1. The Subway, the Shrink and the Phone Call
One of the problems with people living in the city, among many, is no one ever looks in any direction other than ahead. They may maneuver their heads slightly to take the occasional glance at the next person or respond to sudden movements within their visual radius, but this is usually out of either curiosity or anticipation of being able to make judgments about others. That is why it attracted no attention in the busy subway when Tom suddenly felt the pain in his heart and, like every other time, stopped.
No-one on the platform took any notice of the man standing there, watching two trains pass by and not moving a muscle. “Watching” may not be the appropriate description, because looking closely, his eyes were aimless, as if they were staring at something only he could see. Even the most ignorant of city-dwellers would have noticed this statue of a man if he had frozen for another train, but by the time the doors on the third train slid opened, Tom blinked, looked around for a little, then hurried into the half-empty carriage.
It was not the first time this episode occurred. For the past few weeks Tom had had random attacks of this experience, which promised a sharp pain in his heart followed by a period of suspension of all movements. It so happens that Tom had been alone for most of the times it came, but in the few cases where he had been in public, most observers simply shrugged him off as a strange individual in the midst of daydreaming or some substance-abuser fresh off another session. Unknown to them and anyone other than himself, Tom was in fact, during those periods of immobility, unwillingly preoccupied with a scene entirely in his head.
The first thing he noticed was the dimness. There was no light, but he knew it was not dark. Next thing he found was the fact that he was neither sitting nor standing. He could feel his body, to the extent that he was sure it existed, but could not do so much as flinch. Then came the voice. It seemed to touch his ear, with the kind of seclusion and exclusive intimacy only felt when using expensive headphones. He knew it was speaking to him, and although the words were lost in muffled whispers, he could tell it was something he was required to hear. When the voice left, so too did this state of trance, and Tom was suddenly thrown back into the real world.
He had consulted a doctor and had a body check done, and the report would be sent to him sometime in those few days. His intuition and common sense, however, told him it was not a physical complication. That being said, he also felt it was not a mental problem. He suspected it was something much deeper than what the common mind-body predicaments had to offer. Nevertheless, he went to a psychologist.
“Are you able to move at all in this state?”
“In real life or in the dream?”
“It’s not a dream.”
“Just for discussion’s sake.”
“Neither. I can move in neither.”
“Do you know the person whispering in your ear?”
“No. I can’t turn to see her and I don’t recognize the voice.”
“Does what she say even remotely resemble something you’d understand?”
“As much as French does.”
Tom moved slightly in his recliner, causing a quiet noise of leather friction.
“Am I going crazy?”
His voice was sarcastic, but his eyes were a combination of uneasiness and hopeful denial.
“Everything would be simpler if we all were.” The psychologist gave a cough to void his unappreciated joke.
“Sometimes, your consciousness fails to realize something you know, or for some reason it refuses to acknowledge a truth. There can be more than a few reasons for that, but in any case it does not eradicate the fact that you know it to be true. The mind is a dynamic thing and not easy to suppress, even by the owner, and the more you try to censor it, the more it reveals to you.”
“So what are you saying, I’m trying to tell myself something?”
“There could be something you’ve been refusing to face. Some rooted fear, resentment or regret that you know exists but choose to evade. That’s why I made the connection with dreams earlier, they are essentially the same.”
“Except you don’t start dreaming in the middle of a crossroad on your way to work.”
“Yes, that’s reserved for when you actually get there.” He made a mental note to himself to never tell jokes again.
As Tom left the psychologist’s building, he couldn’t help but feel that he could have better spent those 30 minutes and the ridiculous sum of money. The idea that his experiences were a fabrication in his mind did not have him convinced. Something told him it was an entity much bigger than himself, trying to tell him something. Perhaps this line of thinking was part of the psychologist’s theory that Tom was steering himself from some truth, but he knew it wasn’t.
Tom was two streets away from his home when his phone rang. It was his mother.
“Where are you?”
“On my way home. Something wrong?”
“Your cousin Gary just died.”