He, Palmer Roth Hall, of the Halls of Newton, Massachusetts, trudged the cobblestones of Cambridge with a scuffing sound of his wellingtons. Night settled around him like a funeral shroud. To Dr. Rutherford’s office, by way of The Marigold Theatre, he was going, a route he took with a will dissimilar to that employed in the colonies’ revolution against England. When this city was a wee bitty baby. Palmer scrutinized The Marigold’s aged wooden steps, built in 1950. Missing from behind plate glass were movie posters, ad expenditures a lost wish. If working with more than its skeleton crew, then its managers, shift leaders and cashiers, as they performed their duties, would’ve cursed next year’s sales projections, growing as panicked as stuck pigs. To recoup the theatre’s quite real losses, a backhoe readied itself by the side exit, kneeling on its front axles, bowing before a stovepipe-thin man in a black suit who sat in a nearby office, contracting the possible demolition. The Marigold. Its marquee lights blinked an SOS, pleading, in a last ditch attempt to stay afloat, that he buy a ticket for the revival of The Bestiary. Had he already seen this movie? Palmer couldn’t quite recall.
Continuing to scan the theatre as he walked, he glimpsed someone in the upraised ticket booth whose face was lit from within, and this being a second face. He recognized it. He somehow knew him, from a time when the power of recognition, due to his then limited years, had been itself limited, a poor tool for understanding the nature of what was surely an unnatural existence. “Monsters,” Palmer muttered to himself, staring at the figure in the ticket booth, “roam the streets of Cambridge.”
And then blackness, after a period of time that grew longer each instance, blocked out the thought.
Now at a full stop, he turned to face the theatre. Somehow the sight of its beveled pine steps and halo of lit bulbs behind the concession counter, like an old-time makeup mirror, visible through the wrought-iron framed glass doors, cowed him. Into a stoop he fell. Time, with a clunking of flywheels, a shuddering of pistons, came to a stand-still. The Marigold. He was soon to move on from it, to pass over it with a nascent but familiar scorn, the old movie house sighing with a shuddering of its side beams like arms, its gabled eaves like a head drooping with the awkwardness of a sort of puberty–passed over, not picked. Stooped like him, pathetic. It had always been as such, the gangs of neighborhood kids having swarmed away from him on the sidelines of Newton’s baseball diamond, perennially choosing anyone else. Satisfaction crossed Palmer’s face to see hurt come to the old place. The air turned damp and heavy. He imagined sticks of lit T-N-T rammed between its seats. Why? Didn’t he identify with it? The mechanisms of his mind remained cloaked, tripwires concealed in dark rooms. The streets luminesced from a rising blood moon, then pooled into shadow. Any sliver of understanding lost itself as if sucked into an undertow. He thought: Dr. Rutherford’s office looms near, the time for our appointment well-nigh; so from The Marigold he wheeled away, taking a left onto Brattle Street, down JFK.
Cambridge spun past him like a running fan belt.
And now, inside the psychiatrist’s office, therapist and patient sat at an angle to each other in creaky wicker chairs. Soft light emanated from the circular wall clock that ticked unobtrusively.
Palmer exhaled, inhaled and exhaled, trying to catch his breath, slow his pounding heart; in the process, he spied a folder on Dr. Rutherford’s lap. “What’s that?” he barked. “You said you wouldn’t take notes in our sessions.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not breaking our agreement.” Though it would go unreturned, the doctor smiled at him, continuing, “It’s your case history I got from The Erikson Center, you know, ‘The Coconut’.”
At The Coconut, yesterday’s dose of Haldol had been, for Palmer, the final one.
“It details your history since you were twelve,” said the doctor. “Many gaps are present, but it does reveal…”
The patient felt something banging against the inside of his skull.
“Yes… History is vital, Palmer, personal history—story, your truth. But in order to express it, we must first understand ourselves.” His eyes brimming with avidity, the doctor stilled himself then breathed the words, “They’re real.”
Palmer fell back against his chair, seeing…
… a pearl-shaped face, crimson-tinged skin, narrowed eyes, razor sharp lips, stitches running along its circumference…
As if laboring up a staircase from a dark basement, Palmer heard himself breathlessly gasp, “D-D-Dim Brighton.”
The doctor said it again, “they’re real”, intent on hearing what else his patient might say, what else might emerge with twists and jerks of limbs like dancing skeletons: the secrets he’d theorized that lurked the dark halls, that smashed hinges and joists and drywall, ripped loose synaptic wiring. So focused on extracting this, the core of their work together, Rutherford didn’t notice Palmer latchingonto an object in his pocket.
What he gripped there: Wright’s .22 caliber handgun, loaded with hollow end shells.
In addition to the prying open of a life as if it was a safe full of treasures to be fenced in medical journals, Palmer knew that even when the clock would strike the end of the hour, he’d continue. With this knowledge rising in his mind, he flexed his trigger finger.
“You can’t crack The Coconut,” Palmer Roth Hall muttered to himself, in memory of twenty minutes ago when the pasty-faced nurse, grinning at each of his winces, had scrubbed his wound with cleansing alcohol. Until he’d started in this morning with half-milligrams contained in a small plastic bottle tucked into the waist of his blue paper pants, he’d been clear-headed–but they watched him closely anyway; he was far from out of the woods: the gunshot wound still bled and he still screamed in his sleep. As a patient there, at The Erickson Center, of which Dr. Rutherford would mention when Palmer would work with him in Cambridge, whether bodily shaking inside its white-bricked building that squatted on a plot of secluded land in Western Massachusetts, or staring slack-jawed out of its darkened oval windows, in either extremis, in any extremis, Palmer could easily find himself the object of a boot-to-the-ass for taking them–not that benzos were so contemptible on their own, the psychiatrists would say with wine glasses raised, but Dr. Heckman had just ordered for him an initial round of Haldol, to which the half-milligram pills of clonazepam were contraindicated. Palmer–sitting now on a satin-lined chair from West Elm, situated at the far end of a manicured lawn, the top notch staff busy with a take-down–Palmer breathed deep because, even if he was caught with his hand in the small little pill bottle, the hospital was funded by an oligarchy-like set of families, the Hall clan, Palmer’s clan, being one. The primary one.
Caught. Right, well, he didn’t see them, the two men in trench coats, approaching. Diffused grey light painted their eyes in a patina of quiet desperation, for over the years the case they’d let own them.
Slipping the pill bottle behind his back, Palmer turned, muttered, “Yes.”
Dubbed “Peanut” at Quantico for an unassuming semi-circle of hair around his skull, the agent flashed his badge, but to Palmer it just wavered like a mirage.
“We’re from the Federal Bureau of Investigations,” said Peanut’s longtime partner he had dubbed “Rock” for possessing shoulders as wide as a walk-in closet. “We’d like to discuss something with you.”
“Do I have to?”
“You don’t, Mr. Hall,” intoned Peanut. “But I would, or you’ll be subpoenaed as a material witness, probably more–accessory, conspiracy. We might be able to head that off at the pass if you talk to us now.”
“Off the record,” said Rock, smiling.
This last bit of gentleness caused Palmer to harrumph, but he did sit up a little straighter.
Rock bowed his head before him, held it there like a penitent. “We’re pursuing an old case we think you might be ‘involved’ in, for lack of a better way of putting it. From when you were about twelve.”
Dim Brighton. The thought shuttered his mind open, and source light ran across it. Combined with the clonazepam, the Haldol twisted his memory, as if with zip-ties made of fog, until binding it. Dim, Dim Brighton. Palmer ground down on it, or tried to–but the thought’s thirst to party sucked his grey coils dry as if they were lemons. “I don’t-” he valiantly insisted.
“You do remember,” interrupted Peanut, continuing, “a movie theatre in Cambridge. The Marigold. Around 1984.”
Palmer’s eyes went loose, and his mind took to lurching through the dark, crying out as it stumbled into things…
A pounding on a door.
