The room is silent, other than the ticking of the clock and the occasional strike of a pen on paper. He writes something down, though I cannot figure out what; my lips are glued together and have been since we started. I try to match my thoughts to my surroundings, turning down the volume and decreasing the quantity. I focus on the room.
This is merely an examination. You don’t need to be nervous.
The grimy carpet beneath my feet resembles a hotel hallway, geometric designs sprawling across the floor. The clock reads 3:08, and the calendar displays a quaint cottage dusted with snow and circled with pine trees. Books detailing everything from the inner workings of the human mind to the Clifford series are stacked on the floor-- not a shelf. The walls are painted a faint cream color; there is a colorful fishbowl on the wall to my right to add a splash of life.
I begin reminiscing about the fish that I kept as a child. All goldfish. The tank inhabited a large portion of my blue desk, along with multiple containers of food always flanking it. I remember the day I returned from vacation to find one of them floating belly-up in the corner. I feel the pit in my stomach return.
Did you kill it?
I ignore him.
A painting on the wall portrays a serene image of a pond, lined with cotton candy-pink and cold blue lilies. I suppose it is here to mollify those who are uncomfortable, to offer them peace and calmness in the world outside of the psyche, a sort of goal. I fix my eyes on it for a long time, and feel nothing. I think about Vi, and how she would appreciate the painting, or how she would tell him that she did even if she didn’t. I don’t want to think about her. Not now.
Why do you think she would do that?
I don’t want to think about her. Don’t you listen?
It’s too late now. My mind beelines to my memories of her. The sun shines from her face; the rays that I hate, that I can’t live without, that I miss.
It is tomorrow-- last year. I take her out to breakfast with Mom’s money when she returns from college for Christmas break.
“Aren’t you going to leave a tip?” she asks me. She has strawberry jelly on her neck.
“I did. Look,” I show her the two dollars I pressed under my empty coffee mug. I hear the rattle of pill bottles as she digs through her purse. She reaches into her wallet, a sweet purple, and pulls out another five.
She smiles at me. “That’ll make her day.”
We walk outside and admire the weather, engaging in a casual conversation about the lack of snow for the time of year and the bright sun and the yellow grass and the blue sky. I smile softly, thinking about wrapping her Christmas present that afternoon. There are still pumpkins on some corners of the street, which is odd but pleasant. Vi is driving, which means I can choose the music. We laugh, and feel at home.
It is today.
The room is darker now, as if he has pulled down the shades, though I was not attentive enough to know. Light shines in straight-edged beams on the floor, and I feel my hands itch for them. The warmth, I think, may send me back. But I cannot move.
You don’t need it. Just listen to me. Talk to me.
I will not. I review my grocery needs in my head for the third time since sitting down. Eggs, milk, bread, apples. I concentrate on the real and present, the everyday mundanities. If I concentrate hard enough, I can leave him for a while. I check the clock again, but it has stopped working.
I’ve been meaning to fix that.
I could fix it for him. If I just have some time.
Don’t worry about it. There’s not much time left anyway. Let’s go back to Vi.
I don’t want to think about her.
I know that.
How does he know that? How can he tell what I am thinking? Why am I letting him?
It is Christmas Eve, last year. The sun sets early-- as it has been doing-- but this time it feels like it is not supposed to. Morning will come soon, I hope.
We have just finished dinner and are sitting at the table, discussing Vi’s plans. She tells our parents and grandparents about her dorm room, how much she loves school, and her classes. She is not going back until the eighth of the new year.
Let me stop this thought. You don’t want it. It’s hurting you.
How does he know what hurts me? I cross my legs in the uncomfortable chair. I look at my hands, grounding myself. He is right, I do not wish to revisit that night. But wanting, or lack of, does not stop the thoughts from coming.
Let me take this one. It is Christmas Eve, and you squeeze through the maze of chairs to get to the kitchen. Vi is there by the marble countertop, digging through her purse again. You know what she is looking for. You are looking for pie.
