Summers 13L

Dr. Patel’s body relaxed, slooped forward like a sprinter after finishing a race. He then walked over to one of the two empty chairs in the small circle, and lowered himself down to sit.

Jane felt everyone’s eyes turning towards her. She understood why — Dr. Patel had finished his diagnosis by leaving her with a choice, but she wouldn’t be able to express her gratitude until she found a way to break this awkward silence. She was about to say that she wanted some time to think about Dr. Patel’s offer, when her mother, sitting to her right, asked, “Where’s Brad?”

“Yeah.” Gary’s attempt to hide his disappointment was unsuccessful. He glanced quickly at the one remaining empty chair. “I thought he was coming.”

There was no holding back the truth any longer. “Brad’s not here — ” jane hated the hesitation in her voice — “because I didn’t invite him.”

Jane felt her mother’s breath draw in, and saw her look quickly at Dr. Patel. “Didn’t you tell — ”

“No.” Dr. Patel made eye comtact with Jane. “Brad was not on the list of people that Jane gave her permission for me to call.”

Hilda Summers stood up quickly, looked down at her daughter with frustration. “Brad loves — ”

“He proposed to me last week.” She sensed everyone’s mouth open in surprise, save for Dr. Patel.

Jane reached up, clasped her mother’s shoulder, pulled her back down to the chair. Only one more truth needed to come out. “My — delusion.” She nodded at Dr. Patel. “What we’ve been talking about all evening. My waking up one morning, and everything being different. About me feeling that the world had suddenly turned upside down.”

A final sigh for courage. “Brad doesn’t know. About any of it.”

Bark Bay

[This week’s writing challenge from The Daily Post is to give life to a character that’s been lurking in my imagination. An idea instantly came to my mind, but it requires a departure from my usual strategy of incorporating the weekly writing challenge into the flow of my current project. For this challenge, I want to return briefly to my novel and explore a “character” I’ve been meaning to develop — the town of Bark Bay. For those who are new to this blog, my novel is about a group of high school fencers in a small Northern town. One of my ambitions in the novel has been to make this town function as a critical supporting character in the novel, to have it interact with my principal characters in a way that reveals their nature. This week’s challenge seems the perfect opportunity to explore this concept. I’m also going to depart from my norm by breaking my entry into two posts so that I can meet both objectives of the challenge — first, to provide at least five different background characteristics, and second, to use the character I develop in a scene.]

Five Important Characteristics of the Town of Bark Bay

Location — Bark Bay is a small town in the northern United States. The majority of the town’s population of 8000 live within a few miles of the intersection of the Indian and East rivers (the East River continues downstream of the town). The intersecting rivers form a fairly deep inland river bay that has served several purposes in the town’s history.

Name — the town received its unusual (some, especially the town’s younger residents, would call it unfortunate) name at the time when it was a booming lumber port in the early 19th century. To feed the town’s mills, tree logs were cast into the Indian and East Rivers, and would partially erode by the time they reached their destination; the shedded bark floating at the top of the bay quickly became the town’s distinguishing characteristic.

History — archeological evidence and surviving oral history indicate the area around the intersecting rivers was home to several different Native American populations for at least three hundred years before European traders arrived in the early 1800s and quickly drove out the natives (some through land purchases, others by force, but most by disease). The lumber industry brought the town instant wealth, but suffered a devastating financial collapse by mid-century; wealthy sportsmen then swept in and transformed the town into a sailing port. The Great Depression of the 1930s caused another transformation; most of the wealthy who weren’t ruined soon left, and a hydroelectric dam erected upstream of the East River nearly emptied the bay. Several companies set up factories in the town during the economic boom after World War II, but nearly all have abandoned Bark Bay and relocated to more profitable areas.

Physical Description — evidence of the town’s numerous transformations can be found everywhere. Upstream of the Indian River is an abandoned Native American village that has remained virtually untouched for two centuries. The rotting remains from the bases of wooden piers, exposed after the East River dam emptied the bay, can still be seen. Buildings and roads, many thrown up quickly during one of the town’s many spasms of economic growth, are arranged throughout the town with no seeming plan, as if they were scattered by giant children abandoning their toys.

Greatest Fear — the town realizes it is heading towards another transformation. Population has slowly but steadily decreased since the last factories departed, and the town’s steady stream of summer tourism revenue is being threatened by a proposed bridge which, if built, would create a route that avoids Bark Bay. The town has faced many crises in its history, and has always emerged stronger. But there is concern that this time, the town may be facing a situation similar to that of the original Native American inhabitants, that the forces closing in this time are too powerful for the residents of Bark Bay to overcome.

[And tomorrow — a scene featuring Bark Bay as a character in my novel]

Summers 13K

“The fact that you’re not currently hospitalized makes it difficult to force medication on you.” Dr. Patel’s tone banished all traces of Sam from the room. “Difficult, but not impossible. Given the nature of your delusion, I would not hesitate to take legal action to force meds on you — but only If I thought your delusion presented a threat to anyone, or to yourself.”

Jane arched her brows. “I assume that word but is pretty significant.”

A little bit of Sam re-appeared in Dr. Patel’s smile. “Do you remember the amber ball from my office?”

“The one with the mosquito trapped inside?”

“I have no other, Jane. Do you know why I keep it in my office, rather than at home?”

Jane thought a moment, then laughed. “Well, based on what you’ve been saying to lead up to that question — I’d guess it’s in your office as some kind of . . . test. For your patients?”

Dr. Patel resumed pacing around the outside of circled chairs. “A test, perhaps, but I prefer to see it as an agent, which I introduce in my treatments in order to elicit a reaction from my patients. It is such an unusual object that everyone notices it. Some people stare at it inquisitively, but never verbally acknowledge it, or shrug indifferently when I describe its contents. Others ask me questions I cannot answer — how old it is, whether the mosquito trapped inside is the same as modern mosquitos.” He stopped in front of Jane’s chair. “You were one of the few people who, when I said I received it from my father, asked for more information about my family, and the land I came from.”

Sam reached down, touched Jane’s shoulder. “Despite your delusion, you have an active curiosity, Jane. Not only about things, but people.” Dr. Patel withdrew his touch. “You are no threat, Jane. You need help — but not from yourself.”

Summers 13J

He turned to face with an inquisitive look, seeming more analytical to Jane, more like Dr. Patel than Sam. “Do you know what prompted me to ask these questions about your personal life, Jane?” She shrugged. “It was something you said to me at our last meeting, about the accident you had seen while driving to our appointment.”

She stared blankly at Dr. Patel, sensing that he was expecting her to figure out the significance of his statement. There was something about the inflection of his voice, especially when he said — her eyes and mouth widened. “Driving. I drove to that appointment, instead of taking the bus.”

“Yes, Jane. Even though you’d told me more than one time at our first meeting, that you not only didn’t remember ever owning a car, but also that you hadn’t driven in over ten years.” He walked outside the circle of chairs again. “You know, for someone who claims that she woke up one day three weeks ago and thought this world was an alien land — you’ve done quite a remarkable job of adjusting. I still believe you need help with your delusions — but, if I may use the vernacular, you’re the most normal crazy person I’ve ever worked with.”

Jane looked quickly over at Gary and Arjie, who both nodded their approval. She then turned to Wings, and received a swift wink.

Dr. Patel walked back into the circle, a darkness seeming to descend on him. “I need to bring up a sensitve subject, Jane.” He stopped, coughed into his hand. “I spoke earlier about medications I believe can help with your delusions. Can help you see that this world — ” he pointed down with both index fingers — “is the real world. That computers and mobile phones aren’t science fiction, that it’s normal for people to own cars. That this Unirail thing you speak of — isn’t meant to be. In this world, anyway.”

Jane saw Arjie, sitting behind Dr. Patel and smirking like a poker player showing his hand and proving he was not bluffing. Dr. Patel continued. “But before I recommend any treatment plan, I need to ask — do you want me to help?”

Jane opened her mouth to speak, but Dr. Patel (Sam had left the building) resumed pacing, and continued. “I have been asked, by more than one person in this room, whether you could be somehow forced into accepting treatment.” Jane felt her mother stiffen in the chair next to her. “And I replied that yes, there is legal precedence for this, and yes, I’ve been the expert witness in several cases where I’ve advised meds over objections.” Jane felt her heart begin to race.

