by Natalie Grigson
She stared at the black and white picture pretending to be thinking very hard about its true meaning. Really, though, she was wondering about the doctor whose pink fingertips she could see curled around the edges of the picture. She moved her eyes onto his face for just a moment, then back onto the black and white card. Dr. Sable had thick brown hair, a short neatly trimmed beard, and red cheeks like he had just walked in from the cold. He reminded her of a lumberjack in looks but he treated her like she imagined a lawyer might treat a client. When she came in, he shook her hand like an adult. She thought he pretended just as she did, but he was pretending to respect her. When he spoke to her though, she was once again a naïve 11 year old in his office. The inconsistencies of his actions made her nervous, like he was an unpredictable animal.
“I think in this one, that man in the corner there? I think he is trying to escape from the woman in the middle. That’s why that window is opened, see?”
“I see,” the doctor replied as his pen danced across the page. “Fear of abandonment… Trust issues with male authority figures… Possible history of verbal abuse…Questionable case of Attention Deficit Disorder,” he muttered just loud enough for her to hear.
She sat in the chair watching the man utter and scribble, but when he looked up, she acted as though she didn’t hear him.
Finally, as she could invent no more meanings for the pictures of people scattered over the desk, Dr. Sable rose from his leather armchair and filed the pictures away.
“A very good session today, Ms. Jessica. Now run and get your mom from the waiting area and she and I are going to have a little talk,” he smiled broadly.
“Okay,” the girl replied as she slung her backpack over one shoulder. She shuffled into the waiting room counting her steps and taking a small pleasure in how her tennis shoes dragged on the carpet.
She watched her mother for a moment before saying anything. Her mother was named Jan and the very idea that anyone called her anything other than “mom,” made Jessica laugh. Her mother had long brown hair, which was pulled back into a ponytail today and the same blue eyes as Jessica. She was reading Elle magazine and chewing absentmindedly on the tip of her index finger.
“Jan, Dr. Sable will see you now,” Jessica said in her best nurse’s voice. She laughed as her mother walked by and ruffled her hair. A large chunk of it was missing by her temple.
“Well thank you, miss.” Her mother’s eyes darted on to the small bald patch and then back to Jessica’s face. She smiled but she still looked worried.
Jessica sat in Doctor Sable’s waiting room for fifteen minutes before her mother returned from his office. Through the door, she could hear muffled voices but no distinct words, which made her think o the scientist from the Muppets. Every now and then her mother’s indistinct voice would rise, which was always followed by Dr. Sable’s low hum of a response. As she listened to the rise and fall of sound behind the door, she imagined a line graph moving up and down, up and down, like mountains. Soon the image faded into nothing and Jessica’s mind was blank.
When she opened her eyes again, she felt very light, lighter than air, and found herself standing in her kitchen. Her stepfather, Kevin was sitting at the counter before her, completely unaware of her sudden appearance. She walked over to where he sat and pulled up a chair. Still, he took no notice. Kevin stood up and walked to the refrigerator, and as he opened the door a carton of milk fell off the shelf and burst onto the floor.
“Shit,” he said. Jessica clapped her hand over her mouth and laughed in delight at having caught him cursing. Then she felt a pressure on her shoulder and the kitchen slowly dissolved. She felt solid in her body once again.
“Jess, let’s go home.” Her mother was squeezing her shoulder, worry etched into the very wrinkles of her face. “Were you asleep?”
“No, I was just dreaming. Can we go by the store on the way home, Mom? We ran out of milk.”
Her mother opened the door and Jessica walked through, under her outstretched arm.
“Hon, we had milk this morning. Almost a whole thing of it.”
She grinned as she thought of what she had just heard her stepfather say.
“Kevin just spilled the milk all over the floor, Mom.” She decided to leave out the detail about his language.
Her mother opened her mouth, perhaps to ask how she knew; perhaps to explain that hadn’t really happened and that she was confusing daydreams with real life, but instead climbed into the silver 4 Runner and drove to the store for the milk.
“Mom what did you and Dr. Sable talk about today? I could hear you talking really loud.”
“You couldn’t hear what we were saying though, right?” She looked even more worried.
“No I couldn’t. You sounded like Muppets.”
She smiled weakly at this.
“We were just talking about your dazes, Jess, and why you might have them. He thinks you haven’t dealt with… Well, he thinks you may have some bad memories in your head about your dad. Anyway, it’s not normal to be able to see things like you do, and Dr. Sable is just trying to figure out what to do.”
“Okay,” she said as the pulled into the driveway. She wasn’t sure what her mother meant but she didn’t want to press the issue. Her mother got worried so easily lately.
