Willow chewed on the plastic straw to her soft drink as her fingers busily typed on the keypad to her laptop. The old habit of chewing on straws or biting pencils had stuck with her since adolescence and the redhead saw no reason to rid herself of the custom.
File 738, Subject 45. The solid words and numbers were followed by a blinking cursor as the doctor stopped writing.
Tara R. Maclay
Doctor Rosenberg frowned. Although it was common knowledge that some patients, those who show signs of improving, were often released, their specific date of discharge was never classified. Why on earth would there be a release date when it was clear that Tara Maclay showed no signs of improvement? It wasn't completely rare that some Doctors set estimated times of recovery, but the years listed were too precise. Fifteen years. The young woman was scheduled to live fifteen years behind the padded walls of Pines View, having already served eight. The red-haired doctor shook her head. Psychiatric hospitals were not prisons, although they were alike on some levels, and Tara was not "serving time."
There were reasons for Ms. Maclay's admission. Willow put aside her scrutiny of the reason behind her patient's date of discharge, and read over the terms regarding subject 45's entry into Pines View.
October 10, 1996:
October 11, 1996:
The next few entries were extremely alike and vague in detail. Skimming through the next couple of pages, Willow had yet to find any clues as why the patient was admitted. Beside her laptop, her pager buzzed and vibrated across her desk. Saving her notes, the redhead dialed the unidentified number and waited for the other line to pick up.
"Hello?" A crisp voice answered, obviously female and very young. Well, younger than Willow was anyway.
"Did someone page a Doctor Rosenberg from this number?" Willow heard the sound of muted voices.
"One moment." Before Willow could ask who the number belonged to, a new voice came over the receiver.
"Doctor Rosenberg." The young woman corrected. The owner of the new voice was older, male and held a slight accent. "How may I help you...," she waited, but didn't receive a name. Instead the older man went straight to the point.
"It is my understanding that you've recently visited Tara Maclay, a patient at Pines View Psychiatric Hospital. Is this correct?" His tone was clear and his words seemed carefully chosen.
"That is correct," Willow detected something in his voice, but couldn't place it.
"Are you Ms. Maclay's assigned Psychiatrist?"
Suspicion. That's what she sensed. "I don't believe that is any of your business." She answered, suddenly uncomfortable and defensive. "Who is this calling?"
"Merely a mutual friend, Ms. Rosenberg. Thank you for your time." A steady dial tone rang in Willow's ear before she closed her cellphone.
Bewildered, Willow redialed the number, blocking out her own telephone number in the process. The phone rang several times before cutting off. No voice mail or answering machine. She nipped on her phone's plastic antenna, adding to the other teeth marks on the surface.
"Is there anything you won't chew?" Leaning against the doorframe, Robin smiled at her roommate.
"Bad habit. I do it when I'm thinking," Willow shrugged although she knew that Robin was already aware of her pattern.
"What are you working on?" Curious, yet unprying eyes glanced toward Willow's laptop.
"My new case. My only case." Willow answered, ruefully.
Knowing all too well about doctor/patient privilege, Robin didn't probe further. "I'm about to go out for a few hours. Need anything?" After taking her friend's request, the dark-haired woman smiled and left.
Alone once again, the doctor settled back into her chair and typed a command to get her computer out of standby mode. She flipped through the file on her desk and stopped at the patient's history. The summary was brief. Second child to Donald and Elizabeth Maclay. Older brother, Donald Maclay Jr., also of the same parentage. No prior history of mental illness within immediate family. Mother deceased. Father and brother reside outside of Portland, Oregon. Contact information...
"Undisclosed." Willow muttered. The file simply ended without a word about Donald Maclay Sr. or his son's background, nothing other than the city they lived in. Reaching another dead end, the doctor closed the folder, saved her notes, and turned off her laptop with a low murmur of disappointment.
The reading glasses she often forgot to wear stooped low on the bridge of her nose. Vagueness, dead-ends and unidentified callers. There was obviously more to this case than a single woman wasting away less than thirty miles outside of Seattle. What she didn't understand was why there wasn't more information given about Tara Maclay's condition. No specific diagnosis or forms of treatment listed. Nothing. Her notes revealed that her current patient's previous doctor transferred out of state and his or her information was listed as private.
So who was responsible for Ms. Maclay's care. Her recovery. People cannot just stick other human beings into an institution and forget about them. Or can they? If a hospital's funding lessened over the years, it was easy to forget. To let people drift through the system until they are merely ghosts with assigned numbers.
It was plain to see that not many people knew about her patient. And those who did know, were either unlisted, uncaring, or cryptic. She thought about the call she received a little under an hour ago, and tried the number again. The result was the same, and subconsciously she wondered how the caller came across her pager number or how he knew she was at the hospital. Both were easily explainable. Willow was required to sign in whenever she visited a patient, no matter the hospital, and her pager number was readily available to anyone who has ever visited her website.
So far, Willow Rosenberg's night had been full of questions. Some she could answer and others that left blanks and pointed to more questions. She rubbed some of the tension from her brow as the tiredness began to seep in and an hour later, she headed to bed.
"We've been having some problems with the power unit," a female nurse explained as she manually unlocked the normally automatic security door. "I guess that storm's closer than we thought," she chuckled and Willow offered a smile.
