by Robb White
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
At home, his recovery went faster. In a week, he could walk down the stairs unassisted by his wife, who returned to work. In a few more days, he was able to sit in the backyard and feel the sunshine on his face.
A coppery taste remained in his mouth that gargling with mouthwash couldn’t erase from his palate. He never told his wife about the guardian people, and he was sad he could not remember what they had told him — all those magical, uplifting words they had poured into his ears and made him understand how things really were, how everything worked, and how different that world was from his own minuscule knowledge of the world he had fallen back into and put on once more like a worn-out suit.
He and Lydia went to Perkin’s to celebrate his recovery. She liked their omelet selection and something spicy called Ragin’ Cajun. When dessert arrived, he thought he might try to tell her of his out-of-body experiences without mentioning the guardian people.
“That’s creepy,” she said, “but it’s probably normal. You almost died. The doctor said... Well, it doesn’t matter now, does it?”
He agreed, but she needed to understand how important it was.
“It didn’t feel creepy, Lydia,” Adam said, trying to keep an argumentative tone out of his voice.
It was frustrating, like the time he was teaching symbols to his class and used several rock videos from YouTube as teaching devices. He stopped the video to explain to them some Illuminati symbols, such as the hand covering one eye to symbolize the Masonic eye atop the pyramid with its rising sun. The class interjected to suggest it was also the symbol of the Black P-Stone Nation — whatever that was — the circled hands shaped like a rabbit’s head to represent the triple sixes of Satanic lore and other obvious symbols.
“Lady Gaga is an Illuminati puppet,” one of his class members, a goth girl, suggested aloud. Someone in the back of the room piped up: “I suppose you think baby-faced Justin Bieber is a devil-worshipper because I see he’s covering one eye in that thumbnail next to the video.”
A vigorous class argument broke out, and all he could do was hope to bring his unmoored class lesson back to the point and vowed silently to leave pop culture out of everything next time. He wrestled them away from providing more examples of celebrities.
He decided that night to try to write down any words or phrases he remembered from the visit to the room, which he now couldn’t be sure was either an interrogation or an initiation, but like those disappearing dreams at the threshold of waking from a night’s sleep, they were gone from his conscious memory.
Two days later, coming down the steps for breakfast and relieved his appetite had returned, he stopped in the foyer and decided to fetch the paper for the porch. Leaning over to pick it up, he suddenly felt strange; he straightened up. Everything looked normal in his neighborhood on this bright early autumn in the street for this time of day. But it was if a door had suddenly opened — or been flung wide open by something in his head.
He heard sounds and smelled odors that took him back to his childhood home, the kitchen in winter, his room, and then he heard music. It was no song he could recognize but something like a mashup of 70’s songs from his college days. He was thinking of the word synaesthesia, that mix of senses in literary description, when the sounds became louder, and the morning light seemed to intensify colors like an incandescent bulb. He stood with one hand closing the flap of his bathrobe to preserve modesty, when he surrendered to this extraordinary bubble of light, sound, and color.
When he came to, he was lying on the floor, and his wife was holding a wet hand towel to his forehead where a large jagged cut had opened. He was looking up at her from the bottom of the steps now; his legs splayed across the bottom two. Blood seeped into his eyes while she stanched the gash.
Fifteen stitches closed the cut, but his left eye was swollen shut and turning the color of eggplant. His doctor met him at the hospital and told him there were no obvious signs of brain trauma, such as shadows or detectable masses.
“Do you have a history of seizures?”
“No,” Adam said. “Mental illness, yes.”
“Any history of epilepsy in your family?”
“No,” he said.
The doctor ruled out a grand mal seizure caused by epilepsy because Adam showed no symptoms of the typical clonic muscle-jerking.
Adam remembered the pleasant aura that preceded his blackout. “What about my auditory and olfactory hallucinations?”
“It could be connected. But many things,” his doctor told him, “could be responsible and are much more likely.” He named them: stress, low blood sugar, fever, a stroke. “But your MRI and PET scans are clear, so we can rule that one out.”
“What might have caused my blackout then?” Adam asked. He was still leery of using the word “seizure.”
“All seizures, grand mal and otherwise, stem from bursts of electrical activity in the brain,” the doctor said. “But the cause isn’t clear yet. Don’t worry. We’ll find it.”
Adam thought of electricity snapping over the hemispheres of his brain like some hot-wired gang box. That made him think of those internet memes people exchanged or posted to Facebook from the back provinces of China and India where villagers string wires from telephone poles that make them sag like overgrown tree branches infested with kudzu in the South.
“But it has to be related to my head swelling, right?” Adam suggested.
“Doubtful,” said the doctor. “We’re not ruling that out yet, of course.”
Of course. The trite phrase galled him. He was on the verge of some life-changing event, and the medical professionals he depended on were acting as though he had come in complaining of bunions.
On the ride home, his wife asked him what he was humming.
“I didn’t realize I was,” Adam said. “Did I say words?”
“You said, ‘Tropic of Sir Galahad’.”
Adam shook his head. “I have... no memory... of doing that.”