“Buddy! Buddy! Buddy! Buddilus Floppidus!” the small eleven year-old squealed as she burst through the front door, a blur of brown hair and bright clothing. She flung her backpack from her arms and bent down to embrace a large and rather fat brown and white floppy eared rabbit. As she walked into the kitchen with the rabbit in her arms, she wavered slightly under his weight and arched her back forward as if she was pregnant. Her stepfather, Kevin, sat at the table with a mug of coffee and several legal pads full of small, indistinct writing scattered before him.
“Hey kiddo. How was the big first day of fifth grade?”
“It was gooood.” Jessica was crouched before the refrigerator getting out Buddy’s dinner: carrots, cucumbers, and plain oats. Her shoes stuck to the tile where the milk had spilled.
“Hey, Jan,” he said as Jessica’s mother walked into the room. Her cheeks were flushed, and in the bright light of the kitchen, Jess thought the lines around her mouth looked like rivers on a map.
“Hey, Kev. I got some more milk for the morning,” she bent down and kissed him lightly on the mouth, and Jessica rolled her eyes at Buddy. “Jess thought we might be out…” They looked at each other with the same expression Dr. Sable sometimes wore when she told him about her dazes. They changed the subject to adult matters that Jessica found dull so she went upstairs to her bedroom and put out the bowl for Buddy’s dinner.
Jessica was very different from most girls her age. When she was seven her father, David Lovette was killed in a car accident and since then she’d been seeing a psychotherapist once a week to treat her “dazes.” The general opinion of her doctors over the years was that she used daydreaming as an escape from reality and would continue doing so until she dealt with the death of her father. She sat on the floor of her room wondering about this, and as each italicized word scrolled through her mind, she became more and more confused. She didn’t know how to deal with her father’s death; she didn’t even know what that meant. She liked thinking about her dad. She could still remember his laugh and the way his nose wrinkled when he smiled, but she was starting to lose the sound of his voice and she could barely remember the way he walked or moved. She didn’t want to let go and if that is what she had to do to “deal with it,” she simply wouldn’t. She closed her eyes and tried hard to imagine her father’s face, as she knew him—round, clean shaven, always smiling. She pushed back the image of her first daze. It happened right before her father died and every time she focused on his face too long, it crept back into her mind. Blood on the pavement. Glassy eyes. She closed her eyes hard and shook her head. She’d never told anyone about her first daze and as she shook the image away, she tried to pretend that it wasn’t her fault.
Ten minutes later, she was sitting on the floor running her fingers through the carpet, creating small roadways for sugar ants that might pass through. Her room was bright and very girly, because her mother decorated it before her father died. She had always dreamed of having a beautiful daughter. Truth be told, Jessica hated all things pink, frilly, and as she would say “snooty,” including the very feminine ring of her own name: Jessica Marie Lovette. At school, she was known for being a tomboy. She could usually be found with a group of boys, playing in the mud, climbing the monkey bars, and on occasion, sneaking the soccer balls from the outdoor shed from dodge ball. Everyone knew her as Jess, except when she was in trouble. Then it was “Jessica Marie!” Her grandpa just called her “Pal.”
She watched the rabbit’s body move up and down as he dug his face into the food bowl. He was a gift for her ninth birthday. His full name was Buddilus Floppidus, but over the years had been shortened to Buddy in most cases. When he was done eating, Jess lay back onto the soft carpet and he climbed onto her chest and fell asleep. Feeling safe, she closed her eyes and focused hard on the red nothingness of the insides of her eyelids. She shifted her blind eyes out of focus and let her thoughts drift away. Then she opened her eyes, eager to see where her mind had taken her tonight.
She found herself in a very crowded room with high ceilings. Buddy was still pressed close into her chest, but she was now standing and cradling him like a baby. Once again, her whole body felt light as air and if she couldn’t look down and see herself, she might not have noticed that she had any form at all. She looked around the large space, her ears filled with the murmur of hundreds of people speaking at once and somewhere far away, a low thunderous rumble. She had been here before with her dad. It was Grand Central Station in New York. When she had visited this place before it was almost dusk on Christmas Eve, and there were no lines and very few people standing around.
She and her parents had been in New York to spend Christmas with her Uncle Rick and his family. The whole week it had been snowing and by Christmas Eve, the city looked like it was covered in thick white frosting.
“You wanna go see the trains?” Her dad asked.
“No John. It is freezing out there. None of the trains will be running in this weather.” Her mother crossed her arms in front of her chest and looked down at her husband, sitting on the couch.
He looked at his daughter pleadingly.
“Yeah I want to go!” She would take his side no matter what. She didn’t really care about the trains.
“Well, the girl wants to go, Jan. We’re just going to have a look. She’s never seen a real train.”
Her mother looked defeated as her father set a drink down on the coffee table, and got up to get his coat. Jess watched the beads of water form a glistening ring on the table like the halo of an angel before she got up, not daring to look back at her mother.
