Skin of the Night

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Chapter 85: You're A Patient

William

Dr Fielder’s office was a place I quite liked. The old man had fogyish taste that consisted mainly of warm, earthy colours. In front of the largest window stood his dark brown desk of wood, the carved design reminiscent of the nineteenth century. The look of it summoned a memory from my childhood, of when I’d been eleven and seated in the headmaster’s office, accused of assisting my classmates with cheating on a maths test, since I’d been showcasing my answers a little too well.

Dad had been furious, although, not with me. Poor Mr Dickson had had his honour tried that day.

‘You mean to say that because Will didn’t hide his answers sufficiently, he’s helped his classmates cheat? He’s to be held accountable for their misdoings?’ he’d challenged Mr Dickson.

‘They’re all being held accountable, Mr Night,’ Mr Dickson had calmly replied.

'Who are ‘they’?′

‘Andrew Thompson, as well as Blaire Woolfield and Louis Dufort.’

‘This is outrageous. It’s not as if Will was deliberately showcasing his answers. They were stealing glimpses! What’s he supposed to do? He wasn’t even aware that they were doing it!’ He’d turned toward me then. ‘Were you, Will?’

I’d only shaken my head with a huge grin on my face, because in that moment, I’d idolised him intensely. Dad had been my greatest hero all through my childhood, and it hadn’t really changed much over the years. All that had changed was the fact that I’d learned he was only human like the rest of us, and not the invincible, endless power I sometimes mistook him for.

'He wasn’t acting like he was trying to hide them either, Mr Night,' Mr Dickson had murmured.

‘If you’ve got a problem with your students stealing glimpses at your top students’ answers, you should have them take their tests in cubicles. William is innocent, and if you truly mean to suspend him, I might as well never bring him back. I’ll place him in another school that does not practice such a ridiculous policy, and you’ll have lost one of the students that contribute to your school’s renommé.′

‘I might give him a week’s detention instead.’

‘A week’s detention? For what?’ Dad had responded appalled. ‘Being a brilliant student? You disappoint me, Mr Dickson. I will not allow for my son to associate hard work with punishment. He ought to be rewarded!’

I hadn’t had to sit a minute of detention, and I’d left Mr Dickson’s office with a pocket full of mint sweets.

Unlike Mr Dickson’s, there were no photographs on top of Dr Fielder’s desk. Around it, bookshelves of a reddish brown colour covered every hint of a wall, and they were filled to the brim.

During the customary shallow introductions that first time, we’d bonded over books. As an avid reader, I’d been delighted to see that Dr Fielder shared my enthusiasm for literature. I’d laid notice to ’Sapiensby Yuval Noah Harari on his small coffee table between two leather lounge chairs, so I’d asked him whether he’d read The Blind Watchmaker’ by Richard Dawkins. ‘I have,’ he’d responded with a shrewd gleam in his eye. ‘Would you say you’re a religious man, Mr Night?’ he’d then continued, and I’d realised before I answered ‘No’ that my therapy had already commenced.

During today’s session, I wasn’t being particularly cooperative, but it wasn’t on purpose. Since I’d hardly slept, my mind was rather cloudy.

“How’s the nightmares?” Gregory queried after a moment of silence, black Montblanc pen pausing in his Moleskine notebook. Psychologists, especially those as indisputably talented as him, often unsettled me, because it sometimes seemed like he was inside my head, carefully observing my thoughts, like a surgeon performing invisible surgery on my brain.

“Terrible.”

“No improvement since last?”

“No. It’s gotten worse.”

“Worse?”

“Quite so.”

“How often do they occur?”

“Every night now.”

“More than once per night?”

I met his brown eyes. “I had six just last night.”

His dark grey eyebrows lifted just slightly, revealing that he found this notable. Sure enough, he was quick to dribble the information down.

“Six is a lot. Have you had six in one night before?”

“No. I’m exhausted.”

“Sweat, too?”

“Was forced to change the sheets this morning.”

“Is there something I should know about, Will? Has anything happened recently that may have provoked their frequency?”

