Jan/Feb 1998  •   Fiction

Angelina Was Obviously Having A Bad Day

by Lauren McHenry

The psychiatrist let a cat out of his bag. Forty years of ambitious insomnia and this is what it comes down to? A diagnosis of manic depression? Angelina left his office without tears. She opened her briefcase in the outpatient waiting area and took out her blue umbrella. She stuffed her copy of Einstein's Relativity back into the case among yesterday's lecture notes. She buttoned her overcoat.


For twenty years the diagnosis had been depression. The treatment: sedation.

Okay, depression. Lots of people suffer from depression. Even normal people suffer from depression. And get over it.

A woman in the hospital who had just lost her lover of fifteen years suffered an extended depressive episode during which she had attempted to commit suicide.

Angelina had first become aware of the woman's presence in the middle of the night as she lie on the couch in the psychiatric ward lobby. From isolation and nakedness the bereaved woman, recently wrapped in a navy blue hospital blanket, had crashed down on the vinyl covered couch next to Angelina's floating head with the ceaseless thoughts in it. A head with a brain in it that was no longer drug-numbed. Angelina kept her eyes closed, still pretending, after seven days in the nut house, to sleep.

The woman wailed. And wailed. And it broke Angelina's heart. She was compelled to reach out a hand to the woman who had lost her lover. The hand grabbed and held Angelina's tightly. It was slight, with a thin wrist. It was connected to a large body with delicate bones lost and frightened within it.

The body shook. And shook. A tiny, quick pill was delivered to it by a gentle nurse. Angelina heard the woman's throat swallowing the pill. The lover handed the empty paper cup back to the nurse. The nurse stood, silently waiting. Time also stood while Angelina reclined and the shaking woman sat. The sobs gradually tapered off. The woman finally murmured, "Thank you," and was led off to her mattress on the thoroughly carpeted floor of her chamber.


Most of the other people frightened Angelina with their misery and unpredictability. She had a deep-seated fear of the genuinely mentally ill.

When her teenage roommate's insurance had been exhausted and her family agreed to take the incorrigible bulimic back to their bosom, she left. Another girl of fourteen arrived in her place.

Angelina, leaning nervously against their door jam with her arms crossed tightly over her breasts, asked the tall, silent figure shrunken into the bed next to hers why she had come here. Her arms crushing a ragged teddy bear to her chest, the new roommate had answered, "I hear voices."

"What do they say?"

"They say to kill my mother and father."

"I'm not your mother."


When Angelina had gone home to see if home might not be a good place to go home to, she returned to the hospital for a day of observation.

All the girls gathered around her when she mentioned she had been home. "Ooh la la" they squealed. They slapped their knees.

The tall, recovering fourteen-year-old roommate slapped hers and spun her gleefully contracted body around in a circle, pivoting on the sneakered heel of one of her large, slim feet. With incredulity and real envy she whispered excitedly as her head returned from orbit and bobbed directly in front of Angelina's, "You got laid!"

They especially enjoyed Angelina's hot, retreating face as it replied with an unconsciously rendered British edge, "Yes. Yes, I did lie down with my husband."


In the day room the topic came round to crying. Angelina asked if anyone of them could make themselves cry at will. A very unstable woman and a sweet Asian girl of sixteen took up the challenge. They retreated to all corners and prepared. Angelina waited. Then waited some more.

The Asian girl's back was to Angelina and the unstable and dangerous woman was seated before Angelina with her eyes eerily bulging into the thin space separating the two women.

"Stop, stop," Angelina bleated quietly, sincerely. "Please."

But the actresses persisted, intent on dragging their lakes in search of pained personas. "Please," Angelina hissed, "please stop."

No mercy now, my sweet.

Angelina stood abruptly and grabbed the Asian girl around the waist from behind and massaged her fingers into the girl's ribs, gently, provocatively. She rested her chin on the girl's shoulder.

"Please don't."

The girl shook her off and turned around to face Angelina, her head bent, her eyelids lowered, her cropped hair bobbing on either side of her large, delicate ears, trying to make herself sad enough to cry at Angelina's whim. Angelina, rejected, sank back to the plastic seat of the chair at her heels.

Angelina bounced up again. This girl was someone's young daughter!

"Please." Angelina whispered. She reached out and caressed the shoulders and arms of the girl who could not make herself cry.

The unstable woman broke into a flood of crocodile tears from where she sat.


To the temporarily unstable and dangerous woman Angelina unwisely confided her dislike of a certain Nazi nurse.

"Just wait," the woman replied confidentially, gleefully.

The nurse walked by as if by order.

"Oh, Missy." That was the nurse's name. "You dropped something."

Missy turned to look at the floor behind her.

A pregnant pause, a baffled look.

"Your brains," said the woman.

The patients guffawed. Some without shame, others into their hankies.


Angelina became disoriented as she left her psychiatrist's office, tucked within a blind alley of the university's hospital. She wandered out into the parking lot. Maniac-what!

It was raining. It was freezing. It was raining freezing rain. Angelina clung to her blue umbrella, tried to be underneath it. The wind blew. The rain fell diagonally. Her wool coat felt thin.

She walked to her car. It wasn't there.

Or rather, she was successful in locating four or five cars of her type that had unfamiliar things in them. Like sheepskin seat covers. Or an umbrella, but not a blue one like hers. No. Angelina kept becoming aware, over and over again, that she was clinging to hers. Each time she approached one of these cars, many for the third or fourth time, she prayed, but her prayers could not turn one of them into her car.

She began to peruse license plates. She reached into her damp pocket book with her frozen fingers, searching for her car registration to match its numbers against the cars' plates one by one. At least that was the plan. But she couldn't locate the document. In fact, none of the objects in the pocket book seemed even vaguely familiar. She gave up the whole project when it dawned on her that she could no longer read.

She walked up and down the lines of cars for thirty minutes more. She had a watch on her wrist. She tried to imagine this was normal behavior for an adult female, forty-something, with a Ph.D. in nuclear physics.

Tears welled up in her eyes. She swallowed them. Her coat was drenched and had begun to freeze. Her feet were soaked and numb. She shivered continually. She considered the possibility that her car had been stolen.

"Officer, my car has been stolen. Or—or maybe I just misplaced it."

Doctors and nurses and graduate students on efficient paths to their own vehicles jumped over or picked their way around puddles just beginning to curdle with ice as the sun began to set. Should Angelina stop one of them?

"Sir, or madam. I'm cold. I'm exhausted. Someone's stolen my car. And I'm obviously nuts. Would you mind cruising around the parking lot with me for an hour or so? Maybe I just misplaced it."

No, that wouldn't do.


A bodhisattva walked by. The cat retreated to its bag. The rain stopped. The car appeared.