The Year’s Midnight
Tenai told Dr. Dodson, long after the event, that her first vision of her new world was of light. Light laid over darkness: she stepped out of a cold midwinter night, and found the star-lit darkness she left behind was nothing like the shattering confusion of headlights and streetlamps and glaring reflections she entered. Half-blinded, surrounded by bewildering violence—the squeal of brakes, the shattering crash of one vehicle into another, shouts of alarm and anger—Tenai left her dangerous sword Gomantang buried in the hood of a gray Ford truck, there in the middle of the intersection into which she had stepped.
In time, Daniel Dodson got the sword back for her. The police found reasons to return it when the request made its way to them—after all, no major crime had been committed with it, and besides, somehow no one really wanted to keep this particular sword near at hand. Daniel did not give the sword back to Tenai right away. When he showed it to her, she smiled her narrow, secretive smile and agreed that it might be as well if he kept it for a time.
“Gomantang was forged in the dark country,” she told him. “He is not a kindly weapon, but his song can be sweet. I would not suggest you put him where your daughter can touch him, Doctor.”
“I’ll leave it in my office here. But you keep your hands off it too,” said Daniel, who by that time was comfortable with her, and Tenai smiled again and said, “I will not touch him until you give him to me, doctor; but you do not touch him, either. Yes?” And of course Daniel agreed.
That was how Tenai spoke, once she decided to speak; with a turn of phrase that struck the American ear as odd and foreign. She might actually have been foreign; no one could tell. She was a dark woman: dark of hair and eyes, skin of an ambiguous shade that made it hard to mark her race on the hospital forms. She was dark of mood as well, and capable of violence when she wished; tall enough to be intimidating—an inch or so taller than Daniel himself. She was not beautiful, but she compelled attention.
Tenai had come into Dr. Dodson’s care raging with a fury so tightly contained that a casual glance might have judged her calm. She was not calm. Daniel did not need to be told this. He knew it from the first moment he saw her.
He inherited her three months after her arrival at Lindenwood, from Dr. Margaret Wilson, who was moving to a research hospital with the intention of concentrating on theory for a while. Daniel could understand that. Clinical work with real patients carried real consequences. Even a place like Lindenwood was harder on the heart than research. So many patients here would never really be well. A doctor could burn out on this work.
He had never intended to return to clinical work himself. He had expected to remain in an administration position—or possibly accept that teaching position at Yale. Something that would give him time to write. But here he was.
“Jane can be violent,” Maggie warned him. At that time, they did not know her name. She was on the hospital records as Jane Doe IV. “Be careful of her, Daniel.”
“But you have her out on the low-security ward.” Daniel let a questioning note enter his voice.
“She’s easier to handle down here.” Maggie grinned, a warm, good-humored grin that showed in her eyes. “You’ll find out, Daniel. We tried her on Anafranil. Bad call: it kicked her into a more violent mode instead of settling her down. We damn near lost her right then, but fortunately we all got ourselves calmed down just in time.”
“Yeah, you have no idea. These days, the staff knows how to manage her. Watch them with her. You’ll do all right with her too, I expect. In fact, that’s one reason I suggested Russell give you a call when I heard you were, um, at loose ends.”
Russell Martin was the director of the hospital. Daniel hadn’t yet met him; he was out this morning and wouldn’t be back until early in the afternoon. Maggie gave Daniel a thoughtful look at odds with her casual tone. She added, “Russell’s a good guy. He really is. You already know this place is one of a kind. Wallace might’ve had the money and the strings to pull, but Russell’s the guy who set Lindenwood up and keeps it going. Wallace knew what she was doing when she got him for the job. I’m telling you, you’ll get along fine.”
A very wealthy woman named Suzanne Wallace had founded Lindenwood, endowed it, lined up a board of trustees in line with her vision, persuaded Martin to take the directorship, and set the whole thing up with the director running the board, not the other way around. Daniel knew all that. He was skeptical that any institution, even a small, privately funded, one-of-a-kind institution, could live up to Maggie’s sales pitch. But … he’d needed a place to go. A place to start, if not over, at least forward. Whatever else it might be, Maggie had promised—and Daniel believed—that Lindenwood was nothing like Belfountaine.
“All right,” he said.
Maggie was going on. “This particular Jane won’t tolerate doctors who go off on power trips. She doesn’t gladly suffer fools. She doesn’t like anybody trying to control her.”
