“I’m supposed to be married,” the shrunken form of what was once a man uttered bitterly from across the room. He paced nervously, biting at what remained of his fingernails and occasionally drawing blood. He didn’t even feel it anymore. He didn’t feel much of anything except for the loss that drove him into himself.
“There was supposed to be a band, and cake,” he lamented to no one in particular, and no one in particular listened anymore, each too involved in their own living hell. “We were going to go to Hawaii and then get a house, have kids, and….” His eyes became unfocused as he stared off into the distant past and his voice trailed off.
He fell and lay limp of the cold tile floor. Another patient pointed and laughed, but most had grown bored of his theatrics and roundly ignored them. No one talked to him, each thinking his madness beyond what was permissible, even in the confines of the ward.
“Why don’t we go for a little walk, Mr. Salzburg,” a kindly tech said as she offered him a hand. “We don’t want to be late again, do we?”
“What?” Mr. Salzburg said, confused by the question, before accepting her assistance. “No, we wouldn’t want that,” he agreed, not really certain to what she referred.
“That’s it. We’ll take a little walk and then you can see Dr. Segovia and you two can have a chance to talk. He’s very eager to hear your story.”
“He is?” The patient lit up, ready to tell his story again. “When can we meet him?”
“Right now, of course,” the tech replied, leading him through a series of locked doors before walking out into a long corridor, devoid of warmth. It was lit with harsh fluorescent lighting, no windows, and painted a neutral beige color which seemed to sap the heat from the patients. They all shivered even though the temperature was kept at a moderate 72 degrees.
Mr. Salzburg shuffled beside the tech who kept a hand on the patient’s elbow, both to lead him and to prevent him from running away. Within minutes, they walked into a waiting room that was locked from the inside, to prevent the patients from trying to escape. The pair sat in the lobby, which was decidedly warming with plush carpeting and a warm color palette, but with little in the way of decorations. The few painting on the wall were bolted in place, and all the furniture was bolted to the floor. Nothing that could be used as a weapon was allowed.
“Jon, thank you for joining me today.” A short man, in his early fifties, walked out of an office and stood in front of the patient. “That’ll be all for now, Edna,” the doctor said to the tech, who merely bowed her head and walked out without another word. “Why don’t we come into my office?”
Mr. Salzburg stood up and shuffled into the office and sat down on a couch across from a large leather armchair, into which the doctor sat. Picking up Salzburg’s medical record, Dr. Segovia scanned the file before setting it down and picking up a notepad. “Why don’t we start this from the top again?”
“Yes,” the doctor replied wearily. “What do you remember? Can you tell me?”
“I was supposed to get married,” Salzburg said, his voice clearly agitated but otherwise remaining calm. “The was going to be a band and cake, and then we were going to go to Hawaii before getting a house and raising a family.”
“I see,” the doctor nodded. “What happened?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, can you tell me why you didn’t get married? Can you tell me why you didn’t get to go to Hawaii and why all your plans fell through? Why are you here instead of with your wife?”
“I don’t know,” Salzburg replied, perplexed by the questions.
“Okay, can you tell me who you were supposed to marry? What was she like?”
“Who I was going to marry? Her name was Laura,” he said with difficulty, straining to pull the answers that were buried deep in his memory.
“Yes, good,” the doctor leaned in, excited at the potential breakthrough. “What else?”
“Laura was a lively girl, always excited to talk to everyone.” Salzburg closed his eyes as flood of memories overwhelmed him. “Yes, she was outgoing, but you see, she chose me. She was popular, but she agreed to go out with me. Why would she do that?”
“Why don’t you tell me?” Segovia urged him gently.
“I don’t know,” he shook his head. “I wasn’t anything special, but I screwed up the courage to ask her out, and we hit it off. We were going to get married, but we didn’t.”
“No, you didn’t,” the doctor agreed. “Tell me more about her and about what happened.”
“Laura loved to dance. She insisted on the band, and I gave in. I always gave in to her. I was powerless to deny her anything, until….”
“I – I don’t want to talk about it.” Salzburg folded his arms and tried to shut everything out, the doctor and the memories.
“But you need to talk about it. What is it that you’re trying to remember. Speak!”
“I – I can’t,” he cried. “I was supposed to be married. I wanted to be married. I never thought I would find anyone and then I found Laura and now…. Why did she have to die?”
“I think that’s enough for now,” Dr. Segovia spoke up abruptly. “We don’t need to get there just yet.”
“Why not?” Salzburg yelled indignantly. “You brought it up.”
“Are you ready for the answer? Do you really want to know why she died?”
“Yes – well no,” Salzburg collapsed into the couch. “She really is gone?”
“Yes, I’m afraid she is.”
“And I’m the one that found her?”
“I don’t think you’re ready for the answer.”
“But I need to know. You made me remember. I held her in my arms as she bled, begging me not to…”
“Not to what?”
“I – I killed her,” Salzburg’s face drained of color, his face as stark as the walls of the hospital.
“Yes, you killed her.”
“Why would I do that? We were going to be married.”
“No, you weren’t,” the doctor replied. “She never agreed to go out with you, and she never agreed to marry you. She was engaged to someone else, and in a fit of jealousy you killed them both. You’re here because a judge ordered you here for evaluation. That was five years ago.”
“Five years,” Salzburg closed his eyes and thought back. “Yes, I killed her. Why couldn’t she just love me?”
“I can’t answer that,” Segovia replied, “but I’m satisfied that you remember what you did and are fit.”
“Fit for what?”
“To pay for your crime,” the doctor replied as he filled out a form and then pushed a button on the table next to him.
“What are you talking about.”
“You confessed, did you not? Didn’t you just say you killed her?”
“I did, but what do you mean pay for my crime?”
“Just that. You know what you did, and admitted it. That’ll suffice. You’re guilty and therefore able to pay. You’ve been sentenced to death.”
“I don’t understand,” he cried as two large orderlies entered the office.
“You don’t have to understand,” Segovia admitted with a grin. “You just have to understand the crime, which you’ve admitted to. Good bye.”
“No, wait,” he yelled as the orderlies grabbed him by the arms and pinned him to the couch. “You’re a doctor. Aren’t you supposed to help me?”
“Help you?” Segovia laughed as he pulled a syringe from his desk. “I’m here to help the victims get closure. Don’t worry. It’ll be painless. In a few minutes you’ll be dead.”
“No! You can’t do this!” Salzburg struggled, but he was no match for the men who held him. “You can’t do this!”
“Tut tut,” Segovia said dryly as he chose the vein into which to stick the needle. Slowly he plunged the drug into his arm and Salzburg stopped struggling. “You see? Painless. A better way to go than the way you butchered my daughter. Goodbye.”