I'm a synesthete and I've been reading about the history of mental health in America. As I'm imagining what life was like in the 30's, 40's & 50's for the pediatric population, in popped the character, Ella, and her story. Whittling it down to <500 words was a beast!
“Today’s piano lessons. Mimi says I can wear my Sunday shoes because Mother didn’t pack ‘nother pair”, Ella stared up at the old man, one hand placed defiantly on each hip. Papaw was waxing his Roadmaster, which was more boat than Buick. She admired her reflection on the exterior. The glint of her gold shoe buckles in the hot Mississippi sun sparkled like Mimi’s earrings. She would be a lady like Mimi one day, Ella thought. Her future tasted like mint juleps and finger sandwiches, audacious sun hats and society gossip.
For now, there were piano lessons. This was Ella’s favorite. She and Ms. Powell were squirreled away in the music room, hunched over the ivory and onyx like they were up to no good. Ella liked to smell the keys before playing, which rattled Mimi’s nerves. Ms. Powell didn’t mind. Her opinion was that while peculiar, the child was a prodigy. When people spoke of Ella’s schooling and talents, surely Ms. Powell would be at the center of their praises.
“Alright, sweet girl”, Mrs. Powell pantomimed the proper starting position. “Let’s try Schumann”. Breath slowed and eyes closed, Ella gave herself permission to sense every vibration from her efforts. Staccatos burst about the room like fireworks. Legato cradled her in its lavender waves. Adagio lifted her back to reality with its gossamer turquoise. Ella opened her eyes to a very pleased Ms. Powell.
Mimi and Papaw weren’t so pleased when Ella relayed, again, how sounds had color and taste. Papaw wasted no time telephoning Ella’s father. “This is the work of the devil!” he whispered angrily into the phone. “I cannot allow this to go on, son”. The word “son” tasted acidic to the grown man on the other end of the phone. He attributed this to indigestion.
Ella liked rain. Rain was a prism that tasted like lollipops.
Female patient, age 12. Committed at the request of her parents. Primary screening for chief complaint of abnormal behaviors; e.g. patient believes she has the ability to hear color and taste sound. Patient has undergone six consecutive years of rigorous treatment with no positive conclusion. Recommending transorbital lobotomy within the week.
28 June 1954