“How are you feeling? Do you remember anything?” An aging hand slides a glass of water across the end table. “Here, in case you’re thirsty.”
Jack’s head wobbles as if spun too fast on a merry-go-round. The outline of a figure behind a blinding light Is barely distinguishable. Large cushions have sucked him into a chair. This is one strange day and another shrink trying to induce characters to come forth and validate them. His memory is spent on many things, but split personality is not one of them. He knows there is only one Jack, that much he is certain. Of course, that doesn’t explain the voices in his mind – those extra thoughts that could easily be someone else’s.
“So, you simply left? Where is it you say, The Inner Garden? Are you saying the planet is hollow with a garden in the middle?” Dr. Worskovey doesn’t believe a word of it and appears to look up from scribbling some notes. “What do you think it means?” The doctor sat there on the dark side of the light, waiting. Jack imagines broad-brimmed black glasses and pens in a shirt pocket with a balding head and shaggy gray hair. That’s the image of him.
After a long silence, “I can tell you what I think. Do you want to hear what I think?” He is more direct where Jack is restless and fumbling for words.
“I’m sure it’s riveting. Look, I was expelled from hell, and…, and sent here…, to this place, which isn’t much of an improvement. I was puked onto the surface no longer in this sanctuary…, or ah…, inner garden, or whatever it is. I don’t understand any more than you so stop asking me. This migraine is killing me though!”
“OK, fine. This is an interesting story, but I think you need more time to process it. You have certainly been consistent; I’ll give you that.” The doctor seems genuine and scribbles more notes. Even though the light is blinding, Jack can still make out some details: the shape of his posture, the sound of his pen on the paper, and when he put his fist to his mouth to catch his cough, things like that.
“I have no idea where I was or what it means. I only know that I sense things as if my mind is crowded with the thoughts of everyone else around me.”
“Can you hear my thoughts now?” Jack can tell that Dr. Worskovey leans forward in his chair, expectedly.
“No. But when I’m in public it’s a different story, I think.”
“Hmmm, ok. For now, then, I am more interested in what you remember from your guided dream. Do you recall where it was you emerged from?”
“I don’t know. What does that matter? This is my reality, now, in this moment, not when I am checked out under your spells. How should I know what the hell these dreams mean – if they have any meaning at all?” A light turns on somewhere down a hall that casts the slightest illumination, giving some sense and a realization of a long open room.
“Please, what do you remember?”
“Fine, just gimme a minute.”
“Take your time, I’ll be right back.” The doctor’s shape mystically rises and strolls off toward the small light. He is speaking to someone until suddenly, the door slams shut and the room floods back to black. The sphere of burning light returns, intensified. The theatrics of interrogation are harsh though the doctor insists they are useful. Maybe for a sadomasochist! Jack can’t think of what to say. Dr. Worskovey knows more about the story than he does. In fact, he probably sat there and wrote it all down while Jack was out – or recorded it or something. Yea, of course, it was recorded. Jack remembers he signed something about that when he got there.
“How are we doing, Jack? Do you need more time, or do you want to talk about it?” His shadowy shape slowly sharpens into view again. With the door abruptly shut, it is only Jack alone in a sphere of light, again.
“No, that’s fine. I think I remember a vast open space…, and cold. I was exposed, curled beneath the only tree in as far as I could see in any direction. It was barren, beautiful…, and chaotic – you know, an untamed desolate landscape.” Jack’s mind drifts into the blackness surrounding the bubble of light. Traces of whatever the doctor gave him are still working, causing a heavy fog to weigh down on him.
“OK, we can come back to that later.” Dr. Worskovey tries his best to make him feel comfortable. “While on the other side, you mention a woman – someone you loved. Who is that? Is that person no longer with you? Was it Mary, your wife?”
Dr Worskovey thinks: “He seems to be experiencing a convergence of one reality skipping over another. It may become unclear very soon how to distinguish them. Who is your true self? Ironically, most humans are asking that very question.” The doctor chuckles, making light of something before his tone sharpens. “I do not think it is in the same context for your particular experience but there does seem to be a correlation with the underlying question and so perhaps, at the end of the day, you may simply not know.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Jack loses his patience. “Maybe this is not a good idea.”
“Excuse me? All I asked was ‘who do you love’? When you were having your dream, you were carrying on about someone you love. I feel a presence in the room.”
