by Avital Malenky
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Ms. Ellie Wall, MSc, HCPC registered
December 1, 2018
She was the best, yet strangest student, I had in a while. My course, “Sensory Difficulties Children Diagnosed with ASD Face Daily, for Parents and Carers” was open to the public so I have seen my fair share of complicated people, but Mrs. English was a level above.
She wasn’t disheveled or unclean, and her behavior was very polite; Mrs. English was a little old lady, a bit stiff maybe, a bit distanced when you interacted with her, but still just a cute, little old granny. It was the way she spoke that signaled the first different thing about her—she could turn a phrase that would catch you off guard and roll you down a hill. From her accent to her strange wording and cutting insights, Mrs. English was brilliant, almost scary in her genius.
She waited after every class to speak to me, having written everything I said down in her notebooks. During the lesson, she also found time to arrange a list of follow-up questions, requests for further bibliography, and several remarks that would surpass my knowledge and make my mind swirl. The first time we spoke, she left me in tears with a single one of these historic remarks.
“I ache for all the mothers who were far too late to join your miraculous course, Ms. Wall. Mothers who had to watch their sons wither and die in dark asylums just because they were born somewhat different. Far from being a Wall, my dear, you are a window and a doorway.”
And gone, into the night, leaving me with a head full of questions. Leaving me shook up and pensive, smoking a lonely cigarette on a Tuesday night outside the old local school.
Mr. Jacob Pane, Physician, St. Dymphna Abbey, House for the Insane
January 5, 1845
Having followed the accounts of young master English since his arrival at the abbey, I want to document them in writing for scientific and historic purposes. Beyond anything I will account for here, I am still a scientist and a physician. Whatever the ‘powers’ at work may be in this case, I cannot explain with reason and I bring them before you for you to judge.
Young English was brought to our care ten years ago with little to no chance of discharge. However, this past month he has been discharged to his family’s care with my blessing–the only patient to leave St. Dymphna Abbey House for the Insane that I have ever seen in all my years working here.
At the age of ten young English was already a big lad, and was brought in for violent and dangerous behavior to himself and his family. He had beaten the family servant girl bloody and was about to hit his own mother with a wooden cane. After this horrific incident, and being just barely restrained by the Father, young English was sent to the abbey to be admitted.
The first few months only the Father came to visit the boy. He had paid St. Dymphna a large sum of money each month for the boy’s needs and came to make sure young English was well looked after. I asked if Mrs. English would visit as the boy seemed to miss her–he would often cry “Mamma”, his only word, repeating it over and over until he would finally fall down, exhausted, and slept.
Mr. English commented he’d rather she not visit as she easily saddens herself. Since it was his decision to make, I did not press the matter.
There were a few months when no one came to supervise the boy at all and, later that year, it was only Mrs. English who came alone.
Mrs. Anna English had informed me coldly that her husband had died, leaving their entire fortune to young English and that she had been left his legal guardian. Supporting documents to verify her demands were presented. Mr. English, a well-known professor at our local university, disappeared from his lab one day and had been presumed dead. It had been quite the scandal and reported about in all the papers; foul play was suspected by the police as he vanished from his workplace without a trace.
Mrs. English, at her request, started seeing her son every day for several hours alone and largely unsupervised.
I secured a doubling of the payment made towards the abbey for young English and so happily approved her visits as a reward for the unhappy woman . The Bishop heard of my achievement and I was promoted, given a better room, and a ten pound raise to my annum.
Ms. Ellie Wall, MSc, HCPC registered
August 3, 2019
It was just another Tuesday, smoking and talking to Mrs. English after class.
But it was the last night of the course and by then I was looking forward to talking to Mrs. English more than the actual classes. I knew it was going to be a goodbye–I just had no idea what kind of a goodbye it was going to be. I had already broken the law and many of my own rules for her.
