The sun shone and Monica felt happy as she took her little daughter, Eva, to her friend Tina’s third birthday party.  Monica always felt good when she had been on the generous side and the hand-stitched dolly in Eva’s hands was a very acceptable present.  Life was good now that it was just Eva and herself living as mother and daughter and that no-use husband was where he belonged – a secure ward in the Tryst Psychiatric Hospital.  Tom had tried to wriggle out of hospitalisation but helped by her mother by her sister’s access to the hospital pharmacy, it was organised that Tom be admitted as a menace to himself and to others.  Tom couldn’t even raise a protest when the white van came for him.

          Tina’s mother answered the door.  She was a cheerful sort likely set for a life of failed Weightwatchers meetings.

“Why, hello Eva.  Doesn’t she look gorgeous, Mrs Black?  Tina’s in the lounge – go on through and join them.  It’s great to see you.  Oh my, Tina will be thrilled by that dolly, I just know it.”

“I couldn’t get Eva’s hair properly straightened and she told me she wouldn’t come until I did.  Three year olds call the shots nowadays.”

“Eva’s hair looks great.  Just like her mum’s.  You could do hair professionally, Mrs Black.”

“What time would you like me to come and collect Eva?”

“Five o’clock?  Once they start the birthday games time flies and I like them to have plenty of time to eat the birthday tea.”

“That’s lovely if you’re sure.  It is a luxury to get three hours to myself.  Life is fraught as a single parent.”

“Oh yes, I know.  What a time of it you’ve had, Mrs Black.  I never took your husband to be so strange.  Have a relaxing time of it this afternoon.”

“Thank you Mrs Hallett.  Eva always enjoys herself at Tina’s.”


Mrs Hallett closed the door of her beautifully maintained bungalow.  She loved children’s birthday parties.  For all her big size, Jane Hallett was as childlike as the three-year-olds.  Tina and Eva and the other children shrieked in excitement.  Wrapping paper, bows, boxed toys, candles, vermicelli and cake crumbs filled the lounge.  By good fortune Mr Hallett was a vacuum cleaner salesman.  He wondered whether his wife deliberately created mountains of debris to hoover up or if she just couldn’t help herself.

          Monica set off to her own house – a similar-sized bungalow two streets away but in poor repair.  It was only to be expected when she’d bought the house at a Repossession Auction.  Tom was not in paid employment these days.  Far from it, Tom was a patient in a locked psychiatric ward well-doped with medication.  During the long nights lying in his single dormitory bed, Tom struggled to understand how he had got committed under the Mental Health Act.  He felt anger towards Monica but he couldn’t remember how disaster had struck for him.  The locked wards were a dull and cut-off environment. The other patients went around like zombies with the odd eruption of grumbling over a mislaid slipper.  He felt he didn’t belong in this ward but who could help him now?  The nurses were dressed in regulation uniforms and their work was manning trolleys with the medication.  Everyone stood in queue to get their pills and swallow them with a plastic cup of water.  The beds were only for night-time so you did your best to find a comfortable armchair to pass the days.  There weren’t enough armchairs so you felt stiff on a hard chair for hours each day.  The Psychiatrist made a weekly visit.  He was an important professional and was flanked by four nurses, two student nurses, the psychologist and a dietician.  Obviously there was no one-to-one assessment.  The psychiatrist posed his usual question, “Are you feeling more at ease now?  Rebellion over, I presume?”  However the psychiatrist did dress for the appointment wearing highly polished brown brogues, Glenurquhart suit, mustard waistcoat and gold spectacles at half-mast down his nose.  The words you didn’t want the psychiatrist to say were, “I think we’ll increase your dosage to help your mood.”  The higher the dosage the harder Tom found it to think and to remember.  In his heart he always loved his daughter Eva.  The problem was he didn’t understand how he came to be separated from his daughter and condemned to life as a committed patient in a locked ward.  Would there be an outcry when it was discovered he was really a sane man of sound temperament?  If only it could be that simple.

