Home Sweet “Stockholm”

He looked at her and he loved her.

There she was on a Wednesday, as always. Doing her grocery shopping in Aisle 6 and looking radiant. The morning sun streamed in through the glass windows and lighted her fragile face in a halo. She was sun-kissed dew on a flower after the summer rains. But how could someone look so sinfully delectable while shopping? He shook his head and smiled. It had been nearly half a year since he first saw her. He felt just as besotted with her as he did on the first day, when she had walked in through the door. But today is going to be different, he reminded himself. After all, small talk was not going to last forever. He needed to notch his game up, a level. What’s more? Today, she was even unaccompanied by Mr. Dalloway. He watched her walk in his direction. Bravery beckoned.

“Hello Rose. And how is life treating you these days?” he blurted out when she reached his counter. Then he almost kicked himself for having uttered such a lame line.

“I’m doing alright”. She smiled coquettishly. She basked in the warmth of his gaze. She was not unaware of his love-struck looks; but rather let him lavish the love on her with his undivided attention. It made her feel so different. Like some kind of special.

Before he chickened out yet again, he decided to man up for her this time.

“Here”, he said cheerily, giving the change back to her. “And have a wonderful week ahead”. His heart sank recalling it would be a whole barrage of empty days before next Wednesday flew in. He missed her already.

She looked at him with tenderness. She understood the angst of his unspoken desire for her. Understood what it is like to wait on someone in love; a wasted Eternity. And in that very moment, on a fated midweek, standing at the CASHIER’S with her heart beating in sync with his drumbeat, she loved him back.

****** 

Mr. Dalloway waited patiently for the elderly woman to amble her way slowly to the elevator. He understood if he would hurry, she would have to wait longer for the next. A gentleman, he would never allow a lady, more so a much senior one, to wait. “God bless you, my child”, she thanked him. “Oh, it’s nothing, really”, he replied good-naturedly. Then he almost hopped his way into the car park. Returning home from work, he was in buoyant spirits today. He turned up the volume on his car stereo’s FM. It was his girl’s favorite song. It could brighten up his disposition on any dark day. Not that today happened to be one. Indeed, it was one particularly happy day for him. The day he had been waiting for: A unanimous promotion at work. It wasn’t a surprise; he had given some his best years to the company. A solemn-looking but attractive man in his late forties, he exuded a quiet charisma and with his modest, mild-mannered ways commanded the respect of both his superiors and peers alike. 

He decided to stop at the florists. “Yes, I could surprise her with her favorite flowers, today. She deserves it just as much”, he reasoned.

“A big bunch of all your freshest carnations, Please. It’s her all-time favorite,” he explained with a smile.

She opened the door to the riot of colors and to the man her heart loved.

He stood there beaming at her. She looked at him and her heart exploded with love. Her face shone with the light of a thousand suns. They kissed and she never felt more wanted in all of her life. The gawky cashier in the supermarket now disappeared into the dark recesses of her mind. “I have cooked you, your favorite meal,” she gushed like a love fool. Passionate, frenetic lovemaking followed many glasses of Champagne and mad dancing that night. As the cacophony of rapturous music, intermingled with loud laughter, blared out their windows, one would think: Oh, what a delightful head-over-heels-in-love married couple! 

But as things are hardly what they appear to be, they were anything but that.

****** 

They say people resemble their truest selves when no one’s watching them.

After the man in her life would leave for work, Rose would begin her tedious everyday drudgery – Meticulously cleaning every nook and corner of her house. As she dusted, vacuumed and mopped her way through life, her days threatened to be consumed in a ceaseless, repetitive cycle of monotony. 

And then there were the baths. Baths that were ridiculously elaborate and exhausting. Baths that involved her scrubbing her pale translucent skin, raw.  

On this particularly catatonic day, she just lay in the bath for the longest time. As the water filled up the tub and ran over its edge, she didn’t move a muscle. Her thoughts were light years away from the present mundane. She saw her beloved mother in her mind’s eye. 

Her mother smiling down at her when she would walk through the door, back home from school. 

