This story is dedicated to Diana Slampyak, who sent me the prompt ‘schizophrenia’.
Lucy tied the apron around her waist and looked around the dark and dingy bar. She sighed as she picked up her tray and walked over to her nearest table. Life wasn’t supposed to turn out like this, she thought, her dull eyes sagging with exhaustion and just a hint of misery. It wasn’t that her life was terrible – she had a job that she could tolerate and a small place of her own. A part-time boyfriend and a dog too. Life was okay and she knew that so many people had it so much worse. It just wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. She’d had plans. Pressure too, she remembered. There was a lot of that.
Her first customers of the night were two men, sat at a small round table. One had a friendly smile and the other one sneered. Lucy wondered at how a simple facial expression can mean so many different things.
“What can I get you?” she asked, the tray held upright between her hand and her waist. She leant over and grabbed the empties.
“Two beers, please,” Friendly Smile said, throwing Lucy a kind glance.
“And how about a smile?” snorted Sneering Smile, throwing a glance at her chest. “Don’t you know that the customer is important?”
Lucy took a deep breath. “Two beers coming up,” she said and made her way back to the bar. Jerk, she thought.
Life wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. She couldn’t stop that thought from bumping around in her brain. She’d had so much potential. Straight A student, fantastic prospects, a good family, great friends, a happy life. And then schizophrenia came along and ruined it all.
As she watched the glass slowly fill with beer, she remembered her father telling her how he and her mother had so much hope for her. She has felt like she could do no wrong but she also had that stabbing fear that if she made a mistake, everything would come crumbling down around her. She was right. She made a mistake, and that’s where it all went wrong.
She picked up the two beers and pasted a smile on her face before taking them over to Friendly and Sneering. There was a time when she wouldn’t have given Sneering the satisfaction but now she was too tired for the fight. So she just smiled and got on with it. As she handed them their drinks, she fell into reverie.
Schizophrenia had been her downfall, when she was just fifteen years old. She remembered it well, the day that it happened. It was such a small thing, but in her head, it was catastrophic. It changed her outlook on everything and she stopped trying. That’s how she ended up here.
“That’s better,” Sneering said. “’Bout time you showed us some respect. Now how about your phone number too?” Friendly threw her a sympathetic look.
“Don’t listen to him, he’s just being a jerk,” he said. You’ve got that right, Lucy thought. “You’re doing a great job, thanks for the drinks.”
She relaxed a little as she walked away, remembering that schizophrenia couldn’t get in her way anymore.
“You’ll do great,” her mother had said, a huge, proud smile painted across her face. “You are going to be fantastic!”
“We’re so proud of you Lucy,” her father had said, mirroring her mother’s expression. “We know you are going to go on and achieve amazing things in your life!”
After months of hard work, she was a finalist in the competition – and the finale took place in front of a huge audience. As she walked out onto the stage, she felt the crushing weight of her parent’s expectations, of her teacher’s expectations, of the shiny grins of her friends in the audience. That’s when it had happened, when it all came crashing down. Her mind went blank and she couldn’t think straight. It was like her brain was a jumble of words and letters and things that didn’t make sense. She couldn’t focus. All she could see was the pressure, like colourful waves of force pushing down on her. Then she heard the competition master speak.
“We’d like you to spell: schizophrenia,” he had said. The young Lucy took a deep breath. Schizophrenia.
“S, C…” she began. Her brain raced with panic and her mouth dried up. The colours danced in front of her face, swirling and turning and twirling. She took another deep breath.
“S, C…” She licked her lips as the expectant silence around her made her lip wobble with fear.
“S, C, I…”
“I’m sorry,” a voice interrupted. The voice of the competition master. “That is incorrect. Please leave the stage to your left.”
“Vodka and coke, please love,” a man said as he approached the bar, shaking Lucy out of her memories and bringing her back to the present. She sighed as she poured the tinkling ice into the glass. That’s where it all went wrong, she thought, as she spelled schizophrenia under her breath. It wouldn’t beat me now, she mused and looked over to the table from before. She smiled as she saw that Friendly and Sneering had left the building and relaxed as she finally let them go from her mind as well.