This story is by Amy M. Ward and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“It was her eyes that caught my attention. They seemed to stare into my soul. Even when I looked away, repulsed at the sight of so many dead, piled up like garbage… I was drawn back to her. I could hear the men from my squadran vomiting on their boots at the sight. Not me,” I say with a shake of my head. “I only saw her. She seemed to beckon me, and I could feel an instant connection.”
“It’s true that seeing a corpse affects different people in different ways,” the doctor acknowledges.
I forget his name; rather, I didn’t care about it when I was introduced.
I become distracted as I try to unlock the part of my mind that might have heard and retained the doctor’s name. I don’t want to seem rude by not remembering. My mind becomes numb at the clicking of the locks as they are opened and then shut again, as I search frantically for the man’s name in my sub-conscious. Closing my eyes, I realize that it is a pointless endeavor.
His name is insignificant anyway.
The clicking continues, and I open my eyes to see that the doctor is clicking an ink pen repeatedly against his yellowing teeth. The same pen that jots down notes about my mental state. It will be the same pen, I’m sure, that signs the orders for my lobotomy. He closes his mouth now and holds the pen against his lips as he studies me.
His eyes narrow as he tries to decide which line of psychoanalysis to attempt next. We have talked about her before. We have discussed everything about my life. My mother. My father. My adolescent years. My time in the army. What I witnessed. What I did. Well, I didn’t tell him all of it. Some of it remains locked away where it cannot harm me or anyone else.
His gaze becomes too much for me, and I am forced to look away. I glance into the corner, hoping that she is here. She is. Just barely able to make out her features, I can see that she is sitting in the dark corner smiling warmly at me. Her smile is comforting to me, and her presence gives me strength to endure these difficult interrogations.
The doctor – I really wish I could remember his name – must notice my distraction. His gaze follows mine to the corner. Of course, he sees nothing.
“Is she here with us, Jasper?” he asks with just a hint of patronizing.
I merely shake my head with disappointment. I would rather he not refer to her in that way. “With us.” Like she is a ghost that visits me from the afterlife.
“She will never be ‘with us,’” I acknowledge. “She will only ever be with me.”
“You sound like a jealous lover,” he quips.
I let out a frustrated chuckle, “Not jealous. You speak of her like she is an apparition.”
“Isn’t that what she is to you? She is dead after all,” he remarks.
I consider how to explain her to him. I’m still aggravated that I cannot remember his name. Why isn’t he wearing a name badge? Seems like it would be required in a facility like this.
Finally, I answer, “She is a memory.”
Hearing myself say those words about her makes me realize that the idea does indeed sound crazy. Immediately, I feel regret and sorrow that I would think such a thing about her. She is more than that to me. I need to find a more suitable way to explain her presence in my life.
“A memory?” the doctor sits back into his chair. Obviously he senses that he is making progress. “What memory do you have of this woman other than when you found her dead in a heap of corpses?”
I flinch at his words. Not for my sake, for hers. He should have more compassion for what she had to endure. For a brief second, I imagine leaping across the small space that separates us and slamming his pen into his throat. I would take great pleasure in watching his life flow out of him onto the carpet. I believe she would enjoy the sight as well. If he knew what I am capable of, what the army trained me to do, he would be frightened of me. Instead, he stares at me with condescending eyes. I force myself to stay planted in my seat.
Bringing myself back to the moment, I answer his question. “I remember the first time I saw her after I came back to the states. It was the first Thanksgiving after the war. I was walking to my parents home. For whatever reason, I decided to take a shortcut through the park. It was really cold that day and the leaves that had fallen off the trees covered the ground. I love the leaves of fall, though. Red, yellow, brown leaves, carpeting the ground. You know, I have never understood why people want to rake the leaves up. They serve a purpose.”
“I rake the leaves off my lawn,” the doctor comments.
“You would,” I say with a chuckle. He joins in, and the mood becomes lighter, briefly.
Slowly, I continue, “She was just…there. Leaning against a tree. She looked like she had been waiting for me. She was wearing clothes that were not ripped to shreds. She had no wounds on her body. There was no bullet hole in her head.” I pause and mutter an apology. I hate that she has to think about that time. Still sitting in the corner, she smiles when I look up at her.
“It’s alright, Jasper. No need to apologize.” The doctor thinks my apology was for him.
Continuing, I say to the doctor, “Her eyes were the color of coffee. Not gray… not dead.”
“You were remembering her the way you wished she had been the first time you saw her,” the doctor explains.
I have to agree with him. Nodding, I reply, “I was.” My voice sounds defeated.
“So, why the fascination with her?” I’m not sure if he is asking me or if he is asking himself in an effort to sort through the analysis of me.
Regardless, I ponder his question, “It isn’t a fascination, doctor. I love her.”
This isn’t what the doctor had hoped to hear. He apparently thought he was making progress with his patient. Now, he realizes that he isn’t.
“You don’t love her, Jasper. You may love the memory of her. However, even that seems preposterous to me, considering the only real memory you have of her is when you found her dead with all the others from the camp. This feeling that consumes you, it’s just something that has manifested itself due to shell shock. It is battle fatigue, Jasper. Simply a byproduct of the war and everything you experienced as you and your men helped liberate those death camps.” His voice is almost pleading now. He wants so badly to make me better. “This isn’t love.”
I consider his words. There is no way that I can convince him of what I feel for her. Just like he will never be able to convince me that my feelings are lunacy.
“Who are you to decide who or how I am supposed to love? Maybe it is just a memory. Don’t you love your memories? Is there not a memory that you cling to so tightly that you don’t want to ever let it go?” I watch him shake his head slowly. “Come on, Doc. That thing you really wanted as a kid. You opened up your Christmas presents, and there it was. You don’t love that memory?” His head stops shaking. “That place you always wanted to go… maybe the Grand Canyon? Then you went there on vacation. Don’t you love memories like that? Or, how about this, your wedding day? Seeing your beautiful bride walking down the aisle towards you. She was walking to you, and you knew she would love you forever. You can’t tell me that you don’t love that memory, Doc.”
Sitting on the edge of my seat, I implore him to understand.
He shakes his head slowly; his mouth is moving slightly like he is trying to form words. I can tell that my words have impacted him.
Finally, the doctor finds his voice. “Jasper, I am suggesting a procedure that will help you to separate your delusions with reality. It really is in your best interest.”
Now, I have lost my voice. I know all about the procedure he speaks of. My only fear is losing her in the process.
Sensing my worry, she stands from the chair and walks. So graceful and refined. She places a cool hand on the side of my face, bends down and whispers softly, “This is how we can be together. Always.”
Smiling, I say, “Okay, Doc. Let’s do it.”