Her mother dancing with her in the living room, twirling her in circles with one hand. 

Her mother sobbing silently into the pitch dark of night, as Rose would wake to fetch herself a glassful of water. 

Her mother lying cold and unmoving in the bath with her wrists slashed open.

How can one image, so utterly and completely, ruin the carelessly taken-for-granted innocence of childhood?

The image broke through her senseless stupor and Rose returning from her trance, grabbed a towel on her way out of the bathroom door. The past clung onto her like the drops of water seeping through her very skin. She began rubbing herself dry, in a frenzied manner, in a futile attempt to forget. Her skin grew hot and red. She threw the past-and-pain soaked bath towel on the floor with forceful disdain and ran naked to her bedroom.

She pulled out a five dollar note from her purse. No, THE five dollar note. The one received from HIM. Now turning it over in her dainty hands, she felt with shaky fingers, his scribbled handwriting. Call me, the note said. Next to his ten-digit phone number. That was approximately two weeks ago. At first she was clueless. As to where in the world she had got this mysterious note from. Then it had slowly dawned on her. A little love note of sorts, from him.  She remembered being pleasantly surprised at the revelation, the unexpected turn of events. He was being so sweet and brave. “Oh, it is about time!” She had then said and laughed. She had even planned on calling him that very day, but the flowers had taken her by surprise. Mr. Dalloway’s apparent affection for her had kept her heart from straying. That is, until now. How she yearned for him, now! She quaked in carnal pleasure as she remembered the look on his face as he had gazed longingly at her. Should she simply throw caution to the wind and just dial his number? 

*******

She smacked her lips seductively. Her pelvis gyrated rhythmically to the sound of pop music. Humming the racy tunes, she pulled him close to her. 

“Wow, you are some vixen! I could never tell what you’re made up of, by just looking at your delicate face.”

She laughed a lilting laugh with her head tilted high. Then she looked at him straight in the eye and whispered, “I am the devil masquerading like an angel, baby. Quick! We don’t have much time.” Her frantic fingers began to undress him with hardly any waltzing, romantic deliberation. Then she shoved him brusquely onto the bed and hovered over his semi-clad body, tantalizingly. He was overcome with passion and pulled her breathlessly into his embrace.

Why does clandestine love when made in secrecy taste even better? Strange, but something about the forbidden fruit calls out to our little disobedient selves.

Her mind exploded, while her spirit sang. She let herself go; playing the dominant role with him which was so unlike her docile, submissive self. And as their bodies slowly welded together in white-hot waves of desire, she was the one to come first. She let out a sweet, sweat-drenched moan.

“Do you love me, Rose?” 

He ventured to ask. When the deed was done and they lay together, soaking in the afterglow. She waited momentarily, before she slowly and carefully replied. “Yes, I think so.” 

Why, she did feel a strange pull towards him; no doubt about it.

“Then leave him and run away with me!” He implored. More with his puppy eyes than the sound of his voice. She looked at him with a puzzled expression for a long time. An uncomfortable silence followed. “Sure!” She said eventually. “Now how about a glass of red wine, sweet love?” She smiled at him like a cherubim. Then she bent down to kiss him hungrily on his mouth.

Rewind to about an hour or so earlier. The cute guy from the store was at her door. She had called him home when she was home alone. He was invited over to her place for the very first time in his life. Little did he know, it would turn out to be his very last as well.

Fast forward to an hour or so later. The turning of the key in its lock. Mr. Dalloway came home to find his sweet girl cradling the lifeless form of a youth he recognized. They were both stark naked and the victim lay in the pool of his congealed blood, from a freshly-made gash upon his throat. 

****** 

“What does a Monster look like?” The child had asked her mother once.

“Does he have horns as huge as hills and do his eyes look like craters of black, burning smoke?” 

Mother had turned her face away lest the child should see her eyes glassing over. How could she tell her that monsters in real life lurk closer home? How could she tell her, her own heart was being rented open by one such monster? 

