CW: depictions of anxiety disorder, descriptions of intrusive thoughts
The psychiatrist wore a white turtleneck. Over this, a white jacket, the type actors wore when playing doctors. Accustomed only to seeing her head poking up from a pew, here was a woman absent definite shape. In brown corduroys, wool socks, and Birkenstocks, she was a series of slashes and crazed angles, the side of her neck and jawline scarred, but not terribly, her skin, instead of white, a taut pink pocked. She was very pretty (even Jude was curious to see where her scar ended), only she looked tired, as if she were missing a dimension, as though experience had erased an inessential, yet once lovely quality. Her thinness was something like a pronouncement, or a challenge, one that suggested she possessed, and labored to control, a stillborn fury. To see her was to know, instantly, automatically, that she would be just as likely to laugh as to scream.
Jude saw them coming a mile away.
This one, though. On her jacket glittered a small, gold, pin. A crucifix. Even absent the adornment, it was evident that God played a significant role in this woman’s life decisions. Obviously. Why else would Jude be here, to see her? Mother’s circle, while seemingly large, was, in reality, as tight as skin on a made fist. Like anyone strongly associated with Our Lady of the Lake—Dr. Vicki was not only a parishioner, but helped out (whatever that meant)—these people, while in no way related to one another, looked like one another, they resembled each other not in face or feature but in the way that members of a guild look similar, like members of a specific class seem the same; a group of peers who share a certain way of resting on a chair, of speaking with their hands. Of, more than anything, smiling.
Jude processed the room’s silence before realizing that the woman had spoken to him. School-aged children, most with their moms, filled the nearby seats. Two plump women with big hair sat behind the large wooden desk opposite the front door, answering the phones, entering data into their computers, and chewing gum. To his left, a huge picture window. See it snow. Fat, lazy flakes fell to the earth like petrified ash, melting when landing on cars, disintegrating when striking the concrete, paper white against swathes of early spring’s dark green grass. The space smelled like kitty litter. Of poverty. Jude had a scratch on his index finger, the dried blood more black than red, the color of a dead geranium.
“Knock, knock,” Dr. Vicki said. “Anyone home?” She bent at her waist, made a fist, and, smiling, rapped the air a few feet in front of Jude’s face.
He should have stayed in the bathroom. Gross as it was, at least the woman wouldn’t have found him.
“You ready there, mister?”
Jude wanted to say No. He wanted to say Fuck you. It would be so cool to jolt one of these adults awake from security and into uncertainty. To shock them into a shuddering sense of self-doubt, to make them walk around with a question instead of, smiling, self-satisfied, their opinions. Their certainty. And this much was true: He could say anything.
He could say, No.
He could say, Fuck you.
Because what he said did not matter. It wasn’t like she was going to leave him alone. So why, then, the need to make it easy? Dr. Vicki wasn’t here to help him. Not really. She wanted to impress God. And, if not Him, well, then, the next best thing: Mother. Since the Freak Accident, this appointment, more than anything Mother had asked him to do, or had told him he was going to do (other than returning to school), Jude had feared. Mother had explained what psychiatrists did, but Jude wasn’t sure what psychiatry was. What Mother wanted from him. What was—although he didn’t have the words for this—the desired outcome. One thing he did know? And he stood from his seat. He didn’t want to talk about his feelings. With anyone. Let alone some other weird woman from church.
But he also knew that he didn’t have it in him. Meanness, that is. Life would be easier if he did. But he didn’t. He just wasn’t mean. And here was the thing. (Jude waited while Dr. Vicki unlocked a door.) (He followed, in silence, as they walked down a corridor.) He didn’t care what other people thought about him; he cared how other people felt. About themselves. About the people they loved. The thought of sadness—of other people being sad—was enough to make him uncomfortable to the degree that he would put others’ happiness before his own. More than his own well-being, he didn’t want other people feeling badly. And this was something that no one would ever understand.
