I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror through the open bathroom door: Two strings of flesh hang from my cheek where Sally scratched me.
"I have to tell you, I called Arnold*," says Pat, referring to the Reichian therapist who treated her after she was hit in the leg by a car and her career as a dancer ended. "He had one piece of advice: 'Take her to the nearest emergency room.'"
The significance of Arnold's advice isn't lost on me, especially in light of his weekly radio show where he voices his skepticism toward psychotropic drugs and the biomedical-minded psychiatric establishment.
"I thought he disapproved of emergency rooms."
"Not in the case of acute psychosis."
Acute psychosis. The phrase shocks me. By comparison, "mental illness" sounds benign.
I splash my face with water; a few pale drops of blood swirl down the drain. Then there's a ruckus as the front door flies open, Pat gives a yell, and the two of us are running down the stairs after Sally.
We catch up to her on Bank Street, speedwalking west with a forward headlong tilt. She is going to the Sunshine Café, she explains in answer to our repeated questions, people are already gathered there, soaking in the light, waiting for her to come back as she promised. Trotting to keep up with her, I have the powerful sense of having veered out of time, into some luridly accurate painting by Bosch or Bruegel: Two Fools Chasing Madness through the streets of some walled medieval town.
A minute later, in front of the Sunshine Café, Sally zeros in on the only customer in the place, a mild-looking man with a crew cut and leather minishorts, quietly working through a plate of chicken Caesar salad. She sits down and projects her face right up to him. "What has brought you today to the Sunshine Café?"
"To meet a friend, I hope."
She grips his naked, tattooed arm. "You've already found a friend. I am your friend."
He squirms away from her, startled, then visibly recoils. She gives him a stretched, strangely distant smile. Before she has the chance to launch into him, the man behind the counter intervenes.
"Get her outta here. I don't want to see her f***ing face again."
I absorb the shock of seeing her through his cold glare: a pariah.
She allows us to lead her out of the café, and we reverse our steps through the hot Village streets, Sally between us now, gesturing imperiously like a captured monarch on a forced march.
When we resume our helpless positions in the apartment, we're shiny with sweat, heat oozing through the ceiling in an almost visible shimmer. Another hour passes. I keep waiting for some kind of spontaneous remission—the hypnotist's snapped finger, as it were.
"People get upset when they feel set up. Do you feel set up, Father?"
Her voice pierces me like a dart. She is flushed, beautiful, unfathomably soulless.
"I'm proud of you, Father. There's so much to cry about. So very much."
Only when I feel the wet sting in the scratched grooves on my cheek do I comprehend what she's referring to: She thinks I am shedding tears of joy at her epiphanies; that I have embraced her vision; that thanks to her I too have been saved.
Excerpted from Hurry Down Sunshine, by Michael Greenberg. Copyright © 2008 Michael Greenberg. Published by Other Press LLC.