Face Down and Freefalling
“How’s he doing?” Dr. Bloomfield asked, approaching Emmy as she exited Aidan’s room.
“Better,” she replied, “though we’re still not out of the woods with this one.” She scribbled some notes in Aidan’s file and tucked it under her arm. “And you?” she asked, grinning mischievously. “I heard he gave you a run for your money last night.”
“Yes, well,” the older doctor said, sheepishly, “perhaps if I were younger, more attractive, andfemale…” he chuckled. “Took beauty to tame the beast, you know.”
Emmy laughed, blushing. “Yes, well, for the record, next time you might want to talk to him before you try and poke him with that needle of yours,” she grinned. “You catch more flies with honey, you know.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Dr. Bloomfield told her over his shoulder, as he headed down the hallway.
Emmy turned and headed the opposite direction, lost in her thoughts. There was more to this patient than met the eye, that was for certain. She’d spent the better half of the afternoon pouring over the records they’d received back about him from the police station as well as his military records. Quite a thick file, at that, going back from the time he was a child even. No wonder he feels worthless, Emmy thought to herself. She’d just barely scratched the surface, though, and had a lot more reading to do before she could get to the heart of the matter. Homework, she mused, stifling a yawn as she stopped by the nurses’ station.
In the meantime, though, she’d have to see about getting him slowly immersed into the program. That, of course, included getting the patient to attend both one-on-one sessions as well as group therapy sessions. Emmy felt the more she could put him in social settings the more likely Aidan would start to open up more and would be less likely to try hurting himself again.
“Lettie,” she said to the rotund older nurse sitting behind the desk, “please make sure that the patient in 17 is taken to the day room once he’s finished his lunch.”
Nurse Lettie raised a disapproving eyebrow at the doctor, “Are you sure about that?” she asked. “After last night…”
“He might not be too happy about it at first but I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Emmy assured her, then, thinking about it, added, “Just…call me if there are any issues.”
“Will do,” Nurse Lettie told her, grudgingly.
“Thanks,” Emmy replied, then set about making her rounds.
Emmy was right, Aidan wasn’t at all happy about her orders to have him taken to the day room with the other patients. He glared at the large nurse as she handed him a robe and slippers and insisted he follow her down the hall.
“Making that face at me won’t change the fact that the doc wants you to spend some time around other people,” she chided him. “Now, don’t give me any grief like you did with Dr. Bloomfield last night. I’m not in the mood. Besides,” she added, “might do you some good to be around others for a while. Being cooped up in here with nothing but your thoughts has got to be bad for one’s psyche.”
Aidan scowled at her again, but then grudgingly slipped the robe and slippers on and followed Nurse Lettie down the hallway and into the large, open day room.
Several small tables with patients sitting around them playing various board games scattered the room. Over to the left, Aidan noticed a ping-pong table and in the opposite corner of the room was a small reading nook with several low wooden shelves mounted into the wall housing various books and other reading material. The walls were painted a calming light blue with various posters of smiling, happy people or cutesy animals and sayings scattered about.
“Dear God,”Aidan thought to himself, “what kind of hell is this?”
As they walked further into the room, a rather gangly looking man with longish blonde hair and thick glasses bounded up to greet them. “Hi,” he said, in a sing-song voice, “Hi, Nurse Lettie!”
Aidan grimaced at the sound of the man’s squeaky voice, which to him sounded like nails on a chalkboard in his head.
“G’day, Tommy,” Nurse Lettie replied, smiling broadly at the man. “And how are you feeling today?”
“Good, good,” Tommy said, grinning, “My mum is coming for a visit, ya know.”
“That’s great, Tommy,” the nurse told him.
“Yeah,” Tommy said, “Who’s this, then? A new mate for us?”
“Oh, Tommy, this is Aidan,” she said. “Aidan is going to be staying with us for a while and I was wondering if you might show him around the day room here. See that he follows all the rules and what not.”
“Yes, I can do that,” Tommy beamed at her. “You can count on me, mum.” The man turned to Aidan, a friendly smile on his face. “I’m sure we’ll be best mates. Yes, best mates, indeed.”
“Great, then I’ll see you two in a while,” Nurse Lettie replied, then exited the room, leaving Aidan alone with the other patient.
Aidan shifted on his feet, scowling at Nurse Lettie as she went. He scanned the room, mentally deciding what the best route of escape might be as the man next to him prattled away about the various activities they might enjoy there together.
