by Deborah Ritchie
31 – 3- 62 Dear little creature, eating and sleeping well. I’m pretty as a picture, framed behind glass, all pink satin, tulle, roses, wings like a moth. I’m pretty as a butterfly jerking in a jar. They screwed the lid on, said she’s pretty but crooked as an insect hooked, limbs bent and flailing. Swelled skull under bows. Shame — so pretty. They broke me as a baby girl, put me under glass. Turned the knobs, cut my air ‘til I curled like a worm dying on a line. Now I smile through glass. Camera shutter captures me pretty. 8-4-70 Put fist through a large window while in temper tantrum. Five sutures inserted in wound on left arm. Valium given. Sleeping soundly.
The photograph I used as inspiration for this poem shows my seven-year-old sister dressed as a fairy. She was attending a frolic at the psychiatric hospital where she lived for much of her life. The prose sections in italics were influenced by her medical records. An error involving a humidicrib had left Susan with cerebral palsy and encephalitis as a newborn. She was institutionalised and never spoken about in the family. Susan was two years older than me. She died in 1973, aged eighteen. I found out about her by accident the following year.
Deborah Ritchie has published short fiction and poetry. She also co-wrote Judas Kisses: A True Story of Betrayal and Survival, the best-selling memoir of burns survivor Donna Carson, published by Hardie Grant Books in 2007. Deborah holds an MA in Creative Writing from Macquarie University and a Bachelor of Education from the University of Wollongong. She lives in Australia, in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales.