Four soft ticks, then it was 2:35 PM, and I watched the slender silver pendulum of the wall clock swing quickly and sharply left and right. Its metal surface was tarnished and faded, the only thing making it stand out from the bright white paint of the wall being its constant steady motion. 2:36 now and I hadn't said anything. No one said anything. My gaze remained fixed on the clock, or on the alternating black and white tiles of the floor. It occurred to me that I was getting a cramp from sitting so long in the same position, and I wanted to shift, but I was lying on an expensive leather couch, one that creaked and groaned if you moved, and right now the air was silent and still…so silent I held my breath and stilled my heart. I suppose I had grown fond of quiet over the years, fond of the silence too…
Sometimes. Sometimes the silence is calm and comforting. Sometimes it holds you in a cool embrace and blocks you from the rest of the world. A world you don't want to see, because you've lived it's worst. A world you don't want to feel because you know what's hiding under its bed, because you know what it keeps in its pocket. A world you don't want to hear because you've heard its screams in the night…heard the sound of it tearing at the seems. Sometimes the silence can be a shield, and then sometimes…
Have you ever been to a dance or a concert when the music is so loud you can't hear yourself think, and then for days afterward your ears are filled with this high pitched shrieking sound? The sound is always there, but you can only really hear it when it's silent. Memories are like that, just like that. So, while sometimes the silence carries solace, sometimes it's just a great white palette for my daemons to take over. Sometimes, when it's quiet, is when I can hear the crack of bones the loudest, when the roar of the waves and the rumble of boulders and the undulations of sadistic voices echo the loudest in my mind.
So, now that you know the two extremes of my quiet, let's talk about my noise.
The door to the room swung open silently, and in stepped a tall straight-backed man wearing a grey suit and carrying a smooth black briefcase. His shiny sable shoes clicked on the cold floor, rhythmically, like the constant ticking of the clock. He walked steadily across the room, taking a seat in a straight chair, and crossing one leg, ankle to knee. He never looked up at me, choosing instead to open his briefcase with two satisfying clicks that reverberated in the silence of the room. From the case he pulled a stack of papers, a leather file folder, and a shiny blue fountain pen. He took a breath. "Good morning, Mr.-"
"Ralph." I interrupted. "Just Ralph."
The man looked up at me I could tell, even though my eyes were now fixed on the ceiling, which was flat and white, like the walls. I can tell when people are looking at me, because no one often does. I fade, I've been told. I'm that man in dull colors at the bus stop, the one who walks past while everyone else stops to look at a street performer, the one who sits on the subway and reads the paper, the one who says nothing. The one who never says anything. No one notices me, and I don't really want them to, so I suppose I developed a sense for when people were looking at me…it's such a rare sensation, it sticks out like an inkblot on a pale card…I'd seen so many of those.
"That's right," the man said with calm clarity. "You prefer to be addressed by your first name. Well, Ralph, how are you doing today?"
I sighed, turning my head to meet his muted brown eyes. Most people don't like it when I look them in the eyes, I scare them they say. They say my eyes are vacant, dead, lack-luster. This man's expression remained stoic, and whether or not he was frightened or disturbed by my blank stare, remained a mystery. "I'm fine, thank you. How are you?"
The man smiled slightly. "Very well, thank you. So I heard things didn't work out so well with Dr. Jacobs?"
I smirked, a few blonde bangs falling into my eyes. "No, I suppose they didn't. He never seemed to like what I had to say."
"That's a shame," the man said, extracting a pad of yellow paper from his file folder and turning a few pages, readying his pen. "You have a lot to say, don't you Ralph?"
"Nothing anyone wants to hear."
"Oh?" The man cocked his head; his eyes remained trained on mine as his wrist scribbled rapidly on the paper.
He stopped scribbling. "Why wouldn't anyone want to hear it?"
I turned my head away. "You've spoken with Dr. Jacobs I'm sure, and you know everything I told him. Did you really want to hear that? Could you really sleep the night you heard? Knowing the things he knows? The things I know?"
