Blood in the Snow: The Deinstitutionalization of "Princess Anne"
"Good morning, Princess Anne," I'd say as we passed on the steps of the shabby apartment house where we both lived . Princess Anne was my neighbor for a couple of years in a northeast city, a cold city blanketed in snow from November into March. I was a twenty-something student/cocktail waitress. Until the shots crackled and the blood droplets appeared on the snow, I didn't think much about Princess Anne. No one did.
Princess Anne was frumpy, pudgy-faced and ever-cheerful. Middle-aged. Her smile seemed unfettered by reality. No coat in winter. She didn't seem to have a job, walking from dusk to dawn and in between, circling the several blocks that connected us to the rest of the city. She explained that she was a Princess on multiple occasions, as if we were meeting for the first time.
There was no doubt that Princess Anne, ever alone, never accompanied on her walks nor visited by anyone, was not royalty. But she was insistent about her ancestry and no one cared enough to challenge her claims. Daily, her footfalls pounded hard on the steps when she came into the building - hurrying, looking for someone or getting away from something. Now and then, I'd hear her in the common back hall, a faceless voice three stories down, wailing in the stairwell.
That morning in March, it was bone-cold when I heard the sound. About a foot of snow buried the streets the night before. I heard a loud BOOM, could it be a car backfiring? I was barely awake, still rummaging around the kitchen in search of a coffee cup. I looked down to the sidewalk and saw bright red spots - an alarming crimson red, vivid and wet. Icicles glued the windows shut. Sirens screamed in the background, unfamiliar voices shouted, "DON'T DO IT!"
I went outside to learn that Princess Anne was released from a psychiatric hospital a couple of years back, set free to find a life alone without family, friends, or a job. A government check kept her royal name intact but her medical visits were few and far between. Maybe never.
That morning, the psychiatrist showed up to take her back to the mental hospital. She, Princess Anne, clung to the confusing world she meandered.
She had a shotgun.
So she shot him dead. Shot herself. Blood in the snow.