“Over here is our ping-pong table,” Tommy was saying, “but George mostly keeps the paddles to himself –not wanting to share. Don’t ya, Georgie, mate?” A round little man with a receding hairline grinned a toothy grin at him and waved a paddle. “Or, if you like, we could play cards – though Nurse Timmie – have you met her yet? Well, she won’t allow us to play for money anymore. Says its immoral and all. Or, if you’d rather…”
“Bugger off,” Aidan growled at the man, leaving him standing there crestfallen as Aidan made his way to the far corner of the room and plopped down in a chair. His head was pounding and he was not in the mood to be ‘entertained’ by the resident nut-job.
Tommy began to follow but Aidan shot him a look that let him know it was in his best interest to stay away.
Aidan sat staring out the window, his body tensed and on edge as he thought about what his next move might be. He didn’t want to be there, hated it in fact. He wondered if he had actually in fact died and this was his purgatory. He closed his tired eyes for a moment, his mind a hazy and clouded - from the meds they’d put him on, no doubt.
A week ago he was all but happy. Wife, child, happy home. But in the blink of an eye all of it was taken away. He wondered to himself if it had really been his to begin with? If God had only teased him with what seemed like a good life, a happy family, only to punish him once more by taking it from him. Just like in the war, just like all those other times before.
“You’re not allowed to sleep in here,” Tommy’s sing-song voice called out from across the room. “The day room is for socializing. Dr. Bloomfield’s orders.”
Aidan opened his eyes, shot Tommy a menacing glare, causing the other man to cower and go back to the card game he was playing with several of the other patients.
Aidan had just shut his eyes again when he was startled by a female voice next to him, “Making friends, I see.”
Aidan’s eyes snapped open and he found himself face-to-face with Dr. Brooks. She smiled and sat down across from him. “Tommy’s right, you know, Dr. Bloomfield won’t like it if he catches you in here napping.”
“Fuck Dr. Bloomfield,” Aidan snapped.
“Yes, well, you might want to rethink that attitude of yours if you want to get out of here,” she grinned. “Considering Dr. Bloomfield is my boss and all and he has the final say as to when a patient can be released.”
Aidan just sat there, his eyes nervously darting around the room.
“We’re only trying to help you,” Emmy told him quietly.
“Then let me die,” he told her, his eyes pleading. “If you truly want to help, that is.”
“Aidan,” she said, leaning forward towards him, “you know I can’t do that. I won’t do that.”
Aidan had expected that answer from her. He looked away, staring off into the distance through the window next to him. If only he could somehow slip through the glass, float up into the clouds– away from this place, away from this life.
“What are you thinking?” Emmy asked him, softly.
Aidan sighed. “A way out,” he told her.
“Aidan,” she said, “you know the way out.”
“Yes, but you said you won’t help with that,” he replied, looking into her eyes.
“No, not with theway out you’re talking about,” Emmy told him. “But, there is another way. There’s always another way.”
“Yeah?” he asked, “What’s that?”
“By letting me in,” she told him.
Aidan stared at her a moment, contemplating her meaning. “I already told you,” he said, finally, “you don’t know what kind of darkness you’ll be delving into with me.”
“And I already told you,” Emmy smiled warmly, “I’m not afraid of anything.”
“I…” Aidan began to protest, then stopped himself.
“I know its difficult to let go,” she said, “but I’ll be here beside you all the way. We’ll get through this – whatever it is that’s haunting you – together. Trust, remember?”
“Easier said than done,” Aidan retorted.
“There’s nothing easy about life, Aidan,” Emmy said. “But trust me, death is a coward’s way out and I happen to know for a fact that you, my friend, are no coward.”
“You read that in my files, did you?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“What else did you read…about me?”
“What else is there I should know?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he replied, looking away. “Nothing at all.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Emmy told him. “From what I can tell, you have led quite the life. There’s more than a few layers to you that we’ll need to peel away.”
Aidan fidgeted with the edge of his robe as he thought about what she’d just said. “The past is the past and best left there,” he said, quietly.
“We’ll have to discuss that later, in our next session,” she told him, rising to her feet. “For now, though, I’d like you to try and do something besides just sitting here brooding.”
“Yeah? Like what? Mingle with the otherhead-cases? No thank-you.”
“Aidan,” Emmy said, admonishingly, “you promised you’d behave yourself.”
“I am,” he replied, a slight grin on his face, “The fact that I’m not bashing Tommy over there’s skull in should prove that.”
“You think perhaps all this anger and has more to do with the anger and rage you’re feeling towards yourself right now?” Emmy asked. “I seriously doubt you really feel all that hostility towards Tommy.”
“No,” Aidan answered, “no, I’m pretty sure I do.”
“Alright,” she told him, moving a small game table with a chess board made onto it over to where they were sitting. “If you won’t play with Tommy and the others then how about you play a game of chess with me?”
“You like playing games, do you?” Aidan asked, mischievously.
