Nonnegotiable Bargains – TLWM 7B

So Jane Summers told her mother about what had happened to her. About finding the odd device on her kitchen table Monday morning. About not recognizing smart phones or laptop computers. About not finding Unirail, or any of the modern transit systems she remembered. About getting to her job at Crasob Engineering, and being surprised that her drawings weren’t done on a drafting board, but on a CAD program.

Jane finished there, and listened with perverse pleasure at the static silence over the phone line.

“I’m coming up.”

Jane recoiled from the receiver. “No, Mom — “

“You’re sick.” Jane remembered she was speaking to was not just her mother, but also Hilda Summers, owner of the Park Street Beauty Salon, a twenty-year-plus business that thrived in good times and managed to survive when the local economy wasn’t so good. A woman who knew a lot about hair and even more about how to run a business. A woman who often said it all starts with facing the facts. “Jane, what you’re saying now about not knowing what your computer is, or how you did your job, that’s insanity!”

“I’m fine,” Jane’s protest instantly swamped under a wave of frightened concern. She decided to take a different route — “I’m seeing a psychiatrist.”

Jane heard more static on the line. “When did that start?”

“Just this week, since — when I told Gary about, you know, my story, he gave me this guy’s name, a friend of his.” Jane decided to leave out the part about Gary’s nonnegotiable bargain — you need to see Dr. Patel before I can let you back in the office.

Hilda’s voice softened, the urgency all but vanishing. “So you told him your — story.” Jane nodded, hummed affirmatively into the receiver. “And this doctor, what’s his name — “

“Patel. Sumeet Patel. Sam.”

“Dr. Patel. What does he think?”

Jane shrugged the receiver closer to her hear. “He really hasn’t said that much yet. He’s asked me a bunch of questions, about work, friend, my — our family. Brad.”

“Brad.” More static. “Well at least I know what he wasn’t telling me when he called the other day.”

Jane’s door buzzer ran. Wings was early tonight. “I gotta go, Mom.”

“I’m coming up — “

“Please, there’s so much — “

“Wednesday. I can’t leave the shop before Wednesday. Should I get a hotel, or do you still have that sofabed I remember you had before you said you came from another dimension?”

Jane had reached her apartment door, pressed the button to allow Wings to come in. The coiled gray cable of the phone pulled tight from the kitchen. “Yes, I still have the sofabed.” At least she was pretty sure she did — she hadn’t folded it out since Monday, but it looked like the same piece of furniture she remembered before that frightening, confusing morning.

After confirming that Jane had set up a follow-up appointment with Dr. Patel — yes, Tuesday at 4 (I’m calling you Tuesday night) — Hilda got off the phone with her daughter, who sighed heavily as Wings stepped through her apartment door.


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