Asylum in an Asylum?
He’d ignored her phone calls and letters, Moira wouldn’t leave the house or talk to anyone.
‘Why don’t you get out more?’ Her mother had asked.
‘Leave me alone’, she’d shouted to her mother that once
Her parents called a psychiatrist who came in gleaming racing green Daimler, and wearing a white
coat, but she refused to talk to him,he took that as a bad sign and therefore referred Moira to a
psychiatric institution for ‘observation’.
It was dark and gloomy with long dark corridors which took you nowhere. The windows had iron
bars on them and there where no pictures. Nobody looked up as she entered the dayroom with a
nurse, feeling like a bright red flower about to be cut and added to the vase to be left to wither and
die with the rest.The barred metal door clanged behind her.
The nurses in white knee length pinafore dresses and white nurses caps where watching the
patients, one of them was drooling.All of them looked old, until you looked very closely. They were sitting facing the grey walls, muttering to themselves.
Occasionally a laugh would be heard, but would sink back into the general greyness from
where it came. The smell was odd, like medicine mixed in with boiled cabbage. The room was clean,
except for a large skylight, the sun it let in just sank into the grey, and despite it the room felt
gloomy. There was nothing to look at, no plants, nothing growing.
They put her on Milleril, which is what they put everyone else on. It was actually supposed
to treat schizophrenia, but it made them calm and docile, a pleasing effect the staff, the thought, for
a nice, ordered, harmonious atmosphere.
The medication made her feel lethargic, the world turned into a grey fog cloud, then
they showed her to her cubicle, a small space with an iron bed. They had put her trunk at the
bottom of it. She put her white beret and white cotton gloves on top and lay down on the rough
grey blanket and closed her eyes. There was a tug on her arm:’You can’t sleep now, you must sit in
the day room so we can watch you’.
She felt an impulse to resist, but it got lost in the fog and she followed the white blob.
‘You may call me Nurse Ratchet, I will take you all into dinner at six, visiting hours are 7 till 8, your parents are coming. Then you can get ready for bed, and you must say your prayers, but not before medication time.’
Moira didn’t say much to her parents that evening.
‘You’re not making an effort, after the long journey we made’ her mother said.
‘I don’t like it here’
‘Still thinking about that boy I suppose, don’t worry they will make you forget, then you can go back to teacher training college, once you start trying.’
She smiled at the prospect of getting out, so it was possible.
There was a long silence.
They left early, they had said their piece. Moira didn’t even bother trying to make them understand.
That night loud snoring prevented her from sleeping, that and the itchy blanket and the hard bed, but when she finally dozed off she was woken by a loud commotion. A man was shouting ‘I’ll run away’.She didn’t recognise the voice.
That sounded like a good idea she thought, could she do it? Where would she go? She would ask this new man in the morning.
She got woken in the morning at 6.30 by a nurse pulling her arm.
Then they where all herded to breakfast in a line, everyone cowed and shuffling.Moira
tried out the shuffle, to blend in, while looking out for a strange man, who’s voice she’d heard.There
was no-one new. It must have been a dream she decided.
She smoothed her allowance of margarine on the two slices of bread, and the attendant poured her
tea, she nearly spilled it when she heard that voice again:
‘I want three slices of bread’.
He was on the other side of the large dining room, with two attendants holding his
arms. He noticed her looking, everybody else carried on eating. She quickly looked down at her
plate, hoping the staff hadn’t seen her.He was tall with long blond hair and a moustache, about her
age, which was 22.
After breakfast the psychiatrist came to see her. Moira didn’t have much to say.
‘You’re parents say you have become withdrawn, but sometimes argumentative.’
‘My parents were born in Victorian times.’
‘I think we have to keep you here for the time being. The medication should work.’
She couldn’t argue with him, he would never understand.
The Day room seemed a bit brighter today, more colourful. She heard singing before she
went in. The new man was here.
‘Nice to meet you miss’.
Call me Moira.
‘Hello, I’m Jack’ , and he shook hands.
‘Do sit down’, he said pointing to a chair next to his.
‘Is it alright?’
‘Why wouldn’t it be?’ He seemed to not have noticed the atmosphere or the beady eyes of the staff.
She sat down.
‘I heard you last night, they could do anything to you.’
‘I’ll be gone, I’ll be safer out there’, he said in a quiet voice.
‘This place is like a jungle, you’d never find your way out.’
‘They built it that way.’