The man snorted, his look turning curious. I can tell, even though I cannot see his eyes. "As a matter of fact, I know nothing of what you have told Dr. Jacobs."
"He told me only that you were not benefiting from sessions with him, and that perhaps you would be better off consulting me." Silence for a moment, the good silence, the shielding silence. "This has happened with many doctors, hasn't it?"
"Every doctor." I said with a sigh.
"You tell me, you're the shrink."
He chuckled. "That's fair enough. Well, Ralph, I'm Dr. Jras."
"Pleased to make your acquaintance."
"Likewise. Ralph, why are you here?"
I closed my eyes slowly, relaxing into the firm cushions of the couch. The same questions, every week for twenty years. I could do this in my sleep. "Why are any of us here? Because some old man on a cloud has a weird sense of fun."
"Why are you here, in therapy?"
The first hundred times I heard that question, I was frustrated and annoyed. Why was I here? What did I want? What happened to me? Why do I think the way I do? Now though, my answers were automatic, memorized and rehearsed. "Because it's what I do. I wake up, I go to work, I come to therapy."
"Because I have been coming since I was twelve years old, and I see no reason to cease."
Dr. Jras shifted in his seat, jotting rapidly on his pad. "Twelve years old? What happened then?"
I smirked, my eyes flipping open as I turned my head to focus on him with a piercing grey gaze. "Do you have any children, Dr. Jras?"
He didn't look up from his writing. "I'm afraid our time is limited, Ralph, hardly a time to converse about my family."
I swung my feet to the floor, sitting up and leaning forward, my elbows pressing into my thighs as I cradled my chin in my hands. Some blonde bangs fell into my eyes. "Let's say you do. Let's say you have a twelve-year-old boy. You come home from a long day at work, you kiss your wife, you settle down in your chair with the paper and a cup of coffee, you're kid comes scampering up to you, blabbering about school and sports and friends and so on. You look at your son with pride and ruffle his hair, addressing him as 'sonny' or 'sport' and so forth, and ask him how his homework is."
Dr. Jras was still, his gaze intent as he watched me speak, my own eyes now trained on my black slacks, my black shoes, the tile floor, the legs of his chair. I continued. "Now, let's say I had a son. I would come home from work, lay down on the couch, put on some music. My son would step into the room, quiet and solemn, because I am quiet and solemn, and I raised him of course. He would come to me and greet me, and finally I would look at him, and I would say: 'Boy, do you know what you are capable of? Did you know that inside of you there is someone you don't know exists, inside of you is someone who is raw and instinctive, demanding and harsh, a bloodstained killer, a sadistic monster? Did you know that boy?' And my son, he would nod slowly, and he'd say 'yes father, you have told me, you have told me every day of my life.' And I would have told him. Thank god I don't have a son, Dr. Jras."
He switched crossed legs. "You seem to have some interesting ideas about humanity, Ralph."
"Not ideas. I know things, Dr. Jras, and they aren't interesting. I know terrible things, about you, about me, about every little twelve year old boy, about everyone who walks these streets."
"You know 'things' about yourself?"
"More than I care to."
"And what are these things you wish you didn't know?"
There was a slight variation today, with my speech about sons, but now things were returning to their usual pace, the same old same old. I returned to my original position lying on the long brown sofa of sorts. "I suppose we should start at the beginning."
"That would be an ideal place to start."
"When I was young, I lived in a cottage at the edge of a moor. My father was a member of the royal navy, but he came home every evening, and my mother would give me cornflakes and cream before I went to bed. There was a stone wall at the edge of my back yard, where wild ponies would sometimes visit, and there was a shed you could lie in and watch the snowfall when it was cold. I moved around a lot when I was little, but I remember this home the best because it was the last house I stayed in before I was sent off to school." I paused, licking my lips and taking a breath before I continued. "It was a nice house, I still think about it sometimes."
