Wednesday, September 2, 2009


After getting through Sunday – somehow, Jack struggles out of bed Monday morning with no other thought than just getting through the day. He takes his razor and his shaving cream out of his bathroom cabinet.

“Put one foot in front of the other,” he says to himself in his mirror. “One foot in front of the other, and it will be over soon.”

He’s not sure what will be over soon – his nightmare, his life, his situation, his work day — but he knows he can’t spend his time cowering in bed, clinging to his Winnie the Pooh night light for sanity, wondering when he will follow Pat and Josh and Liz into… wherever they are. He doesn’t know, he can’t know where they’ve gone, but he’s pretty sure that fun house corridor that haunts his dreams figures in there somewhere. He wonders who replaced Liz. He wonders who will replace him.

He shivers, then grins into the mirror, with an attempt at laughing in the face of danger. A ghastly deaths-head grins back at him, and it is only then that he remembers he is supposed to get his doctor’s permission to come back to work. His illness of the previous week, that purely physical misery of dripping nose and phlegm filled chest has faded to insignificance against this horrible feeling of having the carpet of his life whipped out from under his feet. He wants to phone Josh and complain about work. He wants to go back in time to that tequila night with Liz, and replay it exactly as it was, with all of the coulda-shoulda-wouldas and frustrated desires. He wants the old Liz, the one thought of him as a buddy and who didn’t thrill and surprise him by taking him to bed. He wants the old Josh, the one who was his best friend and sometimes his rival, whom he understood and who understood him like no one else. And he really, really wants Pat. He wants to go with Pat to the next level, maybe even to that place where old married couples say: “Of course our marriage lasted. I
married my best friend.”

Sitting on the examination table in the doctor’s office, Jack opens his mouth for the wooden popsicle stick thing, and says “aww,” on cue. He holds his breath and takes deep breaths for the stethoscope on his chest. He even stands up bends over and coughs as directed. He doesn’t like the cough one, but he assumes the doctor has a reason for getting so up close and personal with his private parts. He suffers having lights shone into his ears and eyes, his blood pressure and temperature taken, and then his weight.

“You seem healthy enough,” the doctor says. “You probably just had a viral infection.”

The doctor sits at a little desk to write out a permission note for Jack to take to his boss. Jack decides that he’s not going to mention anything about Josh and Liz and Pat. But then the doctor ruins it all by saying: “Sometimes even after the obvious symptoms are finished, the runny nose and cough and aches and pains, you can be quite fatigued. Might take a few days until you’re feeling up to snuff.”

Jack suddenly feels very fatigued. He nods at the doctor, grateful to have a physical reason for his mental state, then freezes when the doctor asks, in a conversational tone: “Anything else bothering you?”

Jack wants to shake his head, to say “Oh no, I’m fine,” in a carefree voice. But his traitor mouth blurts out: “My friends are disappearing and being replaced by strangers.”

It’s the doctor’s turn to freeze. He even stops writing. “They are?” he asks.

Jack wants to deny it, say he was joking, but his voice seems to have a mind of its own. “Yes,” he says. “It’s happened over a few weeks. First Pat disappeared, then Josh, and now Liz.”

The doctor seems to be waiting, so Jack adds: “Alice replaced Pat and Peter replaced Josh, but I’m not sure who’s replaced Liz. I haven’t met her yet.”

“Are Alice and Peter duplicates of Pat and Josh?” the doctor asks in a suspiciously calm voice. “Do they look the same?”

Whatever the response Jack was expecting, it wasn’t this. “No!” he says. “How would they look the same? They’re different people.”

The doctor says, “There is a rare psychiatric condition where people become convinced that either objects or people in their lives are replaced by exact duplicates.”

“Really?” asks Jack. “Now that is nuts.” He looks doubtfully at the doctor, glances at the medical diploma on the wall.

“I didn’t make it up,” the doctor says, a bit defensively, ” it’s called Crapgras’ delusion.”

“Crapgras?” Jack asks, and snickers.

“Google it if you don’t believe me,” the doctor says. Then, taking back control: “Have you had any head injuries? Any sports injuries or concussions?” He picks up the little light to shine in Jack’s eyes again. “No,” says Jack. The doctor asks Jack about the replacement friends, and Jack does his best to answer, telling the doctor what they look like and who they are, and how they’re different from Josh and Liz and Pat.

“How do you feel about them?” the doctor asks.

This is a question Jack hasn’t considered, and it takes him a moment to figure it out.

“They’re nice enough, I suppose,” Jack says.

“So, you don’t feel ill-will towards them. You don’t wish them harm? You don’t want to hurt them?”

“No,” Jack says, confused. “I don’t feel much about them at all. They’re like people you meet at a party and never expect to see again. They’re pleasant enough to talk to, but that’s it. I just wish they didn’t all seem to think that they know me.”

The doctor sits back at his desk, swivels around in his chair a couple of times. “You’ve got me stumped,” he says. “I can get you in for some tests, but I don’t think you have a brain tumor or anything like that. You don’t have headaches?”

Jack shakes his head. “Brain tumor?” he thinks.

“I’m going to try and get you in to see a psychiatrist,” the doctor says. “but it might take awhile.”

Jack nods, glad he didn’t tell the doctor about the Winnie the Pooh night light. He imagines that might speed up a psychiatrist’s appointment, and he isn’t at all sure that he wants to see a psychiatrist. Especially if that’s not going to bring Pat and Liz and Josh back.

“I’m going to write you out a prescription,” the doctor says. “For your anxieties.”

Jack nods, reluctant.

“It’s mild,” the doctor says.

“Should I go back to work today?” Jack asks.

“Do you want to?” the doctor asks, surprising Jack.

“Not especially,” Jack says.

The doctor nods and tears up the note he first wrote, and scribbles a new one. “Two weeks off enough?” he asks.

“Two weeks would be good,” Jack says.

The doctor hands Jack the note. “We’ll get back to you about the psychiatrist appointment,” he says. Then, surprising Jack again with his sympathetic tone: “Get the prescription filled and go home. Take it easy for a few days.”

Outside of the doctor’s office, Jack slumps against the wall. A woman walking up the street makes a wide detour to avoid him, as if he were a vagrant or a crazy person: someone who shouldn’t be allowed out be themselves. A glance at himself in the reflection of the window makes Jack think she’s right to be scared. He doesn’t look too good.

Jack pulls himself together and heads off down the sidewalk towards the pharmacy to get his prescription filled. He keeps his eyes downcast as he walks, and because of that, he notices a glint of glass in the gutter.

As he gets closer, he sees that the glass is the crystal of a watch – a watch with an odd logo on the face of it, an Expo 86 logo.

Jack dives into the street to retrieve it, heedless of the cars that are going by, of the other pedestrians, of everything except that watch. Josh’s watch. He grabs it, and finds himself hauled to the sidewalk by a good Samaritan.

“You can’t just run into traffic like that.” someone says. “You’re going to get yourself killed.”

Jack looks into the face of his rescuer, the woman who’d avoided him outside the doctor’s office. He opens his mouth, expecting to hear himself thank her. Instead what comes out is:

“Lady, Expo 86. Was it real?”

The woman loosens her grip on him and backs away, frightened.

“Pardon me?” she says.

“Was there an Expo 86?” Jack asks. “I have to know.”

“Yes, there was,” she says faintly, backing away, and then Jack is off and running. He doesn’t know where he’s going or what he’s going to do, but it’s pointless to get his prescription filled. Anxiety medication isn’t going to help.


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