Spencer made us arrange our chairs in a circle so we could see each other just by looking left or right. Spencer, who is today’s group leader, said it was important for all six of us to be included visually in the group. Any other arrangement of chairs would exclude one or more of us from participating by cutting off line-of-sight contact. It just wouldn’t do for anyone to be left out. “After all,” Spencer said, “we are here to help each other, are we not?” He tipped his head down and looked over the top of his glasses at us as if he were measuring the mettle of a gaggle of less-than satisfactory schoolboys.
Spencer cleared his throat. “Thank you for coming.” He graced every one of us with his brilliant smile.
Thank you for coming? What the fuck kind of comment was that? As if we had a choice.
“Who is today’s patient?” Spencer asked.
You mean victim, I thought.
Irwin said, “It’s James, right, Group?”
“Yeah, it’s James,” everybody except me replied.
“Very well. James, do you mind?” asked Spencer.
“No, I don’t mind,” he said.
You should mind, James. You’re gonna get your asshole reamed. Yesterday Wendell got ripped a new asshole and you’re gonna get the same treatment. You’re probably gonna kill yourself afterward and I want to watch you do it.
At the end of the session yesterday I felt sure Wendell was going to kill himself at the first opportunity, but obviously he didn’t. He was here for today’s session. I glanced at him, slumped in his chair, picking at something on his pants leg only he could see.
“Excellent,” Spencer said. “Now, James, can you tell us why you are here?”
What the hell? All of us knew why we were here. No recap needed. We were here because each one of us had done something horrible to another human being, attempted suicide afterward, botched the attempt, then been sentenced to this psychiatric hellhole for the criminally insane instead of being shipped off to the Iron Bar Hotel.
“The monkey came back,” James said.
Wendell sat up. “I like monkeys.”
“Be quiet, Wendell,” Spencer said. “James, tell us about the monkey.”
“You know, a monkey,” James said. “The regular kind of monkey, an ugly little fucker with a long tail.”
“Why did it come back?” Spencer persisted.
“I don’t know.” James shifted in his chair and refused to look at any of us. Nobody said anything. We waited.
“Tell us when you first encountered the monkey,” said Spencer.
“It was sitting in the bathroom sink when I got out of the shower one morning.”
“Where did the monkey come from?”
“The zoo, you dumbass” snorted Alan. “Monkeys come from the zoo. Everybody knows that.”
“Alan, don’t interrupt,” Spencer said.
James laughed. “Nobody knows where the monkey comes from. It just appears.” James smiled. “It’s a magic monkey.”
“I want a magic monkey,” Wendell said. “One that can do tricks.”
“Wendell, be quiet,” Spencer said. “What did the monkey do, James?”
“It told me to put a plastic sack over my head and tape it around my neck.”
“Monkey see, monkey do,” giggled Wendell.
“Did you do that, put a plastic bag over your head?” asked Spencer
“Did you know what would happen to you if you put a plastic bag over your head?”
“Of course I knew.”
“Tell us what would happen, James.”
James looked surprised by Spencer’s question. “I would suffocate and die.”
“You knew that, but you put the plastic bag over your head anyway. Why?” We leaned forward in our seats now, tense and waiting for James to confess.
“Nobody disobeys the monkey,” said James
“Piss on your magic monkey,” Irwin said. “I like cats.”
“Stop interrupting, you guys,” complained Spencer. “You know it’s against the rules. You’re not allowed to interrupt the leader during Session. Now James, don’t you think it’s strange the monkey talked to you?”
“Oh, no, not this monkey. I told you, it’s a magic monkey. It can talk, fly, disappear, float in the air. It can do anything.” We laughed at James’ description.
“Why did the monkey tell you to put a plastic bag over your head?”
“It wanted me to die.”
“Well, why the fuck didn’t you?” I demanded.
“Shut up, Bruce,” Spencer said to me. He turned back to James. Spencer’s voice increased in volume and his words became clipped as he continued to question James. “You wanted to die and you are using the monkey as an excuse.”
“No! It was the monkey. The monkey wanted me to die, I tell you.”
“You don’t believe that, James,” Spencer said. “The monkey didn’t want you to die.”
“Yes, it did. The monkey told me to kill myself. It wanted me to die, I tell you.”