          Monica turned the key to No 55 Cedar Grove and, as always, there was an unpleasant smell of dampness and of the previous owner’s cats.  Lucky Eva, she thought, enjoying herself in the Hallett’s front lounge which was like a showroom for Plumb’s upholstery.  Still, time for a cup of tea and a Bourbon biscuit to mark my freedom.  The back door seemed even looser than it had done yesterday.  Pity she couldn’t sue the joinery firm that put in that door.  She’d had a niggling feeling there would be a revengeful comeback from buying a repossessed home – the dispossessed flung out with no thought of dignity.  The kettle came to the boil and she poured the boiling water into the loose tea leaves and picked up a couple of Bourbon crčmes.  All was well with the world.  Monica did like the finer things in life.  Her own mother had wanted the best for Monica and her sister, Alanna but she did it at too high a cost.  It was easier for Alanna being the younger sister, but Monica had always felt her mother’s demands to achieve.  If only Monica could have admitted to herself the social climber she was, maybe then she wouldn’t have married Tom for his gentle easy-going ways.  

          When little Eva came along things changed.  Monica had the overbearing genetic inheritance of her mother and she lost her temper at Tom’s plodding ways.  Tom was blind to his limitations and was mostly unperturbed by Monica’s outbursts which he put down to post-natal depression.  Why couldn’t Tom get promotion?  Did he always want to stand behind a counter in the Builder’s Merchants handing out boxes of nails and sets of hinges?  Eva adored her dad who would amuse her with stories and tend to her every need.  Monica thought Tom too pathetic to cope with.  She decided on a solution, a highly potent solution.  She would drug Tom and make him behave in an alarming and outrageous way with the madness witnessed by all their neighbours.

          The ambulance and police squad cars blazed down the cul-de-sac, sirens at full pitch.  The object of their attention was a slightly-built naked man brandishing garden shears at a confused Alsatian.  Tom was frothing at the mouth and incoherent and he looked dangerous.  He was shouting and lashing out and making some mess of the civic wallflower display.  The big dog was losing patience.  Neighbours were checking the spectacle for themselves but they were keeping their children away from the windows.  Little Eva was staying at her grandmother’s looking at her Postman Pat story books with Mrs Goggins at the post office the fiercest character she would see.

Monica felt anxious in case the police didn’t believe her account of her husband’s savagery.  She allowed herself a laugh when Tom was bundled into the police van.  She enjoyed the thought that Tom would be bewildered and never suspect she had drugged him into a madman outburst.  Tom needed Monica to explain things to him and she wouldn’t make the effort this time around.  Now Monica was a single mother and had the neighbours’ sympathy.  At first they had been shocked that quiet Tom could reveal this horrific side.  On reflection the neighbours felt Monica’s sometimes aggressive behaviour must have been caused by that dark horse husband, Tom Black.  Monica’s tea and biscuits gave greater satisfaction as she dwelled on the crazy behaviour she had induced in Tom and its success in removing the useless lump from her life.  It was gratifying that her own mother congratulated her on the achievement.

          Patient 1151 Tom Black lay awake in his cot bed at five a.m. as he did every morning.  Being a secure psychiatric ward all the patients had to stay in bed until 7a.m.  A cardboard potty was provided for the needs of nature.  He studied the ceiling as the other inmates snored and breathed irregularly.  Outside he could hear the Pharmacy van making its regular morning delivery.  The whole environment was so regulated that he knew for certain it was the Pharmacy van.  The strong medication regime rendered Tom very fuzzy-headed so for months he had groped around in his mind to work out how he had come to be in here.  In his former life there was his wife Monica and his beautiful little daughter, Eva.  The other patients were even more out of it than Tom so there was no chance that a shared talk would make anything clearer.  The nursing staff operated like robots with a slot machine function, issuing pills and giving injections.  The nursing staff had been sieved so that none had any inclination to communicate.  Any talking was systematically discouraged as it seemed to be believed that idle chatter would dilute the powerfully effective medication.  This morning though Tom had a sudden realisation on recognising the Pharmacy delivery van that Alanna, Monica’s younger sister who worked in the local hospital pharmacy, had often visited Monica in the days before his madman outburst.  Tom realised that his horrendous behaviour was the result of manipulative drugging of him without his knowledge.  Alanna would be competent in devising a mind-altering and hallucinatory cocktail of drugs.  As comprehension flooded through his brain, Tom lay still upon his bed.  He felt worse than any time since he had been committed because he understood his wife’s treachery and he was horrified to think that the authorities had been duped into removing him from normal life.  The criminal was Monica and she was viewed by everyone as blameless.  There was no point in trying to communicate what he now knew because the system in here didn’t allow for that.  The staff in a secure unit had heard every excuse, explanation and every denial of wrongdoing.  Whenever any patient started to be garrulous or even to expand more than necessary, in plunged the syringes of Mogodon to lance the boil of speaking.  The job satisfaction of the nurses increased in ratio to how far into oblivion they could put a patient.  Tom would continue with his well-learned ward routines and use his knowledge of all the set procedures of each day to plan his escape.  He would make his way home to Monica but he wouldn’t take her a bunch of roses.  It was enough for now to concentrate and to come to terms with the gross injustice of what he had gone through.  He shuddered at the thought that had it not been for the Pharmacy connection revealing itself to his dulled brain, life would have continued for years in this dreary locked ward and he would have felt it was only what he deserved.

          Monica intended to make the most of Eva being at Tina’s birthday party.  She would do a washing and hang it outside.  That way her wet clothes wouldn’t absorb the peculiar odour that lay around the bungalow.  How many cats had lived here?  How icy cold and damp had this house been?  As Monica drank her tea she listened to the local radio station.  The silly woman at the Jobcentre had suggested Monica do some voluntary work at the local radio station, Central FM.  She said Monica would enjoy it there.  Monica thought she would be a success as a newsreader.  The Jobcentre clerk said at first it was more likely to be making tea and coffee but that helped your team-work skills.  What morons worked in Jobcentres?  She had thanked the clerk for the idea but said she was keeping her time free for the right occupation.  The radio bulletins and silly space fillers annoyed Monica.  She decided to turn off the drivel.  This was bad timing because a news flash was notifying listeners that a patient had absconded from the Tryst Hospital Secure Facility.  This patient, Thomas Black, was of slight build, 5 feet 7 inches in height and likely still wearing the distinctive blue ward overalls.  The public should on no account challenge this man.  Everyone was slow in the locked ward and so far no-one had realised Tom had dressed in a selection of nursing staff civilian clothes hung in the cloakroom just outside the door to the ward.  The quality of the clothes impressed Tom and he decided he might go to nurse training when the salary afforded this upmarket outdoor wear.  That must wait till he dealt with the matter in hand.  

                              Monica pegged up Eva’s little trousers and tops first and then she hung her own clothes.  Lastly she heaved up a double blanket but as she did so she sensed someone was there.

“Is that you, Mrs Jones?” – Mrs Jones was the next door neighbour.  She was an old woman and probably deaf as a doorpost.  “Hello there!  Mrs Jones?”  No answer.  There was a rustle from amongst the buddleia.  The sun was high in the sky making the house windows darker.  Monica felt more uneasy than she would admit.  The euphoria of her dark deed had gradually given way to nervous anxiety.  She had a superstitious feeling that she couldn’t expect to get away with it.  Her life would be stalked by some undefined misfortunes.  Maybe she should ask Alanna to fetch her something from the dispensary – just a mild relaxant, not a re-order of Tom’s prescription.  She shrugged off this line of thinking with a hysterical giggle.  Her next-door neighbour was the doted Mrs Jones and her son a gullible mummy’s boy but she must not risk rousing suspicions.  Her mother had always impressed on her daughters the importance of maintaining a righteous appearance.  

          Tom had spent all those dreary hours in his washable armchair, designated a too threatening character to be prepared for release.  He was aware there was a real world outside of the ward.  The other men on the ward had been saturation medicated for years and their aspiration was tea and biscuits.  If someone had tried to usher them outside they would have likely resisted an unwelcome change.  The drugs dulled their minds but instilled fear of any other existence.  As they sat still and bothering no-one, they only had fleeting memories of the hideous crimes that had brought them inside.  Their self-esteem was deep down in a pit from where there was no hope of surfacing.  They were perfect patients and had no motivation to reclaim any of their birthright to freedom.  Tom still had thoughts of returning to normal life.  He didn’t dare believe he had any official way of being considered for return to normal life.  The cathartic event was when he made the connection between the Pharmacy delivery van and the Hospital dispensary where his sister-in-law worked.  The truth struck like a bolt of lightning.  Tom desperately wanted to get back to be a father to Eva.  He also had a strong impulse of revenge towards Monica.  Giving the nurses the slip to escape from the ward would be the easy part.  It was a locked ward but everyone could see there was no need for locks with such a settled congregation.  Bedlam was their comfort blanket and their straitjacket.