“You’re half an hour late,” someone nearby said, jerking Jessica back into the present. A man with a thick New York accent was talking to her. She’d never seen this man before and as she opened her mouth to respond, she realized he was talking to someone beside her.
“I know. Ma just dropped me outside. She said she’s not coming. She said she’s not going to be home when we get back… She said she’s leaving.”
The man looked away, pressing his fingers together in front of his mouth as if he was praying. He blinked hard and shook his head.
“Alright, kiddo. Well, c’mon. We don’t need ma to have a good time in Boston do we?”
They walked toward the stairs leading below where Jess remembered the trains boarded. She looked around the emptying terminal and couldn’t see any other reason she was there, so she followed them onto the train to Boston.
At this point Jess was sure that the people around her could not see her or Buddy, which was always the case in a daze, unless it was about her own life. So she sat down next to the man. Her empty mind was soon swarming with thoughts, but they were not her own. They were the man’s. She saw what he saw and felt what he felt, though she was still vaguely aware of her own presence. It was as though she were reading a book written by the man Paul, all about his life with his son, Nick. She was completely in his mind, but was still aware, however distantly, that she was also there. He was forty-two and his son was thirteen. She didn’t know if she should be witnessing this; she felt slightly nosey, but she let their thoughts wash over her.
Paul watched his son over the top of a newspaper. He wanted to say something about Linda leaving; tell him that they were better off; that everything would work itself out soon, but he’d never lied to his son before, so he focused again on the newspaper. He remembered when Nick would sit on his knee and let him wrap his arms around him. Can’t get away, kiddo. I’m not gonna let you go ‘til you turn 25, and if you wanna go to college or anything, you’re just gonna have to bring me with you. And Nick laughed and pretended to hate the idea, not knowing anything about things like college. Linda would come up and wrap her arms around them both, kissing Paul on the cheek and they would laugh. They laughed so much then.
And now she was leaving them for some asshole coworker; he was sure of it. He felt a sudden urge to pull his son onto his lap and wrap his arms around him, and held out a hand for a moment over his son’s, but embarrassed by the gesture, he bent over instead to pick up a book.
Jess stroked Buddy’s ears, flattening them onto his back, white on brown, as she her own thoughts slowly returned. She wondered if Paul would curse out loud in front of his son. She remembered how earlier that day Kevin had sworn and had felt a guilty pleasure at having heard it. It was very odd remembering another daze while she sat next to Paul and Nick, in a completely separate one. Like an infinite mirror. She realized then that she was all alone; most of her memories were not hers at all; they were the thoughts of strangers or moments that she hadn’t really been a part of. She began to feel very sorry for herself, sitting on the train visible to others only as air, when a loud noise like fireworks shook her into the present. The compartment around her shook, bags fell from the overhead bins, and a collective gasp of shock resounded in the car. A brief image of a cartoon bomb flashed through her mind before the next explosion. This was louder and closer; the compartment filled with smoke and was dark. The bombs detonated at once, but she heard each explosion individually, each closer than the one before, like a long string of firecrackers.
She tried to focus all of her energy on her bedroom at home—the pink walls, the soft carpet, Buddy sleeping on her chest. She kept telling herself this was a daze, it wasn’t real; but it suddenly felt more real than anything she knew before. She wanted out but her mind became fuzzy and once again she was reliving a memory that was not her own.
It was the Fourth of July. Paul and Nick were laughing, chasing each other with sparklers. Running down a long hill that seemed to stretch forever. Down down down…
She was on the floor of the car, it was dark, but she saw bursts of light from beneath her eyelids. Her body became suddenly heavy and ached, as though she’d fallen a great distance. Glass in her hands. Something sticky covered her hair. She felt the floor shudder for the final time before she heard a noise like a gunshot close to her face. Her mind was blank and then she was floating lightly in Paul’s thoughts. She felt like her own presence had merely moved across the broken car and settled into Paul’s head, showing her his last jumbled memories.
“That was the biggest firework I’ve ever seen, Dad!” Paul held Nick tight against his chest, their hearts beating rapidly together in silent song, as reds, yellows, and blues rained from the sky. Warm happiness spread over him and he smiled up at the sky.
Then a flash of white, and Paul and Nick were no more, the memories of their lives like the floating embers of a firework. Jessica was once again aware of her body, her deep breath, her pounding heart, a tingling in her hands and feet. She lay on the floor of her bedroom, eyes closed and feeling the life course through her veins, knowing that the people on the train were now no more than dust flying through space. Lifeless.
