"The asylum is for sick people," Papa explained to Carlie. "It is a hospital for people who have a sickness of the mind or the spirit. They come here to get better. Asylum is from the Greek word ?sylon, meaning 'sanctuary, a place of shelter.'" Where words were concerned, Papa never missed a chance for a lesson.
Aunt Maude said, "More like a dungeon if you ask me." Aunt Maude saw only the gloomy side of things. Happiness made her miserable, and joy to Aunt Maude was a sin.
"How can they be happy in there, Papa?" I asked. When I was sad, I liked a good run down a hill.
Papa put an arm around me. "The patients know that they are here to be helped by people like me." Papa was a well-known psychiatrist. He had written learned papers that had been published in the American Journal of Insanity.
Carlie was still seeing the asylum as a castle. "I think they are waiting for a prince to come and set them free."
Aunt Maude said, "That's nonsense, Caroline. I'm sure it isn't proper for us to be standing out here on the porch for everyone to see. Come inside, girls, and help me put things away."
Our furniture looked uncomfortable in its strange setting, like a person wearing someone else's clothes, but our little home was very pleasant. Some houses shut you out the minute you walk through the door. No matter how long you live there, you are always a stranger. This house was friendly and welcoming. There was a fireplace in every room to keep us warm against the northern Michigan winter and a sun porch for the summer. There was a pantry, a kitchen, a parlor, a study, and a bedroom downstairs for Papa and one for Aunt Maude. Carlie and I would share a room up a narrow stairway. Our room was tucked under a sloping roof and had a small window.
Though I thought our new house very pleasant, I was sorry to leave my old home in the city, worried that I might leave behind my happy memories of Mama. I hated having Aunt Maude mix her memories of Mama in with mine, for they all seemed to be of Mama's illness and death.
While Carlie hunted for her dolls, Papa looked for his books, and I checked to be sure my journal was wrapped inside my long underwear, where I had hidden it. Aunt Maude reached into a box and held up a dress of Mama's. It was white cotton printed with blue flowers, and I remember Mama wearing it summer afternoons. When we gave her things to the church, for poor people, Aunt Maude had insisted on keeping some of them. "I remember when your dear mother wore this," she said. "How young and happy she looked, and now she is gone."
At these sad words Carlie burst into tears, and Papa hurried off to the study, shutting the door behind him.
Aunt Maude was my mother's older sister. "Dear, dependable Maude," Mama used to say. After Mama's death from typhoid, Aunt Maude came to live with us. At the sad time of Mama's death it was natural that Aunt Maude should have black dresses and mournful looks. But two years had passed. Carlie had become used to thinking of Mama in Heaven, where she was sure Mama watched over us and ate suppers that were all desserts. As for me, I had used up my tears and was looking about me and even smiling. Those smiles were ever the occasion of Aunt Maude's chiding me. As her fingers would trouble the brooch that contained a tiny wreath woven of Mama's hair, Aunt Maude would say, "How brave you are, Verna, to find a smile in spite of your terrible loss. I wonder how you find the strength to put your dear mama out of your mind, but you can be sure I, for one, will never forget her." Though I had tried to climb out of my sorrow, after such words as that I would fall back and have to begin my struggle all over again.
I had hoped in our new home things would be more cheerful, but here was Carlie in tears and Papa behind a closed door. I blamed Aunt Maude and couldn't keep myself from saying, "You have made Carlie cry."
"Nonsense," Aunt Maude said. "You are very rude, Verna. Caroline is just thinking of your mama. Come to Aunt Maude, my dear." She drew Carlie to her and soothed her with a peppermint drop. It was very wicked of me, but sometimes I thought Aunt Maude made Carlie cry just so she could comfort her.
I could see the asylum through the window, and I wondered if people there felt as miserable as I did, for nothing was turning out as I hoped. When Papa was offered the opportunity to come to the asylum, he asked Carlie and me if we minded moving to a new home. "These last two years have been unhappy ones," he said. "Let us make a new start."
Carlie said she would go if she could bring her clothespin dolls and her stuffed rabbit, Promise. Promise got its name when Carlie begged for a pet and Papa gave her a stuffed rabbit, promising that when she was old enough to care for it, she might have a real one. For myself, I thought more about what would remain than what I would take. I hoped that by moving, we might leave Aunt Maude behind, but when I asked, "When will Aunt Maude go back to her own home?" Papa looked startled.
Excerpted from The Locked Garden by Gloria Whelan Copyright © 2009 by Gloria Whelan. Excerpted by permission.
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