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Stockholm Syndrome

“I won’t stand in your way/ Let your hatred grow
And she’ll scream/ And she’ll shout/ And she’ll pray
And she had a name/ Yes she had a name.
And I won’t hold you back/ Let your anger rise/
And we’ll fly/ And we’ll fall/ And we’ll burn/
And no one will recall/ No one will recall.
This is the last time I’ll abandon you/
And this is the last time I’ll forget you/
I wish I could.
Look to the stars/ Let hope burn in your eyes
And we’ll love/ And we’ll hope/ And we’ll die/
All to no avail/ All to no avail.
This is the last time I’ll abandon you/
And this is the last time I’ll forget you/
I wish I could.”
-“Stockholm Syndrome” by Muse


Victor Lesley liked routine.

It was something that made him who he was. It was his morning ritual of running to the bakery three blocks away, ordering a dozen glazed donuts, leaving half for Theodore, the homeless man down the street, and returning home to sit down to the New York Times and just one donut, even though he only knew he’d end up eating a few more. It was the way he did his grocery shopping on Thursdays, going first to the supermarket, then the fishery, and finally the drugstore. It filled his evenings: Antiques Roadshow and a microwaved molten lava cake, then replying to an email from his younger, yet much more successful, sister.

Christine Ward didn’t like routine. Her spontaneity had followed her through childhood and adolescence to where she was now. She lived for life on the edge and spur-of-the-moment experiences. Because what was life if you always knew what was going to happen next?? Christine didn’t want to be boring. She wanted to live her life to the fullest. She was messy, unpredictable, and for a blonde, pretty darn smart.

Fate had a hand in bringing these two together one day at a Staples in Manhattan. They met in the filing aisle, mind you, and it was love at first sight. Christine admired Victor’s consistency. She didn’t want to admit it either, but she knew that she needed someone like him to spend the rest of her life with, because unfortunately, she knew she couldn’t be extreme forever. Victor saw the way Christine loved life and thought he could learn a lesson or two from her. So they started dating, and a few months later, on the Staten Island Ferry, Victor proposed.

It was a simple, happy life. They were all each other had hoped for and needed. They read each other’s minds, embraced each other’s faults. They were best friends, and they were in love.
Every morning of his new, engaged life, Victor would wake up and turn to his fiancée, smiling. He would then get up and start a pot of coffee for her.

Victor had never been much of a coffee drinker. He thought it smelled unappetizing, tasted bitter and that the caffeine would cause him to be less like himself and more like, well, someone like Christine. So he stuck to Gatorade, because he knew that no matter what, he could always find it on a store shelf. Nevertheless, he faithfully brew a pot of coffee every morning for his love, who was quite a fiend when it came to coffee, or for that matter, anything with caffeine in it.

Christine would join him in the kitchen sometimes minutes, sometimes an hour later, walking in sleepy-eyed, yet still the most beautiful thing Victor had ever seen. A quick peck on the lips between the two, unspoken words of love, and Christine would sit down to her coffee while Victor made his donut run, this time for six glazed and six plain donuts, because Christine insisted on having plain donuts to dip in her coffee. When he returned, Victor would sit down with Christine to the New York Times and a donut or two. He always read the comics first, followed by the currents, and finally the front page news, because he had never quite understood why such an emphasis was put on bad news. Why put it in the front page?? Why not hide it, disperse it between happy stories about a runt kitten being taken under the wing of a mother dog, or the space program, or a scout troop visiting a nursing home??

Their days continued on pretty normally and routinely, which was of course something Victor enjoyed. He loved knowing that every day, he would have the same simple pleasures to look forward to: waking up next to the love of his life, doing something simple and nice for her, being able to clear his head when he jogged to get donuts. Victor was secure in the knowledge that nothing would ever change. He had Christine, and that was all he needed.

The same could not be said for her. Christine was suffocating inside this clean cut, institutionalized apartment. Everything was in its place, and she hated it. She hadn’t had a messy closet in weeks. And it wasn’t just the apartment; it was her fiancé, too. Anytime she suggested seeing a Broadway show or a jog through Central Park, he said no. He said that he had things to clean, organize, alphabetize, reorganize and re-alphabetize. He always had something to clean, organize, alphabetize, reorganize and re-alphabetize. She felt replaced by Victor’s constant routine. She was so sick of it. But what could she do?? It was only her head telling her that she was defying herself. Her heart… her heart was telling her to stay.

They had already fought about it many, many times. The neighbors probably didn’t really think it was them fighting, she thought. Victor and Christine, the happy couple?? The perfect couple?? They didn’t argue. Oh, but they did. And they were less than perfect. And one sunny day, the kind that’s blindingly bright, the kind that warms your insides, Christine finally made up her mind. Two years into the engagement, she had had enough.

“This is the last time I’ll abandon you…”

She scooped up piles of her clothes and haphazardly threw them into her suitcases.

“And this is the last time I’ll forget you.”

The photo of them on the ferry, a year to the day after the proposal, sat on a nightstand. She picked it up sentimentally, hugged it to her chest, and within five seconds had hurled it at the wall, where it fell with a crash. When she examined it, she discovered it had cracked clean down the center of her and Victor.

“I wish I could…”

Without looking back, Christine left.
***********

Victor Lesley sat at a booth in his favorite diner. Another routine: he ate dinner here every Saturday evening. He used to sit at a table alone, but then when Christine came along, they started sitting at a booth together. Here Victor sat now, in a booth meant for two people, a year to the day that Christine left. He remembered that day as a cold chill went up his spine.