The afternoon was still. Sounds entered the office with effort. As if the space were a sort of tidy tomb. Someone vacuumed the hallway. The machine came close to, and then receded from, the closed door. For a moment, its hum swallowed whatever else there was to hear. Dr. Vicki smiled. She waited. Impatient. Irritated. There was a window behind her desk. The sky transformed. Thin, low-hanging clouds moved quickly, their shadows shrouding the earth. The gray sky contracted, becoming something closer to black, and then the heavy noise of raindrops drumming the hoods and roofs of those cars parked in the lot. And the roof, directly overhead. And the rainfall, mixing with the snowflakes—thicker now, fat as field mice—was as brief as it was dramatic.
“I’d like to read from St. Anne.” The psychiatrist raised an index card. She stared at the door. “St. Anne is glorious among the Saints not only because she is Mary’s mother, but also because she gave Mary to God. The number of cures wrought through the inter—”
Dr. Vicki had a nice voice. She read absent embellishment, but with rehearsed refinement, so the words, strange as they were, possessed a strong cadence, a peculiar intercession. Jude relaxed. His mind wandered. The sun was shining. Reflected light made the world seem brighter. We, being people, expect happiness. In truth, we should be amazed that happiness bothers to enter existence at all. Jude listened. He tuned in. Not to what the lady was saying, but to the sound of her voice.
“You know, Jude,” Dr. Vicki said. Pausing, she held a tissue to her nose. Her nose was very red. Almost luminous. “Most people who have, or who experience nightmares, think it’s the monster they’re afraid of. Really, though,” and she lowered the tissue, and held it, crumpled, on her lap. “It’s our dreams that scare us. The monster is just there to remind us of something.”
Jude nodded. He hadn’t realized she had moved on from whatever prayer she had been reading, and was talking about dreams. Noting how it’s important to not only listen to what our dreams tell us, but how we can ask dreams to do things. Like most words coming out of the mouths of most adults, Jude had no idea what she was talking about.
Still smiling, she stood and stepped to a corner of her office. Like the bathroom, only ten times as big, the space was depressing. The overhead light made everything look sick, and yellow, and wrong, and anything even close to yellow in color became brown. The door was thick, constructed from cheap, heavy wood, its paint chipped, its base blackened and scuffed.
Still, Dr. Vicki brightened her office with small, personal effects, understanding class and understatement in ways that suggested another way of life, that promised this iteration of Dr. Vicki, professional or otherwise, was a woman who had only recently found Christ. On her walls there was nothing like you’d see inside Mother’s friends’ homes. No crosses. No pretty Jesus Christs, glossy like models and centered within gaudy golden frames.
But she was one of them; she had been double dipped.
There was no doubting that.
Like a Born Again on a blind date, she shot glances over her shoulder, nervous, ever-smiling, as if Jude might get up from his seat and what? Scream? Faint? Touch her? Vomit? Like pretty much everyone from Our Lady of the Lake, the woman was pure whacko.
Jude had always, however subconsciously, associated poverty with depravity. And depravity was depressing. Maybe it wasn’t all that depressing, being in this office. At least he wasn’t in the waiting room. And the bathroom? With its dirty toilet and piss-yellow urinal cake? Petrified and assuming, in shape, an old snowball? Gross. How could a place like this have, for kids like him, a room like that? Entering the bathroom was like stepping inside of a smell. How anyone—
A fly rose from the windowsill, climbed the pane, then loped about the room. A dark contrast against the light, Dr. Vicki raised a hand as the insect passed her head. Returning, she centered an expensive-looking chessboard on her glass coffee table. The psychiatrist took her seat before white.
Jude knew, from seeing other shrinks, that chess (that playing a game, generally) was Dr. Vicki’s way of befriending her patients while, simultaneously, distracting them. He guessed that Mother told Dr. Vicki that Father had taught him how to play, and that chess was his favorite game. Jude shrugged. This was true.
“You okay?” Dr. Vicki said.
Puzzled, Jude shrugged. Then he remembered: Body language was a language, one that people like Dr. Vicki read constantly.
The fly buzzed around the room, returned to the window, smacked against the glass, and fell. The insect, flat on its back, buzzed, and then stopped. Her office quiet, Dr. Vicki smiled, and, without speaking, opened the game.
Interesting. She played differently than Father.
Behind her, the fly worked its way up the glass. As if it could possibly escape.
