Gone [Sophie]

She left just two weeks later. I argued and shouted with Nick but my heart wasn't in it. We both knew she couldn't stay with us. There was just nothing else that could be done. "She's just a child!" I cried.

"She's crazy." His voice was flat and hard, his heart ice. He didn't care any more.

"He doesn't want me to be here," said Michelle quietly, sitting down on the stairs behind us. I jumped about a foot in the air, not having realised she was there. "So I won't be. I can't stay here, Mam. I have to leave."

"You don't!" I said fiercely, and then reflected on just how contradictory I was being. I hadn't exactly been tolerant or loving. True, Michelle was my daughter, but she didn't feel like it any longer. I couldn't understand her at all, and that killed me. But there was nothing I could do.

"Perhaps they'll make me better," she said, sounding so mature and serious that I almost cried. But I held myself together. This was what I had wanted, I tried to remind myself, this was what had to happen. Michelle was crazy; she needed help; we couldn't look after her. And did we want to? "Perhaps they'll make the voices go away."

Her childish voice was so innocent, forcing me into reality again. It would have been nice to believe she didn't really understand but that wasn't what Michelle was like. She understood all right, and she was trying to hide her inner pain. How many other nine year old's could do that? But she had been hiding so much of her personality through all her life--she'd had practice.

So we took her to a special home. It was a mental home. Not one of those lunatic places where they chain them up; I don't even know if they exist any more. And it was for children with  a mental illness.

"The thing is," the doctor had told us, "she doesn't have an illness as such. More a disorder. I don't know if I could get them to admit her ... budget cuts, you know ..."

"Please," I said, pretending it wasn't painful to get rid of my daughter. "We can't cope with her. We want her to be cured."

"I can't guarantee cured," he warned, but it was done.

I took Michelle in the car, seeing as she refused point blank to go anywhere with Nick. For that I wasn't surprised, since they hadn't spoken really for more than a year. Or was it two, now? Time passed so quickly.

When we arrived I was told to leave by a brisk and official nurse. Quickly I said goodbye to Michelle and turned to get back into the car. But I saw her look back as she went through the big double doors to the hospital. She was dry eyed and very, very pale.

The End

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