At her request, I brought the full list of books and papers I used to write the course, including the same list from a dozen other courses I taught at other venues through the years. I made copies of everything I had and arranged it as easily as I could for her in a large black binder. Carefully packed was also a bag with as many Ritalin, Concerta or Adderall pills as I could buy on the black market in one week. Luckily I still had ties with “the guy” who sold me weed in college.
I did all this for her because the week before she finally told me who she was and why she joined my class. She confided in me why she asked so many questions and what she intended to do with all that knowledge and illegal pills. Smoking our little sinful cigarette, the wise silver-headed stranger I came to admire said to me:
“Imagine a woman, born some two hundred years ago. She is bright, brighter than anyone she knows, but she still can’t help her son who was born, sadly, a little different.
Imagine this woman, after sadly losing her unloving husband, finally discovering one night the secret of time travel.
Imagine further her happiness, her absolute joy, when she finds her son might not be out of the ordinary at all, that in this fantastic future she found, she could learn how to diagnose and treat her only son, who she left behind in the past in an asylum, cuffed to a wall for his own safety, endlessly scared and alone.’
And if you can imagine all that, Ms. Wall, can you imagine why I must go back?”
I never saw her again, but I hope to science she was able to help her son.
For whoever may be who reads my words in the future, I hope a mother’s love concurred all.
Mrs. Anna English, St. Dymphna Abbey, House for the Insane
March 15, 1845
Upon my return, I seemed to have aged a decade overnight. Having lost my husband, and my only son a patient in St. Dymphna, probably indefinitely, I saw my aging as a sign of my unhappiness.
The visits I was so careful to keep each day were harming no one and so were allowed to carry on. It was two years before any change was visible in Emanuel but I was there that day it happened. That first day when he asked, with a single word, having never spoken it before, for water.
“Water” he said. I confess I didn’t believe my ears at first. However, Emanuel said it again and again for about twenty minutes and would not rest until I brought him a drink of water. The next day it happened again. He has never asked me for anything in the past and would convey his hunger with moans or cries, beating objects continuously on the floors for the attention he didn’t know he needed.
From that day, the changes in my son happened fairly quickly for a child with such communication difficulties. The staff’s frustration with him dropped every day as he learned more words. The years passed and the child I once knew learned how to behave like a regular little boy, despite his age, leaving his noncommunicative qualities behind him. As Emanuel was becoming less violent in the process, discharge became a viable option.
As I kept on visiting, his hysterical episodes and tantrums, brought on by his frustration and unanswered needs, subsided and the boy he was started to come out for all to see.
It only took five years to get Emanuel to a position where his doctors agreed that it would be safe for me to continue to care for him in my home. Upon his discharge his physician took me to one side and said:
“Since the day I started practicing medicine, I have never seen anything like this. I believe with all my heart that I have seen a mother’s love save a man from insanity.”
©️ 2021 by Avital Malenky
“Mrs. Anna English,” by Avital Malenky, was first published on August 19, 2021 in Love Letters to Poe and can be found in Love Letters to Poe, Volume 1: A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe.
Interview with Avital Malenky, Author of “Mrs. Anna English”
What inspired your story?
My son has Autism. I’ve felt, ever since he was born, the pain of the mothers of the past having to raise their children without the resources that I have today.
What’s your favorite gothic story or poem and why?
Dorian Gray is my favorite. I am fascinated by the idea of a person being able to hide their crimes, but not outrun them.
How long have you been writing?
Since I was a little girl.
Do you have a theme you return to time and again?
Fantasy. I suppose I wish I could change the world.
Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?
The litany against fear from Dune. I used to be afraid of horror movies and books, then life happened and everything else just seemed suddenly so trivial, like child’s play.
What are you working on now?
A time travel book. I try to bring into it the plight of women throughout the centuries and the never ending fight we fight for our rights.
What else would you like people to know? Where can people find you online?
I have only sold two stories so far and am still looking to get my first book published.
I have lost two children in childbirth and my one living son has autism, I have lived with complex PTSD for 10 years now. My family and I recently left Israel and moved to the UK and loving it.