She held her hand over her heart, scared that at any moment she might realize she should have blown up with the train that it was not just a daze, and then her heart would stop. When it did not, she opened her eyes and took in the pink bedroom. It was okay. She was safe. As she pushed herself up to sit, her skin felt raw against the carpet and she had to choke back the burning acid rising in her throat. She walked around the room, stepping lightly heel to toe, heel to toe. An image of Paul and Nick holding hands silently before they were ripped apart. Paul and Nick on the fourth of July. Gone. She forced herself back into the present, once again taking in the details of her room. Bed. Desk. Clock. 9:30 p.m.
Her heart slowly stopped pumping so hard and she started to calm down, focusing on the small nick-knacks around her room. A picture of her mother and Kevin, a small white radio on her dresser, and next to it, a picture of her father, still young, still alive, always smiling.
Then she saw it, an image of her father’s body sprawled out over the pavement. His legs were bent beneath him like a broken puppet, and halo of blood spread beneath his head. His eyes were white and staring like fish eggs.
Jess shook her head violently; the image retreated into her memory like a cornered predator. The shaking made her dizzy and a moment later, she ran into the bathroom and heaved over and over into the toilet.
The image of her dead father crept up on Jess when she slept and sometimes after a daze when her mind was already weak. She hovered by the toilet remembering the first time she had seen this image, one week before his death. She didn’t tell anyone because she thought it had been a strange daydream, an image inspired by a horror movie. The thought of her father ever leaving her was unimaginable then.
She lay down on the cold tile floor, warm tears dripping down her cheeks into her hair, hating herself for keeping quiet. Hating herself for thinking these thoughts. Whether or not she caused the events or just saw them, if she kept quiet, she as good as killed them. She wondered now if the train had already exploded, if Nick and Paul were already dead. She sat up again and heaved painfully.
She never told anyone about her father’s death and still blamed herself for it. As soon as she thought it, it was real. Time had nothing to do with it.
She crept downstairs determined to tell her mother about the train. She was feeling slightly more hopeful now that she had made up her mind to tell someone, though she still didn’t know if it had already happened. She kept telling herself that it could be stopped, if she just told someone it could be stopped. Really, though, she didn’t know. She pushed this out of her mind and focused on her new mission.
As she walked down the hall downstairs, she imagined that this is how robbers must walk into a stranger’s home. Heel to toe. Heel to toe. The house was so quiet she could hear the ring of her inner ear. Through the still air, she heard a noise like fabric sliding from bare skin. She sniffed the air like she’d seen Buddy do, and imagined her ears standing up like an animal in pursuit.
She found her mother curled up on the worn leather couch in the living room. She was half covered by a blanket and a book was opened across her side, tucked under her arm; Buddy was asleep at her feet. Jess lowered herself onto the rug next to her mother listening to the sound of her breathing. She thought of Paul and Nick, living breathing, their hearts beating in unison while fireworks blossomed overhead. She thought of her father, how he once held her hand to his heart and told her it was hers. In her mind, she reached up, nudged her mother awake, and told her about the train. In her mind, they had all been saved. In her mind. But Jess fell asleep.
She woke to an unfamiliar voice and the first intrusive beams of the sunrise.
“Tom, the latest reports show the death toll at over 300. There are no confirmed details on the nature of this attack, but insiders are calling it an act of terrorism, as devastating as the attacks of nine eleven, just over five years ago. No confirmation on whether the attacks are related, Tom…”
Jess blinked hard and held her eyes closed, willing the woman’s voice to be part of a dream. She opened her eyes and saw her mother and Kevin on the couch beside her; her mother’s legs folded into her chest, one hand laid on the couch holding Kevin’s tightly, the other traced absently around her lips like she wanted a cigarette. For a moment she remembered telling her mother all about the train and that somehow, they had stopped the explosion; saved the passengers. Her head was fuzzy with memories, which ones were her own, and which had truly happened, she could no longer tell. She was scared.
“Mom did I wake you last night?”
“What? No, honey. Be quiet.”
She tried to listen to the reporter but was utterly confused that something she remembered so clearly didn’t happen. She struggled to place her memories, the memories of others, and things that simply hadn’t happened, into neat little categories, but found that she could no longer tell the difference. The reporter continued to speak and Jess listened to her, nervously pulling out long strands of hair near her temple. She wondered if this was happening, if it was just a memory, or if she was yet again watching this life as an observer. She couldn’t place it, though, and listened to the news, pulling, pulling out her hair.
“If you’re just tuning in, a tragedy has stricken America. The nine o’clock p.m. train from New York to Boston was bombed last night—apparently detonated by timers—leaving no survivors. The act is being called a terrorist attack…”
The voice was replaced by a faint mechanical noise and then silence as Kevin dropped the remote onto the couch.
“Shit.” He rubbed his hands over his face.
“Shit,” her mom whispered.