Corpses split open, blood swamping the floor…
Pearl-shaped face, crimson-tinged skin, narrowed eyes, razor-sharp lips, stitches running around its circumference…
“He, he,” stammered Palmer.
“He had stitches around his face. Outside the theatre, it was a second face, one within another. But inside, he looked at me. With hunger. He was going to eat me, I think…”
The diffused grey light had deepened into black storm clouds that, after a pause, thundered across the sky, shockwaves resounding all around them. At memory’s end, Palmer ran a hand down his face as if wiping it free of sweat, and with the fading echoes of storm, his whimpering metamorphosed into an unsettled silence.
The two agents gazed at him, his bottle of clonazepam gripped in his trembling hand, his eyes locked on a distant point. No more answers were forthcoming, so they left him to his work: the placing on the tongue, the dry-swallowing. When he’d slip several into his system in an hour, his eyes would glaze over, the benzos and antipsychotics combined alternately highlighting and muddying the things that lived in his mind, like rabid cheerleaders elbowing past each other during try-outs for squad. He would discharge later in the day. With a referral for Dr. Rutherford stuffed in his boot, he’d stumble to the bus depot, a noticeable lack of prescriptions in his wallet: the cheer that he would’ve heard–“Take them, take them, have a ball! Sleepy, comatose, dead to all!”–would, in its bleakness, take his drug use to its inevitable conclusion. The solution to the ravages of addiction would taste good, promising–albeit ominous, going drug free as he’d done with alcohol.
But this breakthrough would come at a cost: anger, of which there existed more than enough.
To wit: an urge within him kindled his imagination, to see the agents sauntering away from him, Peanut glancing over his shoulder and Rock just studying the ground, Palmer pulling the .22 free from his pants pocket and pointing the swaying barrel at them, their brains splattering all over the lawn.
After the clinking sounds of bottle neck against rim of glass had died a horrible death, there came to rage silent disarray in Palmer’s penthouse apartment in Berkeley as he overturned furniture, tossed cutlery to the floor, and strew towels and clothes all about, draping them like the banners of an ancient war. Gaping at the clutter, the booze settling in his stomach and with time enough to calm down, he came to focus himself. As he slid to the floor, he took up the impetus for the destruction, his journal, the one he’d carried with him since a boy. The last entry, having been written while a New Hampshire rainstorm strafed his dorm, he read with a steady enough gaze and a strong enough will to confront what drove him to drink: “The theatre was so dark, but I could, like, feel him. He had hunger in his eyes, and he just looked at me. He was going to eat me, I think… God, I don’t know, it was all so… so…
“He looked at me, and then the lights of the movie screen grew a bit brighter–”
From the journal Palmer pulled his gaze, drawing deep on Jim Beam like a cynical guffaw.
From the street below the coughing of a diesel motor cannoned across the deck of his home, shaking him until an impulse formed, like the head of a beer, to jump into his Aston Martin and pound down the road. Gripping the journal, he the sloppily determined, stumbling down the building’s outer staircase, careening through the garage’s main door, Palmer scrambled into his car parked there all alone. The running engine he heard as he focused on inserting the key into the ignition. He cranked that old engine, fumes, whose very cells he just knew he could see, twirling about him like the snakes of Medusa. If reality didn’t awaken from booze-fueled hallucination, real trouble would pry his jaw open and flood down his throat. Punching the gas, peeling out of the driveway, he cranked onto Oxford Street, and it was then, veering left with a juddering of tires, that his Aston Martin smashed into a Mercedes, devouring its bumper with its own front end. Upon smacking his head, blood flowed down his face in a scarlet mask. It was real trouble he had now, as real it gets.
HePalmer, strapped mercilessly to the driver seat, his head swinging like a loose apple, mumbled, “Stitches… It’s Dim Brighton.” He pleaded with a god, any god, who deigned to listen. “I don’t want to be him.”