Daniel snorted, and Maggie rolled her eyes. “I know. Don’t say it. Not the best traits for an institutionalized patient, even here. She’ll do better with you than she has with me, I hope.”
Daniel clicked his tongue reprovingly. “Maggie, have you been bullying the patients again?”
She laughed and shook her head. “You’ve been working with mutism, I mean. If you can get her talking, she might be all right. If you can’t, she’ll likely be out at the end of June. Six months for a charity patient, that’s the rule, which is a damn sight more generous than most; you don’t have to tell me that. But put this one out on the street and she’ll probably assault somebody, kill somebody, who knows. If she goes to prison, she’ll kill somebody for sure, there is no way this woman could take the pressure in a place like that. She’d sink like a stone.” She made an eloquent gesture, Down she’ll go.
Obviously she thought this Jane Doe was worth saving, if they could do it. “Elective, you think?”
Maggie shrugged. “Yeah, my guess is, there’s nothing organic wrong with her. I think it’s all history. And a good dose of pure cussedness. She talked for the first couple days, just not English. Not Spanish, either. Nobody could figure out what lingo she was slinging. Then she shut up like a clam. Not one word since. She’s a real mystery. You’re good with the weird ones. Wait till you read her admissions history. Serious nuttiness. You’ll love it.”
“Sounds exciting.” Daniel honestly was getting intrigued by this description.
“Oh, yeah. Her whole record makes exciting reading. The police tried to trace her, figure out who she is, but no dice. No fingerprints on file or hits from missing persons or DNA matches or whatever they do these days. If anybody anywhere is missing this woman, they haven’t said so loud enough for it to make waves.”
“How’d she wind up here?”
“Oh, you know how it goes, the state hospital was full up, and everyone knows we take half a dozen charity cases a year, whatever Russell can manage. But he does like to patch ’em up and move ’em out if he can. The board gets antsy if he tries to hang onto one for more than six months, and he likes to keep the board happy when that’s reasonable. Keeps everything purring along smoothly, he says, and he’s not wrong. Plus, this time we haven’t even come up with a good diagnosis. I’ve been juggling a handful of lame-ass guesses that don’t really fit. You can read all about it in her file, but I’d suggest you meet her first, get a feel for her, maybe you’ll figure her out better if you don’t get yourself tangled up by a bunch of bullshit theories.”
“Maggie, you’re a fine diagnostician.”
“Yeah, you can say that now. I hope you do reach her. Three months doesn’t give you much time, but if anybody can do it, I’m betting you can. I leave it all to you,” Maggie finished, with a dramatic wave of her hand that encompassed the small office she was bequeathing to Daniel, and all that went with it: names and histories and all the various miseries several dozen human beings could suffer, crammed into a pair of black filing cabinets. “Enjoy.”
“Right,” said Daniel.
“You’ll do great.” She hesitated, just enough of a pause and just awkward enough for Daniel to guess what was coming. “And … how are you?”
“I was sorry to hear about Kathy. More sorry than I can say.”
“Yes,” Daniel said distantly. “Thank you. I appreciated your card.” He had tensed despite himself, waiting for the pain … but that, too, seemed at the moment distant. Lindenwood, at least, held no memories. And it was the nights that were worst, anyway.
“And Jenna? How’s she holding up?”
“She’s stopped asking when Mommy’s coming home. This new start … I needed it, but I think Jen needed it more.” He didn’t mention the nightmares, the tantrums, the tears … all the volatile flotsam and jetsam thrown up by this particular storm. All that had been tapering off anyway over the past few months. This move had helped. He thought it had. He said instead, “She’s bouncing back faster than I am, I think.”
“Kids are resilient. They have to be.”
“Ain’t that the truth.” Both doctors were silent for a moment, thinking about that. Both of them saw proof every day that all resilience had limits.
After a moment, Maggie added, “And the … aftermath must have been rough on you, too. Though Russell’s lucky to have you here. It’s an ill wind, they say, but yours was … kind of a hurricane.”
“That doesn’t matter, Maggie.”
“All right.” There was another slight pause, not quite so awkward this time because they were over the hard part. “Move in okay? Got yourself settled?”