“Yeah, doc, that’s me!”
“No, the love you expressed breathed life where none existed, and I could almost feel her presence here in the room with us.”
“Why do you ask me the same questions over, and over, and over again, and we go nowhere? Are you aware of that? Have you not heard a thing I’ve been trying to explain?”
“Jack, you’re not being very cooperative.” The doctor is cool, and the sound of his voice makes Jack’s ears bleed. “Tell me, who is this love – this other that you dream of? Are you having an affair?”
“What? No! It’s not like that! I have no idea who this person might be – it’s not supposed to be real. I’m trying to figure this out and you’re not helping. I keep having these dreams – except I am not asleep, and they feel more like memories of things I have no recollection of. The insomnia is killing me, doc! What’s going on with me?”
“I understand. Sometimes, our personal lives – the ‘real’ reality have a way of projecting in curious ways. I just wonder, have you discussed this with Mary?”
“How do you know Mary? You say that as if you know her.”
“Well, according to your chart, she is listed as an emergency contact and she did sign you in earlier. Are you feeling, ok?”
“What medication? What’s wrong with the medication?” The bright light was no longer so blinding, but Jack didn’t notice when it changed. Dr. Worskovey was almost visible now but something was different from what Jack remembered of him.
“Medication, I am not sure I understand?” Dr. Worskovey was looking at his chart again.
“Then why did you ask me about my medication?” He knew the doctor hadn’t asked about his medications but for some reason, Jack asked the question as if something else was controlling his speech from a dark corner of his mind.
“I’m sorry, Jack, but I didn’t ask about your medication. Speaking of it though, how do you think it’s working for you?” Dr. Worskovey is tapping on the inner flap of his notebook. “Let’s try something different. I mean, it’s not like you’re going anywhere and so what do you lose? Do you want to hear what I think?”
“What do you mean I am not going anywhere?” Jack is agitated and disorientated – he imagines falling for his own story if it weren’t so fantastic and out of the world. Yet, he can’t escape it. Some days are like a constant loudspeaker with that nagging voice feeding him fragments of things he does not understand. His mind rips through scenes from his life but also some other life, some other world with unknown faces and feelings.
“You just got here, Jack. By the sounds of it, your wife made a good decision. Perhaps, this is a good place to stop for today. We can finish your intake tomorrow after you’ve had some rest. Breakfast is served at 7 AM. I will have the Nursebot check on you and we can try again tomorrow.”
“I need something for this migraine, please.” He needs validation – to think straight. Jack needs a drink.
“Oh, don’t worry; the Nursebot will take care of you and that migraine.” With that, the lights were up to full strength and he can see he is sitting in a long room like a cafeteria with a counter along one wall and two doors at the end. It all seems oddly familiar. The back of Dr. Worskovey is leaving and all he can think is to get out of there. Jack can’t believe he let Mary talk him into this!
“Good evening, sir. Would you please open your mouth wide?” It takes hold of Jack’s wrist to check his pulse and he can’t pull his arm away. “I understand it can be uncomfortable, but I can be very efficient with your cooperation.” Jack cannot break away from the Nursebot.
“Hey, I don’t need a medical exam!”
“Ruby, go to Level 2, please,” Dr. Worskovey instructs over his shoulder as he walks away. He named the nursebot, Ruby. It immediately drops Jack’s arm and stands there motionless, resetting to his voice command. “Ruby is an advanced caregiver, and she won’t hurt you. She is an earlier version of the S-7, which is better because her code is not blocked like the newer versions and is more… ‘customizable’. Get some rest, Jack. Ruby will show you to your room and I think you will approve of the accommodations. These things usually take a few days to sort out. Don’t worry.”
“I don’t want a room.”
“I understand,” Dr. Worskovey calls back as he turns a corner.
“Come, please.” Ruby is so life-like except her mannerism is more than human, a reminder of the necessary separation from AI systems. This is where they should be utilized – in medicine, not like some of those pairing services for domestic partnerships. The dating apps were flooded with ads making it hard to find a real human these days. Ruby leads them through the double doors at the other end and into a long hallway with rooms that look more like prison cells.
“You are here.” Ruby sweeps her arm in the direction of his room. In the long empty hall, there is no distinction like a room number to know one room from the other. For his room, a small communal space was nearby with a circle of chairs that faced outward.