Deep Ellum, Downtown Dallas . . .
I’m about to turn five months old, so I decided I should treat myself. Because of my outstanding progress, and because there seems to be no criminal record of my DNA, finger prints, and dental records, I have been allowed to go out on my own, and search for a part-time job.
If I get a job and maintain it successfully for a few months, they will consider moving me into off-campus housing. That means I wouldn’t be living at the hospital anymore. And that would be just like being released from prison. I guess.
Ricky, that young nurse I mentioned, he told me where I could find a good psychic. He knows things like that. Life things. Ever since I woke-up in the hospital he and I kind of became friends. He was working in my area, tending to all the head cases, like me, and we hit it off.
Anyway, I decided that instead of hunting for a job, I was going to do a little investigation into the paranormal. See, I’ve been reading everything I can about Amnesia, Retro-grade Amnesia, Organic Mental Disorder, Nervous System and Brain Dysfunction. All of it. I feel like I took a mini course in Neuropathology. But I’m looking for answers to questions that don’t appear in books written by Nobel laureates.
Ricky says that doctors don’t really know shit, and that I need someone who can see. And the only place he knows is a psychic by the name of Josephine. She has a small tarot card, psychic paraphernalia store in Deep Ellum—a rather seedy part of Downtown Dallas where you can find tons of bars, small clubs, and head shops. People in this part of town have lots of piercings, and motorcycles, and track marks running up and down their arms. From my classes I know that probably means methamphetamines. And those people are typically unpredictable and dangerous.
I have a yellow, crumpled page that I ripped out of the Yellow Pages, with Ms. Josephine ‘Channeler and Psychic’ in small black print at the bottom left of the page. And as I look up from the smudged page to the street signs, I see that I must be getting pretty close. Ricky said that I’d see a big red-neon marijuana leaf, right next to her place. And from the way Ricky seems to always have bloodshot eyes and a bag of Doritos, I figure he knows the area pretty well.
The street smells like it might explode at any moment. Like all of the fumes are flammable enough to start a runaway chain reaction. It’s unseasonably hot in Dallas for the end of April. At least, that’s what the local news says. I have to take their word for it.
When I walk by people, I look at them a little longer than I probably should, wondering if they are somebody I knew. But as I see the pieces of shinny steel poking out of their ears, and chins, and eyebrows, and nipples, and I figure probably not.
All of this walking is kicking my ass. I’m in pretty good shape, just looking at myself in the mirror. But several months of lying on my back in a hospital bed have made my body lazy. I find myself breathing hard after just a short walk. My classes stressed how important exercise is, and there is probably something to that. I’m going to mark ‘Cardio’ as an area for improvement.
My clothes are generic. Blue jeans and a green polo-style shirt. I don’t remember my past, but I know, beyond any doubt, that I wore nicer clothes than these. These hospital handouts are itchy, and smell like mothballs. Ricky said it was good to look like a bum in Deep Ellum because that would keep me from getting mugged. I told him that if people robbed me they’d be upset because I don’t remember where my wallet is. He didn’t think that was funny.
Walking. Walking. Walking.
And with each street that I pass, I feel like I’m getting closer to something important. Something that will explain what the hell is happening to me. I’m trying to handle this like a detective might. I’ve been reading all sorts of detective novels that Ricky has been giving me. They balance out all the medical journals I’ve been lording over.
Fiction to combat the non-fiction.
Fantasy to wrestle with reality.
Too much of either is a bad thing, I suppose.
In these detective novels, the guy is always facing some intricate, woven mélange of unconnected facts and details. Information in every direction. And what he does—Detective Todd Steele—is to test the most logical things first. Every detail. One by one. Until he’s left with the oddball, ridiculous, unorthodox possibilities. Good fiction works that way. So that’s the way I’m doing it.
I’ve tried the hospital’s doctors. The scientists. The Medical Journals. The courses. Nothing. Ricky got me onto the Internet, and we searched around for hours that melted into weeks. Nothing of substance. So I thought to myself, what would Detective Todd Steele do? Once out of grounded and logical answers, he would investigate the not-so-normal. And here I am, surrounded by the people that society tries to forget.
And I just know that I’m close. The sun is hidden behind clouds for the moment, and it’s a respite from the atomic level of heat that has been bathing all of us for the last thirty minutes. My green shirt is sticking to my chest and stomach, and I can feel the drops of sweat crawling down the sides of my chest, from underneath my arms, down to my hips. It’s a dirty feeling. Sticky.
A large, red truck honks at me as I cross the street, and I wonder if he knows me. I smile and wave at him.
Then he yells, “Get the fuck out of the way you homeless piece of shit!” And it’s pretty clear from the way that he inflects his words that we were probably not acquaintances in my forgotten past.
Man up, or back down. That’s what Detective Todd Steele would say. Of course, he always carried a nickel-plated .357, snub-nosed, stainless steel revolver. It’s a lot easier to ‘Man up’ when you’re packing. But I keep walking. Keep looking.
It’s an odd-numbered address, so it will be on my right. And it should be here pretty quick. Marijuana leaf. I hope I didn’t miss it. Red neon should be fairly prominent. I doubt I could accidentally walk by something like that.
Sweat is creeping down into my eyes, from my brow, and it’s burning. And the fumes from all of the delivery trucks—which there seem to be thousands of—are making my stomach turn. I feel like I need shots. Like I might imbibe a lifetime’s amount of carcinogens in my blood, just from this one little trip.
And just as I’m about to start backtracking, I see a ten-foot tall glowing marijuana leaf. Just like Ricky said. Glancing at the yellow page, now moist enough that you can read both sides of the paper without turning it over, I see the black ink. And I hope that she can answer some of my questions.
I notice a small sign, carved on a rectangular piece of what might have been driftwood.
I place the sweat-moist yellow page in my generic jean pocket and reach for the door when it opens rather suddenly. A short chubby black woman stares up at me with large honey-colored eyes and a strange look of recognition.
Startled, I said, “I was trying to find, to talk to, um, Ms. Josephine?”
She studied me for a moment, looking me up and down—a lot like those doctors did. She cocked her head to the side, her rope of bead necklaces rolling and folding over each other as the beads made little noises. She had on a black dress with strange green and blue squiggles on it.
I could smell incense, and there were candles burning somewhere nearby. It was just the way I imagined it might be. At least, from standing at the threshold, looking into the relative darkness. And then she nodded, extending her chubby little arms, and said, “Come in, Jack. I’ve been expecting you for six months.