A Tangled Game of Cards by Neesa Suncheuri

To me, music is life.  It is breath and soul.

It speaks to me, and I hear.

But I am starting to grow deaf to the world.

The consequences of my loudening music?

Permanent hospitalization.

I, Aurelia, am ceasing to exist.

For the music is murdering me.

Scott didn’t understand.

To him, it was all just a game.

***

I see her, sitting at a desk by the window, markers in front of her as she draws.  Always, she draws these complicated abstracts, as if she is drawing the noodles of her brain.  She is so charming.  So young, and fresh.  And yet so diligent.  She thrusts herself into her creativity.  But always, she is so unaware of her talent.  She literally draws her very personality.  Her sexiness.  Her potential.

There are tears in her eyes, and her brow is tense.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?”  I take a seat across from her, smiling with my warm, charming smirk.

She sniffles, and wipes her eyes dry with her extra-long shirt sleeve.  An adolescent, nubile moment, my goodness.

“Nothing.  I… I miss the city.  I miss coffee.  I miss everything.”  She winces, and wipes her eyes with the back of her hand.  She’s been in this stupid hospital for too long.  Of course she is getting upset.  But, she is so adorable, just the same.

“Oh, I hear ya. There’s nothing to do at all. Anyone would go crazy here. You’re fine, don’t worry about it.”

“Yeah, I guess…” She smiles a bit, exposing a bit of sexy dimple. Irresistible. She is a young woman just starting to bud. A flower with many layers, petal upon petal. Worthy of only the best. And I’m the best there is. I’ve got to cheer her up.

“Look.  I’ve got an idea…” From a nearby table, I grab a deck of cards. “Let’s play a game…d’you know Rummy?”

She stares at her lap soberly. “Sure… but only without gin. I don’t drink.”

So clever! And with a serious face too… she really has no idea at all how witty she is. Real deadpan style.

I deal that deck and put a card face up. She goes first. She takes a card from the stack, and then puts down an eight of diamonds. It happens to match a nine and ten of diamonds that I already have.  Lucky…I give her another smirk as I pick it up. Then I put down a king of clubs. Useless to me.

She looks so intensely at the card on the table, and not at all me. But I know… she always uses her peripheral vision like a knife.

“Here then.” She plays a three of clubs.

Another good card for me. I pick it up nonchalantly, and add it to the two threes I already have. Then I discard a four of diamonds. If only we were on all fours.This game is a bit boring…

And then I win. I smile at her as I expose my hand… I wish I could expose more… a lot more… she’s still happy though… imagine how much happier she’d be if…

“Oh!  Let’s play again!” She takes up the deck with her thin, deft fingers. She snaps the cards promptly as she shuffles, but a random diamond flies out. I grab it and give it back to her. Our hands touch, and her skin is so soft. Like silk.

She deals, and sets the first card face up. I notice how engrossed she is in analyzing her hand. Every breath she takes, every blink of her eye… it all seems like a series of flirtatious actions. And every card she plays from her hand… all acts of physical intimacy. She is in total control of me. I am entranced, and she barely knows it.

Then she begins humming a faint tune.

“Sweetie… what is that lovely song?”

“Oh, it’s…the second movement of Beethoven’s seventh symphony.”

“Do you like that?”

No eye contact at all. “Yes, I do. Very much so…”

We continue.

And then she speaks further.

“It is quite uncanny. The music appears to…influence our game…”

“Does it?” I smile, and lean towards her. “Tell me about it.”

She is very focused.  “I…I hear the piece in my head. It calls to me…it guides me. The music…all of the instruments…they weave together perfectly. Like a miracle.”

What a marvel of creative imagination she is. I wonder what else she is creative with…

“And the music…it floats around the cards. And then it tells me what card to play.”

“That sounds beautiful. You’re a true musician.”

“Am I?” She asks me with urgency; as if I am the safest, most trustworthy person she has ever known.

I don’t answer. I only smile. Something cocky that should break her frown. But it doesn’t break. She desperately needs more fun in her life. I know I can give it to her.

We continue to play, but she isn’t done. Suddenly, she looks up at me, eyes wide. Her mouth parts open a bit in fascination.

“The music…it guides you as well. It’s amazing! We are woven together with the music. You and I…our game…our intentions as we play each card…”

This is just her creative way of flirting. Thank God she is here in this lame hospital with me. I would be bored to tears without her. And she’s totally blowing my world apart. Honestly. I have never seen anyone display intelligence with such sexiness.