‘I wouldn’t know where to go’
‘I’d go to a hotel and use a pseudonym, We could go to the dances, jive, skiffle, rock and roll,even go abroad’.
She nodded, her eyes shining.
‘ I bet you’ve never been on a plane before. We’ll go on the Statocruiser.’
She didn’t know anyone who’d been on a plane.
They talked about their lives, she said she was hoping to meet someone who would understand her,
she told him how she couldn’t live at home anymore, it was stifling
‘I admire your independent spirit he said, most girls wait until they are married’.
‘Isn’t there anything to do here?’ She asked.
‘Some of the inmates have jobs running the place,’ I think you have to be long term.We could take up smoking.’
This was something new she thought, as she took a cigarette, he lit it for her, she inhaled and tried to stifle a cough. They sat side by side, sometimes chatting, sometimes contemplating in companiable silence.
Her parents came to visit again, they where obviously making a habit of it.Moira told them she had made a friend, and volunteered a smile.
‘I’m pleased you’re making an effort,’ her mother said. Her father nodded and puffed on his pipe.
She asked for a shilling for Church on Sunday. They gave her half a crown.
At dinner everyone sat where they where they were told, him on the other side of the room
from her. She had to keep thoughts of the gristly boiled mutton with watery gravy and overcooked cabbage to herself.
That night she dreamt about running away with Jack, they were on a train. She wondered why he
was here, he didn’t seem ill. Perhaps he was a kleptomaniac who’s parents arranged to keep him out
of prison. She had heard about that happening before. Anyway it didn’t matter, she realised she had
forgotten about him who had jilted her. She didn’t feel so heavy, so black, and slept easily.
The next morning was a Sunday, therefore they had eggs for breakfast, and Jack got an extra slice of bread. Then they got dressed in their Sunday best and where taken out in a crocodile. She wormed her way next to Jack so they could be paired.
They spoke in code while their foggy breath lingered in the cold morning air, anyone listening would assume it was mad gibberish.
‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’
They looked surreptitiously at the attendants, 5 of them for 30 people, They were at either ends of the line, but they might walk down it any second.
Jack looked at her: ‘Now!’.
He took her hand and they ran.
Inspiration came from experience of a mental hospital .The piece is set in the 1950s and I used
period detail such as the jiving and the Stratocruiser plane from internet research. I talked to
someone who had visited his grandfather in a hospital in the 50s .Kevin Turnguist, Yahoo answers
(2011) who told me about the iron hospital beds , the Milleril, the smell.
The genre is a mixture of fiction and historical romance .From the beginning the reader expects
romance,, from the portrayal of the main character. By including certain elements that suggests a
genre the writer is making a promise to his reader says Derek Neale in A Creative Writing
Handbook(1990) and I wanted to fulfil those expectations.
The readers maintain interest as they watch the relationship develop and through the hints of the
conflict and tension with the dark side of treatment and the rules of the hospital, and Moira’s
parents. I like the use of conflict and contrast as it holds the reader’s attention as Bill Greenwell
states in A Creative Writing Handbook (1990)
They both have reasons for running away, and the audience supports them,This causes tension and
suspense,The audience get involved on an emotional level through feeling sympathy for the
characters. I wanted to use ‘things that’ in Dorothy Sheridan’s words (CD3 ) ‘could make the reader
have a personal response’ and that for me was what hospitals where like and was what I used from
During editing I added more dialogue, and more period detail for authenticity. To make the dialogue
sound authentic, and thought about using 50s slang, but I didn’t want to overdo it.
The point of view is the third person.I think first person would have made the story too close to the
narrator and made it seem false.Also, this way the reader can get a better,more objective
perspective of events.However thes subjective and limited narrative mode brings the reader close to the character.
I should have added more conflict,to add dramatic tension, to make it more realistic, perhaps Moira
resisting the idea of running away at first, or the staff trying to keep them apart, however they have
a common cause which easily brings them together.
Turnguist, K (29 October 2011) Yahoo Answers. Talks about the condions in a 1950s asylum. [Private email to S K Mcintyre].
CD 3-Research, Structure and Style.(2008) The Open University
Neale, D (2009) ‘ Ways of Writing’ in D.Neale (ed) A Creative Writing Handbook:Developing dramatic technique, individual style and voice. London, Milton Keynes: A.C. Black /Open University
Greenwell. B (2009) ‘Conflict and Contrast’ in D.Neale (ed) A Creative Writing Handbook:Developing dramatic technique, individual style and voice. London, Milton Keynes:A.C Black/Open University.