Sarah Freligh_Mad

Mad

Kat goes missing again, but not really. She’s where she usually is—passed out, pants on backward, in the Wawa parking lot. Because this is her third or fourth offense, the dean of students summons her parents who drive eight hours through a freak April snowstorm. This is how much they love her, this is how much they want her to get well. You kids, her mother used to say, whenever one of them did something that baffled her. But there is no more you kids, no Kit or Kitten or Katie, only the Katherine in several official-looking documents the dean shares with her parents: Academic probation, mandatory counseling. Her parents bookend her, nodding agreement. The dean of students looks smug and shiny as an eggplant.

The therapist she’s sentenced to is bearded, upholstered in wool and corduroy. His office is windowless and dark with two armchairs that itch. He tells her to call him Joe, but she doesn’t feel like talking so they read magazines instead: psychology publications with covers that shout about big emotions and the power of boundaries, or old issues of Mad that bring back her brother John, how he’d named the family canary Alfred E. Neuman and tried to teach it to belch along with “It’s a Gas.” She wanted to play the record at his funeral but her mother said absolutely not, and had gone with hymns instead, full of God and mighty fortresses, that Kat pretended to sing along with.

Her heart is a stone. When she walks across campus she feels neon-lit: The Sister of the Guy Who Was Murdered at the Wawa. She is thirsty all the time.

Their fourth Friday, Joe hands her a box of crayons and some paper and asks her to draw a happy place, her idea of a heaven. She pauses for a second then sketches in tables, hanging plants, a birdcage in the window. A row of stools, three tiers of liquor bottles rising like a choir. Joe says, Birds? In a bar?  “Wild canaries,” she says. Birds that sing sweetly, the way John sang in the shower, or when he harmonized on Happy Birthday. She hopes his soul flew up out of him when he was shot

Maybe open up the cage? Joe says, so she does. And, oh, what a wild bird can do when set loose indoors. Such madness. Such damage.

Sarah Freligh is the author of Sad Math, winner of the 2014 Moon City Press Poetry Prize and the 2015 Whirling Prize from the University of Indianapolis; A Brief Natural History of an American Girl (Accents Publishing, 2012), and Sort of Gone (Turning Point Books, 2008). Recent work has appeared in the Cincinnati Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, diode, and in the anthologies New Microfiction and Best Microfiction 2019 and 2020. Among her awards are a 2009 poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a grant from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation in 2006.

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