She furrows her brow as we finish our game, and this time she wins. A smile spreads across her face as she lays open her cards. She flashes me a little glance, a rare look directly into my eyes.

“I won! What fun!”

Her smile then shifts into a yawn, and her eyes begin to close. She reaches her arms up for a stretch.

“I’m tired now. Music always exhausts me. That’s why I’m here, I guess. Because of the music.”

Ah, well. She is a classical cellist. A diligent, hard working musician. She is just tired…in need of a break from her studies. I would love to help her with that…

She gets up and leaves, and goes back into her room nearby. As she closes the door behind her, I hear muffled voices chatting. Her roommate is in there, I guess. Another nubile girl in her early twenties, but not good-looking like Aurelia. But I wouldn’t mind going in there to take a peek…chat…make her laugh…or whatever else I could do in this stupid place.

She is gone, but my mind now goes from thought to thought. She is in them all. She, swiveling around a pole at a strip bar, and then slinking up to me, eyes partially closed, biting her lip as she smiles. She, standing in front of my bathroom window, naked as she combs her hair, freshly out of the shower, subliminally ready for me to ravish her again like before.

If it were not for this piss-assed psych ward, we’d be doing much more than cards. We’d be walking in the park, my arm would be around her waist, and I’d kiss her neck with a little bite. And I wouldn’t have to worry about fucking psychiatrists breathing down my neck, analyzing my every word as if I’m crazy. Because I’m not. And Aurelia…I could just tell her that I love her. That I love everything about her.

I can’t do any of that here. It’s like the fucking 1800s.This must have been how everyone felt back then. Stifled, sexually repressed. Everyone flirting with mere language and euphemisms. I guess it’s beautiful right now in the hospital, the way we can do it while playing cards. But I can’t stand this crap, man. I’m a man of action. I do things with my life. I go after the women I like.

Within the hour, we are called for lunch. Surprisingly, the food here is decent. Grilled chicken with lemon potatoes. I grab my tray, she grabs hers, and then we sit together. A couple of other irrelevant people sit near us as well. I wish they’d go somewhere else, but no dice. But they make Aurelia happy enough. She chats with them enthusiastically, while I just watch. Maybe I throw a sarcastic comment here and there. Sarcasm is the only way I can survive with these other people. Making jokes about them to their faces…jokes they’re too stupid to understand.

And then it’s dessert time. I have two chocolate chip cookies, nice and big. Aurelia has a slice of chocolate cake. She eyes my cookies with mischief.

“Hey, do you want to trade?” Those cookies are making her so eager. I just have to let her have them.

“Sure.”  We swap plates.

“Oh, Scott, thank you so much!”

She looks at me as she gleefully bites down into the first one. It has a gooey texture, which makes her slow down into her bite to relish the goodness. She looks at me thankfully. Oh yeah, you nasty little bitch…

“Mmm…so good. Thank you!”

Indeed.  Only the thanks that I deserve, being a good man and all. If only she knew.

***

There wasn’t a thing I said

That he understood

Beyond the lowest common denominator.

Our card games simply burned the time

We had on our hands.

Nothing more.

It’s a reality you have to accept

In a psychiatric unit.

Endless time, where weeks melt by

As quickly as that grilled cheese for lunch.

But I’ve learned to adapt over the years.

I know these places like the back of my hand.

What I would give to be as naïve as Scott.

While he is simply…horny…

My reality is schizophrenia.

If only I could have a job.

If only I could flirt.

If only I could be in a relationship.

If only I could have sex…

But all I hear is the music.

Scott left to go home.

He gave me his number for me to call,

But I never did.

My music got louder,

And I couldn’t hear phone calls anymore.

It got louder still,

And now I can’t hear anything but

Beethoven.

I live at a state hospital now,

And am deaf to the world around me.

I am no longer alive.

I no longer have a personality,

For the music has murdered me.

If Scott saw her now, he’d realize that I have won the game.

neesas1

Neesa Suncheuri works as a mental health peer specialist at a housing agency in Queens, New York.  She is the founder of a Facebook discussion group for peer specialists and other recovery enthusiasts, entitled “What is Wellness?  A Mental Health Discussion Group.”  Much of her creative inspiration is rooted in her now-tamed schizophrenia.  She is a singer/songwriter, and performs in various venues in the city.  She writes poetry, maintains a blog and is currently working on a memoir.  Follow her on Twitter at @aquariumspeaks.

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