He is in my head. He has gotten himself inside of me. He is in my head. He is.
You are looking for a way out.
What is he looking for? Why is he here?
Did you kill her?
I take a deep breath and remind myself that this is why he is here. I know. He is getting inside my head, inside my thoughts and memories. I do not let him; not right now. I read the poster above his head.
“The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but building the new.” A Socrates quote. Although I do not feel inspired in the way the poster likely intends to make me feel, I understand. As I think about the new, I think about forgetting. And I think about the table in front of me that I will eventually forget, and the taste of my lunch still on my tongue for now, and the feelings of discomfort that I am feeling temporarily. The man has gone somewhere. To the bathroom, probably, but I hope that he has gone home; I do not wish to remember him in the slightest. Does that mean I have to forget everything that led me here? Do I have to forget about her?
No, of course not. She is a part of you.
I don’t know, am I?
He jots something down on his clipboard-pinned paper. I try not to look him in the eye, as I do not want him to think we are talking.
Don’t worry. He has said that before. I am only trying to understand you.
He will not.
I notice the curtains. A dark blue, the kind just before the stars come out, that does not match the shag carpet. There is a water fountain and a stack of paper cups in the corner. I wish that I had worn warmer clothes; I think one of the windows is cracked. I hear the ticking of the clock again, but I can no longer find it on the wall. There is no way to know how long I have been here. I hope he will tell me soon that the time is up, that he will see me next week and that we have made progress.
You don’t have to talk.
Why don’t you just tell me how your day has been?
Do I have to make you?
The curtains, the pictures, the chairs. The distractions.
It is Christmas Eve, and you squeeze through the maze of chairs to get to the kitchen. Vi stands by the marble countertop, digging through her purse again. You know what she is looking for. You are looking for pie. This is one of the last few days you spend with her. She is very important to you, isn’t she? I know you loved her very much. Did she know that?
If he knows who I am, he must know who I am not.
Did you kill her? Is it your fault?
Is it? No.
I don’t know why he is doing this or how he got here.
Yes you do.
Get out. Get out. Get out. Don’t you listen? I don’t want you. Do you hear me?
I will tell you again. Get out. You are not welcome. How did you get here?
It is New Year’s Eve.
No it isn’t.
I stand up finally, a rush of adrenaline in my calves and wrists. I lunge for the calendar, grasping for the date. It slips from my hands as I fall to the floor. I will not sit down again. Screeches of cars and voices of pedestrians outside the window crowd my head, entering my ears but moving toward my fingertips at alarming speed. The window closes.
Where is she? Does she forgive you?
There is nothing to forgive.
You don’t need to yell.
Why are you doing this to me? What have I done to deserve this? How can I make it stop? Please make it stop. I want it to stop. I can’t be here anymore. Please let me out.
The ceiling light flickers. I hold my head in my hands and shake it.
I am no different than you. I want to understand you. I want to be your friend.
You are nothing like me.
Why, then, have I been able to fester inside your brain for so long? You have been here almost your whole life; you keep returning. Look, it’s almost morning. You sit in that chair for hours a day, for the majority of days. You can leave anytime. Why haven’t you?
Why haven’t you? Why are you wasting your time on me?
Why haven’t you done something about it? You sit with me constantly, thinking about what is your fault and what isn’t your fault, about not wanting to talk to me or let me take over, about who you are and what you are doing and what the whole point is. Do something about it, for once!
A cheese knife burns through the pocket of my jeans and falls on the floor to my left. It is all in my head, I think. He isn’t real. Don’t let this happen. The knife reaches out and holds my eyes in place, filling me with anger; with sadness and regret.
I feel a sense of calm as I walk to the water fountain. Behind it, as I thought there would be, there is a jar.
Deep, endearing red.
Look at me.
He is familiar, but not identifiable.
He smiles at me. Our time is up.
The room turns white around me. I pick the knife up, and smear strawberry jelly on my neck.
It is today. The room is silent.