The clock continued to tick, tick tick tick, and I wondered how many ticks I had spent speaking of my childhood home in my lifetime. Many, I'm sure. The first few doctors I had, I found it difficult to talk about my past, to describe what really had happened to me, all the things I had seen. Sometimes, if you repeat a story often enough, no matter how horrible it is, it becomes stale and you can pretend you're describing the plot of a particularly unpleasant movie. That's the way I thought of things now, not real, just images representing a bigger picture…and all the while I felt like I was waiting, waiting for something to happen. I had been waiting for twenty years.
"You remember the war. I was on a flight evacuating my class from the city, and we were flying over the Pacific. I'm still not sure exactly what happened, I never looked into it, but something happened to the plane and we crashed into a tiny island. The plane flew off into the sea and the pilot, the only adult with us, was killed. Many survived, however…myself, a chubby boy we called Piggy, a defiant red head by the name of Jack, a quiet dark haired scrawny kid named Simon, a set of twins Sam and Eric, a group of loyal chorus members obediently following Jack…
3:42 PM. This is definitely a record, just over an hour, and already wrapping things up.
"…And just as I was sure that was truly the end for me, I found that a ship had spotted our signal fire, and an officer came ashore and chided us for our un-British behavior. I took responsibility, of course. I was the chief, I was always the chief. We were all herded onto the cruiser and taken back to England. At the time I was just a scared little boy, living only in my tiny world, aware only of what had just happened to me, what was happening to me. I discovered that my father had been killed when his ship was destroyed in the war, and my mother had died of grief, believing that I was also dead. I lived as a ward to a wealthy bachelor, one who read about the goings-on at my island and was intrigued, I suppose. He was a philosophical man, this bachelor. He was fascinated with what stories I could tell him and brooded and pondered over 'the meaning of it all.' I never understood what he meant by that…how could a lot of boys killing each other on a desert island have any meaning? Why would you want there to be any meaning?"
I flipped over onto my stomach, resting my chin in my hands as I held myself upright with my elbows. "He home-schooled me for the most part, and was very respectful of my need for space and privacy, my refusal to socialize with neighbors, etc.. He was very smart, and his house was primarily filled with books and globes and maps, and other things like that. He was a good teacher, and I learned a lot from him. When I first moved in with him, he enrolled me in weekly therapy sessions, and I would go for an hour and a half to this same mental health center…" I tilted my head towards Dr. Jras, meeting his eyes. "I still do." I sighed, looking straightforward again, looking at the white washed stone walls, listening to the ticking clock, and the silence.
"When I was eighteen, my guardian told me that if I didn't leave him now, I would stay in his house forever, and I would never amount to anything, never 'get better,' so he basically kicked me out of the house. He got me a job, gave me some money to start me off, and wished me luck. I have lunch with him sometimes, but we never talk about the island or my experiences…we talk about current events and politics, or some other irrelevant topic."
The interesting thing about this session is that the silence is remaining comforting for so long. Usually by now it becomes unbearable, and I speak constantly only because I can't stand the sounds of the quiet. Things are calm still today, and now I speak only because whatever I say today is something I don't have to say again next week. 2:45, fifteen minutes before I can return to whatever I was doing before I came.
On my back again, stretching my legs. "I work for a newspaper, a copy editor. The job isn't all too exciting, but it pays for my apartment and my food. I don't have fun, for the most part, with anything, but I take walks or listen to music when I'm not participating in the necessary human functions."
His voice surprised me slightly, he having not spoken for a time. "Necessary human functions?"
"Eating, sleeping, working."
"What sort of music do you listen to?"
I shrugged as best I could in my reclined position. "It doesn't matter much, I'm particularly fond of Brahms however, and Mozart and Liszt. Not all of their work of course, mostly the softer, calmer, more melancholy pieces."
The sound of his scratching pen broke the sweet quiet. Interesting that I hadn't noticed that sound before…silence has the tendency to sneak up on you sometimes, even if there are still sounds in the air.