“Yes, pretty well.” Daniel was more than happy to switch to small talk. “We’re renting right now, but I’ll buy a place as soon as I have a chance to look around a little. Someplace near a good school, I guess. I’ve got Jenna at St. Paul’s right now.”
“That’s good. All the Catholic schools around here are good—speaking as a mom myself. You Catholic?”
“Episcopalian. But … Kathy was Catholic.” He got his wife’s name out with only a little difficulty. “Jenna’s always been in Catholic schools. I didn’t want to change that, on top of everything else.”
“St. Paul’s is a fine school. Its high school is good, too. My oldest is graduating from high school this year. How time flies, hey? Have me over for coffee sometime and we’ll catch up for real, okay? No shop talk—we’ll talk kids and schools and stuff, how about it?”
“That sounds wonderful. I’ll take you up on that.”
“Sure. And in the meantime, give me a call if anything comes up. Don’t hesitate.” Maggie Wilson gave him a brisk nod and was gone.
She left him with a … not a warm feeling, precisely, but a feeling that the emotional landscape might not be altogether bleak. She’d done it on purpose, Daniel thought: Maggie had always been quick and accurate with off-the-cuff therapies. Maybe he would take her up on that offer of coffee and informal family chat.
At the present moment, the patient files offered distraction and interest. As Maggie had intimated, the file for Jane Doe IV was short, but exciting. Also as she’d suggested, he left aside all of Maggie’s own comments, just glancing over the admissions notes. No English or Spanish, okay, lots of other languages in the world. Odd clothing too—that was a little more unexpected. Plus the sword. Quite a few peculiar details. This woman was interesting.
But no admissions notes could substitute for going to see the woman for himself, out in the ward, where he could get a look at her without the stiffness of an official appointment.
Daniel toured nearly the whole ward before he turned through a wide doorway, looked across the breadth of the TV room, and laid eyes on the woman herself. He did not need anyone to point her out to him, not only because her personal stats were laid out in her file.
Lindenwood’s current Jane Doe was not watching the television. She was leaning against the wall, looking out the corner window. The window was wide open, taking advantage of a cool but pleasant spring day. The bars outside the screen did nothing to block the crisp breeze. The woman had her arms folded over her chest and one knee drawn up, her foot resting on the wall behind her. Her head was bent a little, her expression abstracted. To Daniel, despite her quiet attitude, she looked in that first moment like a burning flame; like a stroke of lighting captured and frozen in human form. He had to fight an impulse to shield his eyes with his hand, as though she had literally been alight.
Daniel just watched the woman for a little while. The hospital routine made extra room for her, that was clear. When the other patients were rounded up for lunch, Jane Doe IV stayed exactly where she was. Daniel, watching her, mentally agreed that he would not have wanted to try to force her to do anything she didn’t want to do.
One of the orderlies went over to her finally and told her, “Jane, if you’re hungry, lunch is on the table. Soup and sandwiches. Applesauce. Anything sound good?”
The woman spared him some fraction of her attention. She shook her head, so at least she wasn’t non-responsive.
“All right,” the orderly said. “Don’t skip supper, all right? You’re thin enough already.”
This received a grave inclination of the head, and the man nodded to her and left the room.
Then the room was empty but for Daniel and Jane Doe IV, which seemed too good an opportunity to waste. Daniel went over to her. He didn’t get too close, suspecting that this woman valued her personal space and needed a lot of it.
She looked at him, a swift summing look so penetrating that Daniel was taken a little aback: he had thought she might ignore him. This intense examination was not what he’d expected.
Tall, built long and lean. Unusual, angular features. Somehow, despite having been institutionalized for several months, she looked fit. Like an athlete. Just looking at her made Daniel feel thoroughly out of shape. He felt himself flush, physically self-conscious in a way that he seldom was—and never just because a patient looked at him.
The expression in her dark eyes was not quite neutral. More … assessing. Judging.
Daniel took a breath, refocused, and said, “My name’s Daniel Dodson. I’ll be your doctor for a while, if that’s all right with you. You’re on the hospital books as a Jane Doe. That’s such a bland name. I thought I’d ask, what is your right name?”
The woman did not, of course, answer. Daniel waited, letting the silence stretch out. And out. Finally he said, not speaking any more loudly, but with a little more intensity, “I’d appreciate it if you’d tell me your name, please.”
