17

WHEN THE LAST patient left the therapy room Allison was called in next. Outwardly, she looked to be everything an insomniac should be, but on the inside she felt like betraying herself, once again knocking on Satan’s door, dangling her soul between her fingertips in exchange for another pathetic glimpse of normality.

“Come on in,” said Dr. Cooke behind the closed door, who spun around in her leather chair just as she opened it. “Please, take a seat.”

She walked over to that familiar couch and sat down.

“How have you been, Allison?”

“Could be better.”

“It’s good to have you back.”

“I wish I could agree with you. Certainly I would much rather have my prescription work out the first time around.”

“I can understand your frustration. I do very much have the same hope for all of my patients, but unfortunately, that can’t always be the case. You see, every person reacts to pharmaceuticals differently. What works for others might not work as well for you. To get it right is indeed the tricky part.”

Despite the doctor’s well-intentioned response, she merely regarded it as a defense mechanism. Though she figured, the eagerer she was to cooperate, the quicker the session would end. After all, she was the one asking for help and therefore knew better this time to quiet her negativity from the get-go and go with the flow.

“So, what seems to be the problem?”

“I’ve been having nightmares pretty much every night since I started taking it.”

“That’s roughly two weeks.”

“It was working better in the beginning, but then a few days into it, the bad dreams became more frequent to now waking me every night.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. That is in fact a common side effect for this type of drug. Have you tried not taking it?”

“I have, but then I’d have no luck falling asleep at all.”

“It’s understandable. Do you remember some of these dreams by chance?”

“Some.”

“What are they like?”

“Dark… gloomy, sometimes violent. They all took place in the most distressing environments imaginable.”

“I see. And, among these dreams, do you see a connection?”

“I never really thought about that.”

“That’s okay. Take your time.”

“I’d say no, not really.”

“You sure? Are there perhaps similarities, or reappearing elements that you might have noticed?”

There was, indeed, one very enthralling detail that Allison had recognized early on yet was dreading to bring up. It seemed silly to be frightened by something as trivial as dreams, but just at the thought of Megan in all of them gave her the creeps. As much as she would like to not mention her, she had to.

“You are referring to your late sister-in-law.”

She nodded.

“What kind of a person was she?”

“You mean in the dreams?”

“Sure.”

“Hostile. Confrontational. Not that she was any nicer in person.”

“What does she usually do? In these dreams.”

She gave it a thought. “Very often she… rises from the dead, in various messed-up scenarios my brain manages to crop up.”

“I see.” Hoping to finally shed light on the root cause of her chronic stress, Dr. Cooke encouraged her to recount one of the dreams in detail. “We are in no hurry. Just do your best.”

Calmly, she projected her mind on the phantasmagoria of horror that disrupted her sleep last night, and set out to tell it like she would a story:

“I walked down this dreary corridor to get to apartment 33. The old woman who lived there let me in. While she tried to calm down her dog, I maneuvered through the floor of empty boxes to get to a door ajar. Through its gap, I saw a bathtub overflowing with the faucet running. I went in to turn it off and the door shut behind me. With the ceiling light flickering, I noticed Megan’s body submerged in the tub of water. When I reached under to check her pulse, she grabbed my arm. I fought and broke free, immediately turned for the door, which was no longer there. She got out of the tub and came at me. I shielded my face, but I never felt the presumed attack. I peeked when I heard a splash and saw blood come surging from the tub, jetting towards me. I got swept under in seconds. I couldn’t breath, and eventually woke up coughing and spluttering as if I was going to choke to death in my sleep…”

As her narrative came to a close, Dr. Cooke jumped to ask the few questions she jotted down. “Remind me, if you will, how long ago did Megan pass away?”

“It’s going on four weeks.”

“You’ve mentioned that you were quite distant.”

“That’s right.”

“Allow me to be frank. It seems to me that you weren’t particularly fond of her.”

“What gave you that idea?”

She gave no answer, patiently awaiting a response.

Allison decided to stop pretending. “You are right. I wasn’t. But it was not without good reason.”

“I’m sure. Which was?”

“She slept with my husband.”

Dr. Cooke was disturbed for a second. “Are they not real siblings?”

“She’s his stepsister.”

Relieved, she nodded in comprehension. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“That’s okay. It’s in the past.”

“Was it just one time?”

“As far as I know... Can we change the subject now?”

“Why? Does talking about it make you uncomfortable?”

“No. I just… I just don’t find it productive.”

Dr. Cooke looked at her notes briefly and resorted to come in from a different angle. “This dream of yours, is it a reoccurring one?”

“No.”

“Perhaps the number ‘33’ means something to you?”

“It doesn’t, except for the apartment I visited last week.”

“Oh? Was it the same place as in the dream?”

“Yes, but I never went in.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t really know her personally.”

“The old woman?”

“Yes.”

“Then — what made you visit her?”