Wearing a light gray suit and lavender blouse, Dr. Rosenberg glided through the colorless hall alongside the chatting nurse.
"...but they never get it right," the woman finished criticizing the television meteorologist. When they arrived outside the door, the nurse peeked through the glass and frowned.
"What?" Willow asked, noticing the strange expression.
"She's gone." Alarmed, the nurse yelled down the hall as she struggled to unlock the door.
"What?" The doctor repeated, panicking as she pressed her face close to the glass. The section of the room opposite the door was empty other than a mattress.
Two guards rushed down the hall while the door clicked open. Willow was the first to push her way through, scanning every inch of the room. Her face relaxed and she sighed in relief when she saw the figure pressed into the corner where she had sat the day before. Recognizing the event as a false alarm, the guards returned to their positions.
"Three years and I've never seen her move from that corner," the confused nurse shook her head. "I'm very sorry for alarming you," she apologized and moved to leave the room.
"Wait," Willow glanced over toward the still body before turning back to the nurse. "You don't have cameras in the rooms?" It was the first time she noticed the bare corners of the ceiling.
"Only at the checkpoint," the nurse gestured back down the hall, "there are only two cameras on this floor. But there are no cameras in the rooms. The administrators thought it would give some of the patients a sense of privacy. Ha," she snorted and excused herself.
Willow set her shoulder bag down and closed the door. "Hello, again." Her friendly tone was meant to break some of the tension. "You gave us quite the scare," the doctor smiled and rubbed her damp hands down her thighs.
Cradling her knees with pale arms, Tara remained quiet as the doctor continued.
"Do you remember me, Tara?" Willow asked in her normal volume then repeated the question a little lower, almost as a whisper. The blonde patient mumbled incoherently but her head turned a fraction toward the other woman. Suspicions confirmed, she continued speaking in a low tone. "I'm here to help you." The doctor carefully lowered herself until she was sitting on her knees and looking across to Tara. "Do you want to be helped, Tara, because I want to help you."
Willow knew that she was repeating herself, but she wanted to see if Tara understood was she was saying. She was hoping for more than simple head movement, but was happy to get even the smallest response.
"How about we start with something small. How's that?" Most of her colleagues would frown upon personal interaction with patients, that is, sharing personal information. But Willow saw nothing wrong with stepping outside of normal doctor/patient communication.
"Well," she started casually, "My first name is Willow, and I'm from a small town in California. So small, in fact, that it's not even listed on the map. For years, I had to take the bus to the next county for school, which I hated because all the wealthier kids would make fun of my clothes. You're from a small town, too, aren't you, Tara?" She quietly regarded the blonde before continuing.
"I'm the only child, which has its perks, but growing up was sometimes lonely. Are you ever lonely?" She chose to ask a question after each sentence to possibly coax her patient out of quietness. "Well, luckily, I had my pet fish to keep me company. They weren't much fun to play with, but I loved looking at them. Such pretty colors, Tara. I bet you like colors, don't you?"
The doctor noticed that Tara's shoulders seemed to slowly lose some of its tension. Voices could be heard in the hallway as the room became silent. Willow was usually the farthest person from being patient, but somehow she didn't mind waiting.
Unfortunately, instead of Tara's voice, the click of the door broke the silence. A middle-aged man entered carrying an oversized coat and plastic slippers.
"Oh," he paused, clearly surprised, "I didn't know she had a visitor." His eyes instantly scanned the doctor's temporary pass. "I could come back." The orderly prepared to leave but stopped when Willow spoke.
"No, wait. Where were you going to take her?" Seeing the items within his arms, she curiously regarded the man.
"We usually take each patient out to the courtyard before dinner. Give them some fresh air, that sort of thing." Willow glanced from the man over to Tara who had shifted a little from the wall.
"Yes, ma'am." The orderly nodded.
Looking back to her patient, the doctor nibbled on her lips. "Does she go... willingly?" A reddish-brown eyebrow rose when she glanced over her shoulder.
"Yes," the response was brisk and slightly defensive.
Satisfied, Willow focused her attention on the blonde woman before her. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay Tara?" Unrushed, the doctor whispered another "goodbye" and exited into the hall. Moments later, the orderly and Tara emerged.
The blonde looked heartbreakingly pitiful in the oversized coat and floppy shoes. Her slender frame barely held the heavy material of the jacket.
Willow managed a smile and turned to leave, walking quickly down the main corridor. She resisted the urge to turn back several times and on the third time, finally looked back. What she saw stopped her mid-step and she would've stumbled if it hadn't been for the person who bumped into her going the other way.
Tara's eyes were trained on her, clearly visible despite the hair surrounding them on both sides. Unlike the patients she often oversaw as an intern, the blonde's eyes weren't unfocused. In fact, the doctor was startled by the clarity. She had expected to see wildness or eyes devoid of any life and completely lost.
Taking a second to make sure Tara was ready, the orderly ushered her down a side hallway, leaving Willow where she stood.
It was almost, well, almost as if an ordinary person had been staring back at her. The thought both puzzled and amazed her. Yes, there was definitely more to this case that met the eye, and Willow was determined to find out what it was.