Jess registered their words as background noise, meaningless. It was all meaningless. She climbed onto the couch and held Buddy safely in her arms. She sat with her mom and Kevin in silence, rocking slightly back and forth with glazed, fixed eyes, until the room was filled with uninvited sunlight, like a stranger at a funeral.
When Kevin left for work at 7:50, Jess followed her mother into the kitchen. She continued to pull at her hair, just trying to feel something, clinging to the hope that she had found reality. Nick and Paul were dead. Her father was dead. It was her fault. She told her mother she was feeling too sick to go to school.
“I understand. After hearing about that train, I don’t feel too well myself. Maybe you need to eat. You don’t look good,” her mother said. She poured a glass of milk and handed Jess a plate of waffles not looking at her daughter.
“Mom, I need to tell you something.”
She didn’t respond but winced as if she’d been slapped. She stared out the window.
“Last night I had another bad dream; or day dream, kind of.”
“Yeah, a daze. I couldn’t help it. I saw what happened on the train and I’m sorry.” The words tumbled out of her mouth and before she could stop them, tears were streaming down her face. She felt sick again and watched her mother, unmoving. Jess began breathing very hard, too hard. She was lightheaded, the kitchen swam around her, and just before she fainted, she wondered if any of this was currently happening. When she came to a moment later her mother had her cradled against her chest, her body lain over her mother’s kneeling knees.
“We’ll fix this, Jess. We’ll fix this,” she said over and over. They sat silently for a while, and then her mother went into the study to make some phone calls. She set up a movie in the living room for Jessica.
Jess sat before the television, only dimly aware of the bright cartoons flashing before her, their colors reflected on the white walls. She sat in deep thought and about an hour into Aladdin, she decided what she had to do. She needed to stop the dazes and she was determined that the only way this could be done would be to enter one willingly, and then prevent it from actually happening. She knew her mother would be scared if she knew her plan, and Jess didn’t want to worry her. She listened for the sound of her mother’s voice. She was talking quietly into the phone down the hall; she was busy and wouldn’t come back for a while. She looked once around the room, as though searching for surveillance, before closing her eyes and allowing herself to fall into the last daze she would ever have.
She was in a small waiting area, white carpet, white walls, and white wooden end tables. She felt dirty and out of place in the room. She found that she was sitting in a hard, gray armchair and her mother was sitting next to her reading a magazine. She was tracing her fingers around her lips absently, and Jess wondered why she was nervous.
“It will be okay, mom.” The words escaped her mouth before she thought about saying them; they were beyond her control. She watched the scene—her mother smile weakly, a woman open a large white door into the room, and say something without sound—out of her own eyes, but she was detached. She was still vaguely aware that this was a daze, in fact, her body was still lying lazily on a couch in another time, another place; but as she sunk further and further into the daze, she began to forget. After a few minutes, Jess sat in the waiting room only aware of a nagging feeling that she was supposed to do something, but she couldn’t remember. Her body began to feel light and free once again, as though her own skin no longer confined her.
“Jessica Leavitt,” the woman said again from the opened door. She wore jeans and a sweater, but carried a clipboard under her arm. The opposition of formalities made Jess wonder if she could be trusted, but she walked thoughtlessly behind her through the open door anyway. Her mother smiled at her as she went in.
Jess wrenched open her eyes, breathing heavily. She was in the living room, Aladdin was fighting Jafar, and Buddy was asleep. She couldn’t remember what she had just seen, whose memory she had fallen into, but she told herself it was because she hadn’t let herself sink into the daze. Her mother’s voice trailed into the room as low indistinct noise. It was safe, and she closed her eyes again, determined more than ever to surrender to the thoughts whatever they had been, and when she came to again, prevent them from becoming real.
Her eyes remained closed as the sounds of Aladdin were replaced with the low hum of a computer and the soft whir of machines. A small turn of her head told her that small metal clips with wires were attached beneath her hair like alien barrettes.
The memory of her living room faded away as though it had happened a long time ago, or had not happened yet at all. She was only aware that she had thought of a plan somewhere, sometime in a living room. Then it was gone. Dust flying through space.
“Now Jessica, tell me about this latest daze. Your mother told me that is what you have been calling them with Dr. Sable.” A man’s voice from far away, but when she opened her eyes he was sitting next to her on a small stool. He was too close.
“It was here. I came here because Mom was worried after the bomb… I remember I saw the waiting room and the lady with the clipboard, and then I came in here and waited for you to come in and you put these clips on me.”
“Jessica that is just what happened today. You’re just relaying a memory to me.” He shifted in his chair and touched something on the computer. With each movement, his face was etched into the air and an outline hung there so she couldn’t tell what the man looked like, but heard his voice like an echo.
