"Mr. Bryan, I'm afraid to report that your wife's mental health is continuing to deteriorate. Her dementia is becoming extremely serious and she can scarcely recognize the nurse's when they come in to give her the medication."

Per usual with my job; just another bout of horrible news for poor, hopeful families.

The elderly man looked up at me with misty, sad grey eyes, his face barely composed enough to pass as unaffected. He wiped his wrinkly eyes and swallowed hard, his thin lips quivering.

"What else can be done?" he croaked.

I noticed him spinning the worn, golden wedding band on his finger.

"Nothing," I replied softly. "Dementia is a progressive disease that will chew away at a person's mind until they become completely absent."

His hands were shaking as he stared blankly at them, hunched over in the chair across from my glossy oak desk.

"All right," he whispered, standing up with his cane.

I rose to my feet also, fixing my white lab coat before offering my arm to help him hobble out of my office. Working in a mental institution usually granted me the wonderful opportunity to tell people that their loved ones were slowly going insane and only sit by and watch as their minds turned into mush. Dementia was one of our most common diseases here at St. Peter's Asylum, but I also met my fair share of bipolar sufferers. . . . Today was so far not so bad, though I had yet to see any of my patients.

Mr. Bryan left the building, blotting his eyes with a handkerchief. I remorsefully watched him go, then moved closer to the pristine white greeting desk to smile at Laura, the receptionist. She was typing away at her keyboard, but paused to hand me a stack of papers, much to my dismay.

"You have an appointment with Joe in five minutes, Adel," she said lazily. "He's swaying back into his manic phase."

I groaned and flipped through the notes, reading what I already knew about the severely bipolar man.

"Who's after that?" I sighed.

She popped her gum.

"Lucy down in room 20. She's making tinfoil hats again."

Our paranoid schizophrenic patients enjoyed constructing little tinfoil hats to protect themselves from the Martians, or so they said. I tried to discourage it for their own good, but it was basically a useless thing to attempt.

"Ooo, admitting a new patient?" I queried nosily, leaning over the desk and peering at her monitor.

Laura nodded, bobbing her short brown hair.

"Yes, a new masochist," she said, pointing at the screen. "A Mrs. Leann Devirty. She's doctor Tracey's patient, though. Yours is coming next week."

My expression soured immediately; Dr. Tracey always got the interesting patients. It sounded like a poor thing to say about mentally sick people, but treating schizophrenics and dementia victims constantly became very repetitive.

I bade Laura farewell and walked down the disturbingly white halls toward Joe Peckl's room, waving wordlessly whenever someone shouted at me. The people here were all stuck until their family members pulled them out or we decided that they were healthy enough to go. I was on a team of nearly fifteen doctors, all working on different wings for different types of mental disorders. Some people preferred helping people suffering from psychosis, some enjoyed the challenge of a bulimic or anorexic patient, but I liked the quirky ones, the people who could change on a dime. My wing specialized in dementia, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

After I knocked twice on the door, Joe hurried over and tore it open, eyes wildly searching the area and a big smile on his face. He was still rather young, maybe in his mid-30s, but his bipolar problem had driven him to the brink of madness. Still, he was accustomed to the asylum and enjoyed our company, though we tried to avoid him when he became depressed.

"Hey, Joe," I said lightly.

He didn't reply, just shut the door behind me and waved until I walked over to his dresser. The more stable patients could have furniture, though we never, ever allowed it on Wing F. That contained the people bound in straightjackets, held forever in a cell with padded walls while they sang to themselves. I'd heard horror stories about that place before and was quite content on this Wing; A.

Joe thrust a small box into my hands, one that had been freshly carved from wood. He was married happily to his wife and she would bring him in various objects to whittle at during his good months. I usually went home with a few boxes, maybe a pen that did not contain ink.

"It's beautiful," I crooned.

He set his hands on his hips, standing over me like a proud, oddly tall child.

"Made it last night," he chirped. "I'm telling you, Doc, I feel like a million bucks. Maybe Rachel will finally pull me out of here!"

A smile instantly set itself upon my lips; he constantly talked about leaving, though both his wife, Rachel, and I had discussed numerous times that he was simply to unstable.

"Maybe," I answered. "Did you make anything else?"

I was shown more wooden boxes, a few animals that had extremely precise detail, and a small heart that was obviously for his wife. It warmed my own heart to know how deeply he loved her; even when he was going through a depressive phase, he still carved out objects for her.

"So when's lunch?" he inquired. "Laura stopped by earlier and . . . Hey, do you think we can go for a walk today? . . . When's Rachel visiting?"

Unfortunately, he had very little in the way of an attention span.

"Mr. Peckl, I'm going to give you your antipsychotic," I said. "You're a bit hyperactive today."

He grimaced when I removed a hypodermic needle from my lab coat.

"But I feel fine," he muttered, not reacting as I rolled up his sleeve.

I double-checked the fluid balance, then quickly injected it into his bicep. He sat glumly on his cot and rubbed the wound, eyeing the needle as I placed it in my other pocket.

"You may feel--"

"--Drowsy, dysphoric, and dry-mouthed," he interrupted, lying down.

Joe didn't react when I patted his blonde head, but he sat up abruptly as I opened the door.

"Can I go for a walk tomorrow?" he pleaded.

I nodded, checking my watch.

"Actually, Rachel is coming over later, so you two can go out. I'll be back later, Mr. Peckl."

His countenance brightened and he laid back down, now humming as I gently shut the door behind myself.

Lucy was being her typical self, constructing a myriad of glimmering tinfoil hats, one of which she insisted I wear. We discussed Mars for a little while and I tried to explain that she was completely safe, but she refused to believe it and was lining her barred window with tinfoil when I left another hour or so later. There wasn't much we could do for some people if their families denied them any medicine; just sit and watch as the mental disease devoured them completely.

