The Blonde Leading the Blind
One thousand one hundred fifty-two steps with three right turns and seven left. That is how Chloe could make it to the emergency fire escape door from her room.
Seven hundred sixty-nine steps with only one right turn, and six left was escape door number two. Up the stairs to the second floor only one right turn brought her to the rooftop which no patient was allowed on top of. She has only ever made it close once when the power goes out for three minutes every night after one o’clock in the morning. However, she got caught in the hallway right at the three-minute mark, and now someone waits outside her door. She could hear them whisper, “She’s getting worse. There’s no progress.” She heard them call her Aunt, whom she had not seen in ages, every Thursday at six seventeen in the morning to remind her Chloe is only getting worse, much to her dismay. Not that anyone thought she ever put up a fuss. This whole thing was her Mother’s idea.
“If it keeps you out of prison, I’m all for it. God, Chloe, could you have made this any more difficult? My reputation, my job, look what you’ve done!”
Chloe could hear it like it was yesterday. Only it’s been three years, and she’s never once been to visit in Chloe’s mind. Little did she know her Mother came to visit all the time. It had become a daily routine for her. But of course with all the medication, Chloe didn’t even know what time it was. Chloe and her Mother used to call this place the ‘Nut House’. Walking by on their way to school, they would run and scream and even laugh if they ever saw a patient getting fresh air. One time, Chloe saw a boy, probably only eight, sitting on the steps and crying that he wanted to leave. She stared for a while, sympathizing. “C’mon, Chloe; he’s a freak.” Mrs Cook would say as she ushered past the stark white building. No wonder she never wanted to come visit. She made it clear what she thought of people in these institutions. This place was outside the town, only for such a small town, many people walked by. Chloe used to be on the other side of the tall black fence. Only now that she’s inside, she is completely terrified of successfully escaping. Who wouldn’t be. Almost a whole year of having nurses checking on you, giving medication, monitoring sleep, showers and even their meals which were all mush. Chloe didn’t even know how to survive on her own anymore. She had become so used to being a patient here that life before is almost completely a blur.
Every time she saw herself in the mirror, she jumped, forgetting what she looked like. The bags under her eyes were not the designer kind her Mother would approve of, and her hair had gotten so long the nurses tied it behind her so that she didn’t use it as a weapon.
I have to get out of here. I’m innocent. The whole reason for my being here is a misunderstanding. Nevertheless, I’m here, with my busiest time of day being how fast I can hide my pills under my tongue before the nurses make me say “ah” as proof that they’re gone, Chloe thought to herself. She didn’t think she needed those pills to make her better if there isn’t anything wrong with her. It was hard to sleep here, she just stayed up all night after one too many nightmares about her last night free. So much happened she could barely remember it. Only a distant memory of Chloe left standing there with bloody hands and a lighter just beside her left foot. She hadn’t even noticed she was wearing her Mother’s shoes as she began to worry about how mad her Mother would be seeing all the blood on her lovely Tory Burch flats. She was trembling and spun in a circle seventeen times, trying to see where they had gone, but she was all alone. The sounds of sirens went off, blue and red lights flashed in her face and the smell of smoke overwhelmed her lungs so much that she collapsed just as an ambulance arrived. In the blink of an eye, she was here. Mrs. Cook pleaded her daughter insanity as opposed to guilty in the courtroom so she could keep her out of prison. Mrs. Cook would not have her precious daughter been the subject of news to the small town gossip. She spent hours on end building herself up to be the best of the best, and she was not going to let her spoiled brat tarnish the title she claimed.
“Chloe, you have a visitor.” A nurse said, opening her squeaky old solid door. Chloe looked blindly at her as if she never heard those words before. She opened the door all the way, revealing her Mother, evidently wearing a dark brunette wig. Her stomach flipped and turned; her eyes searched her mothers, desperate for an answer. But she did not even have a question.