Summers 13I

Dr. Patel was now standing behind Jane, and made eye contact with everyone else in the room as he continued. “Last week, Jane gave me permission to speak to each of you regarding her condition. All of you reported hearing exactly the same story that she had told me during our appointments — that she believed the world had suddenly changed around her, that in the world she remembered personal computers and smart phones did not exist, and that cars had been replaced by a complex public transportation system and were now nearly obsolete.”

Arjie laughed, his goatee bobbing up and down. “Sorry. It still sounds like — ” Jane could tell he didn’t feel comfortable saying the word bullshit — “baloney.”

Dr. Patel walked out from behind Jane, entered the center of the circle. “All I can say, young man, is that you were not alone in that opinion.” He turned to Jane, and the smile she saw on his face was not the clinical politeness of Dr. Patel, but rather the genuine friendliness of Sumeet, call me Sam, the man with the amber ball containing a mosquito, a gift from his father than he chose to display in his office, not his home. “The consistency of the story confirmed for me the depth of your delusion, Jane. But I also learned a great deal about you during those conversations — information that contributes to my diagnosis.”

Dr. Patel turned to Wings, sitting to Jane’s left. “You told me you’d been teaching her how to use her smart phone. How are those lessons going?”

The eyes of the thin girl widened. “Good. I’m not teaching her no more — after a couple days, she was figuring things out for herself.”

Dr. Patel nodded, then turned to Gary and Arjie. “Not knowing how to use a computer obviously presented some problems with her job.”

“Well yeah.” Arjie straightened in his chair, pointed a thumb to Gary sitting at his right. “That’s why Gary set up these training sessions with me and her, after work and weekends. When she got the basics, she took her laptop home, did more studying there.”

“And the result?” Dr. Patel pointed with his index finger at Arjie, then darted it over to point at Gary.

Gary smiled like a proud parent. “We got comments back from IDOT on the Route 20 drawings, and Jane did all the edits today.” He turned in her direction. “I’ve got my lead CAD operator back.”

Dr. Patel now turned to Hilda, sitting to Jane’s right. “You’ve been living with your daughter nearly two weeks now. How does she seem?”

Hilda seemed uncertain how to answer. “You mean — aside from the story –”

“Yes.” For the first time that evening, Dr. Patel’s tone betrayed impatience.

Hilda blinked. “I — she’s been a little — uptight, I guess you could say. Argumentative.” She turned to her daughter, then smiled. “But you’ve always been strong-willed.” She turned back to Dr. Patel. “So no — maybe she’s been a little edgy, but no, I really can’t say she hasn’t been herself.”

Summers 13H

Dr. Patel removed his hand from Jane’s shoulder. “I’ve worked several cases similar to yours.”

Jane blinked. “You mean you’ve met other people who — ” Jane didn’t want to utter the words that came next, but realized they would be the most accurate — “who came from my world?”

Dr. Patel pursed his lips, stepped back. “I said similar, Jane — not exact.” His smiled beamed reassurance, as he resumed pacing around the circle of chairs. “The delusions I’ve worked with have been, I guess you could say, more focused than yours. People who say burglars come into their homes, take everything, then bring it back the next day. Others swear to the existence of people who are no longer alive, or who never existed.” Dr. Patel stopped, raised his eyebrows. “Occasionally I’ll have a patient insist they are not the person everyone perceives them to be. Yours is similar to this delusion, but in ways, it’s the reverse — you believe you’re the same as you’ve always been, but the technology of the world around you has changed.”

Dr. Patel exhaled, like a weightlifter preparing for a lift. “In any event, Jane, the only cure for your condition, is through medication.” Jane blinked, her shoulders drooping. Her mother placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, as Dr. Patel continued. “I could write you a prescription this evening, even call it in for you. The standard protocol would then be to monitor your progress — ” he retrieved his smart phone from his pocket — “I could even schedule your office visits this evening.”

“That’s very kind of you, doctor.” Jane felt the vibration of her mother’s voice through the hand on her shoulder.

Dr. Patel smiled, putting the smart phone back into his pocket. “But before we commence with this treatment plan, Jane — there is one other thing we need to discuss.” He then raised his head, sweeping his gaze across the perimeter of the circle, making eye contact with everyone in the room. “Something that required the presence of everyone here this evening.”