The room was warm. A bead of sweat slid down his thigh, but Jude remained motionless. He would move when the fly moved. A good plan, this made a certain sort of sense.
Dr. Vicki was telling the truth. Usually, when responding, and this to anything, Jude was noncommittal. The other night, following another nightmare (he must have made a commotion, because, when he woke up, and realized he’d been dreaming, Mother was in the room), he had admitted that he was afraid of school. He didn’t tell Mother why, so it was natural for her to draw conclusions. Here? Now? Jude did not want to make a similar mistake.
Through the window, the parking lot glistened. Jude couldn’t see her station wagon, but Mother was no doubt near, parked close to the front door, where she had pulled to a stop, parked, and walked Jude inside. The lot dipped to inform a narrow ravine defined by symmetrical plots of meticulously mowed turf, the grass heavy with green, encapsulated within long ovals of concrete curbing, urban architecture created to slow those cars intent on using the lot as a passing lane. From these fixtures, ornamental cherry trees quite beautifully rose in calculated height, spring’s early petals driven by some mid-season’s fevered, fervent bloom, leaves red and white shapeshifting in the breeze. Static, this movement. Like those spaces between programmed TV. Beneath one tree, a pothole, filled with rainwater. Upon this puddle, a trail of fallen leaves, bright like scratched skin, like blood brought to the surface.
The clouds broke, creating within the office a greater sense of afternoon. The fly skittered up, and across the glass, before leaving, streaking across the room, and striking a light fixed to the ceiling.
“Everything alright?” Dr. Vicki said.
Jude nodded. Leaning forward, he countered her move, then sat back in his seat.
Irrelevant, what Dr. Vicki said. What he said. To come across nice, or polite, he would speak with his body—but that was it. Even though Dr. Vicki was kind, probably even good (at least she wasn’t creepy, like so many of the other people from Our Lady of the Lake), it didn’t matter her occupation, that she was an expert in thinking, because even Jude didn’t have the words for what was the matter, so everything he said would be misinterpreted. Even if the sentiments he expressed as fact were accurate, their dimensions were confused by the boundaries imposed by their disparate realities. Plus, he and the doctor were separated by a whole lot of religion.
“So your mom tells me that you’ve been having trouble sleeping. She also mentioned,” and Dr. Vicki advanced a pawn. “That you hate school.”
Jude shrugged. This was true.
“Actually,” and Dr. Vicki blew her nose. “She said you are scared. No. What she actually said, if I remember this right, is that you are frightened of school. Afraid.”
An inlet to Cascadilla Lake edged one end of the parking lot. Stagnant firth. Tepid channel. Across the way, a row of weeping willows—their showy branches making shadowy tunnels; their fallen leaves still upon the fusty water—and between the parking lot and rotting water a beveled length of weathered grass. Despite the cold, black men sat atop white buckets, their fishing poles resting in the forks of thick branches screwed into the deadpan earth. Paint-splattered Salvation Army slacks. Plastic sneakers absent shoelaces. Forty-ounce mouths rose from brown paper bags limp as the catfish and carp these men pulled from this toxic tributary. Eyes yellow and heavy—red veins thick and bulbous, an Internet of forgotten thought—the men slowly blinked as Mother drove past. It stunk. A stink that filtered into, and through, the car. The fungal aroma of rotten produce.
“I wonder if Dr. Vicki is aware of that,” Mother said.
Aware of what, exactly, Jude wasn’t sure. But he had an idea.
The fly, still above them, gripping the light, rotated three-hundred and sixty degrees, and then flew off, landing on the doorknob.
Dr. Vicki, while she wasn’t as good as Father—who, when he wanted to joke around, knew at least seven ways to checkmate Jude in eight moves or less—was good. Able to think a couple moves in advance himself, Jude didn’t return his knight but kept a finger atop the piece when Dr. Vicki, after making a strange vocalization, leaned forward in her seat. Jude did not suffer from pride. He wanted to learn. The psychiatrist smiled and leaned back in her seat as Jude reconsidered. Seeing his mistake, he defended, rather than attacked. He would have smiled, but he was watching what he said.
“You know, Jude,” she said, considering the board. “Anything you say here? Anything at all?” She advanced a bishop. “It stays between us. Strictly. Even if I wanted to tell your mom. Even if I thought I should tell your mom?” She brought the tissue to her nose. “Well, I couldn’t. It’s illegal. If anyone found out I would get…Well, I would lose my license. My job.”
Jude didn’t like when people used his name in sentences. To hear his name was like a slap across the face. An action, more than a word. Something, if not used to hurt him, to get his attention. Jude was not like Mother. He did not like attention.
Anyways. Jude didn’t know about all of that. But her line of questioning? Well, using his name or not, she was telling the truth. Usually, when responding, and this to anything, Jude was noncommittal. The other night he had made a mistake, admitting (he must have been mostly asleep), that he was afraid of school. Mother comforted him, but she bugged him about it all morning, and then on through the rest of the week. Jude said nothing. Which was why he was here.
Jude looked up from the board. He knew, from how Mother acted, that he had opened up. That he had given the adults something to seize, words that they could mold to make meaning. Jude wasn’t sure he was right until Dr. Vicki acted like a psychiatrist, her jump from “hate” to “fear” unnerving.
“I hear you like music?”
Jude nodded. He reasoned this was okay.
He reasoned wrong.
“Well prayer is certainly an instrument that makes beautiful music,” she said, facing Jude. Smiling. She brought a tissue to her nose.
The fly, circling the room, made for the window, buzzing, returning overhead, before smacking against the glass. Dr. Vicki nodded when Jude moved a pawn, effectively securing a position.
“At least in a manner of thinking?” She advanced a pawn to meet his. “Prayer probably must seem pretty strange to someone your age. I mean, even I didn’t always know that God, that Jesus Christ lived inside my heart. Had a place inside me. But I found it helps to think like this—”
She paused for effect.
Jude made sure she knew that he was listening; he looked at her eyes.
“The thing with prayer,” she went on, dabbing her nose. “Well, so many people think, in a way, that prayer changes God. But you see, that’s not really the case. That,” and she reached for a new tissue. “Well, that’s impossible, right? God is and God and will forever be God. Like Love. But the power of prayer is that it changes us. It changes those of us who do pray. And this, at least I think so,” and she reached for an index card on a corner of her desk, “This is why we listen to music. Why we listen to music when we want to feel good, and maybe dance.” She read the card and then, keeping her eyes on Jude, returned the card to her desk. “Or to celebrate something, like a wedding. Or maybe when we’re sad, like at a funeral.”
She let the word funeral—which she all but spit, enunciating each syllable as if it were its own word, part of a simple sentence—resonate, ring like a struck chord.
What would she do if he moved his bishop? Jude searched for the fly. Dr. Vicki misunderstood. Unsurprising. Turning, she dabbed her nose, and, unable to inhabit the silence, continued.
“I’m sorry,” she smiled.
Jude shrugged. He felt badly for her. Whatever this was? It wasn’t this woman’s fault.
“I’m not doing so great, am I?” She lifted a pawn, set it back down, and said, “It’s your move, if you’re ready.”
What if the fly had fallen asleep? What would the poor woman prattle on about next? It would be one thing if she was distracting him so that he would, whatever, screw up and lose a bishop. Or a pawn. If she was, playfully, like Father, distracting him to help make him better. At chess. And while he didn’t have a word for it—gamesmanship—he did, at least to a degree, understand gamesmanship as an angle.
But this wasn’t that. So what was it, then? With all her talk of school, and fear, Dr. Vicki wasn’t trying to create some competitive advantage. And this was a bad thing. Because Jude didn’t mind being here. Assuming they could just play chess? It wasn’t that bad. He’d even consider coming back. Regularly.
That was impossible.
Nothing this simple was permissible. It was obvious that, on top of God, and Mother, she liked him. And genuinely. And so, like everyone else—and maybe even more so—she wanted to figure out what was wrong with him. Which was to say she would have done so, that she would have acted upon Jude, even if it wasn’t her job.
Only doing that? Figuring out what was wrong?
That was impossible. This was because even Jude didn’t know what was wrong. He wasn’t dumb. But no matter how hard he tried—the fly, for reasons known only to the fly, buzzed to life, and began crawling up the window—he couldn’t see a way out. All that he knew was that talking about anything wasn’t the answer.