So as to avoid touching on Adrian’s issues, Allison did not plan on telling the whole truth. “I was actually there to see my brother. She’s a friend of his that he’s staying with. It was just a short meeting, a ‘hi and bye’ sort of thing. After that, he and I left for lunch.”

“I see. Do you guys meet up often?”

“My brother and I?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Not as much as I’d like.”

“Is he an older brother?”

“By six years, but we were very close growing up.”

“My younger brother and I are also six years apart. My parents adopted him when he was eleven. Growing up in our house, he was nicer to me than any of my older, biological siblings. Even now, he sends me roses every birthday and Christmas. Dare I say that I sense a similar bond between you guys?”

Allison’s lips curled into a smile.

“So, what kind of a brother is he?”

Because of his poor repute, Adrian was almost never raised as a subject for discussion among her family and friends. This would be her rare chance to talk to someone about him in a good light. “He’s a… he’s always been sweet and protective. He would do pretty much anything for me in my best interest.”

“Sounds like he’s been there for you.”

“He’s also the most supportive of me. I don’t tell many people, but he was the one who inspired me to become a writer.”

“Is he one too? Does he have any published work?”

“No. He gave that up very early on, but he could have been a great one for sure. He won the National Juvenile Writer Award three consecutive years starting from second grade.”

“That’s impressive.”

“It is. And that’s only one of the highly regarded composition awards he’s won among many others over those years.”

“What happened in the fourth year?”

“I’m not too sure. I was only four years old at the time. I guess something distracted him and made him lose interest in writing. That happened to be the same year he lit his bedroom on fire...”

“He lit his bedroom on fire? A ten-year-old?”

“It wasn’t as terrible as it sounds. He was playing with a box of cigars and a lighter… Well, to be honest, if anyone was to blame, it should have been our father. He should have stored those things more carefully, really.”

“And, you were with him when he did it?”

“Of course. My brother would never let me miss something like that. Though I was too young to remember much. I just know that I ended up crying, and Mrs. Gomez was there shortly —”

“Mrs. Gomez?”

“She was my nanny. Anyway, nobody got hurt in the end except for our father’s wallet. But that was a minor loss in comparison to what could have been disastrous...”

Hardly did Allison open up to people she barely knew; this, was an undeniable breakthrough. While the conversation was going well, right then, Dr. Cooke made a catastrophic mistake.

“So, what is Adrian up to these days?”

Like a bolt from the blue, her question hit Allison, who immediately resumed her guard. “I don’t recall ever telling you my brother’s name.”

Dr. Cooke was disappointed in herself upon her slip of the tongue. Judging by the distrusting look on Allison’s face, she knew it was too late for regrets and so opted for coming clean. “Your mother came by the office last Friday. She told me about your relationship with Adrian.”

“So I see you’ve gone behind my back to have your little discussion. That’s not very professional of you.”

“Well, I won’t turn away an opportunity to learn about my patient when it is presented to me. If I do that, it wouldn’t be very professional of me either now, would it? She also touched on your history of depression, which you left out mentioning in your health assessment.”

Feeling ambushed, Allison was plain pissed off. Dr. Cooke sensed her indignation, and decided to make an effort to vindicate Brenda’s action. “She did it out of concern for you.”

“You don’t know my mother.”

“If it wasn’t such a sensitive topic, I’m sure she wouldn’t have had to intervene like she did.”

“Our family matters are none of your business, so stay out of them.”

“It was never my intention to pry, Mrs. Skala. Although —”

“Then don’t! You could have turned her away instead of doing something so underhanded.”

“I can understand your frustration.”

“No you don’t! You can’t begin to understand how I feel.”

As Allison’s voice got louder in anger, Dr. Cooke purposely stopped talking for a moment for her to calm down.

It hardly worked.

“Forgive me. But with all due respect, it is my job as a psychiatrist to analyze my patients and put forth recommendations where I see fit.”

“Humph. If after this pointless chat you advise me to stay away from him, don’t bother. I’ve already had the same counseling too many times in the past, thank you very much.”

“That’s not what I was going to do —”

“Save it! I don’t care about your opinions! I love my brother, period. There’s no one in the world that can stop me from talking to, or for that matter, seeing him. Not my parents then, and certainly, not you now.”

“I am sorry about what happened to Adrian, truly I am. But I must agree with Mrs. Crawford, I do see a bigger issue that we are dealing with here —”

“I came today to have my prescription replaced, not chitchat about my family. Can I please just have that, and I will be out of your way.”

All the tension built up in the room eventually demolished their potential acquaintanceship. Reluctantly, Dr. Cooke put a stop to her analysis and wrote out an alternate prescription.

“I cannot stress enough. This is only a temporary solution. In the end, you must address the underlying problem if you are to —”

Not waiting for her message to come across, Allison hurried to snatch the piece of paper from her hand and stormed out.

© 2017 by J Y Barris. All Right Reserved.

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