She tried to concentrate but was becoming more and more confused. The room was spinning and shifting in and out of being and she didn’t know why. She closed her eyes hard and felt white, snowy static fill her mind. She pulled hard on her hair nervously. There was something more that she needed to remember, something important. An image of Aladdin flashed in her mind.
She opened her eyes and found herself laying down on a long, hard surface, completely still. She couldn’t remember getting onto the surface or into this new room. A large machine circled around her head, humming softly in her ears. It was a CAT scan machine. She watched as bright lights pulsed above her rhythmically. She watched from somewhere far away, or deep within herself. She couldn’t tell.
A blurred movement like a memory struggling to surface, more static, and she was in the doctor’s office again, with metal clips attached to her head. She batted at the wires like flies and something nearby beeped like an alarm clock.
Static, loud like the roaring of a train.
Paul and Nick sitting in the train to Boston…
Paul and Nick holding hands, melting like toy soldiers…
Her father laughing as they walked through the snow. Then broken and surrounded by blood.
When she opened her eyes again, she was running down a hall. People were opening doors because someone was screaming. She was screaming. Her legs hit the ground and with each step she felt how her shoes sunk into the carpet, felt the vibrations running up her legs, but could hear her steps. Heel to toe. Heel to toe. She ran until she was surrounded by blinding, white light, somewhere outside and then there was a loud noise—a car horn—pain, and then silence.
When Jess opened her eyes, again she found herself on the living room couch, cowering as if she’d been beaten, with her arms folded behind her head and a small trickle of blood running from her nose into her mouth. Aladdin was over and static filled the room.
“Jess,” her mother’s voice made her jump. “Listen, I’m worried about… what’s going on with you. I’ve been talking to some psychologists and I found a specialist who’d like to meet with you tomorrow morning. His name’s Ted Rubin.” She didn’t look at her daughter but fidgeted nervously with her hands and stared out the window. A moment later, she walked out of the room and left Jess on the couch alone.
Jess hugged her knees into her chest and felt her heart racing, but she didn’t know why. She had never come out of a daze not remembering before and it terrified her. She knew she had to stop it from coming true if she was ever going to stop the dazes completely, but how could she prevent something if she didn’t know what it was?
“You look awful,” Jess said to her mother. It was 7:30 a.m. and she sat at the counter, fully dressed, sipping coffee, ready to take Jess to Dr. Rubin.
“I didn’t sleep. How are you? Are you okay? Are you ready?” She forced a smile that left lines around her mouth.
Jess ate breakfast in silence then sat in the car waiting for her mother. She pushed buttons on the radio to fill the silence but didn’t register the sounds.
When they arrived at Dr. Rubin’s office Jess thought the place looked familiar. It was a plain, square, office building; two stories, with large, reflective windows covering most of the front. Inside the waiting room, it was white—the floors, the walls, and the end tables were all white and sterile—and the furniture was grey and uncomfortable. Her mother sat down next to her with a magazine and traced her lips nervously. “It will be okay,” Jess said mechanically.
“Jessica Leavitt,” the woman in the doorway had been calling her name for a while and looked irritated. Her mother gave her a fleeting smile as she got up and walked through the door. The walls in the hallway were close together, the ceiling was low and made of loose tiles covered in small, black dots, and the floor was white carpet. There were several closed doors on either side and at the end of the hall was a door marked EMERGENCY EXIT. They turned in to the third room on the left.
“Okay, Jessica. I am just going to take your blood pressure and do some basic measurements on you here, and then Dr. Rubin will come in and talk to you.”
She sat down on the edge of a long, cushioned table as the woman buzzed around her, taking her pulse, blood pressure, and writing things down. Jess noticed that her handwriting was small and scratchy just like Kevin’s.
When Dr. Rubin came in, she thought he looked like a doctor from a movie. He wore a long, white lab coat, had a small line of a mustache, wore glasses, and was bald. She felt like she had seen this man before. When he spoke she his voice as if from a dream. He motioned for her to sit in the chair by a computer. She did.
“Jessica, I’m Dr. Rubin. Do you know why you are here today?” He wasn’t looking at her, but was picking up several small metal instruments from a table.
“Well then let me explain what we will be doing, okay?” He held the small metal instruments out in his hands like an offering. “These clips are connected to this computer by wires.” He motioned to the monitor on the table as though there were more than one large computer right in front of her. “I am going to put the metal ends onto your head with a glue-like substance, and they will record your brain activity. It will show up on the computer as a sort of graph, and I will ask you different questions and see how they record.”
The doctor combed through her hair gently before attaching each clip to her head. When they were all attached, he turned away and rummaged through a small blue kit. When he turned around, he had a syringe in his hand.