Summers 13G

Dr. Patel now paced outside the circle. “Three weeks ago Monday, you reported to work — ” Dr. Patel nodded in the direction of Gary and Arjie — “and claimed the world had suddenly changed. You claimed that you didn’t recognize mobile phones or personal computers, and did not remember owning a car.” Jane nodded, despite realizing that Dr. Patel was not asking her to corroborate her case history. “You also claimed that there was some kind of mass transit system — something resembling trolley cars — ”

“Unirail.” Jane suddenly realized it had been a week since she had even thought about it. “There’s this electrical grid under the city streets, and — ”

She stopped upon seeing Dr. Patel raise a polite hand. “Perhaps some other time, Jane. What’s important for now, is the fact that you claim that there are important things missing in this world — ” Dr. Patel was now pointing down — “and there are other things that are in this world, that you claim did not exist until that Monday.”

Jane sensed from Dr. Patel’s motionless pause that he was now actually waiting for corroboration. She nodded. “Yes, that’s what happened. I woke up one day, and poof.” She spread her hands up and out from her lap.

Dr. Patel smiled, and turned to the rotund man sitting in a chair opposite the circle from Jane. “Gary, when you heard Jane tell this story — of the world going poof — what was your reaction?”

Gary’s eyes widened, his head snapping back. “I was — confused. Worried. Which is why I asked her to see you.”

Dr. Patel turned back to Jane, sitting between her mother and Wings. “Yes, this is where I come into the story. And I must admit that when Jane came to my office that Wednesday afternoon, I fully expected to refer her to a clinical therapist — I had even contact someone I work with regularly, who works regularly with women of your generation. But then I heard your story — not only your story, but the calm conviction with which you told it. And before our first session was over, I came to a hypothesis that I confirmed in our subsequent meetings.”

He had stopped his pacing, was now standing directly in front of her, staring down in cold calculation. “You are delusional, Jane. I’m sorry, but that is my diagnosis.  Furthermore, I don’t believe any talking therapy can help your condition. Your delusion is too deep, too entrenched, for even the best clinical therapist to eradicate. I did not refer you, Jane, because I knew that, as a psychiatrist who works with severe mental disorders — ” he placed a hand on her shoulder — “I was the only person who could help you.”

Summers 13F

Dr. Patel walked up behind Wngs, his eyes questioning Jane. “Are we waiting on anyone else?”

Jane saw her mother walk up to them, opening her mouth to speak. Jane shot her pre-emptive answer quickly — “No, no one else.” She saw her mother’s eyes widen in surprise. “We can start now, Dr. Patel.”

“Please, call me Sam.” He swept his arm in the direction of the small circle of chairs that had been assembled in the middle of the carpeted dining room, under the large light fixture. Jane walked quickly to the circle, sat in the nearest chair. Hilda, the surprise in her face giving way to annoyance, sat on her daughter’s left, Wings on her right. Gary and Arjie sat opposite the woman, the two groups separated by a chair to either side. Dr. Patel remained standing, off the center, so that he could easily make eye contact with everyone briefly as he spoke.

“Thank you, everyone, for being here.” He waved an open palm in Jane’s direction. “For being here for Jane, that is. I’ve had the pleasure with speaking with every one of you this past week, to discuss Jane’s — I believe the word she prefers to use is, condition — ”

“Works for me.”

“Good, good. And what I’ve learned from my conversations with you has confirmed my — I know you don’t like this word, Jane, but it must be said — my diagnosis. For your condition.”

Dr. Patel walked into the middle of the circle, hands behind his back, his eyes glancing down as if looking for a loose floorboard. “But, if you’ll indulge me a moment — I think it’s important to provide a context for my diagnosis. A context that will explain my conclusion. And the best way to provide that context, is to review the history of this — ” he looked directly at Jane — “and I know you won’t like this word either — let’s review the history of this case.”

Summers 13E

Hilda had finished her conversation with Dr. Patel by the time Gary arrived back in the dining room, followed by Arjie. Not for the first time, Jane noticed the contrast in body size between short, rotund Gary and tall, thin Arjie. Gary rushed over to the snack-laden table at the side of the room, commanded everyone to please, eat!

