Friday, March 28, 2014

The Briefest Definition

An earlier version has been published in The Psychiatric Bulletin in 1996, and then in a collection of stories Old Trees Die Standing in 2006.

Music to accompany story: “Smile” sung by Madeleine Peyroux

At the time we were residing in the doctors’ quarters of a large mental hospital. My two children still cherish warm memories of the surrounding large fields, majestic trees, abundant crops of daises and well-hidden stinging nettles. We lived in a spacious top-floor flat, with the hall so wide and long that they used to ride their bikes there. Adjacent to the building was a ward for elderly patients who, because of their mental condition (usually dementia), could only be cared for in such a hospital.

   One warm summer evening, as I was about to serve dinner, an old lady could be heard letting out piercing cries: “Help! Help! Call the police!” As I continued unperturbed, my son, age three and a half, looked at me anxiously and exclaimed: “Mama, are you deaf? Why aren’t you calling the police?” “Oh,” I replied “the old lady is ill in the head. She is one of the patients in this hospital and I can assure you that the nurses are looking after her very well. I don’t think you need to worry.” He calmed down somewhat, but appeared unconvinced.

   A week later, he approached me looking relieved and exclaimed “Mama, I now know what paichment means: it’s someone who cries help, help’ and is in no danger!”


This is the beginning of my new written project: Uncorrupted Reason: What Children Think. If you have a brief story to tell, please send it to me via email corsack[at]