I looked away from him, unsure of what to say. Since I hadn’t made up my mind about whether to discuss Cara with him, I remained silent.

“Has there been a development in the court proceedings that may have caused it?” he suggested.

“It’s been passed to the Crown Court for sentencing. The date’s been set to October fifth, but there’s been no development beyond that. Except, of course, from what I’ve told Carl, my lawyer, about what I’ve managed to recall about my assault.”

“I see. Are the themes still the same? In your dreams?” He always referred to them as my dreams, even though we both knew I was truly recounting what had actually happened that night during the banquet. Oliver’s side of the story, which he’d provided to the detectives, had confirmed as much.

My throat contracted, so I cleared it. “Similar.”

“Similar how?”

His request accelerated the beats of my heart, so I reached for my glass of water to have a sip while I tried to calm myself. Even if what he was asking me to do made me uncomfortable, I reminded myself that it was necessary for my mental health. Repressing the memory wouldn’t do me any good, and I knew that because it had been my initial tactic in trying to overcome my trauma. Alas, it had only made my nightmares more aggressive.

“It always starts the same,” I said while I returned my glass to the table between us. Removing my calves from the leg rest, I leaned forward and folded my hands between my spread thighs.

“You’re in the men’s room,” he helped me.

“Yes. I’m washing my hands, back facing the exit. Someone enters, and I look over my shoulder to see Oliver. He greets me, and I turn my head back around while we continue to engage in trivial conversation. I’m looking at my hands, so I don’t see his reflection in the mirror until his swift movement catches the corner of my eye.” I stopped speaking, because the images awakened in my head as though they were my current reality.

The fear it provoked was unlike any other fear I’d experienced. It wasn’t the evolved version that had developed with mankind, stemming from the intricate and intelligent design of interpersonal relationships like my fear of losing Cara. This fear was entirely primal.

It was the fear of death.

After allowing me room to breathe for a moment, Dr Fielder prompted me to continue, “And then?”

“I instinctively turn sideways, leaving his knife to strike my arm instead. I think I’m in shock at first, because I don’t feel any pain. I lift my arm to look at it, because I can’t comprehend what’s happened. The knife falls to the floor between us, and my next instinct is to get it out of the way in case he means to grab it again. But before I’m able, his fist strikes my eye so hard that I feel faded for a second. Before I know it, he’s grabbed my head and smashes it repeatedly against the counter beside the basins.”

“And after that, everything turns dark?” he asked, but he was wrong. I didn’t hold it against him, however, because that was what had happened in my other dreams.

In those, I’d be lying there on the floor in utter darkness, but I could hear everything around me, as if my body had become a coffin for my mind. Unable to minister a single muscle, I’d hear him threaten that he was going to get Cara right after he was done with me. Eventually I’d hear her shriek, and then the unbearable silence that came with death. She was dead, and I hadn’t been able to protect her.

Agony would claim me then, as I lied paralysed on the floor, because all I could think was that it was my ignorance that had led to her murder. If I’d avoided Francesca, Cara’s life would never have been at stake. In essence, my actions had led to her death. I’d think of the knife Oliver had stabbed me with, and I’d wish he had succeeded. The weapon was mere inches away from my arm, and all I’d wanted to do was grab it so that I could drive it into my chest and escape the unbearable blame I felt. And yet I couldn’t move my hand. Not even death would have me. Paralysed, I was forced to remain alive to endure the agonising guilt, and forced to live without the woman that I loved.

“No, not this time,” my voice trembled, and I hated the sound of it. It made me appear weak, even to myself. I hated revealing any sign that Oliver got to me, because I hated the power it gave him.

In hope to toughen my vocal chords, I had another sip of water.

“What happened this time, then?”

“I fall to the floor, immobile like in my other dreams, except I am still able to see and I am bleeding to death. Then Cara comes in.”

“Does she?” surprise resided in his voice. “What does she do?”

