"This must be the doctor then," Gloria thought as she came down the stairs the next morning. He was talking animatedly to a sullen young man and did not seem to notice Gloria as she walked by.
Well, she would meet him soon enough. Gloria let her gaze wander across the wood paneled therapy room. Framed certificates made out to a Dr Wayne Burroughs were displayed on the walls beside the brimming bookshelves.
A sudden voice from behind made Gloria flinch. "Well, hello there," the nurse chirped happily. "Take a seat, dear girl."
"The doctor is busy right now," the nurse explained, sparing Gloria the need to voice her question, "so I'll be conducting your first therapy session today." She paused, arranging the notepad beside her to be perfectly parallel to the table's edge. "Don't worry," she smiled, "I may not be a doctor, but I'm a trained professional nonetheless."
The nurse instructed Gloria to take the notepad and pen and write a simple sentence she dictated. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, Gloria wrote, over and over again.
"Writing gets the brain going," the nurse answered Gloria's unspoken question again. "It's a simple exercise, nothing more."
Still, she took the sheet from Gloria's hand, folded it up carefully and tucked it away in a pocket.
"So," the nurse continued, "time to start talking about your therapy goal. What is it you want out of life?"
Gloria was perplexed at this sudden, almost philosophical question. She furrowed her brows, pondering. She'd never really given much thought to this, just going along with whatever was expected of her.
The nurse took Gloria's silence as a refusal to answer. She frowned. "Come on," she said impatiently, "There has to be something. Everyone has a lifetime wish."
Genius though she was, Gloria had never been able to think clearly when put on the spot like this. However, in her current state of apathy, Gloria was not distracted by the nurse's piercing stare and suddenly came up with the answer. Perhaps it had been there all along, in the back of her mind, buried deep underneath past failures and lost hopes.
“I guess I always liked... I always wanted to..." Gloria cleared her throat, still searching for the right words, "paint... and write."
“Well then, that is your therapy goal,” the nurse exclaimed happily, not missing a beat.
“You will be working on achieving that goal here. Your lifetime wish: Mastering the painting and writing skills. You'll be an illustrious author." The nurse chuckled briefly at her wordplay before continuing, "This is our patented therapy - patients work independently toward an established goal. Once you achieve your goal, you will be healed and released!”
'Mastering' the painting and writing skills? How could such a thing even be measured? And how on Earth was this supposed to fix anything? Gloria was bewildered at this obvious lack of logic, but had no chance to speak as the nurse continued to prattle on.
"You've seen the Sun Room, of course. That's where the easel is, and a computer for you to write on. You'll have to share them with the other patients, but I'm sure you'll manage."
As Gloria stared in stunned silence, the nurse shooed her out with a hand gesture. "What are you waiting for," she chirped. "Go, be creative!"
Gloria arose ponderously and made her way out of the therapy room.
The Sun Room, as the nurse had called it, was hard to miss. Only a few wooden arches separated it from the reception area, so the sounds from within echoed eerily through the entire building.
A broken vinyl record on an old gramophone repeated the same few notes over and over, in a fruitless attempt to keep on spinning.
Gloria's muscles tensed. All she could think of was stopping that unnerving sound. In her stride toward the gramophone she only just managed to dodge a rickety table with a house of cards balanced precariously on top.
Gloria approached the gramophone. Like most sims her age, she had only seen these archaic machines in movies, so she had no idea how to operate one. She briefly considered asking the woman beside the gramophone for help, but she seemed too engrossed in the window to even notice the music, let alone someone seeking advice.
Gloria simply put her finger on the disc and pushed it gently, letting the small needle finally escape the deep scratch. It seemed to do the trick. The music continued and Gloria breathed a sigh of relief.
The woman, however, spun around in shock and stared first at the gramophone, then at Gloria.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Gloria said. "Were you listening to that?"
The woman tensed, sinking into herself and cowering like a cornered animal, Her red-rimmed eyes were widened in terror as her lips pressed into a thin line. She looked close to tears. It was a pitiful sight.
Gloria was aghast to have caused this much distress. "I-I'm really sorry. Really," she stammered. "I didn't mean to upset you. I... I can try to put it back to the way it was. Would that be okay?"
The woman's eyes were still fixed on Gloria, now brimming with unshed tears.
Gloria decided to attempt a change of subject. "I'm Gloria, by the way," she said with a smile she didn't feel. When the woman remained silent, she prompted, "What's your name?" Silence.
"That's Cathy," a voice from behind announced. Gloria spun around. A tall, gaunt man with long hair was leaning against the wall. He displayed a row of bright white teeth in a boisterous grin that gave his unshaved face a manic look. Had he been there all this time?
Uncomfortable, Gloria turned back to the woman. "Oh, Cathy then. It's nice to meet you!"
This time, Gloria's weak smile was met with a scowl.
The man behind her guffawed. "Chatty Cathy, that's what we call her. Get it? Dumb as a rock, and just as talkative. Chatty Cathy, chatty Cathy," he began to chant.
Gloria stared at him in shock. She felt the blood drain from her face. When she got her bearings again, she quickly addressed the nameless woman, "I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to call you--" But the woman had already walked off.
Gloria had too many problems of her own to worry about the other patients right now, she tried to tell herself. But this whole situation only reminded her too painfully of her own fragile feelings and how comments like these had hurt her in the past.
She needed to apologize and explain herself.
As Gloria turned to follow the woman, she bumped into the table behind her and felt her stomach clench when she saw the card house lean to one side. For a moment, it looked like its delicate balance was lost.
Miraculously, it remained standing. Gloria smiled to herself, glad that she hadn't ruined yet another patient's day.
"What are you doing," a deafening voice bellowed from behind her, "Get away from that!"
Gloria stood frozen as the huge man boomed his anger at her. Most of his words were a jumble, but the message was clear: He was sick and tired of people messing with him and his things; and Gloria had better keep away from his card house, or else. It was intimidating, to say the least.
The gaunt man could barely contain his glee. He laughed and pointed, calling out comments that only incited the big man's rage even more.
She ran as fast as her feet would take her, up the stairs, not looking back to see if she was being followed.
Finally, she pushed open the metal door of her room and closed it firmly behind her.
This was going to be difficult.