Box O' Wishes
“I wouldn’t mind cutting me off a slice of that cake,” Felicia murmured when Mr. Tall Blond Hollywood first disappeared into room 668—the suite right next to mine. I wasn’t about to disa-gree. Of course, I didn't want just a slice. I wanted the whole thing. But that's why I was a patient in Crestmont's Psychiatric Ward to begin with.
When my mom found out I took a bite out of my boyfriend’s arm (and I use the term boy-friend loosely here—we met only once, in the parking lot of a McDonalds, after chatting online a few times) there was no rational discussion, just a drive straight here. No passing go. No collect-ing two hundred dollars.
On the way, I tried to explain that I wasn't a cannibal. Not really, at least. It was consensual, for starters, and the boy missing an ounce of flesh wasn’t exactly pressing charges. It also wasn't like I was planning to sneak into 668’s room to take a chunk out of his bicep like some protein-hungry version of Dracula. Call me a romantic, but I’m just not into it if the other person isn’t as well, which is why locking me up was totally ridiculous. I wasn't hurting anyone on the outside. At least, not unless they asked me to.
I still didn’t tell the others why I was in, though. I knew how it sounded. Felicia spent all of her free time speculating on it as a result. In the beginning, all her ideas were painfully cliche—suicidal ideation, attempt, overdose, OCD, borderline, bipolar, anxiety, etc. etc. etc. She started getting more creative by the third day or so, but only marginally.
“You think aliens walk among us and inserted chips in all your friends,” she guessed, inhal-ing a scoop of lukewarm mashed potatoes smothered in gray gravy. I wanted to gag just watch-ing her. I’d already given her everything on my plate except a few spoons of cold, sugary corn, and I was struggling just to get that down. Felicia had no such problem. She’d be homeless once they kick her out of the ward. Might as well fill up while you can, I guess.
“I’m not paranoid,” I said, sipping some styrofoam flavored water.
Her eyes grew wide. “You’re a sex addict.”
I laughed. I was a twenty-three year old virgin, and that didn’t look like it’d be changing any time soon. “Nice try.”
I already knew why Felicia was in.
She’d tried to overdose on antidepressants when her boyfriend booked it with all her money. She was diagnosed borderline, but I had my doubts. Who wouldn’t appear to be in that situation?
I was far more curious about Mr. 668.
He didn’t come out for lunch, but who could blame him? First days were always rough. The nurses took it easy on you. It wasn’t until later you started to care that leaving your room earned you points toward the coveted get-out-of-psych-free card.
It’s the only reason anyone ever showed up to group therapy, which was where I eventually saw Mr. 668 again. It was arts and crafts time. We were decorating birdhouses with glitter and stickers as if that would somehow keep the drunks from wanting alcohol, and the sex addicts from wanting to jerk off in the shower stalls. Someone always pointed out craft time would be more fun with shots, and I couldn’t disagree.
Mr. 668 arrived late, and somehow managed to make a distinguished entrance into the small, boxy multi-purpose craft room with its ugly coral wallpaper. He’d opted out of the complimen-tary scrubs in favor of an all-black ensemble: t-shirt, jeans, and even a jacket, which made him look somehow superior to the rest of us—even to other patients wearing clothes from home. It was as if he’d just stopped in for a moment to pay a visit to his sister or some other down-on-their-luck relative.
His jeans sagged a little on his hips from lack of a belt, though, and he wore the same yellow grip socks the rest of us did. We weren’t allowed shoes, and the only thing more undignified than fluorescent yellow socks was slipping around a fucking asylum in normal ones.
“I would climb that like a ladder,” Felicia said as she stared at 668. It was a funny image to contemplate: her corpulent, stocky figure cast a sharp contrast to his slender, muscular frame. God perish the thought of their naked bodies conjugally entwined. But was it any less ridiculous for me to want him? I shifted, willing the blood to flow away from my dick before anyone no-ticed.
After a moment, I glanced back at him, my eyes like magnets. He stared back, and I could’ve sworn I saw a nearly imperceptible nod.
“Fuck,” Felicia said. “Just make sure he ain’t a serial killer first, Boo.”
I repressed a grin. I knew he wasn’t interested—the universe just wasn’t that kind. Aside from my happy meal at Micky D’s, I’d never even been on a date. I had, however, been called frigid by the only other person to ever express the slightest bit of interest in me. I guess it’s not normal to freeze up the second another guy touches you, even if you want to fuck his brains out.
I wasn’t about to think about fucking 668, though. Showers weren’t until 7 PM, and you couldn’t make them cold.
Mr. 668 spent the rest of craft time drawing on the back of a coloring book print out. It wasn’t until the next day we realized he was making the box.