I fixed my gaze on my hands and paid no mind to the fact that he could see how hard I was squeezing them. “She looks at me for a while, and I think she’s disappointed. A man named Robby calls her name, and she turns her head to look at him through the doorway. I can’t see him, but I know he’s there. She looks back at me, and I can see in her eyes that she means to go to him. I want to beg her to stay, but I can’t move my mouth. So she leaves. I want to go after her, but I can’t. My body won’t let me.”

“And Oliver?”

“Oliver’s disappeared.”

He was quiet for a while, dribbling down notes. “Why do you think Cara always plays a role in these dreams?”

I released my hands to run them down my thighs. I wanted to say ‘Because she’s all I can think about’, but I didn’t. Instead, I said, “Because she’s important to me. Her safety in particular.”

He removed his glasses to massage the top of the bridge of his beaklike nose. “Cara’s safety isn’t being threatened in your most recent dreams, though.”

“No.”

“Do you think that’s an important distinction?”

“Perhaps.”

He put on his glasses again. “How is your relationship with Cara going, William?”

My defensive mechanisms kicked in at once. “With all due respect, Greg, I fail to see how that’s relevant to my therapy.”

He propped his head on his fisted hand. Then he smiled, and I could not understand the amused form of it. “You’re not a lawyer here, Will. You’re a patient. Let me be the judge of what’s relevant to your therapy.”

‘Patient’. I despised being coupled with the degrading label as if I hadn’t the strength to manage on my own.

Purely out of spite, I said, “Then I’ll have you know it’s for the best the way things are.”

He sighed. “I’m not blind to your intentional ambiguity, William, but I won’t force you to talk about her if you don’t want to. It’s you who decide the pace of this process. Not I.”

I resented his rhetorical genius in that moment. “You’re good at your job,” I muttered, earning myself a chuckle.

“I’d like to say the same, but you’re being uncooperative, so I can’t.” His reply stirred my irritation, but I wasn’t sure whether it was directed at him or myself.

I leaned back again. He was the only person aware of how deeply the assault had affected me; how small I’d felt in the wake of it. How inferior and powerless. What my assault had proven was that things could happen at any time, things I had no control over and couldn’t possibly predict, and that idea was driving me mad. More than seek vengeance upon Oliver, I sought to regain power over my own life. I supposed that was why I’d been so desperate in trying to predict whether Cara would betray me. I’d tried to re-establish some control of my circumstances.

Now she had returned to Robby, and all it had done was remind me – and enhanced my notion – of how powerless I truly was.

Except for Dr Fielder, I hadn’t been entirely transparent about my ordeal toward anyone, not even Cara, and I hadn’t because I did not want them to worry unnecessarily. My intention was to get better, and how to achieve it did not require their distress. I’d thought it needless to tell them the actual extent of my troubles, because their sympathy wouldn’t lighten my burden. It would only increase theirs.

On the contrary, pretending as though I were doing better than I was had been greater help, because it had made it possible for me to enjoy brief moments of forgetfulness. It was unlikely that Jason would find it appropriate to banter about with me if he were aware of the extent of my suffering, and the same applied to Cara and my parents, not to forget everyone else. Had I made them aware, their anxious behaviour would only have made me more conscious of my problems.

After slurping on his cup of English breakfast tea, he veered, “Let’s talk about something else, then. Last time you were here, you mentioned that you’d been more prone to experiencing negative emotions after the incident. Has that changed?”

He was asking all the right questions, and I had all the wrong answers. “No.”

“Are they more volatile now, would you say?”

“Yes.”

“Hm. And how has your mood been lately? Generally speaking.”

I released a frustrated breath. “Quite shit, Greg.”

“Is there anything in particular that has caused it? Cara, perhaps?”

“It’s not impossible.”

“I’m starting to realise that I’m talking to a wall today, Will.”

His response prompted me to stand. “You’re right. This is silly. I shouldn’t have come today. I’m not in the right frame of mind. There are things that have happened that I’m not ready to discuss.”

He closed his notebook with a nod. “Would it be better if I gave you the week to sort out your thoughts?”