“Now, Jessica. I am going to give you a little shot. It won’t hurt, don’t worry. What this does, is it will go into your blood and when the blood pumps into your brain; this will temporarily impair the connection between the hemispheres, so we can get a better idea of what’s going on. It is going to activate some memories, either from early on or even small things that you may have repressed for some reason that may have happened more recently.” He spoke slowly and clearly but was already moving toward her with the syringe. She made a small noise of protest, but didn’t pull away as he sunk the needle into her forearm. Her mother was worried about her and she would have to cooperate. He watched her for a few moments before turning to the computer to start a program. Little lines appeared on the screen moving up and down.
“Now Jessica, tell me about this latest daze. Your mother told me that is what you have been calling them with Dr. Sable.” His voice echoed from far away now. She struggled to focus on one thing—the computer, his face, the room, anything—but her thoughts were becoming detached.
She relayed the daze from the day before—how she was sent to his office because her mother was worried; how she sat in the waiting area, and then in this room… As she spoke, she had no idea where the words were coming from. Her mouth moved mechanically and she was only distantly aware that her heart was beating violently. The faster her heart raced the farther removed she felt. She could almost hear the drug pulse behind her temples.
“Jessica that is just what happened today. You’re just relaying a memory to me.” As he shifted, the imprint of his shape was left hanging in the air, hundreds of outlines of the doctor like a hand of cards. An image of Aladdin flashed across her mind and she reached up as though to catch it. When she missed, she pulled out several strands of hair.
“Why don’t you tell me about what you saw before the bombing in the train, Jessica?” He was so far away and she saw each word like a different color. “Bombing” was yellow.
She told him how she laid down with Buddy that night, closed her eyes, and was on the train. She spoke flatly and was hardly aware that she was speaking at all. All she heard was someone breathing, perhaps the machines, and small beeps from the computer. She imagined the doctor’s voice like a computer and smiled slightly, unaware that she did so.
“Jessica, it seems as though you are having trouble differentiating between reality and imagination. I know you told me that you saw the attack before it happened, but perhaps you just imagined that you saw it, after you saw the newscast. What do you understand about the concept of time, Jessica?”
She held up her hand and made an imaginary dot in the air with her forefinger. “It’s like a dot on page.”
“Okay. If you understand time like a dot on a page, the past, the present, and the future would all be happening right now, wouldn’t they Jessica? Now that wouldn’t work very well, because then you’d have all the things that happened when you were little and all the things that will happen when you are older all happening at once.” He began speaking to her more slowly and carefully as he watched the monitor.
Her father sat on the couch, her mother stood behind him, her hands on her hips. They had been arguing about whether or not Jessica could get a pet for Christmas. Perhaps when they got back from New York, her mother had said. Her father ran his fingers through his hair and then down onto his face. He held them over his eyes and for a moment, Jessica thought he would move them and shout “Peekaboo!” but when he lowered his hands he looked tired and old. “Perhaps,” he had said. Then he winked at his daughter and went into the kitchen.
The beeping and hum of the rooms crept back into Jessica’s ears, like someone had just turned up the volume on the world.
“Everything is happening at once. There are so many possibilities for the future and they are all happening right now; it’s just a matter of which one you think into being. It’s… like a dot…” She thought of Paul and Nick and how she must have thought their fate into reality. It happened the very moment she believed in it; the very moment they thought it and felt the first explosion, it was real. She began to laugh quietly at the simplicity of it all. She wasn’t aware of whether or not she said the words, but each one raced through her head in brilliant colors, and she knew it was the Truth. A moment later, the thoughts were gone and her head swam with magnificent colors.
“Jessica, we’re going to take you into another room now to do a CAT scan.” Dr. Rubin said watching her smile fade into a look of hard concentration.
“Wait…” A brief memory of a CAT scan flitted across her mind’s eye.
Cat scan, hallway, Aladdin.
Aladdin, hallway, father.
Nick, Paul, red on the concrete.
Where words once filled her head to make sense of these things, colors, bright, beautiful, and new, replaced them. She watched from outside of herself as her senses dulled and her thoughts made less and less sense. She felt the burden of her body become a mere idea, a word, now a color, and she felt for a moment very free.
“Okay,” she mouthed. She walked into the other room hardly feeling her steps.
In the next room, the last thing she remembered was sitting in a room with clips attached to her head, and before that, the white, white waiting room. Then there was a gap. And now she was on a long, hard surface surrounded by a low humming noise.
When the CAT scan finished, Dr. Rubin walked behind Jessica to the third room on the left. He watched her apprehensively as she stopped occasionally to look at a certain spot in the hall or a certain detail of the floor. She stood for a while before entering the room.
“I just can’t remember. I can’t remember,” she kept saying. She was pulling out large clumps of hair and holding handfuls of it against her chest.
He placed a hand on her shoulder, guided her in, and left it there as she sat down in the chair again.
