بخش 05

کتاب: دیوانه از قفس پرید / فصل 5

بخش 05

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Finally the nurse sent one of the black boys to take him out of the day room by force. She forgot that the black boys didn’t hold any control over people like Pete.

Pete’s been a Chronic all his life. Even though he didn’t come into the hospital till he was better than fifty, he’d always been a Chronic. His head has two big dents, one on each side, where the doctor who was with his mother at borning time pinched his skull trying to pull him out. Pete had looked out first and seen all the delivery-room machinery waiting for him and somehow realized what he was being born into, and had grabbed on to everything handy in there to try to stave off being born. The doctor reached in and got him by the head with a set of dulled ice tongs and jerked him loose and figured everything was all right. But Pete’s head was still too new, and soft as clay, and when it set, those two dents left by the tongs stayed. And this made him simple to where it took all his straining effort and concentration and will power just to do the tasks that came easy to a kid of six.

But one good thing—being simple like that put him out of the clutch of the Combine. They weren’t able to mold him into a slot. So they let him get a simple job on the railroad, where all he had to do was sit in a little clapboard house way out in the sticks on a lonely switch and wave a red lantern at the trains if the switch was one way, and a green one if it was the other, and a yellow one if there was a train someplace up ahead. And he did it, with main force and a gutpower they couldn’t mash out of his head, out by himself on that switch. And he never had any controls installed.

That’s why the black boy didn’t have any say over him. But the black boy didn’t think of that right off any more than the nurse did when she ordered Pete removed from the day room. The black boy walked right up and gave Pete’s arm a jerk toward the door, just like you’d jerk the reins on a plow horse to turn him.

“Tha’s right, Pete. Less go to the dorm. You disturbin’ ever’body.”

Pete shook his arm loose. “I’m tired,” he warned.

“C’mon, old man, you makin’ a fuss. Less us go to bed and be still like a good boy.”

“Tired…”

“I said you goin’ to the dorm, old man!”

The black boy jerked at his arm again, and Pete stopped wigwagging his head. He stood up straight and steady, and his eyes snapped clear. Usually Pete’s eyes are half shut and all murked up, like there’s milk in them, but this time they came clear as blue neon. And the hand on that arm the black boy was holding commenced to swell up. The staff and most of the rest of the patients were talking among themselves, not paying any attention to this old guy and his old song about being tired, figuring he’d be quieted down as usual and the meeting would go on. They didn’t see the hand on the end of that arm pumping bigger and bigger as he clenched and unclenched it. I was the only one saw it. I saw it swell and clench shut, flow in front of my eyes, become smooth—hard. A big rusty iron ball at the end of a chain. I stared at it and waited, while the black boy gave Pete’s arm another jerk toward the dorm.

“Ol’ man, I say you got—”

He saw the hand. He tried to edge back away from it, saying, “You a good boy, Peter,” but he was a shade too late. Pete had that big iron ball swinging all the way from his knees. The black boy whammed flat against the wall and stuck, then slid down to the floor like the wall there was greased. I heard tubes pop and short all over inside that wall, and the plaster cracked just the shape of how he hit.

The other two—the least one and the other big one—stood stunned. The nurse snapped her fingers, and they sprang into motion. Instant movement, sliding across the floor. The little one beside the other like an image in a reducing mirror. They were almost to Pete when it suddenly struck them what the other boy should of known, that Pete wasn’t wired under control like the rest of us, that he wasn’t about to mind just because they gave him an order or gave his arm a jerk. If they were to take him they’d have to take him like you take a wild bear or bull, and with one of their number out cold against the baseboards, the other two black boys didn’t care for the odds.

This thought got them both at once and they froze, the big one and his tiny image, in exactly the same position, left foot forward, right hand out, halfway between Pete and the Big Nurse. That iron ball swinging in front of them and that snowwhite anger behind them, they shook and smoked and I could hear gears grinding. I could see them twitch with confusion, like machines throttled full ahead and with the brake on.

Pete stood there in the middle of the floor, swinging that ball back and forth at his side, all leaned over to its weight. Everybody was watching him now. He looked from the big black boy to the little one, and when he saw they weren’t about to come any closer he turned to the patients.

“You see—it’s a lotta baloney,” he told them, “it’s all a lotta baloney.”