And a little later, more intensely still, “What’s your right name, please?” And then, “What is your name? Perhaps you would tell me your name?”—each time with greater intensity and a longer pause, waiting for a response.
The woman’s expression did not change. Her face, her eyes, had become as blank and closed as though she had been carved out of wood. On the other hand, she didn’t hit him, either. She didn’t even walk away. There was a tension in the set of her body that suggested either might be a possibility. Her self-control seemed … formidable. Both a strength and, Daniel feared, a serious weakness.
He gave up. “Well,” he said, “you’d be surprised how often that works, but I suppose you’re no child, to be bullied or surprised into speaking against your will. I hope I haven’t offended you. The problem with mutism is, the habit of silence can get to be so strong it’s almost impossible to break. A brand-new doctor has the best chance of helping a person out of that habit, and I’ll never be brand-new for you again. I’m sorry—sorry if I’ve offended you, and sorry it didn’t work. I hope you’re willing to have me as your doctor.”
For a long moment, the woman continued to regard him, face blank and still, and his heart sank. It seemed all too possible that he would be looking to reassign Jane Doe IV pretty soon, and that would not be a way to impress his new boss.
Then … expression, seeping visibly into the woman’s face. One narrow eyebrow lifted, giving her a sardonic look. “Yes,” she said. “Doctor.” Her voice was surprisingly deep for a woman’s voice, but not rough with disuse as might have been expected. No. Her voice was rich, smooth, even velvety, as though she’d spent her spare time for the past year singing opera rather than silent. Even with only two words, it was plain she spoke with a strong accent, nothing Daniel could identify.
Daniel refused even to blink in surprise. “Well, good. I don’t suppose you’d tell me your name? It does make conversation easier.”
The woman tilted her head to one side, studying him. “Tenai,” she said.
He did blink at that. “Tenai? Is that your name?”
The woman seemed to consider this. “Yes,” she said finally. “Tenai. That is my name.”
“Do you have a last name?”
Both eyebrows went up this time: sardonic, yes, and amused. “A last name. At the last … at the last I was being called Nolas-Kuomon. That was my last name.”
Daniel could make little sense of this. “Tenai Nolas-Kuomon?” he suggested. Did this sound like any language he knew? It rang no bells.
“No. You do not call me Nolas-Kuomon.” The woman said it emphatically, with a direct stare. Even in that smooth voice, it was an order, unmistakably. Daniel filed that tone away with everything else he knew or guessed about this woman: little enough, so far.
“So Nolas-Kuomon … that isn’t your family name, then?”
“Ah. The name of my family.” Her dark eyes measured him. “My family was Ponanon. Or later … Chaisa. Chaisa was … my land-name. But Tenai is all my name, now.”
Her stare was a little uncomfortable in its intensity. A normal person never looked so closely at a stranger, reserving that kind of gaze for a lover, or a child. Daniel made no judgments, not yet. He only answered mildly, “All right. Tenai, then. Will you tell me where you’re from, Tenai?”
It took time for the woman to answer. At last she said, “Somewhere else.”
“Ah.” Daniel sat down in one of the many chairs and lifted a hand toward another chair. “May I ask you a question, Tenai?”
She did not move. She stayed exactly where she was, studying him. “Yes,” she said. “Ask.”
“Are you crazy?” Daniel asked this question seriously. Patients in a mental hospital had little tolerance for euphemisms, and quite often a pretty fair grasp of their own conditions. And this one, he guessed, might particularly dislike any attempt to weasel around the truth.
Tenai did not seem offended by the question. She hesitated, and he had the sense that she was choosing her words carefully. “Sometimes, I think, yes,” she said at last.
“You mean, sometimes you think you might be crazy? Or you think you might be crazy some of the time?”
Tenai turned away from him, and for a moment Daniel held his breath, but she only paced away a little and then spun, neat as a cat, and came back, and he understood that she only moved because moving helped her think. Or helped her deal with her thoughts. She came back and sank down on the floor by his chair, sitting back on her heels, arms resting on her knees. She was as bonelessly graceful as a dancer.
“I think, some of the time I am being crazy,” she said, that strange accent stronger than ever.
“What makes you think so?”
She looked up at him, a swift, unveiled stare, intense as before. Fury flickered in her suddenly opaque eyes, a rage so dangerous and so out of proportion to any offense Daniel might have given that he froze where he sat, breath catching, waiting for the explosion.
