The cool chill of a breeze. The smell of fresh cut grass or bread baked equally as fresh. When you're permanently enclosed in walls the colour of the pulsing heart of the sun - white hot can be a colour, you know - and breathing recycled air pumped through an asthmatic air conditioning system, fresh air isn't even a memory.
It's a myth.
You wish it existed, but you're so sure it doesn't.
You don't even miss it. You become so used to air that you could chew on - that grates your throat like Cheddar on a baked spud - that your lungs don't even bother to expand or contract anymore. They just sit there, playing Texas Hold-Your-Breath, betting that the imitation air won't kill you.
But then, when you do manage to take a real breath of the real thing, and you fill your entire body with one great gasp, you realise.
It's not just about the taste. It's not just about the feel or the smell. It's not even about the fact that your lungs put down their cards and spring back into life. It's that fresh air means you're free.
Carla was trouble. It followed her about like a puppy, yapping at the heels of anyone who came close. She embraced it, gave it cuddles, fed it water and let it sleep at the foot of her bed each night.
She spend a lot of time in Room 101. Carla was our Steve McQueen, sans baseball. Spending half her time in the Cooler, and the other half figuring out ways to get thrown in there. That she was, on occasion, literally thrown in there, I don't doubt. When it took three orderlies to carry her, with one losing a tooth and another possibly unable to be intimate with his wife for a week or so, it was unlikely she'd be gently guided through the doorway.
Yet still, Carla would be there, in the middle of the plots or tying the orderlies up in knots.
She told us she was different. Well, we could have told her that. But she meant she was a different kind of different.
She had purple skin. Apparently. And she called us Squishies.
Well, it takes all sorts.
When she first arrived, she told everyone that a mysterious illness was wiping out her town. See, I never thought of that one. Possibly because I'm one of the only sane ones in here (and I include the orderlies and a certain doctor in that), I have a lot of 'friends'. I don't babble, or wet myself, or drip mucus everywhere as if I'm a snowman melting on a hot summer's day. I sit. I think. I watch TV or I watch the clouds chasing the sun around the sky.
As such I'm a prime target for 'friends'. To be honest, that's a little unfair. Some of the residents are, actually, my friends. Bender Benny. Penelope. Caroline... Are or were...
Anywho-be-do. If I'd have wanted a little peace, or I'd wanted to be left completely alone, I could have played the Disease card. It worked for her. Once Carla had announced that her town was, basically, dying, nobody wanted to go near her.
Well, you wouldn't, would you?
Unfortunately, with Carla, you never got the choice. Whether or not you wanted to avoid her, she didn't let you. Especially, in fact, if you wanted to avoid her. She was a live wire permanently plugged into the mains. And she was so inventive in finding ways to wind up the orderlies or Connors, Thomas Edison could have taken notes and learned a thing or two.
But even so, quite how she managed to get those windows open, I'll never know. I wasn't even aware they did open. But she managed it. The room emptied in a heartbeat. Spilling out onto the grass like beans from a can, the residents - friends, acquaintances and pans in the posterior - exited as fast as they possibly could. I was with them. And with my whole body open, I took the biggest breath of air I had ever done in my life.
Granted it was knocked out of me a second later as I landed face with a knee in my back and tie-wraps around my wrists.
It was fine, though. After we'd all been rounded up and ushered (read dragged) back inside, I could still taste that fresh delicacy that is freedom.
We were minus one, though. Carla was gone. Apparently she'd shouted, as she left, something about finding a cure for her brother and ancient archives. And something about foam.
So. I didn't think you get powdered air. I wonder if it says on the packaging "May contain nuts"?
I mean, this is an asylum, after all.
(This blog entry is based on the excellent teen book Whatever Became of the Squishies by Claire Chilton, available now in print from http://www.amazon.com/dp/1461121795/ and as an ebook from http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0040JHR3K)