Without thinking, Jude moved a knight. Dr. Vicki would have reacted (it wasn’t a good move), and so he didn’t give her a chance. Tired, Jude didn’t understand why he was so scared. Why, when at school, there was nothing but fear. Why it was that aside from home—or, strangely, here—fear was something on him, heavy and uncomfortable, some thing clinging, like a zombie, dragging him by the neck to the ground. Or, worse, that he was the zombie who, with his hands, and with his mouth, was going—
Clouds covered the sun and the room darkened before quickly filling with a different false, electric light. The chess pieces cast long shadows, obscuring squares. Dr. Vicki brought a tissue to her nose. Rain fell from the sky, lashed against the glass. Not long ago, Jude sat behind Mother in the station wagon. They drove through a car wash. Big cloth machines spinning like demented Muppets attacked them, their soap a type of bubbly venom. Mother had laughed. Had smiled.
“Do you remember your dreams, Jude?”
Not that Jude was going to say anything, but he did, and he didn’t. More than anything, he woke up uncomfortable. Disturbed by feeling. Opening his eyes he remained still, aware only of sensation, of dread, of the horrible idea occupying his imagination, the certainty that he was going to do something, that he was going to act in a way that would—
Dr. Vicki continued as if Jude were about to say something.
“You know something, Jude,” she said. “It’s perfectly okay, today, to, well, you know, think. Who am I, anyways? Right?”
She smiled. Brought a tissue to her nose.
“It may not feel this way, but I do understand what you’re feeling. Not, say, in terms of what’s going on? But when it comes to sitting in some stranger’s office, being asked a bunch of questions ….”
She trailed off. Tore a tissue into tiny pieces. And then, as if making a great life decision, she blew her nose. Eyes watering, she sneezed.
“If you can, though, I think it’d be really great for you to really think about your dreams. What you’ve been dreaming. How you look at your dreams involves noticing how images affect you. How particular images, the things you see, make you feel a certain way. A dream isn’t exactly the story you think it is. The dream itself isn’t necessarily the thing”—she made quotes with her fingers—“doing the telling.”
Jude didn’t have a word for what was wrong with him. But his concern was this: He was going to do something terrible. Like strangle some neighbor’s baby. Or stab a first-grader in the neck, with a pencil. And what was worse? He wasn’t worried about the baby. Jude didn’t care about the kid. He worried about the completed action. How doing something so awful would cost him not so much his life, but whatever value he still ascribed to living.
Dr. Vicki had no way of knowing this. But still. (Jude warmed and flushed.) (His skin itched.) Dr. Vicki thought he was nervous. So long as he didn’t say anything, he had the advantage. But there was nothing easy about any of this. Jude shrugged. And then, afraid he was being rude, he nodded. He indicated that he understood.
“I know this is complicated,” Dr. Vicki said. She smiled. “Dream-tending, which is what I, and what others before me, call this process? Well, what you, as a dreamer, are asked to do, and I know this sounds weird, is think not so much about what happens during your dream, but to try and forget about your dream as being some sort of story, like a movie.”
She paused. Brought the tissue to her nose.
“Instead, ask yourself what would happen if you considered the people, the emotions, the landscapes that are in your dreams separately? What happens if you think of them as being alive? As having with their own bodies, with their own heartbeats and pulses, and, say, personalities?”
Dr. Vicki tossed her tissue in the trash. She smiled, and, with a flash, white as a ghost, freed four more from the box.
“Well, they become their own animations, their own presences, right? If you look at dreams this way, then, well, dreams become just as alive as you or me. They are important parts of not just us, our natures, but nature itself. Do you see what I mean?”
Dr. Vicki smiled. Had she confused herself? This was possible. Why else was she saying everything as though it were a question? But a question that had, in the question, the answer? Jude didn’t particularly care. About being here. About any of this. There was nothing this woman, nice as she was—and Jude liked her—could say that would fix him. To Jude, this was obvious. He still cared, generally speaking. Which, like a castaway, amounted to a different sort of survival. He was tired. Living. Not so much waking up and getting out of bed, but leaving his home? Going to school? Being happy? Or simply not worrying about not doing something heinous? Like walking into a wind gust, existence offered too much resistance. It was impossible, staying on course. It was possible to imagine giving up. The world, no matter what happened, would forever remain dark. Stained. Jude was not awaiting an awakening. At any moment the gust was going to turn tornado, and he would be blown away, landing afield of understanding and left to, once again, for whatever reason, resume his life’s long walking.