The Big Nurse had slid from her chair and was working toward her wicker bag leaning at the door. “Yes, yes, Mr. Bancini,” she crooned, “now if you’ll just be calm—”

“That’s all it is, nothin’ but a lotta baloney.” His voice lost its copper strength and became strained and urgent like he didn’t have much time to finish what he had to say. “Ya see, I can’t help it, I can’t—don’t ya see. I was born dead. Not you. You wasn’t born dead. Ahhhh, it’s been hard…”

He started to cry. He couldn’t make the words come out right anymore; he opened and closed his mouth to talk but he couldn’t sort the words into sentences any more. He shook his head to clear it and blinked at the Acutes:

“Ahhhh, I… tell… ya… I tell you.”

He began slumping over again, and his iron ball shrank back to a hand. He held it cupped out in front of him like he was offering something to the patients.

“I can’t help it. I was born a miscarriage. I had so many insults I died. I was born dead. I can’t help it. I’m tired. I’m give out trying. You got chances. I had so many insults I was born dead. You got it easy. I was born dead an’ life was hard. I’m tired. I’m tired out talking and standing up. I been dead fifty-five years.”

The Big Nurse got him clear across the room, right through his greens. She jumped back without getting the needle pulled out after the shot and it hung there from his pants like a little tail of glass and steel, old Pete slumping farther and farther forward, not from the shot but from the effort; the last couple of minutes had worn him out finally and completely, once and for all—you could just look at him and tell he was finished.

So there wasn’t really any need for the shot; his head had already commenced to wag back and forth and his eyes were murky. By the time the nurse eased back in to get the needle he was bent so far forward he was crying directly on the floor without wetting his face, tears spotting a wide area as he swung his head back and forth, spatting, spatting, in an even pattern on the day-room floor, like he was sowing them. “Ahhhhh,” he said. He didn’t flinch when she jerked the needle out.

He had come to life for maybe a minute to try to tell us something, something none of us cared to listen to or tried to understand, and the effort had drained him dry. That shot in his hip was as wasted as if she’d squirted it in a dead man—no heart to pump it, no vein to carry it up to his head, no brain up there for it to mortify with its poison. She’d just as well shot it in a dried-out old cadaver.

“I’m… tired…”

“Now. I think if you two boys are brave enough, Mr. Bancini will go to bed like a good fellow.”

“…aw-ful tired.”

“And Aide Williams is coming around, Doctor Spivey. See to him, won’t you. Here. His watch is broken and he’s cut his arm.”

Pete never tried anything like that again, and he never will. Now, when he starts acting up during a meeting and they try to hush him, he always hushes. He’ll still get up from time to time and wag his head and let us know how tired he is, but it’s not a complaint or excuse or warning any more—he’s finished with that; it’s like an old clock that won’t tell time but won’t stop neither, with the hands bent out of shape and the face bare of numbers and the alarm bell rusted silent, an old, worthless clock that just keeps ticking and cuckooing without meaning nothing.

The group is still tearing into poor Harding when two o’clock rolls around.

At two o’clock the doctor begins to squirm around in his chair. The meetings are uncomfortable for the doctor unless he’s talking about his theory; he’d rather spend his time down in his office, drawing on graphs. He squirms around and finally clears his throat, and the nurse looks at her watch and tells us to bring the tables back in from the tub room and we’ll resume this discussion again at one tomorrow. The Acutes click out of their trance, look for an instant in Harding’s direction. Their faces burn with a shame like they have just woke up to the fact they been played for suckers again. Some of them go to the tub room across the hall to get the tables, some wander over to the magazine racks and show a lot of interest in the old McCall’s magazines, but what they’re all really doing is avoiding Harding. They’ve been maneuvered again into grilling one of their friends like he was a criminal and they were all prosecutors and judge and jury. For forty-five minutes they been chopping a man to pieces, almost as if they enjoyed it, shooting questions at him: What’s he think is the matter with him that he can’t please the little lady; why’s he insist she has never had anything to do with another man; how’s he expect to get well if he doesn’t answer honestly?—questions and insinuations till now they feel bad about it and they don’t want to be made more uncomfortable by being near him.

McMurphy’s eyes follow all of this. He doesn’t get out of his chair. He looks puzzled again. He sits in his chair for a while, watching the Acutes, scuffing that deck of cards up and down the red stubble on his chin, then finally stands up from his arm chair, yawns and stretches and scratches his belly button with a corner of a card, then puts the deck in his pocket and walks over to where Harding is off by himself, sweated to his chair.