"Why melancholy? Why do you enjoy sadness?"
"I hardly enjoy it."
Dr. Jras narrowed his eyes slightly, shifting smoothly in his chair. "Oh, but you do. The way you speak of your life, your grey existence, the small smile on your lips."
I looked at him again, my eyes, like my tone, cold and harsh. "I smile at my stupidity, at my ignorance, at my naivety, at how for years I wondered, my bachelor wondered, everyone wondered, about 'the meaning of it all' and yet, if there is an answer, it is right in front of us. It is around us, below us, above, inside everyone." I sighed. "I was never rescued from the island, merely taken from one battle ground to another. The war raging on that lone land in the pacific was a fragment of the larger one going on around us. I fought when I was twelve to keep order and government, to sustain society and civilization, so that I could return to my cottage with the ponies, my books about trains and magicians, and my parents. I got home to discover that my cottage had been destroyed in a bomb testing, my parents were dead, and my society, my precious civilization, was nothing but a bunch of animals racing around with their tea and crumpets and pretending to be superior to the worms they were, blind to the savage ferocity inside of them."
"Make a ring!"
"Ow! Stop it you're hurting!"
"Kill him! Kill him!"
"Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in!"
…And then the silence wasn't quite so comforting anymore.
I blazed on, not stopping to think, speaking loudly, quickly, almost shouting over the noise of the quiet. "And you walk the streets of London, with all its fog and rain and grey, and you see these little girls dressed in pink and pastels, and they laugh and swing their little gold ringlets, and do they know that every little boy around them is a killer? Do they know that their fathers come home every night from a day of murder and slime and blood? Do they know that coursing through their very veins is an undeniable lust for blood and death? They don't know it! No one does! And no one will until they see one innocent fat boy get shoved off a cliff and watch his blood and brains get washed from rocks by incessant roaring waves!!!"
"Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!"
"Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!"
"Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!"
"And, have you ever seen a lot of red ants devouring a dragonfly on a sidewalk? The way their poison tipped pinchers slice into a striped yellow and black exoskeleton, and you know that all around them are discarded candy wrappers, laden with sugar, a free meal, and yet they continue to tear apart the dragonfly!?! And have you ever looked at that and then seen the dragonfly as just a larger ant, and that we are the ants? The eaters and the eaten. We destroy ourselves with our need to conquer, and ever day we eat away at ourselves more by denying it! And then you realize that while this battle for life and death is occurring on the sidewalks of London, all around us is the bigger battlefield, and ours is only part of an even larger one! Every death is one tile of a giant mosaic of carnage, and NO ONE KNOWS IT! No one knows it, but me."
Silence. Calm, comforting silence. The tears streaming down my cheeks drying slowly on the brown leather beneath me.
"Well, I'm afraid our time is up for today, Ralph. It was nice to meet you and I'll see you next week." Dr. Jras stacked his papers, tapping them on his lap to straighten them before placing them carefully in his file folder, back in his briefcase.
Tick, tick, tick, tick. 3:00.
I labored to my feet. Thirty-two years old, and not what I used to be. I ran a calloused hand over my face, erasing any traces of tears before brushing more bangs out of my eyes. I nodded to Dr. Jras before making my way to the door, my own shoes silent on the tiles beneath them. The doorknob was cold, and I grasped it, turning, pushing, out of the room, away from the clock.
The hallway is long, very long, the doorway at the end exits onto the street. Along the walls is a row of wooden chairs, occupied by those waiting for their appointments. Glancing at the seated I mentally take back one of the things I had said. I wasn't the only one who knew. Not by far.
I nod in turn to those I pass as I make my way to the exit. Insurance salesmen Sam, stock broker Eric, photographer Maurice, pathologist Roger, boarding school teacher Jack, and librarian Percival Wemys Madison; The Vicarage, Harcourt St.
They nod to me, copy editor Ralph.
We all know.