Jane loaded her paper plate with chips and cheese, walked to a far corner of the room. She saw Wings approach, concern on her face. “You OK, girl?” Jane nodded, then immediately sensed the cause of her friend’s concern — she couldn’t remember having said more than a sentence to anyone since they’d arrived at Gary’s home.

Jane waved her free hand in the air. “It’s just — we all know why we’re here.” She bit a cracker, swallowed quickly. “It’s about me, about my story — ” after verifying Dr. Patel wasn’t looking in their direction, she pointed to him — “about what he has to say, whether he thinks I’m crazy or not.”

Wings shrugged. “I don’t think you’re crazy. I already told the doctor that.” Dr. Patel — Sumeet, Sam — had asked Jane’s permission to speak to everyone gathered in the room.

Jane smiled weakly. “And the story I keep telling, about the whole world being different than what I remember — ”

Wings held up a hand to stop her older friend. “Not the whole world. You still remember your family, your friends.” Wings smiled, the overhead light reflecting off her white teeth. “You remember me.” The smile disappeared. “I think you’re just stressed, is all. You’ve been working a lot, hadn’t seen you for nearly a month before — ”

“Before I woke up and didn’t recognize computers, smart phones — ”

Wings raised her stop hand again. “The things that don’t matter. The stuff that does matter — ” she reached out her hand, grabbed Jane’s — “you remember all of that. I don’t care what this doctor winds up saying, you’re OK, girl.”

Summers 13D

[The theme for the latest Weekly Writing Challenge from The Daily Post is about leaving traces, artifacts which are later found and compel their discoverers to trace their history back to its source. I’ll once again work this challenge into the flow of the story I’m currently developing, and provide a summary of the story so far.]

Dr. Patel asked if everyone was there, and Gary replied that Arjie had texted him 30 minutes ago that he was leaving his apartment. “That means he won’t be much longer.”

Hilda pulled Dr. Patel to the side of the room, spoke to him in urgent hushed tones. Assuming her mother was speaking to the doctor about her, Jane turned her attention to Gary and Wings, standing under the large light fixture in the center of the carpeted dining room. He asked Wings about her dance career; Wings replied enthusiastically. Jane stepped forward to join the conversation, when an object on the wall caught her attention.

She squinted, focused on the object — a picture, no, a drawing. A cartoon, a caricature. Of Gary, an absurd exaggeration of his girth. Drawn by . . . her.

She remembered the caricature, from a Crasob Engineering company picnic, several summers ago, before they were acquired, before they had moved into the new building. They had hired a cartoonist. Gary was one of her last subjects, and even the cartoonist wasn’t happy with the result. Jane asked for the easel and ink, said she wanted to see if she remembered anything from her art classes in college. Five minutes later, she showed her work to Gary, who howled in appreciation.

Jane walked past Gary and Wings, came within inches of the caricature. She hadn’t known Gary had framed it, hung it on his dining room wall. But what suprised her even more was the thought that was now in her mind — the person who drew that wasn’t me, but the person I used to be.

Ever since that weird Monday morning last week, when she woke up into a world she didn’t recognize — a world with mobile phones and laptop computers she didn’t recognize, and without the transportation systems she did remember — she hadn’t come into contact with something she had created before that morning. Yes, she’d reviewed the CAD drawings she didn’t remember creating, but those all seemed like lines on a computer file, with nothing distinctive that would identify those as her efforts. But this silly little carcicature, of a morbidly obese Gary missing a tennis ball with his racket — this was created from her hand.

But that hand belonged to the woman she was before Monday. A woman who, according to the claims of Gary and her mother and all her friends in whom she’d confided, had been an adept CAD operator, had been perfectly comfortable with the telecommunication technology she now found so alien, had owned the car she didn’t recognize for years. And the woman who had drawn that caricature wasn’t just living in an entirely different technological world, she hadn’t experienced many of the life-changing events that were to come. Jane studied the caricature again, and wondered again if the person she was now could honestly take credit for the work of her younger self.

A ball of light shown on the upper corner of the picture glass, grew larger, then disappeared. The sound of tires on pavement — Jane saw Gary turn from Wings, head towards the front door — “That must be Arjie.”