          “Hello, Mrs Black.  Fine day for the washing.”

Monica froze with the clothes pegs still in her hands.  Tom had escaped the hospital ward and made his way back home.  The steely tone in his voice showed Tom was not confused.  Nice old Tom never spoke in a cold voice.  Suddenly Tom pounced and squeezed Monica’s throat with a vicious grasp.  He dragged her up the two steps into the kitchen and he kept his thumb painfully tight against her neck.  Monica tried to play the innocent.  “Oh Tom, I didn’t expect you today.  Would you like a cup of tea?”

“It’s too late for that.  I’m here to clear my name and expose you for drugging me to get me committed to the asylum.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s me that didn’t understand, felt bad and guilty, wondered what kind of monster I’d become.  But I know what you did to me.”  He gave Monica a sharp compress to her throat, her neck skin was red and raw but still she tried for mercy.

“You’re hurting me Tom.”

“Same old Monica.  You’re a witch and you’ll pay for your crime.”

“Eva’s at her friend’s birthday party but she’ll be home soon.”

“I could say you’ll be dead soon but I’m not making it so easy for you.”

Monica decided to keep silent as there was no chance of any husband and wife rapport.

“You connived with Alanna to get the hallucinatory drugs from the hospital pharmacy.  You pumped me full of the brain-altering drugs so you could set me up for a madman exhibition and get me put away, destroyed.”

“Tom, I wasn’t well myself and my mum kept on at me.  You’ve got to understand it wasn’t my idea.”

Tom tugged her hair and increased the squeeze to her neck.  It crossed Monica’s mind that if Tom had been so forceful before he was committed, maybe Monica would have been better pleased with him as a husband.  Her mind was playing tricks on her in this hostage situation.

          There was a knock at the back door which still stood open.  It was Kenny Jones, bachelor son of old Mrs Jones.  “I’m looking for my black cat Smoky because he used to come come round here.”  Then Kenny realised that Tom shouldn’t be there and that Tom was holding Monica at a very odd angle.

“Is everything all right?”

Tom told Kenny to phone for the police as he would be making a statement.

Kenny was glad to get away from the situation.  He had watched Tom’s horror antics with the Alsatian and now he was scared.

Monica was glad the police were on their way.  She believed herself smart enough to have Tom re-committed and kept locked up this time. As soon as the policemen saw her burned neck there would be no-one listening to Tom and his drugs theory.  Tom was feeling ill, his head throbbed and he felt exhausted, pains in his back and his stomach.  He was resolute he would make his statement and that Monica would be exposed as a criminal.  He just had to squeeze Monica’s scrawny neck a bit harder to make sure he was going to see this through.  He felt angry at the waste of his life and of the disgust he had felt at what he believed was his own lewd behaviour.  His reputation destroyed and all for his wife’s devious purpose.  He had been the provider and the comforter but the worm had turned with regard to this scheming bitch now at his mercy.  His one fear was that Eva might return home before her mother was whipped into the police van.  Little Eva would know her daddy to be her kind and loving protector and have no confusion that he was deranged or even in any way different to how he had always been.  What was keeping the police?  

          Next door Kenny Jones was struggling with his conscience.  He felt he should return to next door’s kitchen and possibly prevent Monica Black’s murder.  Terror won over this good intention.  It might make matters worse if he showed up again.  What if Tom put his thumbs on his neck?  The police were likely kitting themselves out in bullet-proof armour and loading up their rifles.  Best thing to do would be keep a look-out for the police arriving.  Then Kenny remembered his mother who should be arriving anytime now from her doctor’s appointment.  He’d need to warn her that Tom Black was on the loose from the asylum.  Anything could happen with those neighbours.  At least the last lot kept a few ginger cats for Smoky to play with.

          A police car, big white police van and an ambulance roared into the cul-de-sac.  Armed officers ran up to No 55.  “Police!  Open the door!”  Next moment a big black size14 boot burst down the door and the policemen ran in.  

The scene they saw was peculiar.  Tom was holding Monica with a vice-like grip to her neck, his face red and stressed, but Monica brightened up at all these men in uniform arriving.  Her hair was untidy and she seemed to have bathed in stewed tea leaves.  It was like seeing an Indian squaw who’d been caught by the Presbyterian homesteader.  It could yet be that Tom would be lifted off as a repeat offender while Monica was in line for tea and counselling.