Isabel has doe eyes. Owen never knew what that expression meant until he met her. Large, dark eyes, liquid eyes; the kind of eyes you expect to see looking out at you from a forest glade.
He never feels well without her anymore. There’s always the headache, the sickening tattoo of blood in his temples that only goes away in Isabel’s arms. She stands in front of him in an ethereal dress of such a light blue that it is almost a non-color.
That’s where Owen wants to be. In her arms is the only life he knows. Everything else is pain; everything else is chaos.
“Owen.” The voice sounds like an echo. At first he isn’t sure if someone is speaking to him or if it’s just the headache. “Owen, Owen,” it pounds, never giving up.
The voice is more insistent now. He opens his eyes against the glaring light. This light isn’t good, like Isabel’s. This light is harsh and blinding, and makes the pain in his head swell until it’s almost unbearable.
“Owen, can you hear me?”
He licks his ragged lips. “Yes,” he murmurs, “I hear you.”
“Do you know where you are?”
He looks around as much as he can and he isn’t surprised. He’s seen this tableau a dozen times before, maybe one hundred times. There are glass blocks to his left, which admit a pale form of sunlight; Owen isn’t convinced that it’s sunlight at all. He suspects it’s fluorescent lighting from an adjacent room. In front of him is a desk and beyond the desk is a bookcase. Third row from the top, seventh book from the left: Great Expectations. It would make him laugh if he hadn’t lost the ability to do so.
In between himself and Great Expectations is a desk, and behind the desk, leaning on the desk, is a man with glasses.
“I’m in your office, Dr. Monroe,” he says. It’s a Herculean effort to get the words out around the waves of pain in his head, but he manages it. He has to. He knows this torture will continue until he does.
“That’s very good,” Dr. Monroe responds. He opens a file and the rustling of paper causes the pain in Owen’s head to flare like a sunspot.
Why does this dream hurt so much? he wonders. He doesn’t know why, yet obviously it does. Play the game, he tells himself. Play the game and they’ll let you wake up.
“You’ve had your fourth ECT treatment, Owen,” the doctor says.
Dr. Monroe stops speaking and Owen wonders what’s expected of him now. His mind is in a fog and he gropes around for the words he knows the doctor wants to hear. Isabel, his mind screams.
“I’m feeling much better, Dr. Monroe,” he says finally.
There’s another long silence and he finds himself drawing away from this dream world of doctors and torture. If only they’d leave him alone, he would be fine. If only they would let him be with her. If they’d just stop dragging him down into sleep where Isabel is vague and only her scent lingers on the fringes of his pain.
“That’s good to hear,” Dr. Monroe says finally. “How’s your headache?”
Sickening, pounding, confusing, unmanning. “Much better,” he answers.
“I’m very glad to hear that,” Dr. Monroe answers. “But Owen — ”
It sounds so damned ominous, that “but”. He forces his eyes open again and pretends to focus on the doctor. Great Expectations. Great Expectations. He didn’t figure Dr. Monroe for much of a scholar, actually. The doctor knows so little.
“Yes, Doctor?” His voice sounds so polite that Owen is almost convinced of his own sincerity.
“We’re not doing as well with the catatonia as I would like.”
“That’s because Catatonia is a summer destination, Dr. Monroe,” Owen informs his tormentor, “and I believe this is Spring.” Let’s see what he makes of that, the humorless fuck.
A smile flits across the doctor’s lips. “It’s October, actually, but we can address that some other time. Owen, our goal here is to treat the underlying cause of the catatonia, not just the symptom itself. Our goal here is to combat the major depressive state that results in your withdrawal.”
God, his head is pounding. Owen feels sick with pain, but he won’t let it show. Not if he can help himself, that is. “If you want to combat my depression, then leave me alone. I’m perfectly content when you’re not frying my brain or poisoning me with your goddamn chemicals.”
“You know that’s not true, Owen,” Dr. Monroe chides him gently. “Without the medications and the electroconvulsive therapy, you might never emerge from a catatonic state. As it is, your periods of lucidity are increasing in length.”
“‘Lucidity’,” Owen repeats. So that’s what they call this torture. I’m glad it has a name. He wants to get back to Isabel. He’s tired of the doctor’s dog and pony show where he has to be both the dog and the pony.
If I close my eyes I can make this bad dream go away, Owen thinks. He tries it; he wills himself to fall into his wakefulness. It’s like standing with your back to a pool, your feet on the edge. It’s as easy as falling backward. He still hears voices as his dream state clings for a moment, then there’s blissful silence. His headache begins to fade. He looks around and there she is. Isabel — as beautiful as a Botticelli Madonna, as radiant as a star.
He stumbles towards her and drops to his knees, burying his face in her dress. “Thank God you waited for me,” he whispers, “thank God you didn’t leave.”
Her hands are cool on his face. “I’ll always wait, darling,” she whispers back. She puts her lips on his forehead. “How is your headache?”
Owen smiles up at her. “Gone,” he sighs.
Over the past thirty years, Deborah Blood has written for various travel and travel industry magazines such as Sunset Magazine, TravelAge West and TravelAge East, as well as Highlights for Children and Readers Digest. Her submission to Every Day Fiction represents her first foray into the adult fiction genre.