She started to hum a song that was vaguely familiar from his youth. “’Ventura Highway,’” she said and laughed at him. “Remember it?”
“Oh, God, I must be regressing,” he said. He felt the bandage above his eye. “I’m turning into a goddamned freak in my old age.”
His wife cut her eyes from the road to him. Concern etched its familiar furrows in her face. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” he said.
“You jumped in your seat just now,” she said. She stared at him with a different expression now: alarm. “Like something — like a spider just bit you.”
It wasn’t anything he could explain, but in that instant she had looked over at him, he knew. He knew she was unfaithful to him. And, even more bizarre, he knew she had cheated on him with a man she worked with. She had mentioned him only twice, but he knew for a fact as old and true as water that that man was her lover.
Something else: he’d experienced a momentary flash, a picture had formed and disappeared in his mind at the speed of the Guardians leaving him alone in that room; it was a blinking neon sign with missing letters. He knew it: the Edge-of-Town Motel. And something else, more inexplicable yet just as true as the law of gravity: he had the room number of their liaison. That last item, like a satori, had flickered across his mind with the same degree of absolute knowledge. It was the reason why he had suddenly jerked in his seat. He knew.
He felt a warm pressure on his shoulder and stiffened. He thought his wife might have reached over and touched his shoulder, acting out of shared telepathy, but her hands were still on the wheel and her gaze was intent on the road ahead. Had something crossed between them? Had his knowledge of her guilt passed through the ether between them?
One of the Guardians was back. He didn’t turn his head to see it, but he knew it was just behind him — three in the car. A frisson of fear arced over his spine right to the base of his neck vertebrae. That thing from the hospital was with him now, occupying another dimension but there all the same. Right there!
Adam was at the point of gagging. It couldn’t be explained, but Adam knew it was staring at the back of his head, and it was the means by which he had come to know of the facts of his wife’s infidelity. What he didn’t know was why.
Why me? What does it want? The letdown from almost being privy to the secrets of the universe to this sleazy bedroom betrayal was a farce. One kind of mental anguish tripping over another, all to mock him.
Another question loomed even larger: Am I insane? Thank God, he thought, just one more lecture before final exams.
Adam didn’t think he could keep it together to speak coherently for an hour and fifteen minutes to the best class he had ever had, let alone to his current batch of texting-crazed, indifferent students with their iPhones and god of Wikipedia to worship.
His wife didn’t speak until they pulled into the driveway. She asked him if he wanted lunch. He declined, tried to avoid looking at her directly and slipped off to the den; he told her he had some papers to grade and needed to be undisturbed before class.
He left the house without saying goodbye. He made it into his office without being flagged down by students with excuses. He had chosen something light and easy to end on: a popular story by Joyce Carol Oates about a thug who shows up on one Sunday to seduce a fifteen-year old girl whose head “is full of trashy daydreams.”
Adam had several girls from this class in mind who could as easily have filled the role of Oates’ dim-witted protagonist. Her Connie, however, never had the cell phone-texting/sexting addiction of his students. Adam deplored their thick-skinned, obscene-laden, selfish lives they all wanted to live in public. He saw them as symbols of the end of civilization — at least of modern-day college education. The sooner Phoenix University and its ilk captured these lost thrill-seekers, the better for all. He was leaving next year and good riddance to the whole lot of it: the pettifogging scholarship, administration’s love affair with technology, and the dearth of intellectual interest among his students and colleagues.
Adam began class the way he imagined they did in the Middle ages, with a piece of chalk and something to write on. He listed the names of the characters and their symbolic analogues. Arnold Friend, of course, was Our Old Friend, the archfiend. He wrote happily and talked fluently, knowing this was it for the semester except for the marathon grading ahead.
When he turned around after filling half the blackboard, he faced an empty classroom. Some end-of-semester prank, he thought. Well, the little dears at least showed a sign of life today. But when he turned back to the blackboard, his legs buckled from the shock of what he saw he had done.
It was line after line of unintelligible symbols and mathematical numbers in a neatly drawn formula. No words. Nothing in English anywhere in sight. All math and physics with some chemistry symbols that he had never studied in his life.
He had seen a program on the National Geographic Channel on the hieroglyphics on the columns in Corfu and he thought of that. But even those stick figures seemed intelligible, whether slave, priest class, or kingly. They looked to be what they represented. This — this bizarre business on the board had come from his own hand!
Adam wobbled in front of the board and thought for a second he might collapse to the floor. Dear God, what is wrong with me?
He reached out to hold on to a desk to prevent toppling over. He grabbed an eraser from the tray and hastily wiped everything away in big sweeping arcs of his arm. The thought that colleagues or students might walk past and peer at the board would be a humiliation he could not bear. They were already talking about his near-death experience, and the latest injury from the fall only added to the unwanted attention.
When he had removed the last bizarre symbol with a wild sweep of his arm, he breathed again. He made for the faculty rest room at the end of the corridor. Inside the last stall, Adam threw up the contents of his stomach, mostly a yellow bile.
Insane, insane, insane... You are insane... insane... insane... insane. The words rippled across his inner vision like a warbling bandsaw.
Copyright © 2019 by Robb White