The teeth broke in through the wall. “They tore the walls down like paper as they came crashing through them”. That was how she described the experience.
For months now neighbours had been complaining. The smell pervaded the atmosphere outside the unit as people passed on the walkway. Glimpses through the door and the grimy windows showed years of old newspapers, documents and garbage spilling out of the rooms into the hallway, or off surfaces and out of cupboards. The unit was a fire trap and the neighbours worried about insects and small animals, such as mice, living in the garbage. At night they could hear scratching and screeching within the walls. If they went too near the doors of the unit cockroaches would run out from under the doors and up their legs.
Complaints to the authorities finally resulted in the arrest and forcible detention of Linda for being a danger to society, as a result of her hording and filth. Linda was to be taken to hospital for a mental health assessment.
The police arrived one morning, knocking at the door and calling out to Linda to let them in. She didn’t answer, she never answered. You never knew who you would get when you answered the door. So after a short wait the police broke through the door where they arrested her and had Linda taken to the nearest hospital.
Linda saw it differently. In her confused state she did not recognise police. She saw gigantic teeth, with huge hats on, bursting through the walls. Not the police coming through her door. She didn’t hear what they had to say. Everything happened so fast and with a sound that assaulted her ears. Screaming, she tried to fight off the giant teeth and protect her house and all of the history that she had acquired over years of collecting. But the teeth had their way and she was dragged out of her home. The home that she had known for decades.
The walls were bare and stark, it had the antiseptic smell of an institution. Someone had tried to liven it up by placing a Monet print above the bed that Linda sat in. All it did was highlight the contrast between the colour in the picture and the drabness of the rest of the room.
Linda was sat up in bed, held up by plain white pillows propped behind her. Shaking she described her experience, the teeth, a sound like thunder as they broke through the walls. As her story progressed her hands started to shake and the tears in her eyes gradually wandered down her wrinkled face onto the bed cover. In turn, her granddaughter sat in the only chair, by the bed, looking at the frail woman. She caught her breath as she listened to her grandmother and tried to make sense of the story.
It had been years since she had seen her grandmother. Linda had been isolated from the family, due to her mental illness, for a very long time. So here she was now listening to her grandmother’s story and trying to figure out what it meant. What teeth? Why were they coming through the walls? Why would her grandmother think that teeth had broken into her home? She stayed trying to talk to Linda, trying to find out more. After all, this was the first time in a very long time that anyone had been able to talk to Linda. There were so many stories that Linda may be able to tell. So many memories.
It was as Linda looked at her Granddaughter and said “you look so like your photo” holding up a magazine picture of Princess Diana, that she finally realised that Linda was not capable of remembering reality as it truly was. Instead, she was still living a life outside of the world, one that was hidden by those pale weeping eyes. Not the real life that others knew.
Even with the realisation that Linda was not living in the same world as others, it took a long time for her to equate the story of the teeth with the reality of a woman being forced from her home by the police.
Linda had severe schizophrenia. For many years she was able to live by herself in her own unit. However, gradually her hoarding and the squalor that she lived in resulted in increasing complaints from people living in the same complex that she was living in. This led to her being arrested for being a danger to society and being assessed as schizophrenic. Linda was never allowed to go home, she was medicated and looked after in a locked nursing home from that point on.
Writing this story was difficult. It is an emotive story that needs a lot of back story for it to make sense. I tried playing around with the pace and feel that by doing so I have slowed down the initial action at the beginning of the story, decreasing the hook and the impact of the story. However, overall I felt that this story really lent itself to a very descriptive style of writing with a focus on Linda in her room and the confusion, starkness and loneliness of her life.
Bean, C. 2005. Interview between C. Bean and L. Bean nee Pratt. Hand written notes.