• • •
It was small, inconspicuous even, sitting on the edge of the windowsill at the back of the caf-eteria when we all woke up the next morning. There wasn’t any tape in the craft room so he’d used layers of construction paper instead, carefully tearing out holes and tabs until it all slid to-gether. There was a small slit on the top, just large enough for you to stick in a folded up piece of paper.
On the front panel, a small, plain script said ‘BOX O’ WISHES.’ I knew who’d made it im-mediately, but it took the others a while to catch up.
“Sounds Irish, doesn’t it?” Felicia said. “It was probably that red-haired girl. The one who doesn’t talk.”
“My money’s on Izzie,” another girl said. Izzie had the mental capacity of a ten-year-old. She couldn’t have constructed a box like that if the paper had come with instructions.
More guesses came and went, none of them very good, until at last someone realized that the owner of the box had used a fine tipped ball point pen, and 668 had had one taken away when it was discovered in his room the night before.
“But why?” Felicia said.
When he wasn’t in group, 668 was in his room, so no one could ask him. Instead, they took turns guessing. I just listened. I already knew why he'd done it. The reason was right there before all of us, simple as daylight. While everyone was still talking, I took a piece of paper, wrote a word on it in crayon, and stuck it inside the box. Everyone looked at me like I was the oddest thing they’d ever seen--and then they started writing their wishes and putting them in the box, too.
• • •
I’ve always been a good guesser, yet for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what tall, blond and dreamy had done to get himself in here. If I was being honest, Felicia’s guess for once seemed on the mark. He did give off a serial killer vibe, but if that was the case, he’d be in jail, not a minimum security psych ward. Maybe they just couldn’t prove it. Maybe he’d had himself submitted when the urges got out of control. But I doubted it. I was sure people would line up to be killed by a guy like that. For every fetishist out there, I can guarantee there’s someone ready to get off to it — especially when it is with a guy like 668.
I wanted to credit him with something more than depression. He seemed more fucked up than that, but I suppose you can’t judge a book by its cover. It was possible he was just a brilliantly beautiful narcissist who reread ‘The Catcher In The Rye’ on a seasonal basis and thought the whole world was phony. I’d met them before, God knows.
But within a few days, I learned that wasn’t the case at all. He was caught with Alicia in the crafts room, getting her off with one hand slipped discreetly beneath the table while they both colored. Izzie had been across the table, and when she’d realized what was happening she’d started to cry uncontrollably. I guess she had a bad history it brought her back to.
Alicia was more than eager to tell me the details after she and 668 were reprimanded. I tried not to be too jealous. Sitting there in the cafeteria, though, with him looking over from across the room as Alicia explained what his fingers felt like inside her made my chest tighten with disap-pointment.
In the days that followed, rumor had it that 668 got off a number of other girls, though since the nurse hadn’t caught them, it was hard to say how much of the stories were true and how much were fantasy.
Either way, I still caught him staring at me whenever we were in the same room. The way he looked at me, I got the feeling it was all some twisted way of teasing me. I’d never gotten off to that sort of thing before, but between fifteen-minute room checks every night I soon found my-self slipping my hand beneath my underwear as I thought of it. The orgasms were the sort that left me weak-kneed and made the whole world melt to liquid.
The first night after I got off thinking about his stare, I swear he could tell. That next morning at breakfast, he smiled at me in a way that could only be considered cruel. I excused myself to use the bathroom and jerked myself to a fast orgasm thinking about the curve of his lips.
It was as if he was controlling me, even from that distance.
• • •
One day, midweek, it all stopped. He ignored me completely. No looks across the room, no smiles, no brushing by me, no rumors of his fucking other patients.
It made me angry, irrationally so. I imagined throwing him up against a wall and taking a bite out of him. I imagined fucking his brains out, slapping him, punching him--anything just to make that cruel, sadistic smile return.
Instead, I stole the box.
I’d seen him with it at night. He took it into his room and presumably read the day’s wishes before flushing them down the toilet or something. None of them ever came true, but people kept writing them. I didn’t know why. After the first day, I stopped. But that night I read them all, and all of them were boring. I didn’t see the point — in writing them or reading them.
Driven by a sick desire I couldn’t begin to name, I tore the box into strips and flushed it down the toilet.
I hoped it would make him notice me again.
• • •
The next morning, the box was back. It looked exactly the same—down to the script written in ballpoint pen. I felt like I was going crazy, though I suppose that’s not all that unusual in a psych ward.
Felicia was getting out that day, and she hadn’t stopped crying for more than ten minutes in two hours. She was going to a woman’s shelter. She clung to me like I was the only thing keep-ing her from drowning. Then the bus arrived to shuttle her off. After she was gone, I went to take a nap since I had no one else there. Instead, I laid awake for hours wondering how my life had gotten so fucked up.
