1 The White Room
She knew where she was without opening her eyes. White walls, cold tiles, uncomfortable blue chair to her left, three cabinets on the wall facing her, glossy finish, black handles, and new padlocks no matter how frequently she came. She was lying under static fresh sheets, white, thin trim of blue at the hem, the bed just high enough for her tippy toes to reach if she dangled her legs. The endless white was a parasite, so much so it had become her, sucking away any real Alice left inside. It consumed her living breaths, her dreams, her nightmares. There was nowhere Alice could go where the white wouldn’t follow.
Alice partially opened one eyelid, allowing a sliver of white light to overcome her senses. Groaning at the contrast of light, she gradually opened one eye, slowly becoming aware of her physical presence in the room. It was so much easier when she slept, even if sleep was forced upon her. She didn’t have to think; she didn’t have to be. With one eye entirely open, she could observe of only small squares of her world. One, two, three panels of the white ceiling came into view; blurry at first, then sharp and clear down to the black specks in the plaster, the little bugs, in whom Alice confided her whitest secrets.
A succession of seven, high pitched beeps emitted from the door’s keypad interrupted Alice’s reverie. The code was different for each key card, yet she knew the tune well enough. 1-3-1-1-8-3-8, she immediately recognised the series as Dr March. She waited three seconds before the whoosh of the seal on the door confirmed his presence. Alice found it sad how tired and predictable their little game had become. She didn’t even need to guess anymore. With three more seconds came another whoosh, this one louder yet more placid, more tentative, as if the person on the other side was reluctant to disturb the room’s occupant. Alice smirked, clicking her tongue on the top of her mouth impatiently. A man entered the room, with kind, familiar features and a small stain on the hem of the sleeve of his crisp white coat. Probably mustard. Nothing about him had changed since the last time Alice was here; his mousy brown hair was slightly tousled, and his smile was wide yet stiff, as if he was trained to be constantly happy. His serene hazel eyes were so sickly humane, anxiety flashing across them briefly before they returned to warmth and peace.
“Miss Oland,” he greeted, his voice just as sweet as the rest of his demeanour. The sound left a hollowing metallic taste on Alice’s tongue, as she returned her gaze to the ceiling without giving the doctor a reply. He was unfazed by her behaviour, lightly scolding her, “Now, now, you mustn’t be so salty.”
She scoffed, gritting her teeth in a grimacing smile. Dr March made his way to the chair to her left, placing the clipboard on the floor and leaning forward towards the bed. Alice was disinterested of the usually routine, bracing herself for the four words destined to come next.
“How are you feeling?” she cringed as the words formed in between his straight teeth. Sinking lower into the sheets, she grunted. Dr March nodded, pointlessly trying to grasp some information from her behaviour. The pair sat in silence for a few more minutes, Dr March patiently waiting for any confession Alice may uncharacteristically blurt out, Alice refusing to cooperate.
He sighed, leaning back to rest his head on the white wall, the premature wrinkles around the thirty-year-olds eyes creasing in frustration. As he rubbed his hands across his face wearily, Alice brought her gaze back up to his face and noticed the absence of the silver band ordinarily situated on his left ring finger. She presumed Joel must have had enough of his nightmares and late, unpredictable shifts. She laughed mercilessly; it happened to all the staff in this hell hole. First they lose their empathy, then their marriage, then their life, all the while trying to rebuild others’. Her laugh startled Dr March from his thoughts, his eyes narrowing as he followed her line of sight. Subconsciously, he rubbed the smooth space between his first and second knuckles, before retreating his fingers as if it burnt to touch it.
“Miss Oland,” he continued, his voice now steely and cold, “Why do you come back here?”
Alice snorted, pushing herself up and swinging her legs off the edge of the bed. She sat, now facing Dr March as he adjusted the clipboard to his lap, intrigued.
“I don’t choose to be here,” she replied, her voice strong yet resenting. He briefly smiled at her cooperation, quickly making note of her words. “You brought me here. Wasn’t my fault,” she continued, swinging her legs. This earned her a nod, and suddenly Alice was on the verge of tears. She wasn’t really sure why, but the sickly sensation in her stomach was back. She didn’t like being observed like a rat in a cage. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right, it wasn’t helpful.
Dr March, sensing Alice’s withdrawal, abruptly softened, losing his tension towards the girl and placed the pen down. It was a signal they had used ever since her first admission. Dr March knew whenever Alice was about to break - it was why he was sent in before any of the other nameless smiles.
“T-t-the,” she whispered, her vision blurring as tears began to form, “The white, it follows me. Y-y-you can’t keep-p me here, the white will-” she sniffed and tried to swallow, the large lump forming in her throat stopping her. The tears were constricting her throat, closing in slowly. She gasped for air, breathing so quickly she began hiccupping fiercely. Her head spun, her hands collapsed under her weight and fell to her sides. Her vision was shrinking, the room becoming a tunnel of white.