He had come home from work- he was a bank teller- to the find the house empty, meaning no one but himself was there. No Christine and no signs of her, either. In the living room, her worn copy of Gone With the Wind wasn’t on the coffee table. Her polka dot rain boots weren’t in the coat room. And in the bedroom, all of her clothes were gone. And what still choked Victor up, even as he sat in the decrepit diner, was his memory of the picture of them on the ferry, shattered on the floor. He had gingerly picked it up, in the process slicing his finger with a piece of broken glass. He muttered a swear word and broke into tears.

She was gone.

His waitress broke his reverie. “What’ll it be, sir??” she asked. Victor’s head snapped up and their eyes met. She was young, her blond hair sticking out every which way. He noticed this, and then looked down at her nametag. “Christine.” He didn’t realize that he had spoken aloud until he heard her say “yes, that’s me” with a wink and a sly smile. He blinked at her, then excused himself and left the diner.

The last thing Victor wanted to do was return to his cold, lonely flat, especially on a day as significant as this, but he did just that. And when he got home, he opened his door, and standing there in the coatroom was Christine.

It was her wasn’t it?? There was that half smile of her’s, and that messy updo. Victor reached out to her, but felt nothing but air. He took a step forward, and the mirage disappeared.

Victor shook his head in an attempt to rid his mind of Christine. But the rest of the night, everywhere he turned, he saw her. She was sprawled across the couch, attempting to finish Gone With the Wind. She was in the kitchen; her reflection right next to Victor’s when he glanced in the polished silver of the sink. She was in their bedroom; one minute, the shattered picture was still on the ground where Victor had left it after cutting his finger and giving up, and the next, it was there on the nightstand, the glass perfectly smooth and crackless, the two of them still together. Christine was everywhere, everything. Everything was Christine.

Later that night, Victor was in the kitchen, staring at the coffeepot. He heard music. Maybe it was the rebellious teenager next door, or maybe it was the piano-prodigy nine year old down the hall.

He could make some of the words. He recognized the tune, and started singing along.

“This is the last time I’ll abandon you.”

He felt something brush against his shoulder. It was Christine. He turned towards her, his face showing every inch of his pain.

She laughed, her voice the melody Victor had missed so much. A tear rolled down his cheek. She placed her hand on his shoulder and smiled at him pitifully. His head was down. Gently, she lifted his chin. Her hand was ice cold.

“And this is the last time I’ll forget you…”

Christine kissed him sweetly, and as if he were a snowflake and one wrong move would send him crumbling.

“I wish I could.”

And just as quickly as she had appeared, she was gone.
***********

Victor awoke with a startle. He sat up in bed. It had all been a dream, hadn’t it?? Christine leaving?? He would turn in a moment and find her next to him, wouldn’t he?? This was all the hope he needed, and he turned to face where Christine should be, only to find her not there.

Victor fell back and pulled the blankets up to his chin. The memories of yesterday, especially last night, came flooding back. Yes, he had made it past that fateful day. Survived it?? Well no. Not healthily, not sanely. He remembered what he had seen while gazing at the coffeepot. He decided it would be better not to try and explain it to himself.

Victor got up and got into his normal routine. He walked to the kitchen and, doing his best not to stare directly at it, started a pot of coffee like he did every morning. He then left it brewing and didn’t return to it for the rest of the day, like he always did.

After a moment of reflection, he left to get donuts. He ordered a dozen- six glazed and six plain, stopping to give all of his own to Theodore. He wasn’t very hungry, anyway.

As his day continued on, Victor found himself coming to terms with the illusion he had witnessed last night. Maybe he was just paranoid. Or maybe, he had met Christine’s ghost. Was she coming back to haunt him?? Would she ever leave him alone?? What if he was damned?? He felt like a hostage in his own home.

Victor thought back to the song last night. Maybe something in him had snapped, or maybe he had just gone crazy, but Victor went to his computer and typed in the name of the song, “Stockholm Syndrome.” He clicked on the first result, hoping for an answer.

“Stockholm Syndrome in psychology is a term used to describe a phenomenon where hostages express positive feelings towards their captor that appears irrational in light of the danger the victims face, mistaking a lack of abuse as kindness.

“The syndrome is named after the Norrmalmstorg robbery in Stockholm, Sweden, in which bank robbers held the employees hostage for six days. The victims became emotionally attached to their captors and even defended them once they were freed.”

He wasn’t sure how, but Victor knew this somehow applied to his life. Maybe, his only hope was in the music. Perhaps he felt like a prisoner of Christine. Or maybe, it was just his heart getting the better of him. Either way, he still loved her. Maybe he would forever.

If the answer was in the music, then she had promised him that she wouldn’t stand in his way. And she wouldn’t hold him back. From what?? The rest of his life?? What was his life, without her??

“Look to the stars, let hope burn in your eyes. And we’ll love, and we’ll hope, and we’ll die, all to no avail… all to no avail.”
***********

The next morning, Victor woke up later than usual. Hoping that the bakery hadn’t yet closed for lunch, he ran there only to find that they were out of plain donuts. So he ordered a dozen glazed, on his way out, leaving the entire box for Theodore. When he got home, the apartment was absolutely silent. Victor sauntered into the kitchen.

He forgot to make coffee.
***********




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WRIT3R4LIF3 said...
Mar. 12, 2011 at 7:30 pm:
I love how suspenseful it is. Keep writing! and I'd love to read more <3 defiently has a potential of an amazing novel.
 
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