Disclaimer: I don't own 'House'.

Jamais vu: a false unfamiliarity

And he held the cane in two hands, as if he were gauging its weight. He leaned against the back wall of the elevator and gazed into the middle distance beyond the scuffed silver door as if he suspected it of harbouring the meaning of life.

The elevator slowed its descent and stopped so gently that, even concentrating fully, he was unable to discern the halt of motion. He was vaguely aware of the chime that preceded the door's opening, letting in the tumult that was the lobby of Princeton-Plainsboro. He was assaulted by its naked humanity, and he deafened his ears to remove one sense and allow himself to fend off that sea that threatened to engulf him. Recomposed, he gazed at the tableau before him with detached interest, as if it were an exhibit in a museum and he were safely protected behind thick glass. Jamais vu.

The rectangular doorway seemed to be a fish-eye lens that distorted the lobby crazily, turning the straight lines of the receptionist's counter and the floor tiles wavy and refracting the fluorescent light so that he thought he saw a rainbow over in one corner above two preschool children quietly playing on the floor.

The elevator chimed again and there was a hydraulic hiss as the door began to slide shut, and this seemed to wake him and he rotated the cane ninety degrees and jabbed it forward to obstruct the door. The elevator ding-donged its apology, and the man slowly retracted the cane. He held it overhand, as if to ward off them all from coming too near to his world, eight feet from left to right and five feet deep.

The elevator tutted a warning, and this time he heeded it and dropped the cane's tip to the floor and shuffled out. He shuffled with purpose, parting the clamour of the cosmos as if he were Moses and it were the Red Sea, beelining not to the hospital's double doors but to the window beside the doors, where he resumed staring with single-minded intent. The regular uproar that was the lobby receded behind him and he saw a pair of girls, maybe sixteen years old, standing on the sidewalk in the drop-off zone and he wondered why they were there. The taller one was turned slightly away from the window and seemed to be relating a funny story, and she gestured wildly with her hands. And I had to wait so long, and then I was like come on already, tell us why don't you and we were practically frantic and only then did he explain that, really there was like nothing to worry about and…

He could see the shorter one full on, and her eyebrows rose in disbelief at the story and then she screwed up her nose and her expression morphed into annoyance as she lifted both hands to her face to straighten her hair after a gust of wind swirled and wove it into an ash-blonde mess. But in that moment of transition, he saw earnestness and amusement and exasperation and irritation and oh-my-gosh-why-does-it-still-have-to-be-winter and most of all, he saw innocence.

And of course it was the winter he focused on, something concrete and insentient and solid. The hospital's Christmas decorations were long gone, as were the Valentine's Day hearts, but the snowmen and snowflakes and icicles remained, not yet pushed aside by four-leaf clovers and Easter bunnies. It was, after all, still winter, at least until the vernal equinox two weeks hence, and longer yet if the groundhog had any say at all.

And as in the elevator, he was removed from the scene and yet not and then he'd accidentally caught the attention of the blonde girl and he overrode the visceral reaction to turn away and instead met her questioning gaze without embarrassment. After a few seconds, he nodded to her and in his peripheral vision he saw the taller girl glance over her shoulder, aware that her friend had switched foci, was no longer truly standing beside her.

And the blonde didn't turn away hurriedly, discomfited, shaking her head to get rid of the image of the empty expression on his face; or point and laugh at the weird old man and make it into a joke; or even try to explain to her friend why, exactly, she smiled beatifically and waved at the double-paned window.

And a black Cherokee pulled up beside the girls and the moment was lost and still he waited, watching as they clambered in, the tall one in the front passenger seat and the blonde one in back, and just as he was turning away, the ash-blonde girl gave him another wave and he genuinely smiled for the first time since Tuesday.