My name is Constance, or it was at some point. I am certain I was Constance before they shaved my head, and before they chained me to a wall or placed me in one of those unpleasant suits with the buckles and restraints. I will let you call me mente capti — that’s Latin for mentally ill — if you’d like. The majority of the staff here hate that I know Latin; an educated woman means nothing but trouble. Still, it’s a point of pride, and the members of the aristocracy that pay to come and gawk at all of us, seem both amused and surprised. Frankly, I find myself amused that it continues to frustrate the dim-witted staff to no end. My sole purpose for existing now, it seems, is to remind them all of their complete inability to starve, shock, or beat a dead language out of one small, pathetic living thing.
When I was a little girl, I had a sister, Abigail. I remember her having one of those skipping ropes with the most elaborate wooden handles. Father had it specially made by a renowned Parisian carpenter, a légendaire artiste he sought out and paid quite dearly while traveling for business, as he often did. There were lots of gifts and toys back then, chests full of them, but skipping was dear Abby’s favorite way to pass the time. Mine was even simpler; as a matter of fact, there was no toy involved at all.
My favorite game was pretending that I was a Dervish. Countless afternoons began and ended with me proudly marching up the hill at the back of our garden. I would fling my arms wide, turn my face to the sun, and spin around, faster and faster, until it felt like I was whirling at lightning speed. Father once told me that hectic, spinning dance was the Sufi way of remembering God. Abby would invariably giggle at the sight of my pantalettes peeking out from beneath my flying skirt just before I’d tumble off the hill. And our nanny would cluck her tongue at the dirt on my pinafore afterward, calling me undignified and asking why, in Heaven’s name, I wasn’t more like Abigail.
All in all, we had a lovely childhood, Abigail, and I. Then father died, and the rising tides of age and obligations came to strip the joy away. Abby, being the oldest, was married off first, to a decent fellow albeit a little boring, and I soon followed. Mine was not quite so boring, or so decent; I’m sad to say. Bernard had a penchant for scandalous women and even more scandalous activities, whoring and gambling and the like. One of his doxies, or his friends, not that it matters which, placed an idea in that ridiculously fat little head of his one day. How much easier would it be, burning through my inheritance, if I were locked away in a lunatic asylum? Of course, I tried to fight it but, as you can see, to no avail.
It’s not the nicest place to be, I’ll not lie. The staff touches you when and where they like, and acts of cruelty and kindness are all the same. Sometimes they call you “pretty girl” and some days “skinny cow” and the days all bleed together into nightmares. But there’s finally something new here, something I’ve been waiting for forever. It’s a gimmick, a marvel, an actual ride, and they call it the rotary chair. The furniture’s nothing remarkable in itself, just a sturdy Windsor chair, but it hangs by this hook from the ceiling, and it spins like a mad carousel. They strap you in whenever they want, and make sure you’re all cozy and tight. An attendant works a lever, and that lever controls how fast, and how long, you go. The side effects are horrible, but I’m desperate to try.
They won’t let me whirl on my own, you see, and I’d like to remember God.
*Note: The most horrific thing about this story is that it was inspired by actual treatments and practices in Victorian era lunatic asylums.