Summers 14G

Laughter from inside the apartment. Jane felt the music, the voices pulling her back in. She needed another beer, in any case. She reached down to the plastic table where she had laid her empty beer bottle, then stood back up and laughed to herself on remembering Wings had already taken it inside.

She turned towards the screen door leading to the kitchen, when the sound of a truck engine caught her attention. The alley . . . she drifted back to the handrail on the balcony, looked down into the darkness of the alley, her eyes tracing the fading darkness as it disappeared into the bright lights of the Chicago street.

Struck by a sudden impulse that she wouldn’t understand later, she leaned forward, her stomach pressing firmly yet safely on the wooden handrail, and spread her arms wide, her head tilting back as she closed her eyes and focused on the sounds around her — the music and laughter behind her, the scuffling of feet in the alley beneath, the traffic from the street, even the distant sound of jet engines high above her. A few weeks earlier she would have looked down from where she was standing and seen an abyss, dark and foreboding, but now she knew that were she to open her eyes, the darkness would be just as thick as it had been before, but the menace was no longer there.

Yes, the future was uncertain. Jane knew there was a chance she would wake up tomorrow morning, or the next, and the world that she remembered would suddenly come back, making this world she’d lived in the past several months, with its amazing computers and phones but Flinstonesque transportation, seem like an unpleasant dream. Or maybe that day would never come, that she would remain in this world that was so familiar, yet so strange. But as she closed her eyes and spread her arms wide, she did not care. She wanted to embrace the darkness, face whatever bizarre twist of fate it would throw at her next. She wanted to drift into the darkness, let it take her wherever it may, even if it took her to a land without mosquitos.

End of “Summers”

Summers 14F

At the start of her next session with Dr. Patel, he’d returned to that word she’d used. “Do you still feel that you’re staring into an abyss?”

She remembered running her hand back over her scalp before answering. “I’ll be honest — that word choice last time worried me.” She noticed Dr. Patel nod knowingly. “It bothered me the moment I said it, and since then, I’ve been doing my best to avoid thinking about it.” When Dr. Patel asked for the details of her avoidance strategy, she’d replied that she’d focused on (re-)learning how to do her job at Crasob Engineering, had worked with Wings to figure out how to use the technology which was suddenly available to her, identified adjustments she’d need to make in this world lacking the transportation options with which she had been so familiar.

“Ah!” Dr. Patel clapped his hands victoriously, and she saw a smile bloom on the face of the man who asked her to call him Sumeet, or Sam. “That is not avoidance, Jane — that is acceptance!”

Jane wasn’t sure about Dr. Patel’s analysis at the time, but she had noticed her anxiety begin to lessen that day. The future remained dark and uncertain, but as the weeks and then months progressed, she felt she could stumble around in the dark as well as anybody else. She had even learned to attend parties, like this one this evening at Wings’ apartment, without feeling like a visitor from a strange land.

Summers 14E

Jane could barely see the concrete of the alley beneath her. In the dark, the space under the wooden balconey seemed like an abyss.

Abyss. She remembered a conversation she had with Dr. Patel, not during her first or second session with him but certainly early, perhaps the third. She had used that word abyss, had talked about staring into it — he had asked a question, she remembered now, about the future, where she saw herself going in the next five years. “No idea,” she had said. “Maybe I’ll have my current job, maybe not. I may not even be at Crasob, for all I know.” If Gary became a partner in the firm, she knew their working relationship would change.

“When I think about the future, all I see is darkness. Like staring into an abyss.” She had instantly regretted chosing that word.

Dr. Patel’s response was quick. “An interesting word, Jane. Most people look down at abysses — literally.” His right index finger was pointing down, the tip planted on his desk. “The word has many other negative associations.”

She had waited a moment to make sure he was finished, then had replied that she hadn’t meant to sound so negative. She was uncertain, she’d said, not pessimistic. It was one of the few times that she had withheld the truth from Dr. Patel, and she’d done so because that truth had scared her.

In those weeks immediately after her world had suddenly changed, she had been staring down, into a dark foreboding abyss. If her life could change so dramatically, so instantly, and for no apparent reason, how certain could she be of anything? On more than one occassion, she would ask herself (and always, by herself) how she could continue acting as normal in this new world, when she had no idea how’d she’d gotten there in the first place? What if tomorrow she was back to her old normal, or faced yet another new normal? She’d asked questions like that many times in those first few weeks — and when she realized that no answers would be coming, she felt herself edging closer to the abyss.

Summers 14D

Wings rose, taking Jane’s empty beer bottle from the plastic table as she stood next to her older yet shorter friend. She held the bottle up to Jane. “Need another?”

Jane waved her off. “I’ll be in, in a minute.” A moment later Wings had walked through the screen and kitchen doors, back into her apartment, leaving Jane alone again on the wooden balcony above the building’s back alley.

The sound of metal on concrete — Jane placed her hands on a wooden rail, looked down, saw a man pulling a garbage can away from a door. The door opened, a woman’s head emerged. By the tone of her voice Jane could tell that she was asking a question. The man swore loudly, angrily, then slammed a cover on top of the aluminum can before rushing back to the door.