Sirens of arriving cop cars dwindled until silence held the scene in a cat’s cradle of possible bullet trajectories, gun barrels pointing every which way. A report came from within the Aston Martin, a bemused hollow end shell piercing the roof of his car, and Palmer’s shoulder jerked back as a beady-eyed cop shot him with a .38. From a hole in his upper torso rushed blood, making him look, in his Polo shirt, as if he’d swum through a swamp. Cuffed and transported to Alta Bates Hospital to be treated–the .22 stashed in his pocket confiscated but quickly handed back because his parents chummed around with Republican senators in whose beds the NRA slept; his journal, with its “drunken nonsense”, tossed into the back stacks of evidence, to be forgotten in the onslaught of new cases–soon after all of that, the gunshot wound he’d incurred would be alcohol-cleansed by a pasty-faced nurse who’d smirk every time Palmer would wince. And there, at The Coconut, he would recover from his alcoholism, as well as, according to his mother, first to speak to the admitting psychiatrist, “his wild imagination. Stitches around faces — ridiculous.”
At St. Patrick’s–a boarding school in New Hampshire that spread across two-hundred and fifty acres, with Georgian, colonial and gothic architectural shells around sturdy frames housing grades seven through twelve–an inexorable rain hammered.
Inside Harlan House’s red brick walls, Palmer, a clean mask of curiosity on his face, asked, “What’s smoked bourbon?”
“Oh, well, just something that makes you loopy,” Wright quipped, grinning around teeth that reminded Palmer of slanted scarecrows.
And in his flannel smoking jacket, Mr. Hargrove, the dorm master, rounded the corner of the first form wing and announced, “Lights out all, and to all, lights out!”
For a moment Palmer complied, but when he heard Hargrove’s footfalls receding down the hall, he jumped out of bed, flicked on his flashlight and leaned toward his trunk that served as a coffee table. He withdrew from within a blank journal that, over the ruts in the road, along the suicide curves of his life, would become an omen that felt more to him then like a talisman. In the charcoal-patterned book, he set about the task of recording last night’s terrifying foray into that movie, The Bestiary, to free himself from its grip, the brass knuckles of which had shoved him onto this perilous journey.
While rain pounded his windows, he scrawled, “With my best friends from home, Archibald and Winslow… Besides the guy, we were the only ones in the theatre. The ticket-tearer, the candy guy, the guy–somehow both the same man, even though neither left their stations. I don’t know, I just… I don’t know.
“Inside, I focused. The movie was horrendous. In a good way. Dead bodies, strange beasts. The head beast–I loved him and feared him, as if I was split in two like the yin/yang.
“As we watched the film, the guy came to stand near me. The theatre was so dark, but I could, like, feel him. He had hunger in his eyes, and he just looked at me. He was going to eat me, I think… God, I don’t know, it was all so… so…
“He looked at me, and then the lights of the movie screen grew a bit brighter.
“I felt his sweetly fetid breath on my neck, and he whispered to me, ‘They’re real.’ He said it again, louder. And again, making sure I heard him. ‘I would know,’ his voice, now a bellow, seemed to punch—no, actually punched the walls, as if to break itself out of confinement. ‘I’m the filmmaker behind it. I’m Dim Brighton. And they are real.’
“This fact,” the prep school kid wrote in his journal, rain now starting to teem, buckets of it running down his dorm room window. “This fact…” But by God, he couldn’t do it, couldn’t break the bars of his cage, he couldn’t unclasp the steel trap around his leg. Reeling from this realization, Palmer threw the pen at his trunk. He’d told himself he needed to write it, to solve a mystery so it no longer compelled him. But… he’d faltered. He’d failed. Falling onto his bed, he balled into the fetal position, praying that his soul, his lamb of a soul, be spared the imminent sacrifice.