McMurphy looks down at Harding a minute, then laps his big hand over the back of a nearby wooden chair, swings it around so the back is facing Harding, and straddles it like he’d straddle a tiny horse. Harding hasn’t noticed a thing. McMurphy slaps his pockets till he finds his cigarettes, and takes one out and lights it; he holds it out in front of him and frowns at the tip, licks his thumb and finger, and arranges the fire to suit him.

Each man seems unaware of the other. I can’t even tell if Harding’s noticed McMurphy at all. Harding’s got his thin shoulders folded nearly together around himself, like green wings, and he’s sitting very straight near the edge of his chair, with his hands trapped between his knees. He’s staring straight ahead, humming to himself, trying to look calm—but he’s chewing at his cheeks, and this gives him a funny skull grin, not calm at all.

McMurphy puts his cigarette back between his teeth and folds his hands over the wooden chair back and leans his chin on them, squinting one eye against the smoke. He looks at Harding with his other eye a while, then starts talking with that cigarette wagging up and down in his lips.

“Well say, buddy, is this the way these leetle meetings usually go?”

“Usually go?” Harding’s humming stops. He’s not chewing his cheeks any more but he still stares ahead, past McMurphy’s shoulder.

“Is this the usual pro-cedure for these Group Ther’py shindigs? Bunch of chickens at a peckin’ party?”

Harding’s head turns with a jerk and his eyes find McMurphy, like it’s the first time he knows that anybody’s sitting in front of him. His face creases in the middle when he bites his cheeks again, and this makes it look like he’s grinning. He pulls his shoulders back and scoots to the back of the chair and tries to look relaxed.

“A ‘pecking party’? I fear your quaint down-home speech is wasted on me, my friend. I have not the slightest inclination what you’re talking about.”

“Why then, I’ll just explain it to you.” McMurphy raises his voice; though he doesn’t look at the other Acutes listening behind him, it’s them he’s talking to. “The flock gets sight of a spot of blood on some chicken and they all go to peckin’ at it, see, till they rip the chicken to shreds, blood and bones and feathers. But usually a couple of the flock gets spotted in the fracas, then it’s their turn. And a few more gets spots and gets pecked to death, and more and more. Oh, a peckin’ party can wipe out the whole flock in a matter of a few hours, buddy, I seen it. A mighty awesome sight. The only way to prevent it—with chickens—is to clip blinders on them. So’s they can’t see.”

Harding laces his long fingers around a knee and draws the knee toward him, leaning back in the chair. “A pecking party. That certainly is a pleasant analogy, my friend.”

“And that’s just exactly what that meeting I just set through reminded me of, buddy, if you want to know the dirty truth. It reminded me of a flock of dirty chickens.”

“So that makes me the chicken with the spot of blood, friend?”

“That’s right, buddy.”

They’re still grinning at each other, but their voices have dropped so low and taut I have to sweep over closer to them with my broom to hear. The other Acutes are moving up closer too.

“And you want to know somethin’ else, buddy? You want to know who pecks that first peck?”

Harding waits for him to go on.

“It’s that old nurse, that’s who.”

There’s a whine of fear over the silence. I hear the machinery in the walls catch and go on. Harding is having a tough time holding his hands still, but he keeps trying to act calm.

“So,” he says, “it’s as simple as that, as stupidly simple as that. You’re on our ward six hours and have already simplified all the work of Freud, Jung, and Maxwell Jones and summed it up in one analogy: it’s a ‘peckin’ party.’”

“I’m not talking about Fred Yoong and Maxwell Jones, buddy, I’m just talking about that crummy meeting and what that nurse and those other bastards did to you. Did in spades.”

“Did to me?”

“That’s right, did. Did you every chance they got. Did you coming and did you going. You must of done something to makes a passle of enemies here in this place, buddy, because it seems there’s sure a passle got it in for you.”

“Why, this is incredible. You completely disregard, completely overlook and disregard the fact that what the fellows were doing today was for my own benefit? That any question or discussion raised by Miss Ratched or the rest of the staff is done solely for therapeutic reasons? You must not have heard a word of Doctor Spivey’s theory of the Therapeutic Community, or not have had the education to comprehend it if you did. I’m disappointed in you, my friend, oh, very disappointed. I had judged from our encounter this morning that you were more intelligent—an illiterate clod, perhaps, certainly a backwoods braggart with no more sensitivity than a goose, but basically intelligent nevertheless. But, observant and insightful though I usually am, I still make mistakes.”

“The hell with you, buddy.”

