“See this knife? Maybe I’m going to stab you,” Sylvia’s mother said as she set the table for dinner. Then her mother swallowed a whole bottle of pills and the ambulance took her upstate to the mental hospital. They called it The Nervous Breakdown.
Sylvia’s father kept her home from school and drove them in the ancient Studebaker to visit Mom. He swore at the other drivers, words Sylvia had never heard before. “That guy’s tailgating me,” he hissed and stomped on the brakes in the middle of the freeway.
The hospital looked like a castle with patients calling to her in witchy voices, “Come here, little girl, come on.” Her father got her mother and they walked on brittle leaves golden, deep orange, red. They sat at an empty picnic table. Her parents kissed.
Sylvia’s mother reached out for her but Sylvia jerked away. Her mother’s hands were scary since she went to the hospital. Her soft skin and long fingers with red nail polish turned to cold lady claws with blue veins. They smelled like medicine. Anyway, her mother was just going to leave her again and go back to the ward as soon as lunch was over.
They had tied her mother down and electrified her head. Sylvia’s parents whispered about it. Sylvia smiled so people wouldn’t see how sad she was. Otherwise, they might do the same thing to her.
The three went to lunch at the steamy German restaurant. They ate sauerbraten and cabbage. “Mom’s coming home for a visit next week,” her dad said.
Sylvia lay on the back seat on the way home watching treetops, sky, glimpses of windows upside down. After the drive, Sylvia stood on the edge of the bathtub and checked herself in the mirror. She could still see a line of lipstick from her mother’s goodbye kiss. “I won’t wash my face until Mom comes home. Only six days.”