Jennifer Ledbury

The Sanitarium writer sits at a cluster of tables at the far end of the tiny lobby, the second table in from the left wedged between the concessions. A lurid red sign juts out from the back corner of the wall and hovers above him. It flickers and hums as if to constantly alert me to his presence. A black backpack rests at his feet.  An old-fashioned fedora on top of his head are his only distinguishable belongings.

 I watch the Sanitarium writer. He puts ink to paper. I know of him. He does not know me. His words boom and collide, bursting into tiny fragments, carried and echoed by his patients: The Girl In the Painting, Two lovers in a small , unspectacular room and the Girls in Heels. I’ve read his words countless times, yet I know their stories by heart.

We talk in whispers, tangled and strung together like macaroni necklaces, the kind you make when you’re a kid. He tells me the stories of once familiar buildings and their secrets, etched and faded into the exposed brick.  

I write the Sanitarium writer. Our secrets blended, an inky blot silhouetted against the page in black and white. I remember what he told me. About the girls in heels and their secrets, and the walls that cradled them. He must go back to them for the last time tomorrow. He lowers his eyes to the page. An emotion I don’t recognize registers across his face. It’s over now. He tells me about the two girls he made his own.  the ones that fell in love in an unspectacular room. Their story unfinished. I nod as if I am hearing this for the first time. As if those same familiar words have not been stenciled and replayed , now a template in my mind. It’s over now, but not for him. Never him.

He moves to show me the girl in the painting and tells me how her stories will soon fade to black.  It’s over now but not for her. Never her. She will hang suspended in this moment, shrouded in the hazy glow of past secrets she has collected.

I watch the Sanitarium writer through the reflection in the glass of the giant double doors. The lobby is bustling now. He sits under the same fluorescent sign. He doesn’t look up as he readies to leave. I match him, but do not take a step.  I bring my drink to my lips, and taking a sip, I smile. It’s over now, but not me. Never me.  Fade to white.

Jennifer Ledbury is a writer living in California.

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