Don slipped his key into the door and entered the dim lounge room. In one corner sat Jenny reading by lamplight, a stack of papers beside her on the couch.
Flicking on light switches as he walked, Don threw his jacket and satchel on the spare end of the couch.
“What are you – an owl? What’s for dinner?”
“Nothing yet.” Jenny looked up from her medical journal to see Don’s back as he went through the kitchen doorway. She heard the fridge open and Jenny imagined Don’s frown of concentration, which usually accompanied his study of the fridge contents.
“Well, hey babe.” Don came back into the lounge and kissed Jenny on the lips. “What say we have some stir-fry?”
“Hmm… Whatever. Are you cooking?”
“Heck, yeah! I have a great desire to carve things up and throw them in burning oil.”
“Well, as long as you’re happy, Don.” Jenny suppressed a smile but her eyes lingered on her husband’s.
Don returned to the kitchen and started clattering utensils.
“So, what are you reading this time?”
She raised her head. “Oh, just this thing on people’s perceptions of mental health patients.”
Don’s head appeared in the doorway. “What? Pimples and stepsons?”
“People’s perceptions! Of mental health patients.”
“Yes… very fascinating,” Don said dryly. “Jen, is this a cucumber or a zucchini?”
She rolled her eyes. “A zucchini. It’s got that thing on the end, see?” She looked back down at her
article and soon she could hear vigorous chopping.
Jenny took her magazine into the kitchen and seated herself at the table. “Well, it is interesting actually….”
“Want a carrot stick?” Don placed one in Jenny’s mouth. She munched on the end like a cigar.
“Is this a hint? Are you trying to shut me up?”
“Go ahead, babe.” Don smiled and held his hands out for a moment, giving her the floor, then returned to the cutting board.
“As I was saying…” Jenny said pointedly, “…this article’s quite interesting because it’s by some psych worker who believes we shouldn’t be so black and white about who’s mental and who’s sane. He reckons we all have a bit of craziness inside of us, just to different degrees.”
“Speak for yourself!”
Jenny ignored the comment. “He says it’s only when we let that crazy part overwhelm us that we become so-called mentally ill. If we can recognise that it’s okay to feel crazy sometimes, then we have a better chance of staying sane.” She pursed her lips and stared at the tomato sauce bottle on the table.
Don poured the vegetables into the frying pan and watched the steam rise. “Is that it?”
Jenny looked at Don silently, mulling over the statement she’d read.
“Well, I still think all the crazy people should be locked up - and I’m glad I’m not one of them,” he asserted.
“Mmm… I love it when you get dogmatic,” Jenny smiled.
“What’s that you say? Charismatic?” Don pointed a wooden spoon at her. “Hey, hon – I’m always charismatic.”
She started a laugh, which ended as a groan and she slumped dramatically over the table. The journal was flicked onto the floor.
Later in bed, Jenny watched as Don changed into his pyjamas.
“Are you really going to wear that shirt again?” she asked.
“This?” Don pulled it over his head. “It’s my comfy shirt.”
“Yeah, but I think it’s also becoming your smelly shirt.”
Don lifted the shirt up to his face and inhaled. “Aaahh! Clears your sinuses…. Oh, it’s all right. Smells okay.” Don smiled at his wife.
“…Somewhere between fresh and rancid,” they both recited.
“You ready?” Don asked. Jenny nodded and he turned off the light.
The bed creaked as Don lay down and settled under the sheets. Jenny snuggled up to him and sighed.
Sounds of the television next door carried into the quietness of the bedroom. Don’s chest rose and fell under Jenny’s hand, their breathing soon synchronised. Jenny opened her eyes and stared at the shadows in the room. Minutes slipped away as Jenny listened to the television; there was some sort of car chase. Her arm was getting pins and needles from lying on it so she rolled onto her back and stretched out her hand to the ceiling. She let it flop to the blankets and then sighed.
“You right, babe?” Don murmured.
“Yeah; just thinking about this assignment.”
“Mmmm,” was his sleepy reply.
Jenny rubbed her thumb and forefinger together slowly. The feeling was returning to normal, yet there was something else: a split-second flashback. She continued rubbing her fingers but the memory was gone.
The television sounds got louder as the commercials came on. Jenny couldn’t make out the words but recognised the shouting style of the announcer as the man from the two-dollar shop.
Hitting the pillow into shape, she turned her turned her back to the window and tried to relax. Sleep came tentatively, bringing nonsensical thoughts, snatches of conversations and also a sense of heaviness, which grew and grew until her body was weighted to the mattress.
Jenny found herself in a large room: a warehouse. Near her was a door and down the end of the room, far, far away, was another door, barely a speck in the distance. She knew she must supervise a rope, which was entering the room through the far door and travelling along a line out the nearby door.
Jenny saw herself in the warehouse, still and silent; the only movement being the steady passing of the rope. With just a moment’s inattention, she was shocked to see the rope knotted in a huge mass, unable to exit the doorway, yet growing in size as the rope continued to stream into the room from the far end. Jenny was helpless; anxiety overcame her, and all she could do was watch in fear as the room filled with the tangled mess towering over her.
She awoke with a start, flooded with relief. After a second of two, though, her relief was replaced with dismay. She lay in bed, breathing deeply. Her breathing echoed about her like sound effects from a B-grade horror movie. The sheets rustled as Jenny moved her hand; the sound was deafening, yet beside her, Don slept on. Jenny’s hand belonged to someone else – it was colossal. Her whole body was much too big for Jenny. She rubbed her thumb and forefinger together in a sadly familiar gesture. The skin felt thick and large as if Jenny’s real hand was somewhere inside this living glove. The thumb dragged itself over the finger’s print, over the high ridges and deep valleys of the whorls. She knew she was awake but once again trapped within the clutches of her other reality – the surreal world.
With closed eyes Jenny prayed to be released from the hallucination but even her prayer was mockingly thrown back at her. The words echoed in her mind and she could see the sentences dancing across the inside of her head.
She sat up and got out of bed, her giant feet crashing to the floor. Boom, boom, boom, went her footsteps, repeating themselves over and over. The walls leaned menacingly as Jenny passed by.
In the kitchen she heard herself clicking on the light; its sound a crack of thunder. She picked up the medical journal and placed it on the table. As gently as she tried, the pages still clattered when Jenny turned to them. She read, “For the depressive state of this illness, anti-depressant … medication… is…” The words slowed in her mind. “…very effective.” She struggled to drag her eyes to the next word, but they read to a different pace out of her control.
Jenny blinked and tried again to read. “The new anti-depressant drugs have been a major breakthrough in the treatment of this form of depression.” The words flowed quickly now, so quick they tumbled into one another, shooting off the page like darts into Jenny’s mind. “...iftherearesignsofamanicphasedeveloping.Inseverecasesitmaybe necessary…”
Jenny stood up in frustration, the chair scraping backwards on the lino. She left the kitchen but the nightmare followed her, her out-of-control senses swarming around her, attacking relentlessly. She sat on the bed and burst into silent sobbing, her face distorted and her body shaking. The hallucination swelled in the bedroom – sounds and visions and thoughts dancing and tormenting.
“Jenny.” Don’s voice silenced the storm. It retreated to the corners of the room, now just harmless puffs of wind. Jenny’s mind was clear and quiet.
Jenny sniffed and licked tears from her top lip. She felt very tired. “Nothing. Nothing’s wrong.”