Borderline (The Arcadia Project, #1)

Written By: Mishell Baker

Borderline (The Arcadia Project, #1)

Mishell Baker


It was midmorning on a Monday when magic walked into my life wearing a beige Ann Taylor suit and sensible flats. At the time I had more money than sense, and so I had been languishing at the Leishman Psychiatric Center in Silver Lake for just over six months.

The Center had a rigid routine, and there was a perverse comfort in knowing what misery of boredom to expect and when. Breakfast: grayish sausage, carbohydrate mush, and the kind of eggs that are poured from a carton, all eaten with plastic utensils. Physical therapy: a rotating assortment of blue-shirted people who urgently pressured me to feel happy about accomplishing things a three-year-old could do. Patio break: a chain-link enclosed concrete yard where everyone else flocked to light up coffin nails and trade confessions. Knowing they’d all be gone in three to fourteen days and wouldn’t stay in touch, I elected to sit in the fluorescent-lit common room and run reel after reel of movies in my head.

When a well-dressed woman stopped with purpose beside my chair that Monday, I assumed she was one of the Center’s bureaucracy. She was of average height and build, with a conservative suit and ethnically ambiguous features. Her face was drab and powdered matte; her hair and eyes were a muddle of colors that defied category. If she had drawn a revolver, shot me in the kneecap, and walked out, I’d have had a hell of a time describing her to security.

Although her appearance put her in the ballpark of my age, she addressed me in a flat, husky alto that had forty years of smoke and whiskey in it. “Millicent Roper,” she said.

“Yeah?” I was hesitant because when people in the movies say a name in that tone, the next line is usually, “You’re under arrest.” Instead she extended a gloved hand.

People do not wear gloves in Los Angeles. These weren’t cold-weather gloves either, but light dress gloves the same shell pink as her blouse, their cuffs disappearing beneath the sleeves of her jacket.

“I’m Caryl Vallo with the Arcadia Project,” she said.

“I don’t know what that is,” I said, leaving my hands in my lap.

She withdrew the gesture with no change of expression. “We are a nonprofit organization partially funded by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. I would be pleased to tell you more if we can speak confidentially. Could we retire briefly to another area?”

Her formality nudged my brain into a rusty gear that I eventually recognized as curiosity. “Fine,” I said. “We can go back to my room.”

I grabbed the wheels of my chair and rolled myself down the hall with practiced economy. The chair was a squeaky piece of crap, and I found myself embarrassed by it.

“I was under the impression that you used prosthetics for walking,” Caryl said.

“Only when I have somewhere to go. The AK socket starts to dig into my ass if I’m just sitting around.”

“Are your prosthetics in your room?”


“Will you put them on for me?”


Before you ask why I was so docile about an invasive request from a complete stranger, keep in mind that I’d spent the past year of my life following the orders of a procession of doctors, therapists, and other random concerned people whose names I sometimes didn’t even bother to learn.

I was paying extra for privacy, so there was a desk in my room where a second twin bed would have been. When we arrived, Caryl seated herself at it, pushing back the chair.

“Are you happy here?” she asked me, looking around. She seemed an extension of the bland decor.

“If I were happy,” I grunted, wheeling myself over to the locked chest containing my prosthetics, “I wouldn’t be here.”

Caryl, declining to comment, skimmed gloved fingertips over her tightly bound hair. I tried not to think about my own cowlicked mess, a few inches long all over except for a mostly hidden seam on the left side where hair didn’t grow at all.

“Forgive my poor choice of words,” she said. “Do you feel this is the best living situation for you at this time?”

“With my job and credit history,” I said as I braked my chair, “I think my only other option is a refrigerator box.” I took the key from around my neck, leaned over to unlock the chest, and pulled out my bottle of Dry-Lite, applying a generous amount to the stump of my right shin. I glanced at Caryl and found her watching me with the politely attentive expression of someone in the front row of a lecture hall.

“So,” I said, lifting my BK prosthesis out of the trunk. “You were about to tell me about the Arcadia Project.” I aligned the suction suspension and slid my shin into it. Once the carbon foot was solidly on the floor, I pushed myself to a stand with both hands, balancing one-legged and forcing the rest of the air out of the valve with a moist, embarrassing sound.

“The Arcadia Project,” said Caryl, “is funded partially by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and partially by private donations from members of the entertainment industry. We seek mentally ill adults who meet certain qualifications and provide them with meaningful employment, housing, and ongoing—”

“What sort of employment?” I interrupted as I pivoted to sit down on the edge of my bed.

“Employment opportunities vary depending upon the quali-fications of the individual, but the majority are part-time or freelance creative positions in the film and television industry.”

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