Mudlark No. 58 (2015)

Letter from Eastern State Hospital, 1957

From the Commonwealth of Kentucky letterhead, you know 
this is important. Official. Dear Sir kicks it off. By my reading, 
my grandmother (BENTLEY, Susan A.) was their patient then.
Voluntarily committed in February of nineteen thirty-seven—
for the misdemeanor offense of aiming and firing a .45 at a man,
my grandfather, Bob Beach, who abandoned her after promises.
Her brother, D.V. Bentley, a doctor, arranged the commitment.
I guess it was like she stayed angry, murderously so, years after.
And maybe it started out as one thing and became something else.
Twenty yearsU—give or take a couple of months—behind walls,
with a handful of five-day furloughs in all that time. A living 
human being, sentient and drawing breath, in legal captivity.
At a mental hospital in Lexington where Logan Gragg, M.D.
was the superintendent and so signed below Very truly yours.
Forget that nineteen fifty-seven was a boom year in Kentucky.
Forget long trains of coal from holes in the heart of the place.
Forget that whatever they did to her there, my earliest memory
of my grandmother is of a woman so enraged she faced off
a child, gathering her arms against her bosom, saying, What 
in the hell are you looking at, you little son of a bitch? We
were driving her back to the hospital. Neon to Lexington.
Maybe she didn’t like that her son, my father, was guardian. 
Maybe she hated that her hair—blue-black as a seam of coal,
shiny as the Big Sandy River when she went in to the hospital—
had turned that gray of snow at a roadside. Whatever the case, 
she turned. Her whole body at once. In the front seat of the car.
Like some statue being rotated on a plinth, all the parts moving.
To say that. Never mind the letter from Dr. Gragg is addressed 
to my father at 45 West Mumma Street in Dayton, Ohio. That
he kept it, the blue embossed letter, in an envelope with 6-cent 
Eisenhower stamps. My sad father who died in my arms, sliding 
down into sheets the color of an ancient patient-history letter.

Roy Bentley | The Last Man on Earth Takes a Walk in Jupiter, Florida
Contents | Mudlark No. 58 (2015)