Just as Palmer had, the rain grew timid. Before his squinted eye, the storm parted like curtains, its two streams then dissipating into trickles. His gaze caught the moon stroking the pitch-black night with beams of soft light, and he glimpsed that light halo his periphery. The halo dissolved expeditiously, but, in its short life, it glowed like the movie screen. Like the circular clock in his future doctor’s office. Like the fire within him that sparked as if from a flame thrower. Pausing, running a hand down his face, he took up his pen and returned to the scene:
“This fact… Ok, ok, I’ll drown my fear of it in words. Here goes…
“I know, really, when he said “they’re real” he was just talking about the dead bodies in the movie–that those were real. Dim, the ticket-tearer, the candy guy, had used real body parts in the making of ‘The Bestiary’. From some medical school? I don’t know, I, I–
“Ok, so in the theatre, all the seats but Archie’s, Win’s and mine empty, I turned from the movie screen, from the main character with stitches around his face, I turned to peer at Dim standing next to me. The unknown… I guess I was curious about it.
“After a moment, the last shadows of the theatre dissolved, and I saw him fully for the first time. He had stitches. Dim Brighton was a beast like those on celluloid: pearl-shaped face, crimson-tinged skin, narrowed eyes, razor-sharp lips…
“I felt a fingernail–it was scraping me along my jaw, up my cheeks, along the outside of my face, etching into my skin a close approximation of a circle. It hurt. God did it hurt. Archibald and Winslow exclaimed they saw a torrent of blood, but, as the fingernail completed its journey, I felt only warmth. Warmth–maybe I did bleed that night. Was it some sort of release?
“‘Watch,’ Dim then urged, so I slid my eyes back to the screen. My features blurry there, I did, in fact, recognize myself in the movie, in ‘The Bestiary’. There in that rickety theatre seat I felt my arms, my legs, my chest to see if I still existed in any way I could understand…
“I was surrounded… God no, surrounded by–“
Though Palmer needed to scrawl the rest of it, the guts of the scene expounded completely, flayed open, enwrapped his fingers, ripping loose the Bick. His survival instinct bloomed, and with its army, he reached for the pen to see it done, to snap the pen in two. The journal slipped from his lap as ink, like so much blood, spattered his pants and the mattress and the trunk and the rug. Dark, dark was the jungle-like road he trod. He’d thought in writing it down, he’d broker a peace treaty. He would never try to write it again, the undertaker of booze and meds and time burying the memory of The Marigold in a shallow grave of the subconscious. The rest of that moistness in his skull, what courage remained, would demand the journal accompany him, though, as if it was a guardian angel, M14 slung over its shoulder.
And thus, as in the villages and rice fields of Vietnam, a battle of dark and light was born.
For now, though, he felt nothing but agony. Just something that makes you loopy, Wright had said. His crooked smile, formed around those mysterious words, had been convincing–a harbinger of relief? Maybe. Palmer took a deep breath, balled his hands into fists. Standing, leaving his room, checking to see that Mr. Hargrove was cloistered away in his apartment, he stalked to his friend’s down the hall, soon to find out his friend had booze, plain and simple.
Back to his quarters he’d sway about an hour later. The two of them, he and Wright, would never speak again as Palmer would drink almost all of it, dribbling very little, licking up what did escape the seal of mouth and bottle–a booze-hound if ever there was one. Once back in bed, he would curl up, hazy images of beasts cavorting on the screen in his mind. Tears would pool at the corners of his eyes, and he’d raise Wright’s gun, the .22 he’d pilfer before exiting his room. He’d fiddle with the trigger, squeezing it, releasing it, squeezing it, releasing, until unconsciousness would take him.
In his office, Dr. Rutherford, placing his fingers in a steeple as his patient seemed to rouse from a place of some sort of sleep, said to him, “You’re ready.” His eyes alight, the doctor declared, “Now it is time for you to dig even deeper, to understand yourself in totality.”
No! Palmer pulled from his pocket the .22, its hollow end shells so primed for action they practically vibrated. Against his skull he pushed the business end. Baring his teeth, he gibbered to himself, “No more pain no more agony case closed!”