“I feel like I’m confusing you,” Dr. Vicki said. “I’m sorry.” She smiled. “It’s just that sometimes I get so excited. Too excited.”
She looked over her shoulder and out the window. The weather was weird. Not sunny or cloudy, wet or dry, the world was a state of suspended animation. The world, more so than usual, did not seem real, was more like a dream.
“Here’s the thing, Jude. Dreams are here to help us. Dreams 'live.'”
She did the thing with her fingers. Made claws of her hands.
“We don’t necessarily have dreams, so much as they have us. To make meaning for us. We come, of course, from nature. Just as much as we come from, say, our parents, our families. Our dreams work to connect everything together. Our dreams restore connections to what’s essential. To what’s really important. And our dreams help us remember things, as well.”
She paused. She touched her nose with a tissue. Smiled. Opened, and then closed her mouth. And then, when Jude didn’t say anything, she said, “Well for example, then. Do you have, say, a particularly old tree in your yard? A tree that, in its way, is as much a part of your house as your house is, itself?”
Jude didn’t know this, but the fly was dead. The insect had fallen to the floor.
Impatient, the psychiatrist continued. She said, “What about that big willow tree in your backyard? The one with the swing?”
Jude had never seen this woman at his house. Mother must have shown her a picture. That, or she had had her over back when he was still in school. One of the things Jude loved about living on top of the hill was the sense of isolation. That the world around him existed, but that he wasn’t a part of it. That maybe he, by others, had been put in a sort of childhood quarantine, deemed unsafe to mingle with other people. To be a part of society, generally.
Dr. Vicki smiled. “Would you consider that tree part of your house? Like, certainly not a room or anything, but a part of your childhood? Something that, even if it’s just maybe, and I know these are some pretty big ideas, but something you might remember when you are older and have moved away? Like away to college. Does that make sense? Or no.”
“Good,” Dr. Vicki said. “So, imagine that you had a dream about that tree. In your dream, and remember, a dream is alive, it is very much a thing, like you or me, there is a great windstorm. And the tree gets uprooted. Knocked down. Now, I could ask you what you think that means. The tree falling over. But dream-tending. When we take care of our dreams? We go a step further. We think about its, the tree’s, sadness. Its pain. We wonder what it thought of its own life. Its own death, even!”
Dr. Vicki smiled. Happy. She used a new tissue. She nodded. And then, “The dream tender wants to know what the tree is expressing about itself by appearing in your dream. And I know. I can see by the way you’re looking. But this really isn’t all that strange! A tree is a living thing, after all. All that you’d do, when tending this dream, is think of it as being just a little bit more alive. Like you.”
Whatever her motivations, the psychiatrist had used too many words and distracted herself. Jude willed the fly to move. He could, with a bishop, capture a pawn and control, even if only for two moves—so far as he could see—the center of the board. And if she kept talking? Which, doubtless, she was going to do? While improbable, it was possible that he could gain still more by way of advantage and play the match to, especially given their allotted time (they didn’t have all afternoon), a draw. Dr. Vicki looked over her shoulder, smiling, uncertain, confused about what interested Jude. But the fly was dead. So there would be no moving. There would be no conversation.
Dr. Vicki turned. She faced him. Smiling, she asked about his dream. Directly. He remained silent. Smiling, she said that intent—his (by this she meant her's)—should not be to make a dream fit with an explanation or some psychological formula already in existence, that doing so would make just make dream images dead and static. She added that dream-tenders listen first to what the living images say about themselves, on their own behalf, giving voice to their own natures. When we tend a dream, she continued—Jude half listening, waiting for the fly to move, so he could advance his bishop—images awake, the imagination is animated, and we arrive at a way of being directly connected to Nature. From there, she finished, smiling wider than ever, it’s possible to understand not what our dreams mean, but what our dreams are.
