Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Time (11/15/12)
TITLE: Eighty-Seven Seconds
By Addie Pleasance
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“Just Joan,” I reply. “I don’t care much for doctor.” I show Mary to a comfortable chair, take her jacket, wait for her to speak. When she is silent for three full minutes, I decide to help her out.
“Mary, why have you come here today?”
She looks up at me. “I shouldn’t have come. You won’t believe me, either. You’ll think I’m…”
I wait again.
Mary gulps in air, then pushes out a sentence. “I’ve been traveling through time.”
This is unexpected. I mentally inventory diagnoses that include delusions: schizophrenia, drug use, paraphrenia. “Tell me more about that,” I say.
“Well. Sometimes I just…find myself in another time. It only lasts for a moment. I can see people, but I can’t hear anything. It’s like I’m…just observing for a little bit. And then it’s gone, and I’m…back.”
I study Mary for a moment. Though she’s obviously distressed, she’s articulate and intelligent, and her gray eyes dare me to dismiss her claim. “Tell me about the last time it happened,” I say.
Mary’s lips twitch; it’s almost a smile. “It was just a few minutes ago, in your waiting room. Is this…was this a house once?”
I nod. I’ve set up my office in a neighborhood of pre-war brick houses. This one was built in 1927, and I’ve kept as much of the original atmosphere as possible in the crown moldings, the pounded tin ceilings, the fireplaces.
Mary continues. “I saw a woman walking to the door. She received a telegram, and her hand went to her mouth. She stumbled, then she sat in a chair and wept. But I think…I think she was weeping for joy.”
“And what makes you think you had traveled through time?”
“The woman’s clothes. The telegram. The items in the room. It was all very real. More real than I was, at that moment. I couldn’t have imagined all that detail.” Mary sighs. “Doctor…Joan. The woman’s apron was trimmed with blue rick-rack. There was a coffee stain on the davenport.”
As we continue to talk for the rest of Mary’s fifty minutes, I learn that she is single, a substitute schoolteacher, a voracious reader. She is sharply witty once she has relaxed, and we laugh together when she shares more of her time travels. They are place-specific—she had an episode in the library where she observed a young couple kissing in the Anthropology section, the girl’s poodle skirt knocking a book off the shelf. In a friend’s home, she saw an old man and woman; the man appeared to be reading a novel aloud while the woman crocheted.
When her session is over, Mary agrees to see me again. I have not told her that I don’t believe she’s traveling through time, but neither have I outright dismissed her claim. Over our next several sessions, I decide that she is a lonely woman with a vivid imagination fueled by romance novels.
One sunny afternoon, we walk together to a nearby park and sit on a bench. Mary is telling me about her childhood when she stops talking, closes her eyes. I wait, looking at my watch. This is the first time I have observed one of Mary’s episodes. After eighty-seven seconds, she opens her eyes.
“Mary, what have you seen?” I ask.
For the first time since I’ve been working with Mary, she is wide-eyed, panting a little. “Joan, it was you, I think. Your hair was long, and darker. You were slimmer…” She pauses, smiles. “You were wearing a miniskirt. You were here, in this park, and you got into a cab. There was a man with long hair…he ran toward you, but you didn’t see him. He stood here and watched you go. His shoulders slumped. He sat down…” We both look down at our bench. “He put his head in his hands. Then I was back here.”
Steve. It was Steve that she saw, on the day that I pushed him away. He didn’t fit into my plans: grad school, my own practice. I was heady with rights in those days. We had lunch at the café across the street; I left him there. But as I’d pulled away in the cab, I’d thought if you loved me, you would come back. You would run to me.
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