It did not come. Static suddenly buzzed from the television, startling, and they both glanced that way. Tenai blinked, and blinked again, masking the rage behind a wall of self-control so strong … so strong it was frightening. Daniel let his breath out. His palms prickled with sweat. He slid them into his pockets.
Tenai, watching him, said harshly, “I will not … let go, Doctor.”
“Where—why—” Daniel collected himself, and asked more steadily, “Why are you so angry, Tenai?”
The orderly came back in; his eyebrows lifted when he saw the silent Jane Doe speaking to Lindenwood’s newest doctor. Daniel flicked a glance at him, and the man vanished at once. Daniel hoped he would have the sense to keep everyone else clear.
Tenai had turned her head at the orderly’s brief intrusion. She glanced back at Daniel, and this time her eyes were veiled. It was possible she’d closed herself off again, refusing the intrusion, refusing her doctor, repudiating them all … but she did not get up, or walk away.
Daniel asked again, “Tenai, why are you so angry?”
For a long, long moment—it probably seemed longer than it was—he thought she would not answer. But she said at last, her deep voice concealing a wealth of expression beneath a veil of dispassion, “It is not to you I am angry.” A slight pause, and she corrected herself. “Not with you.”
Daniel leaned back in his chair, giving her as much room as he could. He said nothing, simply waiting, to see whether she would continue if given a chance. And she did, standing up and moving away and then back, as before, although she did not drop down to the floor again. This time, she rested her hip on the arm of a heavy chair and stared at him from that distance; a safer distance, perhaps. She said, her accent seeming if anything a little stronger, “I do not want to be in this place. I do not like the people here. I want to go somewhere else.”
“You want to leave the hospital,” Daniel murmured, reflecting this statement to see where it might go.
“Yes. But it would be a bad idea. So I stay. I am going to be stay,” she said, and then frowned. “I will stay. I will stay, to learn.”
“You want to leave, but you will stay. I think that would be best, Tenai. You seem to learn very fast. English isn’t your first language, is it?”
Her dismissive gesture expressed such intense rage Daniel could hardly believe it didn’t crash into open violence. The television buzzed again, sudden and loud, and Daniel told himself that was why he flinched. But he knew it was actually the impact of that harshly contained fury.
“I see you’re angry,” he murmured, trying to show that he respected her anger, her right to be angry, trying to recognize and legitimize her emotion. “But I don’t know why. I’d like to help you, but I don’t know how. Why are you so angry, Tenai?”
This time, the pause stretched. And stretched. But he had opened up lines of communication. Maybe that was enough for this first unofficial session … maybe he should let her go, let her relax … Daniel thought of that heart-deep rage he’d seen in her and wanted to suggest a halt, a little pause. They could pick up this conversation later, when she was in the mood … he sat still. It took an effort.
And, damn, the woman saw that effort. He could tell from the way she looked at him, that half-derisive tilt of her eyebrow. That savage rage was still very much in evidence, if you looked for it behind the derision. She crossed her arms over her chest and looked at him, not with that devastating vivid intensity, but decently reserved, like a normal person. She said, drawing out the word as if exploring the concept behind it, “What are you, man, that you are sitting there asking me … questions like that?”
“I want to help you,” he said, and knew it sounded banal.
Why? Daniel paused, taken aback. He asked at last, “Don’t you need help, Tenai?”
It was her turn to pause.
Daniel did not press her. He waited. He wasn’t holding his breath, but it felt like that, in a way. People went by, in the hallway. Voices were audible, muffled and indistinct. No one came into the room, thank God and orderlies with good sense.
Tenai was no longer looking at him. She stared at the floor, seeing … Daniel had no notion what she might be seeing. Linoleum wasn’t high on the list of possibilities, if he were any judge. He continued to wait.
At last, she looked up again. Rage, yes: in the set of her shoulders and the tension of her neck, and in that opaque dangerous stare … yes. Daniel put down a surge of fear; he let his breath out and sat still, hands open on his knees, leaning back in his chair, open and relaxed. She had done nothing threatening, nothing at all, and he found himself more afraid of physical violence from this woman than from any violent male patient with whom he had ever worked.
But Tenai did not move, except to look into his face. She said, in that smooth, accented voice, “Perhaps. Yes. Perhaps that is so.”