Thick mist hung low over the St. Hopkins Correctional Institute, in Minnesota, U.S.A. Thunder cackled from the dark underbelly of the grey clouds over the horizon. A young Psychiatry resident walked through the quiet corridor of the Women’s Wing. He stopped at the door marked, “Director” and took in a deep breath: First day jitters. “You got this”, he told himself reassuringly. Then he knocked on the door.

Without much further ado, the aging professor and director of the renowned institute, began.

“Case study of Rose Dalloway. Consider yourself very lucky, Dr. Johnson. For not everyone gets to begin their academic careers with such an intriguing case, let alone on a very first day.” 

Dr. Johnson instantly felt himself to be very fortunate and started to take down notes. As the scholarly Director began reciting the facts of one very fragmented and tormented life, a strange apparition of a person was seen in her glass-enclosed cell, pacing. Rose felt caged and lonely; pretty much how she had felt all of her twenty years. Still, there was a sense of calming comfort in the sterility of her small space. For here, there meant no more baths for her. The assurance eased her mind. 

“But I miss you just the same”, she whispered.  She stared down at her fingernails and missed the man her heart loved.

Back in his chamber, the sagacious old professor continued. “Here is a child-woman incestuously abused by her own father for much of her young susceptible life. Torn between the growing desires for another man her age and her slave-like devotion to her father, she killed the object of her affection – and in such cold blood, mind you! – in order to preserve her diseased relationship with the perpetrator of the unspeakable crime. Dr. Johnson, here is a classic paradox of Stockholm’s. Her story is testimony to the fact that one cannot underestimate the power of evil residing in our own hearts. And the horrifying progeny it breeds into our own lives and homes. When you sit with her and analyze her, let me warn you: You will see layers of murky sickness peeling off of her, namely repeated Child Abuse breeding Sexual Promiscuity, her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and the worst one of all…”, paused the professor for effect, “Her sick infatuation with the monster of a man who repeatedly raped her, poisoning her young, malleable mind with a distorted definition of what love is supposed to look and feel like. Now as he rots in prison, here we are to treat the sequelae of his sins. Welcome to St. Hopkins, Dr. Johnson and I wish you the very best in all your endeavors”, finished his senior, impassively.

Back in her cage-like confinement, Rose sucked on her thumb. 

Rose at 6 years. All wide-eyed and sinless; unable to grasp, what-in-the-world was happening to her. 

Then she reached between her thighs and fingered herself. 

A prepubescent Rose. With her innocence stolen, split wide open. 

“Oh, Daddy. I only want you to love me.” She whimpered as a tear rolled down a cheek.

 Rose in her confined glass-room. A ghost of the remains of a lost childhood.

Dr. Johnson stood watching, on the other side of the glass enclosure, his eyes fixed on the fragile figure before him. 

He swallowed a lump. His heart bled for her. 

Just then Rose looked in his direction and their eyes met. A sudden smile lit up her ever-changing face. She began to glow with the light of a thousand suns.

And as she mouthed the words “Hello” at him from across the room, he looked at her and loved her. 

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AUTHOR’S NOTE:

This story is based on one of the most puzzling and paradoxical subjects in Clinical Psychiatry, the Stockholm syndrome. The first of its case studies was documented in the year 1973 in the notorious Norrmalmstorg robbery, in Stockholm, Sweden. The author first read about it during her resident days studying clinical psychiatry and needless to say, since then has been so moved and troubled by it; enough to write a story about it. 

Although this is a fictional story, a figment of her imagination, she hopes her readers would see past its dark and disturbing content, the subject of her story, namely, Child Abuse and its debilitating effects, for what they really are: An unspeakable horror. 

As Stephen King, the King of Horror, so aptly put it: “Monsters are real. And ghosts are real too. They live inside us and sometimes, they win.”
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Anne Adarsh

Anne Adarsh is a radiologist by profession but finds herself repeatedly returning to her first love in all things. Poetry. A self-confessed Recluse also blessed (or cursed perhaps!), with an insatiable curiosity to learn new things, writing to her, means a landscape in her mind's eye, to which she can always escape to, whenever life closes in on her.

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