“Hi honey, I brought magazines, they told me you could have ginger ale, and of course I brought some chocolate-” The nurse intervened rather quickly, snatching it from the young girl’s Mother’s hand. “She can’t have sugar; we’re limiting her intake to see how she responds to the medication.” Chloe could see her Mother looking ill, as no one has ever put her in her place before. “Right, well, maybe I should too! Gotta stay as thin as these models, right Chloe?” Mrs. Cook said, fanning herself with the magazines. Chloe couldn’t stop staring. That line was all too familiar. She could hear her father saying those exact words to her mother many years ago. He constantly picked on her. Chloe’s Mother did exactly as he asked and more but to him it was never enough. “I’m not having an affair! Although if I was could you blame me? Not exactly like I have a prize wife to come home to.” The fights of her parents played in the back of her mind constantly. Her Mother cried all the time believing her father was unfaithful. He put her down all too much and Chloe only remembered her Mother standing up for herself once which drove her father mad.
The nurse waited outside her room and her Mother sat with her.”You look like you’ve lost a few; I see things are going well.” She beamed looking at her daughter. “Where have you been?” Chloe demanded as her face got hot, and all the hair on her neck stood up. Her Mother’s face covered in makeup, and her coral lipstick correctly applied fell into a frown. “You told me you’d get me out of here Mom, I didn’t do it! You haven’t been here in so long I can barely remember my name, my home! How dare you leave me here without any warning Mom get me out!” She gripped at her hair and reached for her hand but she backed away standing up and looking for the nurse. Chloe went shaky and cold. Mrs. Cook looked at her own daughter like a caged animal and picked up her Chanel purse. She glanced at the nurse and smiled, “Chloe I’m not your Mother, I’m your aunt. The medication must be really potent for her to have such an outburst.” Mrs. Cook said. “Chloe, I think you need to take a deep breath.” She said using her perfectly manicured nail to push her daughter’s hair back, making Chloe jump off the bed. “Don’t touch me! You abandoned me! You don’t even believe me Mom, I didn’t do it!” The patient yelled reaching towards her Mother. The nurse immediately came in and plunged a needle into Chloe’s arm, causing her to lose consciousness and plummet to the bed.
“I’m so sorry Miss Johnston, she’s been responding well to her medication the last couple days, maybe a visitor was just too much for her.” The nurse explained. “Why yes, I understand. I’m sorry I interrupted her treatment.” Mrs. Cook said, tightening a pin in her dark coloured wig. She watched her daughter, now passed out on her small white bed, dressed in a gown that she herself would never be caught dead in. White after labour day? Could never be her. After the reputation she built for herself, this visit would never be traced. She even used her sister’s name for the login book. No one was going to find out her precious daughter was acting like she needed an exorcism. The nurse guided her out into the hallway closing her daughter’s door. “Modified visits might be a good idea. I know when a patient sees a relative they usually throw the blame in their face rather quickly. But perhaps the next time you stop by-” Mrs. Cook had heard enough. “Next time? I apologize for my vulgarness but after that episode there, I’m not so sure there will be a next time.” She placed her hand on her forehead in an exhausted tone. “Miss Johnston I understand seeing a child like this is difficult, but after the things she’s done, I do believe it is in her best interest to stay here.” The nurse explained trying to soothe the so-called Aunt of the victim. “She’s not just a child, she’s my niece. And that behaviour will not be tolerated.” With the swift toss of her silk scarf around her head to hide her hair and her heels clicking against the cement floor, she was exiting the building.
A nurse called after her, requiring a signature to sign out, but Mrs. Cook didn’t bother. It’s not like she would be back. She put on large sunglasses as she left, to keep up the disguise, and got into a taxi. “84th street, please.” She requested getting adjusted into the back seat while the driver nodded and drove on. Mrs. Cook didn’t live on 84th street. No one did after the accident. Mrs. Cook drove by the scene of the crime every day. She had to make sure she did everything right. That night will forever be in her mind. With her ex-husband back in town, and her daughter considering moving in with him, she needed to get rid of him. Chloe was drinking with friends that night. Only Mrs. Cook made them all a special cocktail to get what she wanted out of them.