“Oh, yes; I forgot to add that I noticed your primitive brutality also this morning. Psychopath with definite sadistic tendencies, probably motivated by an unreasoning egomania. Yes. As you see, all these natural talents certainly qualify you as a competent therapist and render you quite capable of criticizing Miss Ratched’s meeting procedure, in spite of the fact that she is a highly regarded psychiatric nurse with twenty years in the field. Yes, with your talent, my friend, you could work subconscious miracles, soothe the aching id and heal the wounded superego. You could probably bring about a cure for the whole ward, Vegetables and all, in six short months, ladies and gentlemen or your money back.”

Instead of rising to the argument, McMurphy just keeps on looking at Harding, finally asks in a level voice, “And you really think this crap that went on in the meeting today is bringing about some kinda cure, doing some kinda good?”

“What other reason would we have for submitting ourselves to it, my friend? The staff desires our cure as much as we do. They aren’t monsters. Miss Ratched may be a strict middle-aged lady, but she’s not some kind of giant monster of the poultry clan, bent on sadistically pecking out our eyes. You can’t believe that of her, can you?”

“No, buddy, not that. She ain’t peckin’ at your eyes. That’s not what she’s peckin’ at.”

Harding flinches, and I see his hands begin to creep out from between his knees like white spiders from between two moss-covered tree limbs, up the limbs toward the joining at the trunk.

“Not our eyes?” he says. “Pray, then, where is Miss Ratched pecking, my friend?”

McMurphy grinned. “Why, don’t you know, buddy?”

“No, of course I don’t know! I mean, if you insi—”

“At your balls, buddy, at your everlovin’ balls.”

The spiders reach the joining at the trunk and settle there, twitching. Harding tries to grin, but his face and lips are so white the grin is lost. He stares at McMurphy. McMurphy takes the cigarette out of his mouth and repeats what he said.

“Right at your balls. No, that nurse ain’t some kinda monster chicken, buddy, what she is is a ball-cutter. I’ve seen a thousand of ‘em, old and young, men and women. Seen ‘em all over the country and in the homes—people who try to make you weak so they can get you to toe the line, to follow their rules, to live like they want you to. And the best way to do this, to get you to knuckle under, is to weaken you by gettin’ you where it hurts the worst. You ever been kneed in the nuts in a brawl, buddy? Stops you cold, don’t it? There’s nothing worse. It makes you sick, it saps every bit of strength you got. If you’re up against a guy who wants to win by making you weaker instead of making himself stronger, then watch for his knee, he’s gonna go for your vitals. And that’s what that old buzzard is doing, going for your vitals.”

Harding’s face is still colorless, but he’s got control of his hands again; they flip loosely before him, trying to toss off what McMurphy has been saying:

“Our dear Miss Ratched? Our sweet, smiling, tender angel of mercy, Mother Ratched, a ball-cutter? Why, friend, that’s most unlikely.”

“Buddy, don’t give me that tender little mother crap. She may be a mother, but she’s big as a damn barn and tough as knife metal. She fooled me with that kindly little old mother bit for maybe three minutes when I came in this morning, but no longer. I don’t think she’s really fooled any of you guys for any six months or a year, neither. Hooowee, I’ve seen some bitches in my time, but she takes the cake.”

“A bitch? But a moment ago she was a ball-cutter, then a buzzard—or was it a chicken? Your metaphors are bumping into each other, my friend.”

“The hell with that; she’s a bitch and a buzzard and a ball-cutter, and don’t kid me, you know what I’m talking about.”

Harding’s face and hands are moving faster than ever now, a speeded film of gestures, grins, grimaces, sneers. The more he tries to stop it, the faster it goes. When he lets his hands and face move like they want to and doesn’t try to hold them back, they flow and gesture in a way that’s real pretty to watch, but when he worries about them and tries to hold back he becomes a wild, jerky puppet doing a high-strung dance. Everything is moving faster and faster, and his voice is speeding up to match.

