This wasn’t where he wanted to be.
This wasn’t where he wanted to be. Obviously, she thought, this wasn’t where anyone wanted to be. No one pictures themselves in a mental institution. People make jokes, on occasion, about the loony bin, but no one ever legitimately pictures themselves winding up there.
As mental institutions went, she supposed, this was a nice one. Clean, with lots of soothing impressionist pictures.
“Why is it hospitals and institutions always have faux-impressionist pictures on the walls?” she wondered. “It’s like they think only fans of Monet get sick or something.”
The nurse led her down the hall to the common room area. Comfortable, mismatched couches, with a TV in the corner. Empty, except for Uncle Dan sitting on a couch, waiting for her.
It was 12:17. She suspected the rest of the patients were at lunch. She wondered if Dan was missing lunch to spend time with her and then decided not to think too hard about it.
“Hi, Uncle Dan.”
“Hello, Sweet Pea.”
He seemed like the same old guy. Her Mom had said, if he must be in ‘that wretched place,’ the least she could do was visit him from time to time. So she was. But, if she were being honest with herself, it felt the same. Just like any Thanksgiving or Easter, sitting on the couch discussing the mundane facts of her life.
How was the job?
The apartment hunting?
So far, so good.
They covered the basics and she found herself with nothing to say. Should she ask him what he was reading? Was that something you were allowed to ask a person in a mental institution? Maybe she should ask if she could bring him books or movies that he liked? She was profoundly disturbed by the fact that he seemed so normal. Same old Uncle Dan, with slightly smudged glasses and an over-worn plaid shirt. And these are the thoughts that were banging around her mind when he spoke again.
“The chickens are taking over, you know,” he said.
“Really?” she asked. “Are they?”
“Yes,” he said. “You might not know it, but they are.”
“Huh,” she said, deciding to play along. Clearly, this was the crazy leaking out. “You never know. Maybe they’ll be wiser rulers than our president.”
“Oh no,” he told her, his expression growing dark and ominous. “They’ll be tyrannical overlords. We’ve enslaved their race for over a century. You don’t think they’ll want to take revenge?”
“Oh….” She said. “I’d never really thought about it that way.”
“Yes,” he said. “Their agenda is clear. You can just see the rage in their beady little eyes on all of those Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials….. Oh, yes. They are waiting for their chance. And their time is coming.”
“Umm…. Uncle Dan,” she said. “It’s been really seeing you and talking to you. And I’ll be back soon, but my lunch break is almost over, so….”
“So you should get back to work,” he said. “I get it. It’s fine. Have a great day, Sweetheart.”
He gave her a warm hug.
“Watch out for those chickens!” he called, as she walked back down the hall.
She just waved in response.
Getting back into the car, she tried to fix her mindset back to work, to thinking about the projects she had left unfinished and the emails she had to send.
In her own mind, she was narrating an email as she pulled up to a stop light, but the words fell out of her head when she saw something out of the corner of her eye….
A bright rust-colored bundle of feathers. A chicken. A real, live chicken, crossing the road.
She watched it cross as her car idled at the light and she thought back to Uncle Dan’s warning.
“Could they be?” she thought. “Nah.”
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