I’d thought ‘sorting out my thoughts’ was the purpose of my being here, but I knew he hadn’t meant it that way, so I said, “Yes.”

He stood up as well. “All right. But I must say that I’m worried about the turn this has taken. You’ll have to promise that you’ll ring me as soon as you feel like talking, even if it’s later today. You have my immediate attention.”

“I’m sure I’m just tired, Greg, but I appreciate it. Some sleep will do me well.”

“Your word, Will,” he demanded.

Touched by his concern, I paid him a faint smile. “You have my word.”

After shaking my hand, he approached his desk, and on his way there, he said, “I’d like you to keep a diary, William. Whenever you experience these negative emotions, I want you to write it down, time and date included, and I want you to add the thoughts you have while you’re experiencing them.”

I’d never kept a diary before. “Will you want to see it?”

“Not if you don’t want me to. I’m asking you to do it because it might be a useful tool for you in trying to understand your own inner workings. I want you to do it for yourself. I’m hopeful it will help you reflect and perhaps notice some patterns in your own behaviour.”

“Sounds reasonable.”

“Good. Buy a Moleskine. They’re excellent.”

I chuckled. “I’ll get it sorted on my way home.”

The sun was out today, so I decided I’d walk back to my flat through Hyde Park from Dr Fielder’s office on Westbourne Terrace in Paddington. With luck, I’d pass by a bookshop selling Moleskine notebooks. It was quite the beautiful day, but since I was sleep-deprived, the bright light hurt my eyes somewhat. Fortunately, I’d brought my sunglasses with me.

Once I’d put them on, I was free to admire my circumstance. The lane was really quite beautiful. Trees stretched up on either side of the road, and the richly green leaves glistened in the sunlight and danced in the wind.

It would have been idyllic if I had not been so depressed.

I’d walked for about five minutes when I turned left on Craven Road to head for Paddington Station, where I found the notebook at a WH Smith. I had not been prepared for what happened in the small shop, but I’d caught a glimpse of a woman with long brown hair, texture wavy like Cara’s, and I’d thought for an instant that it might be her. I was aware it was improbable, because in my subconscious I knew full well that it was a weekday and the middle of the afternoon, meaning she was likely sitting by her desk at the office, but even so, it wasn’t impossible. During that brief delusion, I’d fallen victim to false hope and had instinctively rejoiced. But soon enough, the woman turned toward me and murdered it simply by being someone else. I was almost angry with her for not being Cara, so I looked loathsomely away.

That was the danger of belief. It blossomed so easily and could inspire and exhilarate you, but it could also crush you. Belief so quickly advanced to expectation, and with it came the risk of grave disappointment.

I’d set great expectations of Cara, and now I was enduring the painful disappointment after she’d failed to meet them. The question remaining was whether my expectations had been fair. I was holding her to the standard of my own convictions, as though my truth was the only truth. It made me a hypocrite, because I’d once told her our needs were not identical. I’d realised now that what truly mattered was not if our needs were the same, similar or different. What mattered was whether they were compatible, which they weren’t.

“Could I have a pen as well, please, thank you?” I asked the female clerk.

I didn’t notice that she was blushing rather profusely until I’d completed the transaction and looked at her face as she handed me my bag.

“Have a nice day,” she told me with fleeting eyes, and I wondered if she was always this shy.

“You too, love,” I politely replied and turned around to find a nearby bench. Dr Fielder had instructed me to write down my thoughts whenever I experienced negative emotions, and I was surely enduring them now.

I thought I’d seen her. Was I going insane?


“Oh, Will, you just missed her,” Tiffany announced the moment I stepped through the door of the Starbucks on the ground floor of my building on my way home.

I reached a full halt. Who? “Who?”

“Cara, of course,” she replied amused. If only she’d known she might as well have slapped me. Cara had been here?

“Cara?”

“Yes, she ordered the usual. A flat white.”

I nearly hissed at the pain her statement inadvertently inflicted. “Did she? Did she say why she stopped by?”

“To drop something off. She lunched here.”