Mrs. Cook resented that night for many reasons. “Oh for the love of God Alison give me a break already I’m exhausted!” Her husband had said at dinner when she asked him to help tidy up. “Alison? That’s the third time you’ve called me my sister’s name this week. What is going on with you, you haven’t seen her since last Christmas.” Mrs. Cook pondered in confusion. Her husband looked clammy. “Sorry sorry. I-I don’t know where that came from.” He said grabbing the leftover plates and tossing them in the sink. He left his wife in the kitchen with not another word.
Mrs. Cook was a lot smarter than her lousy husband gave her credit for. She managed to pick the lock to his study with her hair pin and find all the evidence she needed to prove she was right. Inside his study she tip-toed around careful not to move anything out of place. She looked at the papers on his desk, and found nothing of interest except for some tax documents. She looked behind old frames, under the desk and even scavenged all eleven drawers only to find six paper clips and three pennies. In a huff, she was about to give up, until something sparked her eye. Hanging on the wall was four sets of keys. One was for the house, another the garage, a third for the back door but the fourth stood out to Mrs. Cook. The nine ridges and three peaks on the key struck a core in her memory. Yanking it off the chain she ran out of the house and into her car, burning rubber in the driveway.
Making her way to her sister’s house, she plunged the key in the door and it opened immediately. As she opened the door she found her sister all over her husband, only breaking apart due to her appearance. “I knew it! I knew it was you! You lying lousy little bitch! You did this to me! You drove me crazy thinking I was losing my mind but you were in on it this whole time?!” Mrs. Cook was furious. Her brunette sister jumped back denying the whole thing while her husband remained silent. Fuming and outraged that she had been the pitcher of a sad marriage all over town, not to mention the snotty Mom’s at Chloe’s school all pitied her. Mrs. Cook could still hear their whispers, judgment and mockery. She couldn’t stand being the gossip. She only ever liked to gossip, not be the subject. It didn’t take long for Mrs. Cook to finish what her husband had started.
“I’ll pick you up at midnight!” Mrs. Cook had told her daughter later that night as they all went to the party on 84th. There was an old building that many kids loved to throw parties in. It was probably a nightclub back in its day, but for now it remains an empty warehouse, allowing all the underage teens to let loose. Mrs. Cook made sure Chloe and her friends all had her signature cocktail before leaving so that everything went according to plan. It was the perfect set up.
With her daughter, drunk and about to be suffering from amnesia, her life was about to become perfect. Mrs. Cook parked behind the building, far enough to not be seen, but close enough to see everything. Her husband arrived forty seven minutes later, as she used her sister’s phone to tell him how desperately she wanted to continue their relationship, even if that meant losing her sister. Mrs. Cook’s husband had agreed and their meeting spot was set. As she waited there for him, Mrs. Cook saw Chloe wandering outside. “Chloe?” She called. Her daughter barely walked forward, completely drunk and under the influence. Mrs. Cook struggled to grab her daughter as the pills cause hallucinations mixed with alcohol and now Chloe was yelling about a fire as her Mother reached for her. “Chloe stop, give me that!” Mrs. Cook yelled, grabbing the lighter from her daughter’s hand. Chloe stumbled back but gripped her Mother’s arm. As Mrs. Cook could see her husband getting closer so she needed to take action. She pulled the bottle of rubbing alcohol out of her Prada handbag and poured it all over the ground. She pushed the bottle in Chloe’s hand and moved her closer to the liquid mess on the grass and lit a match, dropping it in seconds.
Mrs. Cook ran back to her car for safety watching the whole area burst into flames. She left the lighter on the ground and called 911.
That night seemed too far away now, as Mrs. Cook waited in the white concrete lobby of the building her daughter resided in. Another day, trying again to recover from what minor guilt she had in her. She only visited Chloe so that she could try to convince herself what she did was alright. A part of her knew it had to be done. Her stupid late husband had been fooling around with her sister their entire marriage and her daughter was her only familial bond left. The nurse handed her the sign-in book, and yet again she changed her name. “Follow me, her state is the same, everyday is the same it seems which is better than most.” The nurse said soothingly to Mrs. Cook. She nodded following her into the elevator, fully aware of what her daughter’s state was. It was her who caused it anyway. Who knew an entire bottle of pills in one night, with alcohol could send a seventeen-year-old spiralling out of control.