“That’s not true. You are lying!” shouted Spencer. “There never was a monkey. You tried to kill yourself because of what you did.”
“No. The monkey made me do it.”
“Bullshit!” screamed Spencer, rising to his feet and glaring at James. “Isn’t that bullshit, Group?”
“Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit,” we chanted.
“Cats, cats, cats,” yelled Irwin. “Cats are better than monkeys.”
“Shut your trap, Irwin,” Alan yelled.
“Do we believe James?” shouted Spencer.
“No, no, we don’t believe him,” we cried. “It’s all bullshit.”
“Tell us why you tried to kill yourself!” Spencer yelled.
“No! I didn’t do anything. I didn’t want to kill myself. It was the monkey. The monkey made me do it!”
“He has to tell us, doesn’t he? That’s the rule,” Spencer yelled. “You have to tell the truth.”
“Tell us, James,” we shouted. “We want the truth.”
“See? Group knows you are lying and nobody believes your monkey story so out with it. The truth.”
“Tell us! Tell us! Tell us!” we chanted.
James scrubbed his face with both hands. “I swindled an old woman out of every last dime she had. I left her homeless and destitute. When she realized what I had done to her she came to my house and screamed at me. It was horrible.”
“Stop weaseling around. There’s more to your story. Let’s hear it,” Spencer shouted before he sat down.
“She forced her way in. What was I supposed to do?” James looked at us, seeking assurance that he wasn’t really to blame for what he had done.
“Then what happened?”
“She was screaming at me. The monkey said the only way to make her stop was to kill her.”
“Did you kill her?”
“Yes, I killed her.” He started to cry.
“How did you kill her?”
“I choked her to death.”
“With your hands?”
“Yes, with my hands.”
“Then you tried to kill yourself, is that right?” Spencer said.
“The monkey said I had to.” James sobbed into his hands.
“Well, well, well, James,” Spencer said pleasantly, relaxing in his chair. “Now we know why you killed another person. Don’t you feel better for finally admitting you’re a murderer? I’m sure you do.” Spencer’s voice had taken on a solicitous air, as if he were speaking encouragement to a small child. “Creating then blaming the monkey, now that was brilliant, James.”
“Yeah,” said Marvin, “It was so brilliant it kept your sorry ass from getting the needle.”
“At least I didn’t kill anybody like this fucker did,” Irwin said, jerking his chin toward James. “I just barbecued the neighbor’s dog and invited them over. They didn’t know they were eating their own dog. It sure was funny when I told them. The judge didn’t think it was very funny, though.”
At that moment Harvey Floyd, the charge nurse, pushed the med cart into the room. “OK, fellas,” he said, “time for meds.” We lined up. One after the other, Harvey handed each of us a paper cup of water and a small container holding our medications and watched carefully as we swallowed our pills.
“Group session again,” Harvey said after we had taken our meds.
“Yes,” I said. “There isn’t anything to do in this fucking lunatic asylum so why not have some fun.”
“Who was leader today?” Harvey asked.
“I was,” Spencer replied. “I was really good, too.” He looked at James. “Wasn’t I good, James?”
“Fuck you,” James said.
“Who’s the leader tomorrow?” Harvey asked.
“It’s my turn,” I said.
Harvey Floyd laughed as he tidied up the med cart. “All in good fun, right, fellas?
“Oh, yeah,” Alan said. “Good fun.”
“Who’s the patient tomorrow?” Harvey Floyd asked.
Before anybody could answer I said, “Spencer.”
“Remember to keep it light and friendly,” Harvey Floyd said.
“We always do,” Irwin replied.
“I appreciate that.” Harvey Floyd glanced at his watch. “Time for dinner, fellas.”
I moved next to Spencer and whispered, “I’m gonna tear you a new asshole tomorrow. You’re probably gonna kill yourself afterward and I’m gonna watch you do it.”
Then we went to eat.
Robert P. Bishop’s work has appeared in The Literary Hatchet, The Umbrella Factory Magazine, CommuterLit, Lunate Fiction, Fleas on the Dog, Corner Bar Magazine, and elsewhere. A former soldier and teacher, Bishop holds a Masters in Biology from the University of Montana. He lives in Tucson, AZ.
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