Then, that night in group therapy 668 sat next to me. He didn’t say anything, didn’t do any-thing to acknowledge I was there, but he was still so close I could smell the cinnamon-warm smell still clinging to his clothes from the outside world and feel his warmth seeping in where our legs were only inches apart. It felt like the heat of the sun on a cold winter day. He rested his hand on his knee and I thought about biting his finger off. With him so close, the thought actual-ly scared me. As if I’d actually do it, driven by some impulse even I’d be powerless to stop.
• • •
The next morning 668 was gone. When I went into the cafeteria for breakfast that morning, the janitor was already cleaning his room. It didn’t make sense. No one disappeared so early. I wondered if he hadn’t been moved to a higher security ward or if there’d been some kind of vio-lent accident. But I was fairly sure I’d have heard about it. Nothing ever stayed secret for long.
A psych ward is a funny place to fall into a depression, but that’s exactly what I did after all the people I came in with left. I’d been set to get out in a few days, but I stopped leaving my room and couldn’t be forced to eat or attend group so my stay was extended.
It was only after I’d started coming out again, slowly, just for meals, that I noticed the box was still there. It seemed to mock me, so full of papers the walls bulged. I took it into my room and pulled it apart. The wishes had piled up with no one to read them. Frustrated, I threw them all in the toilet and flushed. As I was leaving, I noticed two pieces of paper that had fallen on the bathroom tile. They both had the same thing written on them, in the same ballpoint pen scrawl. It was a name and an address.
• • •
I was convinced he was summoning me.
He had to know it was me that had stolen it the first time. He had to know I’d do it again. The night I finally got out, after eating a steak so rare it seemed my mother was trying to replace my taste for flesh, I snuck out of my bedroom. My mom was getting drunk watching reality TV up-stairs. She didn’t even hear me leave the driveway, on my way to the apartment listed on the pa-pers.
There was an intercom at the front of the building. 668’s name was next to the number he’d given, and I dialed it with my heart in my throat. There was no answer, only the buzzing of the gate. I went in.
I’d just raised my hand to the door when it opened. He stood there, just staring at me. Stupid-ly, I thought he might lean down to kiss me. Instead, he gestured for me to come in. His face was unreadable.
His apartment was sparse, but what filled it was quality. His couch looked like it cost more than a month’s rent on my mom’s house.
Trust fund kid, probably. I sat down with my back as straight as it was during a yearly physi-cal. I couldn’t escape the feeling I was being examined, even when he wasn’t looking at me.
He moved over to the kitchenette, opening the fridge. “Drink?” he asked. His voice was lighter than I had expected, more similar to a tenor than a bass.
I shook my head. He came back with a bottle of sparkling water for himself and sat down on the coffee table, right in front of me.
“Did he cry when you bit him?” he asked.
I opened my mouth only to close it again. I thought he might explain how he knew, but he didn’t. He just stared at me.
“Yes,” I said.
“Was that a turn-on for you?”
I thought about it for a minute. I shook my head.
He frowned. "Oh."
He was quiet so long I regretted asking. “I thought maybe I wasn’t the only one.”
I furrowed my brow before realization dawned on me. In a psych ward, someone was always crying. It would've been a paradise, for someone like him.
“I can always tell,” he explained, staring at me. “You look in somebody’s eyes, you can see their story. And yours is you never cry.”
I didn’t have anything to say. Unintentionally, I found my gaze drifting to his lips.
“I want to make you cry,” he said.
I looked back up into his eyes abruptly.
He leaned down and kissed me. Stupidly, the image of a hummingbird with sugar water en-tered my head. I wanted to drink all of him in. He sat beside me on the couch, running his hand up over my thigh.
“I’ll let you bite me,” he said. “That’s what you wanted. Isn’t it?”
I thought of the first note I’d stuck in that box and nodded.
He pulled off his shirt then, and I looked at the tender flesh above his breastbone. He put his hands in my hair and pulled me forward. I took him between my teeth, running my tongue over his flesh, tasting the salt of his skin. I felt him tense, holding his breath in his chest. I waited, as if at the top of a rollercoaster, until the anticipation made my teeth tickle. Then I did it. He dug his fingers into my scalp, inhaling sharply as I split his skin. As I licked up the blood running down his chest I looked up.
He was growing pale, his skin instantly covered in a layer of cool sweat. I feared he’d push me away, call me a freak. It must've all been some kind of a trick. Some elaborate form of tor-ture. But then he pulled me up to kiss my lips with his blood still on my tongue, and, unbidden, overwhelmed, I started to cry.