The nurse took eighty-seven steps down the hall and one right to her daughter’s room. Waving her badge by the lock on the door, she heard the click and led the guilty Mother. “Chloe, Aunty is back, want to say hi?” The nurse opened the curtains revealing the half window that not even a mouse could crawl through. Mrs. Cook looked at her daughter, like she had for the past 621 days. Only to Chloe, it was seven minutes. “Hi honey.” Mrs. Cook cooed sitting on the bed beside her daughter. Chloe had a distant look in her eye. Different than before. Her eyes were deep set in her head and she looked up at her Mother as if she knew everything. She had her hair tightly tied behind her head and her nails were cut so short you would almost miss them. “Can we paint her nails?” Mrs. Cook asked the nurse trying to make light of the darkness lurking in her daughter. “Sorry, the fumes can cause her to react aggressively.” Mrs. Cook sighed and reached for Chloe’s hand. Chloe yanked it away. “You never show up here, you lied to me you won’t let me leave!” The nurse took a step closer, but Chloe hadn’t moved yet.
Mrs. Cook stood and adjusted her skirt as she smugly eyed her daughter. Once she saw that wild look in her daughter’s eyes that she got from her father, she had had enough. Chloe’s eyes landed on her Mother’s shoes. Tory Burch, last season and a small scuff on the edge. Chloe rose to her feet. “It was you! You were there! You did this to me, you killed him! Th-those were the shoes, I remember them, I saw them! I’m not crazy Mom, tell them I’m not crazy!” She yelled at her Mother. Mrs Cook dramatically looked appalled, “Chloe you don’t understand what you’re talking about. Isn’t it funny how she thinks I’m her Mother? I know my sister and I are twins but with different hair colours you’d think it’s obvious.” She calmly said. The nurse restrained her daughter who continued the accusations. After being escorted to the hallway while the patient settled down, Mrs. Cook’s heart hammered in her chest. She knew. How could she have figured it out? Mrs. Cook thought. She stared at the smudge of oil on her left shoe. How could she have been so careless? The whole plan was pristine. She spoke to nine police officers that night and four detectives. It only took them forty two hours and three minutes to rule her out as a suspect in her husbands murder. And it took nine police officers and seven detectives in her sister’s case to rule her out in less than twenty four hours. She was that good. But now it was going to be her daughter who brought everything down. Mrs. Cook was not going to take that chance. She tried taking shaky breaths to regain herself as the nurse exited. “I’m so sorry about that, Miss Johnston, she hasn’t been responding to the new dose we’ve given her.” Mrs. Cook blinked a few times. “New dose?” She asked. “Yes we’re trying methylphenidates to help her regain some memory..” The nurse explained. Mrs. Cook fell short on this one. “I-um I assumed it was to help steady her aggression, not her memory. I have no recollection of approving that.”
The nurse seemed puzzled. “If you like we can adjust her to propranolol, so that we destabilize her repressed memories? After what she went through she’s in a serious state of denial.” Mrs. Cook agreed immediately, signing seven different waivers within eleven minutes. She exited the building in 384 steps with only two right turns out to the street. As she raced home she tore off her shoes and scrubbed until there was nothing but sole and border. She dug through her room to find the original box they came in, placing them neatly back inside.
Not more than eighty four minutes later, someone knocked on the door. “Hi, I’m looking for Alison Johnston? Selling the Tory Burch flats?” Mrs. Cook smiled and handed them the box, in exchange for four hundred and six dollars. A total bargain. The woman happily took the box and Mrs. Cook smiled as she closed the door to her sister’s apartment, who has been dead for almost five years. Although Mrs. Cook loved using her identity. It made people think they were crazy after realizing who she said she was, and being a twin made it that much easier.
She received a confirmation email that Chloe was back on the propranolol, making her plan complete. With a deep breath and not a single trace of evidence that could lead back to Mrs. Cook, she sat down, taking off her wig and began counting every single strand of blond hair on her head.
After all, how could anyone come after her with no evidence, a daughter locked in the NutHouse and an identity that no one knows is still alive?
Yours ‘Til the lock and keys