As much as the psychiatrist believed what she was she was blabbering about, Jude wasn’t an idiot. Ultimately, she was going to analyze whatever he told her. But it was like how Chesteron’s wistful child believes that it is the willow’s swaying branches that create the breeze. This woman had it all wrong. The stuff about dreams might be right (who knew?), but she misunderstood what caused what was going on. How could she know? His situation was hopeless. It was like the fly. Dr. Vicki was aware there was a fly in the room, but she didn’t understand what it meant.
Jude was accustomed to quiet. Conditioned to, still as a statue, move through nothingness comfortably, with what others considered confidence (and maybe it was), others—especially Mother’s friends, which amounted to anyone from Our Lady of the Lake—weren’t. And so Jude wasn’t surprised when Dr. Vicki cracked. When, smiling, she told him that, at some point, he was going to have to talk. That he was going to have to tell her about his dream, and that if he didn’t...
Here she cut off. Left the rest of her thought to gleam, sharp as a threat.
And then, as if realizing her mistake, she said, her tone assuming the form of an apology,
“Maybe you just don’t understand. Maybe this is too confusing, and that’s why you aren’t speaking.”
Like most adults, Dr. Vicki had no clue how to speak to children. Of course she was confusing. Phrases and sentences crashed into Jude’s consciousness, they splintered into words, and compound words into simple sounds. He could take their constituent parts and reconstruct them. He could even string most of these parts together, and repurpose words, and remember her sentences. But again, like it was with most adults, Jude had no idea what she was saying.
He did get why, though.
And so he felt badly for her.
Only there was nothing he could say that would not alarm her. Given all her talk of tending, of thinking of dreams as, well, whatever. Breathing? This woman, as person (because even shrinks were human), well, if she heard what Jude had to say, she would be horrified. Alive or dead, animate or otherwise, she would think of both Jude and his dream as monsters. As zombie sorts of Frankensteins.
Not that this mattered, but Jude was gentle. And even when he had no reason to, he displayed kindness. This psychiatrist, given that she was Mother’s friend, was unpredictable by default. This psychiatrist, given that she was a psychopath? Well, she had to stop talking before something terrible happened. And the only way for that to happen was for Jude to say something. It was necessary to control the message.
Say something, Jude said to himself.
Jude wanted to tell Dr. Vicki. Not some story, or some lie, but one of his real, actual dreams. Or at least what it was like waking up. How his shoulders and knees were so numb, as if pins and needles had stuck him in place, and he couldn’t move. How his chest didn’t hurt, exactly, but that the sensation (pressure) suggested it was about to. That he wasn’t sure where he was, or, worse, that he was somewhere terrible, like jail, because of something horrible he had done.
He said, “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude.”
Dr. Vicki, as if bitten by a spider, straightened. She smiled. Reached across the table and squeezed Jude’s hand. Closed her eyes and then opened them.
“Jude, honey,” she said. She let go of his hand and leaned back in her seat. She knocked over one of her knights. “Believe me, I get it. I understand. This may seem strange, but I see a psychiatrist, too. Living isn’t easy. If it was—”
She cut off, only not as sharply. She reached for a tissue and dabbed her nose.
“Well let’s just say that living isn’t easy, and leave it at that. Did you want to tell me about your dream? About one of your dreams?”
“I’m not sure I know how,” Jude said.
“It’s weird, isn’t it?” Dr. Vicki said. “Dreams are such bizarre things! Don’t,” and she crumpled her tissue, and tossed it in the trash. “In a way, I don’t even want you to think. At least about telling me a story. Don’t even try. Just try to remember what you can remember, and the rest will work itself out perfectly. I promise. Remember all that talk about images? That’s what I was talking about. Think about those. About them. And the rest will sort itself out. Sound okay?”
Jude said that it did.
“Okay then. Where would you like to begin?”
RICHARD LEISE writes and teaches outside Ithaca, NY. A fellow from ODU's MFA program, his fiction and poetry is featured in numerous publications. His novella (Being Dead, OffBeat Reads) and unique literary work Johannes & Merritt (Dark Lake Publishing) will be available this spring, and he is at work on his second novel. Follow him on Twitter at @coy_harlingen.