Ward No. 4

© by the author

That’s Jeremy Watkins. He’s been here for eight years now. He’s very quiet. Hardly says a word to anyone. Oh, he’s polite. If you ask him a question, he’ll say a word or two back. Most of our residents—you can’t get much sense out of them, but they talk. Some of them talk a lot. Take Matt over there—the man in the blue shirt by the window—he talks all the time. Always muttering under his breath. But it’s the same thing over and over. He says ‘My name is Matt. My name is Matt.’ all day long. Never says anything else. That’s not his real name by the way. We call him Matt because he gets agitated if we don’t. I’d have to consult his file to find his real name. It’s been so long since I’ve called him anything but Matt that I’ve forgotten his name.
But Jeremy, most of the time he just stands there examining the wall. We call it his wall. Jeremy’s wall. He’s painting it. At least that’s what he says he’s doing. That’s a paint brush he’s holding in his right hand. When he first came here, we tried to interest him in some activities. The woman who runs the art therapy group tried to get him to participate in her water colour class. She gave him that brush and set him before an easel with a pad of paper on it and showed him how to mix the paints. But he just stared at the easel for an hour. But when the class ended, he wouldn’t give the brush up. Lots of them are like that. They don’t have many possessions and they become attached to the ones they do have. We don’t fuss at them. Jeremy isn’t a danger to himself or anyone else. He’s not going to stab someone in the eye with that brush.
The next morning we found him standing in front of the wall holding the brush, just as he is now. When we asked him what he was doing, he said, ‘Painting’. He spends hours each day looking at that wall. Four or five times a day, he walk up to the wall and make a tiny stroke with the brush. Then he steps back and resumes examining the wall.
No, he never uses any paint. Just applies the dry brush to the wall. Whatever he’s doing, he seems to have a clear notion of the picture he’s painting. If you ask him how the painting’s coming along, he’ll tell you that he’s making progress. That’s all he ever says. ‘Making progress.’ If you ask him how long before he finishes. he just shrugs.
Well, it keeps him occupied. Lord knows there’s not much to do on Ward No. 4. I’d be crazy too if I had to stay here all the time. Imagine spending ten–twelve hours every day for eight years painting a wall with a dry brush. Nobody but you can see the picture. I don’t know what Jeremy will do if he ever finishes his masterpiece. Maybe find another wall.

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