With a flinch, he pulled the trigger, 135 decibels of sound concussing the walls around them, echoing, fading and then vanishing. A pause ensued, in which Palmer’s eyes fluttered open. His breath hitched as he looked at himself then frantically searched his body. There was no blood soaking his clothes, his heart continued to distantly beat, his mind continued to wheel round and round and the amazement of this inundated him with feelings: elation, disappointment, rage, confusion, regret, anxiety. Inevitably, the feelings overwhelmed him. Numbness took over, coating his nerves as if it was smoked bourbon.
Take them, take them, have a ball! Sleepy, comatose, dead to all!
No, no, he thought, cringing—-no more running. Running’s not, running is not working.
So with one last look at his therapist, he closed his eyes. Fear dragged him into a cave by a hook that gouged into his mind, but he followed it, a wayward but obedient dog.
Dr. Rutherford said softly, “They’re real, Palmer. They are, and I want to explore what that really means.”
And Palmer saw…
… Pearl-shaped faces, these being the only faces, crimson-tinged skin, narrowed eyes, razor-sharp lips, stitches…
Stitches running around their circumferences…
Blood. Blood swamping the floor…
His heart was beating harder, stronger now, like palms on a tom-tom drumming the dance of a war. He wanted to declare a winner before any more pain was wrought. A winner between his selves, between his mind and heart–one wanting denial, the other truth, respectively, of what he sensed were the events that had happened in that Cambridge movie theatre, what it meant for him and whether he could live with it or not. Yes, launched when he was twelve, this war had torn him apart. He’d strained against the ties of self-destruction, only to fray like loose thread time and again.
He’d done his part to block it, the memory of that childhood experience. It was the damn doctor who kept bringing it up, sending him spiraling into madness.
A counter tattoo his mind thrummed, what would be clinically termed: “a song of repression”. Opening his eyes, seeing no other alternative, Palmer pointed the gun at Dr. Rutherford.
Clearing his throat, the psychiatrist murmured with fever in his voice, “You can be real, Palmer. You can show to others what you secret away, a personal truth that might, you fear, be seen as a lie.”
The patient’s eyes widened, and through the veil of the past he saw it all, the event in question, the impossible truth that had so defined him.
A pounding on the door of The Marigold Theatre, wherein sat Archibald, Winslow, and Palmer.
Corpses split open, blood swamping the floor–the sound stage’s floor. The set was made to look like a basement in the making of The Bestiary, which was the film now being screened before them.
Two FBI agents entered, wrapped in trench coats, their eyes dark where a desperate gleam hadn’t set in, for the case didn’t own them yet.
“Mr. Brighton? Dim Brighton?” asked Rock.
They approached the filmmaker, both coming to stand by a row of empty seats.
“Where did you get the bodies in your movie?” barked Peanut.
“Why do you want to know?”
“We’ve heard,” elaborated the wide-shouldered agent, “that, well, they’re actual human body parts, Mr. Brighton.”
“And we demand to know how you procured them.”
“You’ll have to wait for the sequel, just like everybody else.” Smiling, Dim’s teeth blazed white against the darkness.
Leaning up and into his personal space, tilting his soft chin, the diminutive Peanut took on the countenance of Ho Chi Minh. Rock bowed his head in silence, trademark mousiness exuding from a henchmen’s frame.
Appraising them both, fearing arrest or worse, Dim exhaled, long and hard, and said, “They’re just modeling clay, fake blood, and string dipped in wax for ligaments, yarn for muscle—low budget. They’re not actual body parts–not real. They are convincing, though–accepted by the masses, you could say. Even you.” With a flourish of his hands, he finished, “It’s the magic of Hollywood.”
In his therapist’s office, Palmer’s voice, a once lost radio signal, had found its transponder, now broadcasting across all bands. He listened as his patient grew louder, growling that…
The two agents–unsatisfied by the filmmaker’s explanation but without an arrest warrant, convinced Dim was party to goings-on far more supernatural–grudgingly turned to one another then sauntered out of the theatre.
Around those remaining The Marigold started to change. Accompanied by a rumbling, as if the whole of it were a throat expelling mucus, the walls extended outward, the roof stretched by curving its rafters until they looked like the glistening ribs of a massive animal. Around Dim, Palmer and his friends the theatre had become some sort of ribcage.
