Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Happy Medium

Her father was frozen when she was seven; explanations not exactly given to the girl at the time as to why she would be occupying the top bunk of her Aunt Gertrude's guestroom indefinitely. The year was 1978, Dr. Sanders returning from his extended stay in Mexico with fewer screws intact. The whole family initially blamed his metamorphosis on the heat, claiming that three months away from upper state New York could quite literally drive any man into a psychological coma. "He's just recovering in his own way," they would say, before tiptoeing around his cherry office door.
His daughter knew better. She had spent the majority of her childhood fiddling with the dials on their recently-dubbed antique television set, learning all the ins and outs of dented human conditions from syndicated 1950's serials. There were robotic and alien explanations available, all of which she ruled out rather quickly, within the first week or so of speculating. The illogical man was still there, still clearing his throat the same way, ignoring roadside diversions along the highway. He still joked with her about the mundane, and would let her break the rules after school and on the weekends. The girl still loved her father, despite the visible shift that was frosting over as winter approached.
It was then that the subscriptions started to come in; all soon alphabetized on his baron bookshelves. He had started systematically burning hardbacks in the living room fireplace around October; his daughter intrigued by the sparks as Chaucer and Elliott found their place amongst the ash and cinder. The magazines were of two specific types: science and pornography. He would flip through their pages with ease, filing the excess subscriber cards in separate folders, letting them pile up. Soon she would hear him up late, coughing on the receiver, whispering her dead mother's name from across the hallway in a house that had recently started to echo, mostly due to how hollow it had become. The girl eventually learned to ignore such panting, sleeping soundly for the first twenty days of anticipation before Christmas.
It was on the 22nd when he went missing; the large estate completely empty the following morning when the girl awoke for her final day of school that year. Her calls fizzled in the hallways; a misguided fear coming and going by noon as she snacked on day-old pastries and cereal directly from the box before passing out on the lavender sofa. The girl dreamed of surprises too big to fit under the tree. She saw her own face on the television screen; giddy and entranced by the wrapping paper and assembly required. There were too many bright things surrounding her to let something so minimal effect the seasonal mood; open-fired chestnuts and so forth.
Then came the knock on the front door, abruptly stirring the girl from her slumber. She opened it without thinking, and was soon propelled into a stagnant ultra-violet world of questioning and regret. What had happened to the good doctor? Had he been acting stranger than usual lately? She tried her best to simply nod while starring past the smudgy glass of the police chief's office and out into the other interrogation areas. Her Aunt Gertrude was later than expected to pick her up; the backseat of the car cluttered with unwrapped boxes. The girl was close to being thrilled again at the sight, had the worry not consumed her for the duration of the night.
She slept out of touch with the mattress, tossing her arms over the side frequently to feel the weight of gravity on her fingertips. The house phone would ring in unexpected spurts, almost consciously aware of how close she was to falling asleep completely. The girl didn't bother to listen to her aunt's sobbing the second or third time around, cursing other countries and fashionable waves of embarrassment. It was a predictable reaction and furthermore the kind that the girl would inevitably get used to as time passed them both by.
Doctor Sanders was discovered at noon the next day, whimsically preserved in a hibernated state, near the welcome sign to the same town he was born in. The subsequent tests of his blood and stool were non-conclusive; his fellow physicians, young and old, in complete shock over such circumstance. His body contained chemicals that they didn't know the names of; the doctor's speech patterns erratic. He had no clues to offer them of his whereabouts for the previous thirty-six hours, and was sooner than later running through numbers on his own time in the nearest puddled facility. It would be eleven years later when they finally decided to let him on out on good fortune and dumbfounded curiosity.

No comments: