lie down on the road, she would do so. Suddenly, the sun warming her face was replaced by a shadow. Mackenna opened her eyes to see a boy standing over her, blocking her sun.
“Mind if I join you?” He asked
The boy laid down next to her. Mackenna kept her eyes on the sky “What part of ‘go away’ did you not understand?” She snapped
“I was asking as a courtesy, it’s a free country. I’ll lie down next to you if I want to.”
“I’ll scream” Mackenna warned
She sighed and closed her eyes
“Can I ask you something?” The boy said
“Why did you throw that pill in the water?”
“Because I like littering scenic bodies of water. Go away”
“No really, why did you?”
Mackenna opened her eyes and rolled up on her elbows
“Look where I am lying down. I am obviously a little mentally disturbed”
“I was going to go with plain-ass crazy but yeah, mentally disturbed works too”
With the sun in her eyes, Mackenna squinted to get a better look at the boy. About her age, brown haired, hazel eyed.
“It’s called paranoid schizophrenia”
“Paranoid schizophrenia” he repeated, as if tasting the word “Just a fancy way of saying plain-ass crazy”
“My name is Adrian,” he said
“I didn't ask”
“And you are?”
“Do you always do this? Keep talking and asking question regardless of what the person in front of you is saying?”
“Yes. Your name?”
Mackenna sat up straight and the Adrian followed her action. “Why do you want to know?”
“Well, crazy girl, because that’s how conversation works” Mackenna frowned, this was the most unusual thing that had happened to her. When Adrian called her ‘crazy girl’ he wasn’t taunting her or making fun of her, he was simply using the words as a reference to her.
“Mackenna” she muttered
“Nice to meet you, Mackenna” he said and the after a pause added, “You are supposed to say ‘Nice to meet you too, Adrian’”
“Why did you throw the pill in the water?”
“You obviously haven’t read the handbook on dealing with insane women, Adrian”
“Don’t you known you should never get to close to us and you should definitely never ask us why we do things that we do”
“What’s the worst you could do to me? Push me in the lake?”
“I can swim”
Mackenna rolled her eyes laid back, with her right arm under her head to give it support.
“I threw it because I didn’t want to swallow it”
“You could have just dumped it in the dustbin in your house”
“My mother checks the trash before throwing it out”
“Ah, clever solution”
“I know” Mackenna smiled.
“I don’t think you should call yourself insane” Adrian muttered
“Why not? It is true”
“Sanity is not statistical”
“George Orwell fan?”
“Are you kidding? 1984 is the greatest book ever written!”
“1984 is certainly a good read but sanity is definitely statistical. Sanity was what the majority of the people believed to be true. Sanity is believing that my mother wants the best for me.”
“I just left my apartment absolutely convinced that she was trying to poison me”
“Well, she could be”
Mackenna scratched her cheek “I think you really should read the handbook on dealing with crazy people”
“Because you are doing everything wrong! You’re not supposed to say that my plan of steadily disposing off my medicine is clever and you really should not be encouraging my delusional hallucinations!”
“I don’t play by the rules” he wagged his eyebrows dramatically, making Mackenna laugh.
“So, how does that work, your hallucinations?”
“You ask a lot of questions”
“I’m a curious guy”
“ I see things that are not there. Sometimes I know when I’m hallucinating, sometimes I don’t”
“I don’t understand”
Mackenna closed her eyes and placed her arm over her face. The sun was starting to bother her.
“It’s like…. Right now, I see that plastic ball a few yards on your right is moving without any one kicking it. I know that’s a hallucination because things don’t move without stimulation. I just saw a few silver fishes in the lake…that could be a hallucination or could not. I mean, it’s perfectly plausible that fishes would be swimming in a lake”
“I can’t see any fishes”
“See, if you hadn’t told me that, I would have never known”
Mackenna sat up straight, preparing to leave. Adrian grabbed her hand “No, stay, just for a while, Mackenna”
“I can’t. I have to go”
“When you sit in a high place, with you legs dangling down, like we are sitting right now, do you ever think that your shoes may suddenly fall off your feet?”
Mackenna laughed. She put her arm around her stomach and covered her mouth her hand. She could not remember the last time she had laughed this hard.
“What?” Adrian’s eyes crinkled when he smiled
“Just….you! You are the strangest person I have ever met!”
“I could say the same about”
“Equating yourself with people who have mental illness people isn’t going to win you a lot of points, Adrian”
He shrugged “Just stay here for a while and talk to me, Kenna”
Mackenna stood up and bit her lip. Adrian smiled and said “Please”
“Okay, just five minutes more”
“That’s all I ask”
For no apparent reason, Mackenna chuckled and sat down again.
It was nightfall when Mackenna knew she absolutely had to go. The wind from the lake was freezing and her mother may have already called the cops.
“Adrian, this evening has been magical”
“But you need to go now”
He held her hand, squeezed it for a second and then leaned in to kiss her softly on the cheek.
She stared at him, stunned. He rolled his eyes “It’s a friendly gesture. Don’t flatter yourself. Go, I’ll be here tomorrow”
Instead of standing up, she stared out into the inky darkness of the lake. Her hair danced in the breeze and stuck to her lip gloss. Seized by a sudden desperation, she said, “How do I know you’re not a hallucination?”
“Are they really that vivid?”
“You’d be surprised”
“That’s what a figment of my imagination would say”
“Well, how do you propose I prove that I exist?”
Mackenna fumbled in her purse and produced a small blade.
“Whoa, do you always carry that?”
“On bad days”
“Today’s a bad day?”
“Not anymore. Make a cut, on my arm. If that cut is still there tomorrow morning I’ll know you are real”
“Mackenna, I’m not going to cut you with a blade”
“Please. It doesn’t have to be deep, just enough so I see the scar tomorrow”
Gingerly, Adrian took the blade from Mackenna. Held her right arm, just below the elbow, executed three neat cuts, making the letter ‘A’.
“I’m sorry” he muttered.
She got up, turned around and walked as fast as she could, resisting the urge to look over her shoulder. On her way, she threw out the pancakes in her handbag in a trashcan.
When she reached her apartment, she found her mother pacing the floor.
“Mackenna Elizabeth Baxter! Where were you? Do you know how worried I was?”
“I told you I was out for a walk”
“For six hours?”
Mackenna, an experienced liar, faked a surprised look “Six? I had no idea. Mom, I think we need to talk to Dr. Brown and change my pills. These ones make me really foggy and tired. I loose track of time”
Mackenna’s mother relaxed “Yes, of course. I’ll make an appointment”
Mackenna sensed that her mother was going to say more “Mom, I’m going to sleep”
“Yeah, okay, honey”
While undressing, Mackenna kept her eyes away from the cut Adrian had (hopefully) made. She didn’t want to get her hopes up.
The next morning came, she stretched her left arm in front of her.
No scar. She turned her hand over. Nothing but pale white skin. Mackenna pushed her dark hair out of her eyes and tried not to cry. She didn’t understand why the loss of someone who never existed hurt her so much. Immediately, she jumped out of bed and walked out of the apartment.
Despite the fact that it was early Monday morning,downtown Chicago was abuzz with activity. She walked in her pajamas to her favorite place in the within the three mile radius. Sat on the edge, with the feet pointing towards the lake and the handbag on her side. She imagined her flip-flops slipping from her feet and falling into the lake. They wouldn’t sink, of course. Physics didn’t allow it. She thought how easily she could sink. She would simply have to lean too far from the edge and let the water take her. I would be so easy. Mackenna straightened. Took out a bottle of pills from her handbag. Pulled out a yellow pill, swallowed it and left.