“Why, see here, my friend Mr. McMurphy, my psychopathic sidekick, our Miss Ratched is a veritable angel of mercy and why just everyone knows it. She’s unselfish as the wind, toiling thanklessly for the good of all, day after day, five long days a week. That takes heart, my friend, heart. In fact, I have been informed by sources—I am not at liberty to disclose my sources, but I might say that Martini is in contact with the same people a good part of the time—that she even further serves mankind on her weekends off by doing generous volunteer work about town. Preparing a rich array of charity—canned goods, cheese for the binding effect, soap—and presenting it to some poor young couple having a difficult time financially.” His hands flash in the air, molding the picture he is describing. “Ah, look: There she is, our nurse. Her gentle knock on the door. The ribboned basket. The young couple overjoyed to the point of speechlessness. The husband open-mouthed, the wife weeping openly. She appraises their dwelling. Promises to send them money for—scouring powder, yes. She places the basket in the center of the floor. And when our angel leaves—throwing kisses, smiling ethereally—she is so intoxicated with the sweet milk of human kindness that her deed has generated within her large bosom, that she is beside herself with generosity. Be-side herself, do you hear? Pausing at the door, she draws the timid young bride to one side and offers her twenty dollars of her own: ‘Go, you poor unfortunate underfed child, go, and buy yourself a decent dress. I realize your husband can’t afford it, but here, take this, and go.’ And the couple is forever indebted to her benevolence.”

He’s been talking faster and faster, the cords stretching out in his neck. When he stops talking, the ward is completely silent. I don’t hear anything but a faint reeling rhythm, what I figure is a tape recorder somewhere getting all of this.

Harding looks around, sees everybody’s watching him, and he does his best to laugh. A sound comes out of his mouth like a nail being crowbarred out of a plank of green pine; Eee-eee-eee. He can’t stop it. He wrings his hands like a fly and clinches his eyes at the awful sound of that squeaking. But he can’t stop it. It gets higher and higher until finally, with a suck of breath, he lets his face fall into his waiting hands.

“Oh the bitch, the bitch, the bitch,” he whispers through his teeth.

McMurphy lights another cigarette and offers it to him; Harding takes it without a word. McMurphy is still watching Harding’s face in front of him there, with a kind of puzzled wonder, looking at it like it’s the first human face he ever laid eyes on. He watches while Harding’s twitching and jerking slows down and the face comes up from the hands.

“You are right,” Harding says, “about all of it.” He looks up at the other patients who are watching him. “No one’s ever dared come out and say it before, but there’s not a man among us that doesn’t think it, that doesn’t feel just as you do about her and the whole business—feel it somewhere down deep in his scared little soul.”

McMurphy frowns and asks, “What about that little fart of a doctor? He might be a little slow in the head, but not so much as not to be able to see how she’s taken over and what she’s doing.”

Harding takes a long pull off the cigarette and lets the smoke drift out with his talk. “Doctor Spivey… is exactly like the rest of us, McMurphy, completely conscious of his inadequacy. He’s a frightened, desperate, ineffectual little rabbit, totally incapable of running this ward without our Miss Ratched’s help, and he knows it. And, worse, she knows he knows it and reminds him every chance she gets. Every time she finds he’s made a little slip in the bookwork or in, say, the charting you can just imagine her in there grinding his nose in it.”

“That’s right,” Cheswick says, coming up beside McMurphy, “grinds our noses in our mistakes.”

“Why don’t he fire her?”

“In this hospital,” Harding says, “the doctor doesn’t hold the power of hiring and firing. That power goes to the supervisor, and the supervisor is a woman, a dear old friend of Miss Ratched’s; they were Army nurses together in the thirties. We are victims of a matriarchy here, my friend, and the doctor is just as helpless against it as we are. He knows that all Ratched has to do is pick up that phone you see sitting at her elbow and call the supervisor and mention, oh, say, that the doctor seems to be making a great number of requisitions for Demerol—”

“Hold it, Harding, I’m not up on all this shop talk.”

“Demerol, my friend, is a synthetic opiate, twice as addictive as heroin. Quite common for doctors to be addicted to it.”

“That little fart? Is he a dope addict?”

“I’m certain I don’t know.”

“Then where does she get off with accusing him of—”

“Oh, you’re not paying attention, my friend. She doesn’t accuse. She merely needs to insinuate, insinuate anything, don’t you see? Didn’t you notice today? She’ll call a man to the door of the Nurses’ Station and stand there and ask him about a Kleenex found under his bed. No more, just ask. And he’ll feel like he’s lying to her, whatever answer he gives. If he says he was cleaning a pen with it, she’ll say, ‘I see, a pen,’ or if he says he has a cold in his nose, she’ll say, ‘I see, a cold,’ and she’ll nod her neat little gray coiffure and smile her neat little smile and turn and go back into the Nurses’ Station, leave him standing there wondering just what did he use that Kleenex for.”

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