I swear under my breath, savouring the word, enjoying the feeling as it rolls off my tongue. It’s not enough, so I say it again, louder, louder, until before I know it I am shouting, saying it over and over again. I yell it, and the sounds twist around me, but I yell again in fear and the words are suffocating me. There is a smashing sound and I know I have thrown something. I stop yelling. Poor, mad, Annie. Stay away from Annie. She killed her mother.

I didn’t kill her. How could I kill somebody who was never there? Orphan Annie. Fear Annie. I didn’t do it. There’s no proof so they say they let me walk free but they’re lying. Always in this hospital, this prison. They tell me they’re here to help but there’s fear in their eyes, in their voices. I see it in the air around me when they look at me. They never look in the eyes. Never in my eyes.

Poor, mad Annie. She killed her mother.

It doesn’t matter that they try to shield me from the truth because I’m not stupid. Mentally disturbed, they whisper, not in control of her actions, they say. Can’t be blamed. But they blame me anyway.

The words are swirling in front of my vision and I regret conjuring so many. The harsh words are loud, oppressive. They are no longer a comfort. I want to get away. I scream again but the noise only upsets me, rattles me,but I can’t stop so I scream more, clamping my hands over my ears and screwing my eyes shut. Pity Annie.

They don’t know what to do with me. Possessed. Mad. Stay away from Annie.

*

She sits on the other bed. She looks small, her dirty-blond hair covering her face, her body folded in on itself. Her face turns and her wide eyes look up at me, so I spit at her. The shock and fear is evident on her face and for the first time I feel bad.

“Sorry.” I murmur. My voice is hoarse.

“You’re Annie.” Her voice is barely a whisper but I still hear the tremor in it.

“Yes.”

There is a long pause and I consider screaming again, but the air is spiky already and I don’t want the sounds to slash at me, at this girl. I like this girl. She’s different from the others. She cringes away from something, but not from me. There is fear in her eyes and the colour of her breath, but I am not the cause.

“I’ve met you before.” She says. “They say I’m like you.”

The girl is lying. She doesn’t know me, and she isn’t like me. But I say nothing, unwilling to disrupt the air that is syrupy with her lies. I turn away on my narrow bed, facing the wall. I stare at the crack in the wallpaper, my crack. I trace it’s familiar shape with my eyes. The girl keeps talking and I try to ignore her, focusing on my crack on the wall. Her whisper gets louder and I turn to ask her to stop but then I listen to the words.

“They told me I’m mad, but I’m not, I promise. I just know things. I know who killed your mother.”

I know by her voice that she is telling the truth.