EXCERPT: One Flew Over the Rainbow — Robin Wasserman

Crow found her first. Never let us forget it either. It was always my Dorothy and before you met Dorothy and Dorothy told me, emphasis on me. Crap like that. She staked a claim on her, like it mattered, and I guess it did, because back then we all loved Dorothy, maybe even me. But no one loved her like Crow, who found her first.

Crow’s shit at remembering things now so I have to remember for her. But I usually spare her that one, because what’s the point?

I let Crow blame me. I’d let Roar blame me, too, if he could pull it together enough to blame anyone. And I blame me, because I listened to Dorothy, but I knew better, and I got the lighter, and because I can take it.

Because I still have the knife.

***

Crow was Crow because of her tattoos. Not the ones she did herself with unbent paperclips and ballpoint ink: jagged hearts and lightning bolts and stupid stick figures who all had missing limbs—because when it came to Crow, nothing hurt until it did, and then you had to STOP, even if you hadn’t gotten to both legs. It was the ink on her back that gave her the name, a murder of crows swooping up her shoulder blades and pecking at the nape of her neck.

A murder of crows. I got that from her. But I found the others on my own:

A bellowing of bullfinches.

A pride of ostriches.

A mutation of thrushes.

A brood of hens.

A charm of finches.

A parliament of owls.

I found them for her. I thought she’d like it, how everything had its own special name, like a secret only we knew, because Crow taught me that names have power, and I figured we needed all we could get. But Crow only cared about the crows.

“A murder of me,” she liked to say. She made it into a song to sing when she was bored, and sometimes, when things got dark inside her head, she screamed it, flapping her arms and jumping on tables, screaming and screaming those same four words until the monkeys with the needles came to drag her away.

Monkeys, because “they’re all monkeys,” Crow said once about the orderlies, watching them fling a softball around the exercise yard. “Look at those monkeys flinging poo,” and because she said it, it stuck. Crow was in charge of naming. She could see the you inside of you, and she knew its true name.

But Dorothy was only ever Dorothy.

***

My first time in here, Crow and I were roommates. Stuck in south wing together—medical wing—bruised and bandaged because she’d jumped off a roof, and I’d sliced through enough skin to get gangrene or blood poisoning or who even cares what you call it, and we lay in those beds and rolled our eyes at each other when Glind came to ask us in that low, gentle voice why we wanted to die.

He didn’t even need a nickname, because: Dr. Glenn Glind, can you imagine? He’s got parents who do that to him, and he still manages to not shoot himself in the head. No wonder we confused him.

We don’t tell him:

I don’t want to die.

Crow doesn’t want to die.

She wants to feel something, that’s what she tells me one night after he runs out of questions and leaves us to our reality TV and morphine drips. That’s why she jumps.

I feel too much, I tell her. That’s why the scars crawl up my legs and down my arms, intricate jags and whirls of hardened tissue; that’s why I grid myself with the knife, quadrants of lines and angles, my diagram of pain. I was Tina then, but she’s already calling me Tiny and Tinny and Tin-Girl, tasting the sound of one name after another until one tastes right. And even though I don’t tell her, not then at least, how Tin-Girl sounds good to me—because wouldn’t that be a great deal, hard on the outside, hollow on the inside, too hard for the knife, too empty to need it—Crow somehow knows anyway, and I’m Tin from then on.

Her brain doesn’t work right, she tells me, because that’s what they all told her, and she thinks she’s stupid, but she’s smarter than any of us, something I figure out pretty fast because I’m not stupid either.

My heart doesn’t work right, but I don’t tell her that either, because then I’d have to tell her that I’m not supposed to love anymore because it hurts too much, and that even so, I stay awake at night and watch the curve of her body and listen to her breathe, and then she’d laugh, and I’d have more to cut.

***

Here was Dorothy: electric-blue hair bobbed at her delicate chin. Ironically checkered baby-doll dress, chunky bracelets from her left wrist to her elbow, nails painted black, ruby lips, and big baby-blue “who, me?”eyes, and all that crap that gets people to make asses of themselves and write poems about you.

Before Crow, I never much noticed girls, and I don’t notice them after her, because it’s not a girl thing, it’s a Crow thing, like she’s some separate species, some alien who got dropped on this planet by mistake and has to imitate human beings and suffer the consequences when she can’t imitate them quite well enough. That was one of Crow’s theories, at least. I don’t know whether she believed it or not, because with Crow you could never be sure. It was better to play along, not so much that she could laugh at you after if it turned out to be a joke, but enough that she wouldn’t have a freak-out and jump on the tables and then get zombified for the rest of the week. But I could believe it: Crow the alien, Crow the stranger in a strange land. Crow, who wasn’t like anyone else.

So even though Dorothy was pretty enough, that wasn’t the thing about her.

The thing about her was her shoes.

Silver combat boots that sparkled like magic under the fluorescent lights.

The thing was how she howled when they took them away.

We were pressed to the picture window overlooking the ward intake area, not because we were waiting for Dorothy to show, but because we were waiting to give the one-finger salute to the Wicked Bitch of the East. Head nurse of the east ward—excuse me, soon to be ex-head nurse, fired for drug smuggling, that’s what we heard. She was a yeller, the kind always looking for an excuse to get mad and, we heard, always smiled a creepy little smile when it came time to call in the monkeys to put someone down. Of course, they didn’t fire her for that. Even though we were in west, where we still had a Wicked Bitch of our own, we celebrated, because one down seemed pretty good, and at least someone was getting off easy, even if it was the pathetic east wingers. Nutcase solidarity and all that.

So we were watching when they brought Dorothy in, and when they took her shoes and the rest of it, because real clothes meant special privileges and new patients didn’t get any of those, she threw a grand mal seizure of a fit, sedated before she even made it onto the ward, maybe some kind of record. It seemed like a good omen, Crow said then, the new girl coming in just as the Bitch was going out, and for a while that’s all Dorothy was, the good omen with the shoe fetish. But Crow must have noticed something, something she liked, because the next time I saw Dorothy, she had Crow’s arm around her shoulder and Crow was saying to her the same thing she’d said to me, “Now you’re one of us.”

[End Excerpt]