I swallowed. She’d arrived to drop something off? What? I had no belongings at her place as far as I could recall, aside from that toothbrush.

“Anyway,” Tiffany continued when I failed to respond, and I could tell from her expression that my behaviour was unsettling her, “decaf Americano again?”

I nodded. Dr Fielder had told me to avoid both alcohol and caffeine following my assault, and I intended to heed his instructions.

“Are you all right, Will?” she asked while I completed the transaction.

“Yes, just tired. Slept poorly.”

“I see. You ought to take a nap, then.” I could see the sympathy in her brown eyes, and I welcomed it.

“Yeah, I think I might.”

Impatience infected my thoughts while I waited for my Americano, so as soon as Cheryl handed it over, I took my leave. Perhaps Garrick had met her, too.

“Mr Night,” he greeted as I stepped through the door.

“Has Cara been here?” I immediately asked.

He shut the door behind me while he said, “Yes. Left you an envelope.”

“She didn’t check if I were in?”

“No. Only asked me to give you this.” He headed for his desk to fetch a white envelope off of it.

I grabbed around it rather firmly, as if it were truly her hand that I was holding and not just the fading presence of her.

“Did she say anything else?”

His wise eyes studied me with compassion, and I knew at once that he could tell we’d clashed. “She asked how you were. I said you were out, running an errand.”

“Right. Thanks, Garrick.”

“Of course, Mr Night.”

I waited with opening it till I was inside my flat. As I kicked off my shoes, I sliced it open with my index finger and withdrew the content as I scurried toward my living room to have a seat in my sofa. There was no letter or even a single word that could hint toward her current thoughts. All it contained was the meet-and-greet tickets to the Arctic Monkeys concert.

She was returning my gift.

For a long while, I just stared at them in my despair. I read her decision to return my gift as a sure sign that she intended to move on. This could only mean that she saw no hope for our future. Otherwise, she would have kept them, hopeful I’d return to her so that we could go together.

The longer I entertained the idea, the angrier I became. She’d told me she would wait that day, forever if she had to. Did she not understand the absolution her promise contained? That it had told me she was willing to forgive me for my sins if I wanted her back?

She’d told me she would wait. Forever if she had to. Forever meant eternity. Not one week and a half.

It dawned on me that I’d been consoling myself with the fact that she had promised to wait for me, that she’d claimed there would be no one else for her. Now that she seemed to have changed her mind, she’d robbed me of my solace. I resented her for this. She had planted a seed of hope in me, and now she was killing it.

I hadn’t ever felt so lonely before. Was she truly moving on?

For the first time since I’d left her, tears brimmed in my eyes. Collecting my head in my hands, I watched the few drops spill onto the tickets. Again, that sickening feeling of inadequacy claimed me. How could it be this easy for her to move on? Had my love for her been that poor?

I sat there until my Americano went cold and I was forced to throw it out. Grabbing my diary wasn’t tempting, but I knew I should, so I wrote down my reflections as best I could before I went to bed with the strangest sensation in my chest: full and yet empty. Hollow, I realised, and made sure to add that to my notes.

Shifting onto my right side, I stared into the darkness that my blackout drapery made sure of, facing where Cara had used to lie. I’d watch her after we’d made love, the taste of her still thin in my mouth while she basked in the aftermath of our union, always with her eyes closed. I’d trail my fingertips across the damp skin of her bare chest and feel her heart thump beneath the soft feel of it. Then, at last, she’d open her eyes and smile at me.

Was she looking at him like that these days? With that deceptive gleam in her eye that tricked us to believe that we could keep her affection for longer than a night? Was it now his hand that caressed her skin instead of mine, and did he kiss her lips as if he could ever love her as ardently as I did?

I couldn’t stand the thought. Turning onto my back, I inhaled sharply and covered my eyes with my forearms, as if they’d protect me from the image of her, of them, but she was everywhere. Even in my dreams she haunted me. I could not enjoy a single thought without her presence lurking in the back of my mind, just waiting for my attention.

I’d let her leave that day, but I could not let her go.

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