And the heart within it:
The heart was this: a circle. From the light on the screen emerged the strange celluloid beasts. Their flickering reached Palmer, spinning kaleidoscopically into bodies that huddled around him. They began to shift in place, then began to move, then began to pick up the wellingtons on their feet and stomp them down with shuddering booms. This, the dancing around Palmer, was done while nuzzling the halo of stitches on their faces.
A mirror hanging on a wall shimmered, like a pool of water solidifying into bright white ice. Through the spaces between the surrounding bestiary, Palmer caught his reflection. He saw himself looking just like them, like Dim Brighton, with stitches around the circumference of his face. The pain of those stitches was unbelievable, stretching the muscles above and underneath like taffy. For solace and comfort, he turned to Archibald and Winslow.
His friends, though, they had already fled.
Palmer was surrounded by beasts, and, in a sudden loneliness that gripped him, he saw he really was one of them. How could he ever tell anyone of this? They’d never believe it. They’d accuse him of being crazy. Worse, of lying.
They’d accuse him of being phony, inside and out.
Shaking in his chair, the barrel pointed at Rutherford, Palmer’s finger pulled on the trigger, tighter, tighter, while he shouted…
… That he then pushed aside the beasts and barreled out of the theatre’s door, into the pitch-black night.
Silence took the reins in the office; the only possible sound would’ve come from the gun if it’d been unoiled, which it wasn’t. Years of trauma crumpled Palmer’s face. Dr. Rutherford watched his patient’s trigger finger, his own eyes hooded. Taking a deep breath, he said, “It’s as if a long line of stitches snakes along your second face, the one within, the one that beats at the center of your being, and those stitches thread in and out of both faces, tying them off in elaborate knots, making the shape of a perfect, unbroken circle.” The second hand of the circular wall clock swept along, ticking softly. His doctor leaned in. “The stitches glow, Palmer. They glow.”
He snapped his fingers, and Palmer looked.
“It’s as if your stitches then unwind, their gossamer threads falling to the floor. Arising in their stead is a scar, from a wound incurred when you were a kid, a traumatic experience that then drove all of you to the edge, worry and regret, loneliness and turmoil tearing you apart. You, though, you are now stitched closed, and the scar is nothing but character. It is proof. Proof that you are whole.
“Once held in the arms of a monstrous life, asleep and screaming, now you have awoken.”
Palmer’s tense facial muscles began to soften.
“All one need do is tell their truth to someone, the stories they keep secreted away, those they hold inside, like you’ve just done with me,” said Rutherford, continuing, “and a person heals.”
With an exhalation of breath, Palmer’s whole body loosened. His whole body slackened until he slumped in his wicker chair. Dr. Rutherford’s belief–the faith he had in him despite his diagnosis of PTSD, or perhaps because of it–was an extraction, a pipe yanked from a wall, his load-bearing nightmare collapsing. Exhausted, Palmer let the gun slip to the floor, and he fell into his doctor’s arms, weeping. Rutherford tightened around him, sighing, gently patting his shoulder.
The circular wall clock ticked the hour, each of its hands glowing brighter and brighter, like the dawn. Shoulders finally straightening, Palmer lifted his head, his wet eyes locking on his therapist. With a smile inching up his cheeks, he murmured, “I have to… I need to call Charles, my AA sponsor. It’s been a while–a lot to tell him.”
A radiant glow filled the room. Both men quietly assumed it to be the sun. But what you dismissed, denied, or reasoned away could still exist, correct? Even if you didn’t know it? “Yes,” said Dr. Rutherford. “Let him in. Tell him of your beasts. Then tell anyone else who will listen.”
With degrees from UC Berkeley and BU’s College of Communication, David Connor has been publishing, here and there, since 1998. His other available work can be found at Mystery Tribune, online edition. Currently, he lives and writes in Maryland, and has a remote tutoring business.