Jane suddenly realized how far above the alley she was. Wings’ apartment was on the fourth floor of a complex with no elevator; Jane had been out of breath that evening after finishing the climb up the stairs. She remembered horrible stories from years past, of children falling to their deaths while playing on balconies similar to the one Jane was standing on now. She looked down at the handrail on which her arms rested; on the outside of the wooden guard rails (spaced wide enough for even an adult to fit through, at least one as slim as Arjie) she saw a thin honeycomb of metal fencing. She guessed it had been installed in response to those tragic deaths. She reached down, pulled at an edge of the fencing; two staples immediately flew out of the wood as if being released from captivity. “Jesus.” She watched them disappear into the blackness of the alley, then looked down at the six inch hole she had just created in the fence.

Summers 14C

There was a sadness to Wings’ sigh, almost a resignation. Jane knew her friend had liked Brad, thought he was good for her. But Jane sensed that Wings was not going to change her mind about not accepting his proposal.

“How’s work?” Jane was glad to hear her friend change the subject. “You going to do that promotion?”

“it’s not a promotion.” Jane raised the bottle to her lips again, before remembering that she had just emptied it. “It would be a job change, from CAD to engineer.” She ran her hand back over her scalp, her thin hair parting from her face. “There’s these classes Gary keeps wanting me to take, on drainage. Always told him that my days of sitting in a classroom were done, listening to some professor who doesn’t know anything about how the world really works try to tell me how to do my job.” She put the bottle down on a plastic table. “But now that I can do my course work online — I don’t know, been thinking about it more.”

“See?” Wings had turned to her, a smile on her face as broad and bright as a crescent moon on a cloudless night. “This world we got, with our computers and the Internet and everything, it’s not so bad after all, is it?”

Jane rose from her chair. “Never said this was a bad world, just different.” She swept her right arm across the balcony, her reach extending out past the alleway onto the bright lights of the Chicago skyline. “The world I remember, it wasn’t a bad world neither. You could get around easier than we do here. Didn’t have to spend all this money on cars — gas, the maintenance, all that. Streets were cleaner, so was the air.” She turned back to Wings, pulled her smart phone out of her pocket. “But no, we didn’t have these things. And they are pretty cool. Anything you want to know — like how to sign up for that class Gary wants me take — using this, I can find that out in a couple minutes.” She put her phone back into her pocket. “But what I don’t understand is, why can’t there be both? If we can be all space-age with telecom, why can’t we get all sci-fi with our transportation too? And in the world I remember — guess I should say used to remember, or think I remembered — just because we had stuff like Unirail, that shouldn’t mean we had to be stuck with rotary phones. I mean we didn’t think about stuff like that, but now that I’m here — I just don’t see why it has to be one or the other.”

Summers 14B

Jane drank again from her beer bottle, stared ahead of her. “Brad and I weren’t going to work out. I’d known that for a while — just hadn’t admitted it. To Brad, or myself.” Another drink. “So I gave him back the ring.”

“So, this . . . thing that happened to you.” This was typically how Wings referred to that morning now several months ago, when Jane had woken to find that the world around her had suddenly changed. “Did that have anything to do with you pushing Brad away?”

Jane rose swiftly, her momentum temporarily lifting her plastic chair off the wooden balcony landing. “I wasn’t the one doing the pushing.” She drank quickly from her bottle, began pacing in front of Wings. “The thing I couldn’t admit was that the two of us couldn’t go on like we were. It was either take the next step, or call it off. Brad knew it too, but at least he had the guts to make us face up to that fact.” She lifted the bottle to her lips again, and when she realized the bottle was empty tilted her head back and upended the bottle anyway. “But for us to take the next step would mean becoming something I’m not ready to be, a person Brad wants me to become. And I just couldn’t do that.”

“But that’s what people do.” Jane turned her attention back to Wings, but this time saw the face not of a hesitant young girl from the country, but rather a woman full confident of her words. “Any relationship you’re in, that changes you, even if just a little. Yeah, getting married’s probably the thing that changes you the most.” Wings now rose from her chair. “Brad wasn’t try to force something on you. He was going to have to change, as much as you were going to have to change.”

Jane smiled weakly. “I don’t think Brad’s changed a bit in the three years I’ve known him. And I have a feeling he wasn’t about to change if we’d gotten married.”

Summers 14A

[Author’s note: This will be the final scene in this story. If you’re relatively new to this blog, you can read a synopsis of the story here.]

A cold April breeze swept up the alley, causing Jane to close up her jacket. She was sitting on the wooden balcony outside the kitchen of Wings’ apartment. A few months later, the evening chill would have kept Jane inside, but after several months of Chicago winter, she enjoyed the opportunity to feel the outside air.

She turned at the sound of the kitchen door opening. Wings appeared behind the screen door, the sound of the younger girl’s stereo emanating from within. Wings tilted her head, a curious look on her face. “You OK, girl?”

Jane looked up, smiled. “Just needed some air. Be back in a minute.”

