Sister MorphineWomen’s Narratives from the Case Notes of a Community Psychiatric Nurse
The principal theme of my 'Sister Morphine', published in 2008, is the sheer unpredictability of women's behaviour when conditioned by prescription drugs. For this suite of interconnected women's narratives I have refashioned case histories as fictions to delineate the effects of drug administrations on clients observed in psychiatric nursing and psychotherapy ... particularly, the more bizarre asocial psychoses – and sometimes criminal behaviour – made manifest by the multifaceted side effects of prescription drugs such as antidepressants, tranquilizers and mood stabilizers.
In ‘Sister Morphine', fifteen women - Felícia, Charlotte, Zoë, Elenore, Eveline, Miriam, Grete, Esther, Marianne, Irina, Mary, Elspeth, Theresa, Isolde and Roberta - will unveil their psychoses to you ... but not until the last page do they unlock the unsuspected secret that unites their destinies.
PUBLISHER'S DESCRIPTION: Masterful, darkly comic and unputdownably brilliant, this first novel by Catherine Eisner is an instant 21st-century classic. Sister Morphine tackles themes of suicidality, sibling murder, child abuse, morbid self-harm, guilt, jealousy, incest, drug addiction, infidelity, illegitimacy, obsessive compulsion, bereavement and a case of grand larceny in the second degree. All wrapped up in the confidential case notes of a Community Psychiatric Nurse exploring the multifaceted side effects of psychoactive drugs.
'Eisner has mastered the twist in the tale and her stories cascade vividly into derangement.'
'… a genuinely unsettling voice, at once comic, intelligent and slightly, scarily deranged … a true technical triumph.'
'Erotic … enthralling … very pictorial … very original.'
Extract : Dispossession (Patient ID CPN0312110842: Mary H.)
I can remember in every bright-etched detail the precise moment I first decided to murder my brother.
I had returned to our family home, the day after my mother’s funeral, to discover he had changed the locks.
I knocked on the bay window for several minutes before he emerged, obviously hungover, yawning lazily like a sated cat.
He stretched his arms and barred the hallway.
‘Don't come anywhere near this property again!’ he shouted. ‘I don’t want even your damned shadow falling on this house! Understand?’
He then slammed the door with his boot ...
... He had won that last bout, I conceded, but, I vowed, feather by feather this goose would be plucked.
Extract : Soft Skin (Patient ID EP0841060170: ‘Leisha’ Felícia F.)
She busied herself by filing an interoffice memo entitled, Armed Robbery Prevention Strategies. She glanced at a sub-section which stated:
Unarmed ‘soft-skin’ operators, proportionate to armed security guards under special category instructions, should listen attentively to robbers, be calm, courteous, and patient, and treat the robber as you would a customer. Do not resist, but cooperate unhesitatingly with the robber, as this is the most reliable way to avoid injury. Don’t try to be a hero. Take no action that would jeopardize your safety or the safety of others. Activate alarms only if you can safely do so without detection.Well. As a vulnerable ‘soft-skin target’ she had acted accordingly. She hadn’t resisted. On the contrary!
When Sonny had entered the bank lobby precisely at 4:00 pm, closing time, he was carrying a gray, nylon, carry-on flight bag from which he pulled a silver semi-automatic handgun. He was wearing black motorcycle-type gloves with red stripes running down the fingers. (They reminded Leisha of the burned out veins along Sonny’s pitted forearm.)
He was also wearing a beige hooded sweatshirt, a black baseball cap, camouflaged battle-dress-uniform pants, aviator sunglasses, and a black and yellow bandanna over his lower face.
The senior police officer had demanded a description of the robber but all Leisha could say she remembered of the incident were ‘three eyes’.
She had rehearsed her statement and knew exactly what she intended to say. Three eyes. I swear. That’s all I saw. Two eyes leveled at me and the eye of the gun!
She swallowed hard at the thought of those two eyes and that unwinking eye of the gun.
The descriptions of the unknown masked man given by the clerks at the neighboring desks had not been any more conclusive: ‘a hideous little guy with creepy eyes’ and ‘a spaced out drug-nut waving a pistol looking like a mad scientist.’
Leisha recalled Sonny’s sallow face, slick with sweat, and rapid tongue darting to wet his cracked lips. His repetitive demoniacal screaming of ‘Gimme all your money! Right now!’ had achieved its desired effect. Leisha had promptly obeyed.
Sickened, Leisha sat at her position and folded her hands tightly on the desktop to control their shaking.
Across the polished marble floor of the lobby, behind the brass teller cages, she saw the bank’s auditor was glaring at her. He weighed two hundred and eighty pounds and he now presented the appearance of a man who had been recently boiled in a bag.
After all, the bank’s hard currency reserves had just been depleted by more than a quarter-million dollars.