“That’s okay, Jessica. The medicine is just wearing off. Your brain might feel a little confused right now but it be back to normal soon.” His face was close to hers as he spoke in a voice that sounded very much like her father’s. Father was red. He turned away and a shadow lingered where he had been like a ghost.
As he stuck the metal clips to her head she could vaguely remember being in this room before, but she couldn’t decide when. Broken images tumbled through her head.
Waiting room, chair, clips, machine, chair, clips, hallway…
Nick, Paul, explosion.
Father was red.
Father was dead.
“Dr. Rubin I have to leave soon, Aladdin is almost over and mom will worry. She worries so much you know.
I have to tell you something, though. Call my father and tell him to be careful because he might get hurt. Tell him to be careful and then we can see the trains…”
She opened her eyes; saw Dr. Rubin staring at her. He looked worried. He put his hand on hers to stop her from pulling at her hair. His hand felt warm and her body was beginning to feel solid again.
“Jessica, your father is dead. He died four years ago, you know that.”
“I should have told you, Dr. Sable. I saw it and then it happened, but it might not have happened yet, so you should tell him. To stop these dazes, you know. I have to go, mom worries so much.” She could feel her body, her head throbbed and it felt like it might split at any moment, but her thoughts were still running into and over each other. They were mud brown.
“Jessica, you didn’t see your father’s death before it happened and we can’t tell him anything because he is already dead.” Dr. Rubin sounded stern now. “Isn’t it possible that after your father’s death you created a memory of a daze? Perhaps because you felt like you should have seen it coming?”
She didn’t understand. This man seemed to be calling her a liar. Who was this man? His voice sounded familiar.
“After all, your father’s death was due to a drinking and driving accident. Your mother tells me that your father was an alcoholic. Perhaps you felt that you should have predicted it and you created a memory.”
The computer buzzed now like a swarm of insects closing in on her. She batted at the air for flies and found that they felt like wires.
“An a l c o h o l i c…” The word came slowly from her lips and each letter blurred with the next as it scrolled through her mind. She didn’t understand. This voice was lying, had to be lying. The walls closed in and the beep and hum of the machines pressed in as the room got smaller.
Her father walked into the living room and put a drink onto the table. Her mother swept by, picked up the drink, and said something Jess couldn’t hear. Couldn’t remember. She heard the drink being poured into the kitchen sink.
“Fuck you, Jan. I was going to drink that.”
Jess didn’t laugh at the word then.
He picked up his car keys and left the room without another word.
The living room dissolved and there was the woman with the clipboard in a room that looked blurry and white, like the colors had been drained. Nick and Paul held hands on the train, fireworks bursting all around them and they laughed. Now she was back in the room with the man who was telling her father was an alcoholic, that he was dead.
This man whose voice was God’s was lying and Jess could see his words in black.
“Jessica, are you alright?”
But she did not answer. She was out the door, wires swinging heavily with her hair and she ran down the hall screaming. People on either side of the hall stepped out of the rooms to stop the screaming child, but she ran until she reached the last door in the hall, EMERGENCY EXIT. She was still screaming as she raced through the parking lot, the sun blinding her. Dr. Rubin and her mother ran after her out the door and screamed her name in horror as she ran into the intersection. She did not hear a sound until a car came up on her left and honked as the driver pressed on the breaks and it screamed and screamed like the voice in her head. There was a bright light, and then silence.
“What did you think of those trains, Jess? Pretty big right?”
“Yeah, they were good. Maybe I’ll get to ride in one someday.”
“Maybe so.” Their steps left footprints in the snow.
In addition, she fell to the pavement, a halo of blood surrounding her head.
Jess opened her eyes and found that she was lying on her bed; Buddy was fast asleep on a pillow next to her.
“Jess, what are you doing back in bed?” Her mother was standing in the doorway. “It’s the first day of fifth grade! You don’t want to be late. Oh and don’t forget, you’ve got an appointment with Dr. Sable this afternoon.”
She left the room, presumably to wait outside and sneak a cigarette if Kevin was already gone. Jess sat quite still for a long time, trying hard to remember what she had just seen. She traced her fingers nervously over her lips like she had seen her mother do, and she was scared that she could not remember. She listened to the clock, each second passing into the present, then into the past. She laid there completely still holding onto this thought, trying to carry it with her as the clock ticked away, when her mother honked the car horn outside.
A blur of tangled images.
Car horn, bright light, silence.
But even before the clock ticked again, it was gone.
Moments later, she walked out of the house and climbed into her mother’s car. She smelled like smoke, gum, and strong perfume.
“Did you get everything?” Her mom asked as she backed out of the driveway.
“Yes,” she said, but she couldn’t help feeling as if she had forgotten something.