I checked on Mrs. Bryan a while later, sighing at her dazed expression, then went back to greet Rachel and make sure Joe was okay. After that, I ran through the other patients, none of whom required anything other than a little hello and some inane chatter.

As I stood at the front desk with Laura, talking about the new patient, the doors suddenly burst open and a woman with flaming red hair collapsed in. She was quickly seized by two of our white-clad security guards and led down the hallway that read "Wing D".

"SOMEONE GIVE ME THEM!" she screamed, "I NEED MY LOVES!"

She vanished inside a door a ways down, followed by Dr. Tracey.

"Masochistic?" I said. "She looks more like a drug addict to me."

Indeed she must have been, for Wing D was reserved for our addicts, ranging from sex to alcohol addiction.

"Strange," Laura murmured, "she was copied down as a masochist. Oh well, we all make mistakes."

The hospital was closing down for the night and Rachel passed by me on her way out. She was smiling broadly, curly blonde hair in a slight mess. I rolled my eyes and shook my head, not approving of what she and Joe did; he was sick and it could just be making him even sicker.

"Sexual intercourse is a bad idea, Mrs. Peckl," I chastised absently.

She bit her lower lip.

"I love him. It's difficult to sit there and not do it. Besides, he'll only be like this for a little while, then. . . ." She trailed off.

I waved her away. Normally I should report this type of thing, but I felt very badly for the two of them and acted like I had no idea what was happening.

"He has his antipsychotic for the night, so he should be in tip-top shape tomorrow," I said. "Did you two go outside?"

Her highlights sparkled as she nodded.

"Yes. He showed me the heart he carved."

I grinned at her and pulled my own brown hair behind my neck.

"He's been oddly good lately. It's a stretch, but I think he may be getting better."An excited squeak passed between her lips and she hugged me ferociously before skipping out of the hospital. I continued signing forms, acting like I couldn't feel Laura's eyes boring holes into the crown of my skull.

"Lie much?" she said mordantly.

I scowled back at her and sniffed a little indignantly before returning to checking the mountain of papers in front of me.

"He really has been improving. By the way, why didn't you tell me that Dr. Tracey has two new patients? There's another in Wing F."

Laura took the paper I was reading away from me, then handed it back after a quick study.

"He's yours," she said simply. "I didn't do it, though, because I know you don't like that Wing."

Apparently my newest patient was a man, completely undiagnosed, an apple ripe for my psychoanalysis picking. He was twenty-six, a year older than I was, and so far displayed symptoms of extreme manipulation, narcissism, and detachment. There was no picture clipped onto the sheet, just a fat red mark that read "F", almost like he was a failure.

"Sounds like a textbook antisocial," I said, a little disappointed.

Laura shook her head.

"He's been in and out of five different asylums," she whispered. "The last doctor thought he was hopeless and should just be bound and locked away, so the hospital offered to give one last shot at fixing him. I don't know, Adel. All of his doctors said he gives them the creeps, like he's some sort of alien."

I snorted disdainfully as I read through the comments. 'A hopeless case', 'does not wish to change', 'seems to have permanent psychological trauma that will not resurface'. Lazy doctors wrote those types of things when they just couldn't figure out how to get through to a patient.

"I think I can handle it," I said haughtily. "See you tomorrow, Laur."

She waved with her index finger, still typing away as I walked out the sliding glass doors into the fresh air outside. Spring was on its way in Maine, so the oxygen felt even purer than normal; it would be oppressive by the time summer rolled around. I walked over to my Acura, settling for unlocking it manually instead of with the key, then slid inside and started the engine.

Home for me was about forty minutes away from St. Peter's, which was rather nice because it gave me time to think and mull over my patients. I lived close to the ocean in a two-story house with two staircases that curved toward the upper landing. My boyfriend, Lucas, found it a little extravagant, but he was a brain surgeon and lived even ritzier than I did.

I parked in my driveway, carrying my papers underneath my arm and fiddling with my keys as I walked toward the front door. The ocean was crashing in the distance, drowning out the loud chorus of crickets that surrounded my house. There were no pets in my home because I really didn't have time for them; my job was basically what I had decided to marry.

Lucas was sitting in the dining room when I walked in, casually flipping through a magazine and drinking coffee. I kissed the top of his head and dropped my workload on the island in the middle of the kitchen, then shrugged off my jacket and hung it on a hook next to the refrigerator.

"How was work?" he asked offhandedly.

"Good, I got a new patient and may be able to discharge Joe."

Two shimmering blue eyes met my brown ones in surprise.

"Really?" he said. "Rachel must be ecstatic. Who's the lucky patient?"

There was a book stretched out in front of him that was covering brain tumors and I had no idea how he could read it while ingesting food.

"I actually don't know his name," I admitted. "But he's coming next week, so I guess we'll see then."

Lucas scratched his short brown hair, then stood up to walk to the sink.

"Call me after you get off tomorrow," he yawned, "and we can go out for dinner."

I stood on my tiptoes to peck him on the lips and waved goodbye as he left. Lucas was extremely busy most of the time, but I didn't mind because he was so incredibly intelligent and could hold a decent, long conversation. He had a tendency to succumb to his wandering eyes, though.

"Friday," I said to myself, "just a few more days."

Receiving new patients was like Christmas for us at the asylum. It meant more work, sure, but it also was rewarding to be assisting even more families and curing even more people. I had discharged quite a few patients in my one year as a psychopathologist and hoped to release many more.

After I had a drink of water, I clapped so the lights turned off and stole upstairs for a quick shower before I finally went to sleep.