A new name, Alice Calais, has appeared on the blackboard. As Alice arrives on the ward, the other girls size her up. Susanna thinks that she doesn’t look “too crazy.” Alice introduces herself, and pronounces her last name like the word callous rather than Cal-lay, which is what the girls had imagined her name would sound like. When Georgina points out that Calais is a famous place in France, Alice seems not to know what she’s talking about. As Alice settles into the ward, the girls find that it is easy to impress her—she knows “almost nothing about anything.”
Alice Calais, the newest arrival on the ward, seems normal at first, and Susanna and her fellow patients are almost envious of this fact. However, it becomes clear that her “normalcy” veers too far in the other direction—Alice seems disconnected from the world around her, and there are large gaps in her knowledge.
One morning, while eating toast with honey, Alice remarks that she has never had honey in her life. She tastes it, and remarks that it tastes like bees. The girls, bewildered by Alice’s sheltered nature, speculate on what her life has been like. As the weeks go by, Alice reveals nothing interesting or exciting about her life, and instead really seems to have spent her life “locked up in a closet eating Cheerios,” as Lisa begins to believe.
In this passage Alice reveals herself to be not quite as normal as the others have thought her to be, but despite her odd lack of awareness about certain things generally regarded as common knowledge, nothing about her seems crazy.
After about a month, Alice explodes “like a volcano.” She is locked in seclusion, and the girls can hear muffled booming, yelling, and crashing from all the way down the hall. The next day, Alice is taken away to maximum security, and her name is removed from the chalkboard. Georgina, Lisa, and Susanna tell the nurses that they want to visit Alice, and the nurses allow them to.
The other shoe finally drops, and Alice—whom the girls have come to like—is taken off to maximum security. The girls’ perception of Alice’s normalcy was incorrect, and though they do not know exactly what has happened to her, it is clear that something has broken open within her, likely as a result of her transition to life on the psych ward.
From outside, the girls note that maximum security looks no different than their own ward. Inside, however, there are heavy bars on all the windows, the bathrooms have no doors, and the toilets have no seats. The nursing station is not open, but encased in chicken-wire-enforced glass. Every room is a seclusion room, and there is nothing in each one but a bare mattress. The girls survey their new surroundings apprehensively as they move toward Alice’s room.
The isolation Susanna and her fellow patients feel on their ward is profound and often a source of pain, rage, or sadness. That isolation is dwarfed by the bleak restriction of the maximum security ward, and as they walk through it they realize that things could, without a moment’s notice, get much worse for any of them.
When the girls arrive at Alice’s room, they immediately notice that the walls—and Alice’s face and limbs—are smeared with fecal matter. The girls don’t want to enter Alice’s room because of the smell, but talk to her from outside the door. Georgina asks Alice how she’s doing, and Alice says that she’s “okay,” and is “getting better.” Alice thanks the girls for their visit and waves goodbye. On the walk back over to their own ward, the girls tell the nurse accompanying them what they saw in Alice’s room, and their nurse notes that Alice’s behavior is “not that unusual.” Susanna, perturbed by what she’s seen, wonders aloud if one of them could snap and engage in similar scatological behavior. Georgina marvels at the fact that Alice professed to be getting better when she was clearly in deep distress. Lisa posits that everything is relative.
The girls’ encounter with Alice serves to shatter entirely their perception that Alice was ever more “normal” than the rest of them. Alice’s version of “better,” after all, is being smeared with her own feces in a maximum-security room. The girls, when they see their friend Alice this way, realize that, just as the barrier between sanity and insanity is a thin one, the world of insanity contains levels and gradations which can be easily traversed without any warning. Lisa urges the other girls not to judge Alice, though, as everyone has a different definition of what it means to be “okay.”