Wings pushed the screen door open, walked onto the balcony, sat in the empty plastic chair next to Jane’s. “How long’s it been?”

Jane shrugged. “Since when?”

“Since you — you know, thought we all changed the world on you?”

“Ah.” Jane took a quick drink from the beer bottle in her hand. “Couple months. Maybe three. Lost track a while ago.” She turned to Wings. “Why do you ask?”

“Just — I don’t know. You’ve been acting kind of quiet tonight, like you were those first few weeks. But when you started seeing that doctor, you got to being your old self again.” She half-turned to Jane, placed a hand on her shoulder. “But I know you still believe that story you told me that first day. And you still haven’t taken that medicine the doctor said you should take.” Wings blinked. “And Brad . . . ” Her voice trailed off.

Summers 13R

“But your father isn’t here.” There was a coldness to Dr. Patel’s voice that Jane hadn’t ever felt, not that evening, not during any of their meetings. “You can’t ask him whether you’re delusional, can’t get his opinion about Brad. If you’re looking for help, you have many resources available to you — ” he swept his arm across the circle — “so my question to you is, how can we help you?”

Jane rose from her chair. “You can help me by continuing to do what you’ve all been doing.” She scanned the faces sitting in the circle of chairs — her mother, Wings, Arjie and Gary, Dr. Patel. “Keep asking me questions. Keep listening to my stories, no matter how bizarre they seem. Even if you don’t believe me, just listen to me.”

She ran her hand back through her scalp. First the right hand, then the left. “I don’t care if you think I’m crazy. So long as you still treat me like a human being, not like I’ve been turned into a giant bug or anything. Because I’d rather be a crazy person, than an insane bug.”

Hilda Summers rose from her chair, and approached her daughter with eyes filled with compassion. Their embrace was warm, as was the conversation in the room for the remainder of that evening. And several hours later, as she left in the front passenger seat of her mother’s car, Jane silently thanked whatever force had been behind the sudden transformation of her world, for not leaving her stranded in this strange new world.

Summers 13Q

“This is going to sound terrible.” Jane had turned to her mother. “It’s going to be easy to take this very personally, because it’s going to sound like — like I don’t trust you.”

Hilda’s eyes blinked behind her horn-rimmed glasses. She looked down at the floor. “It’s about your father, isn’t it?” She looked up, saw her daughter nod. “That’s OK. You two had a special relationship. As do we — but in a different way.”

“He never lied to me.” Jane grabbed her mother’s hand. “I’m not saying you’re different — you’ve never deceived me, either. But with Dad, it was more about just telling the truth. He was the person I’d bounce ideas off of, in situations where I had a difference of opinion from a professor at school, or a co-worker.” She looked up quickly at Arjie and Gary. “I’d tell him my point of view, and what the other people were saying. He’d ask questions, force me to lay bare all the facts, those details which weren’t subject to interpretation but were just the way things were. I’d exhaust myself providing him with information, and at the end of it all he’d tell me what he thought the right point of view was. He’d accounce his decision immediately, with no equivocation, wouldn’t allow any more debate. In that way he’d act like an all-powerful judge, but it was different, he’d explain how and why he came to his decision. He was absolute, but fair.”

She now turned to Dr. Patel. “These drugs that you’re talking about — part of the therapy that you’re recommending, to cure my condition. If I take them, then I’m accepting that what I’ve been saying these last few weeks, about the world suddenly changing around me — that I’m wrong, that I am delusional.” She shook her head. “But they won’t tell me why I’m delusional. And if I don’t know why, if I don’t have that explanation — then how can I truly know that I’m wrong?”

Summers 13P

Jane cast her glance over at Dr. Patel. “You asked me the other day how often I thought about my father, and I said, pretty much every day. And when you asked me how long it was since he passed — I did what I always do, because I don’t have the date or year committed to memory. I have to think about that quarterback for the Bears, who played his first game on the day he died. I remember his rookie season, because the Bears made it to the Super Bowl that year. That’s what I have to do, to remember the year my father died.”

She ran her hand over her scalp again, to pull back the long strands of dirty blonde hair that had swept onto her face. She caught a glimpse of Arjie, his goateed face staring at her, eyes filled with a combination of understanding and impatience. She could read his thoughts — whatever you want to say is OK, but it would really help if you explained why this is important, because we’re all pretty confused right now.

“So what does this have to do with my — ” she stared back at Dr. Patel — “condition? About this delusion you all think I’m having, about waking up one morning and realizing the world around me has changed completely? About not knowing how to use a computer, or that a phone could be used for something other than talking to someone? About wondering why there’s so many cars on the road, why transportation technology has barely changed in half a century?”

She saw Arjie nod slowly.

“Because every time I insist I’m still in my right mind — or hear someone like Dr. Patel — ”

“Sam.”

Jane smiled. “Yes, thank you. Every time someone like Sam says I seem to be OK — even though I agree with them — I think about how I remember the year my father died. How I have to think about that stupid quarterback of the Bears. And I think, why do I have to think about something so trivial in order to remember something so important. And when I have those thoughts — that’s when I begin to wonder how truly sane I am.”