“Depends on the game,” Emmy answered, as she began setting up the pieces on the board. “Now chess, well, I have to admit its one of my favorites. My dad taught me to play when I was just a girl. We’d sit for hours on end – just he and I – playing game after game. Most of the time he’d let me win of course, but eventually I actually got pretty good at it and was able to beat him outright. How about you? Are you any good at it?”
“Never learned to play, actually,” Aidan confessed, watching as she set each game piece in its place.
“Your dad never taught you to play?” Emmy asked, looking up at him.
“No,” Aidan answered, matter-of-factly. “Never got around to it, I suppose.”
“What kind of thingsdid he teach you?” she asked.
“How to tend cattle, shear the odd sheep, work on cars,” Aidan answered. “That sort of thing.”
“And your step-dad?” Emmy asked him, gauging his reaction at her mentioning him. “What kind of things didhe teach you?”
Aidan sat back in his chair, completely thrown off guard by her question. After a moment, he said, “You have been reading up on me, haven’t you.”
“It’s my job,” Emmy replied, then asked, “So?”
“He taught me that the only person in your life you can count on is yourself,” Aidan finally answered. “That and how to be the complete opposite of himself.” He cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable by discussing his step-father. “So tell me,” he said, picking up one of the game pieces, “what does this little bloke do?”
Emmy smiled, realizing he was trying to change the subject. “Oh, that one is called a pawn,” she told him, pointing to it. “I guess you could think of him as your front line. His main goal is to hold off the other pieces and take out as many as he can– all while protecting this larger bloke in the back – the king. It can only move forward, one space at a time, but can only take another piece diagonally. ”
“Interesting,” Aidan said, placing the pawn back in its spot on the board. “And this one?” he asked, picking another piece from the board and holding it up in front of him.
“That one’s called a Rook,” she told him. “It can move as many spaces as it likes, but only front, back or side-to-side.”
Aidan listened attentively as Emmy ran through each game piece and their various movements, as well as basic game strategy. When she had finished, she smiled and said, “So, you think you’re ready for a game?”
“Bring it,” Aidan nodded.
“Feeling a bit confident for your first time, are we?” she grinned, making her first move on the board.
“What can I say, I’m a fast learner,” he answered, grinning back.
“Well then,” Emmy told him, “let’s say we make this a bit more interesting then.”
“I thought Nurse what’s-her-name put an end to gambling here?” he smirked.
“Nurse Timmie,” Emmy answered, “and yes, she did. But the stakes I’m talking about are a bit different.”
“Intriguing,” Aidan said, raising his eyebrows, “Go on then.”
“I’ll make you a deal,” she said, “You win, you can sit here alone and be as unsociable as you like.”
“And if you win?”
“IfI win,” she grinned, “then not only do you have to spend time in here each day but you also have to spend time socializing with some of the other patients.”
Aidan thought for a moment. “I can live with that,” he answered, confident in his ability to beat her at her own game.
“Alright then,” Emmy told him, smiling, “you’re move, hot-shot.”
Aidan leaned forward, staring intently at the game board and at the piece Emmy had chosen to move.
“Need any help?” she asked.
“No, no, just give me a minute to work it out in my head,” he assured her. Finally, after what seemed to her like an eternity, Aidan made his first move.
Emmy grinned as she quickly made her next move, mentally celebrating her victory before the fact.
Again, Aidan took several minutes before he chose a piece to move. “Check and mate,” Aidan announced, proudly.
“How did you…?” Emmy replied, attempting to figure out where she’d gone wrong. She looked up at Aidan, frowning. “You lied,” she said, a bit more crossly than she would have liked.
“How’s that?” he asked, confused by her reaction.
“You apparently knew how to play all along,” she told him. “That’s why you agreed on the bet.”
“I told you,” Aidan said, leaning back in his chair, “I’m a quick study.”
“Fine,” she told him, getting to her feet and walking towards the door – frustrated and unconvinced that he hadn’t lied about never playing chess before. “Just…,” she started again, throwing her hands up, “just… read a book then, something, as long as you’re not brooding or bashing heads in or whatever else you might be tempted to do.”
Aidan let out a sigh, nodded, as he watched her leave the room.
“Bye Dr. Brooks,” Tommy called out to her as she walked past.
“Bye,” she called back over her shoulder, closing the door behind her.
Aidan glared at him from across the room. No way in hell he was gonna spend time with those whack-jobs.
“You shouldn’t brood,” Tommy called out to him just then. “Dr. Brooks said.”
“Piss off,” Aidan snapped back, “and mind your own.”
Tommy mumbled something to the other patients and they all nodded and went back to their card game.