Extract : A Stranger in Blood (Patient ID CPN0338200976: Elspeth P.)
‘A woman without a past has no future.’ I laughed without thought. ‘The question you should have asked is not where I’m going but where I’m from.’
‘A locked room mystery for you, look.’ I twisted my hands together. ‘Locked inside my head the real me is! No way in or out! I know what I know, but no more, see. It’s hopeleth.’
In moments of extreme emotional disturbance I revert to the cadences and syntactical quirks that betray the speech of my Welsh childhood, and the pronounced lisp of my infancy again afflicts my tongue.
My therapist nodded encouragingly, then fingered her chignon to assure herself it had not strayed. She wore a false hairpiece. I did not trust her.
‘I own to being a bastard,’ I said. My lip did not tremble. ‘Satisfied?’
An ‘identity crisis’ had been glibly mooted when I’d earlier confessed to the confusion that bedevils the psyche of an adoptee, and to my reluctance to delve deeper into the mystery of my true parentage: a father unknown, and the identity of my birth-mother withheld by my adoptive parents, Mam and Da.
‘Self-knowledge requires more,’ she put in portentously.
She began to probe further into my past, alluding to childhood phobias.
At which point I clammed up. I’m perfectly aware that ‘basket’ is an English euphemism for ‘bastard’, of course, but I certainly will not openly admit to my compulsive avoidance in supermarkets of the ‘Baskets Only’ checkout line.
•The Hospital Almoner handed me Da’s personal effects in a yellow plastic bag intended for the disposal of clinical waste. It contained three items: his dentures, his snuff box and a scrap of charred paper melded to a remnant of his candlewick dressing-gown, evidently cut from his grasp.
A blackened birth certificate . . . Truly, this page might just as well have been a Dead Sea scroll for all the evidence of anyone’s identity it proved because, by a perversity of fate, the essential details of my birthplace and the names of my biological parents, and all other handwritten entries penned by the registrar, had been scorched into oblivion.
It was as though some cosmic dramatist had sketched out an improbable plot with no shred of evidence to even hint as to how to resolve the dénouement of that inscrutable design.
My half-suppressed moan became the senseless giggle of one who laughs to prevent too deep an apprehension of spiritual distress.
I thought: How characteristic of my over-principled Da! Of all the cherished possessions he could have chosen to save from the burning building, he chose, at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour, the birth certificate he’d never wished me to see!
For, in all the years of my childhood, I never once sought to learn the identity of my natural mother. The very thought of my demanding her name I knew would profoundly upset my adoptive parents, such a fear I had of bringing down on my head the confusion of further rejection.
Besides, my greater fear – more than filling in the blanks, and laying that ghost to rest – was my dread of disappointment, the complete devastation of my persona, should I learn who my biological parents truly were and fail to come to terms with unwelcome knowledge.
So the deed box remained unopened; and I promised myself I would never seriously trace my natural mother while Mam and Da were alive.
My mouth was dry, and I gulped water with an unsatisfied thirst.
The picture of my loss was now clear: my uprighteous God-fearing Da trapped in a burning outbuilding, the protagonist of a tragic morality play of his own contrivance, holding the key to my destiny in his unnaturally white hand.
For now I understood, with a terrible finality, my search for my lost past was, by far too many years, long overdue, and the last traces that could disclose the secrets of my doubtful parentage were crumbling to ashes in my belated grasp.
As I have repeated many times: ‘A woman without a past has no future.’ And an ‘identity crisis’ is too facile a prognosis to describe the dilemma of one whose lodestone is jettisoned before her quest for selfhood can begin. For how else can I regard a life built on falsehood? It may seem difficult for a non-adoptee to understand but it was like looking back on the day when I had first laid the foundation stone of an edifice whose ultimate design I’d never visualised. Now it was erected it was astonishing to see it had no recognisable shape. Yet with such scant clues, tell me, how was I then to rightly learn the answer to the question: Whose child am I?
Author: Catherine Eisner
Title: Sister Morphine
Series: Salt Modern Fiction
Product class: BB
BIC subject category: FB
Publisher: Salt Publishing
Pub date: 04-Jul-08
Height: 234 mm
Width: 153 mm
Thickness: 39 mm
Weight: 744 gms
Supplier: Gardners Books
Supplier: Ingram Book Group
Supplier: Inbooks (James Bennett)
Price: GBP 18.99
Price: USD 36.95
Catherine Eisner believes passionately in plot-driven suspense fiction, a devotion to literary craft that draws on studies in psychoanalytical criminology and psychoactive pharmacology to explore the dark side of motivation, and ignite plot twists with unexpected outcomes.
See Eisner’s Sister Morphine (2008)
and Listen Close to Me (2011)