by Linda Sillitoe
[p.73]Although getting an appointment with Isabel Cumming on short notice was something of a triumph, Caitlin did not want to go. She dreaded being hypnotized. She did not want Nick Fazzio to watch. Getting ready to leave, she felt worse than being wheeled into surgery for the birth of her twins—this was like waiting in the dentist’s office. She just didn’t want to do it.
Nevertheless, she knew she would. One good thing-her car was repaired. Driving toward town, Caitlin tried to comfort herself by thinking how interesting it would be to have Nick and Isabel in the same room. They were two of the brightest and most analytical people she knew. Nick often got assigned the toughest investigations, and Isabel ended up treating multiple personalities and cult survivors. Trouble was Caitlin’s ability to observe them would be limited. And having those two minds focused on her while she was more or less out of it felt far from comfortable.
She and Nick each pulled up to the curb at precisely the same moment. Marly, who talked about synchronicity, might find that a good sign, Caitlin thought. For a moment she felt a sharp longing to tell Marly what had been happening but stifled the impulse. Marly seemed such a psychic lightning rod. She’d bring on the wrath of whatever was out there. Caitlin preferred to stay [p.74]happily agnostic about what might be. Besides, she just didn’t want her little sister upset.
Inside they waited. Caitlin kept her hands still and ignored the edginess in her stomach while she chatted with Nick, telling him that she had had no more nightmares.
“You may hit that darkness again,” Isabel warned her when she explained her dreams to her. “The question is, will you want to turn back or will you want to go through the darkness and see what’s there?”
Caitlin’s dread was growing, but so was her determination. “I want to get to the bottom of this.” Isabel motioned Caitlin toward a reclining chair.
Relaxed, breathing deeply, Caitlin didn’t think she could be hypnotized. Her eyes were closed but all her senses seemed alert. She heard Nick shift in his chair and Isabel turn a page in her notebook. She heard water running somewhere down the hall. Obediently, she kept breathing deeply as Isabel suggested that she look in her files—yes—and see what was there—and could she go back years into James’s past—yes—could she see any photographs—yes, but nothing new. “No one was taking the right pictures,” she said in a voice that sounded drugged.
Instantly, upon hearing that alien voice come from her throat, her mind split into three parts—one that wanted to relate its impressions, a second that was intrigued and wanted to analyze, and a third part that was skeptical and articulate. What’s wrong with your voice? the critic asked. You’re faking this—and what a dumb thing to say.
Now Isabel was settling her around the years they were interested in. Caitlin breathed deeper and tried to focus. She couldn’t see anything at all, everything was black. Blacker, she realized, than her closed eyelids usually yielded. What’s more, [p.75]she felt the nightmare blackness rising inside her, a darkness no light could penetrate. It felt awful. “Dark,” she croaked.
She felt a thunk then a flutter in her chest. She couldn’t breathe, some weight sat on her. She struggled for air, for even breaths. The twitches and poundings near her heart continued. A current flowed through her now, a dark but informed current, not thought exactly, but feeling. She recognized it: James Hubbard. She recognized his thinking, that mind she had tried so hard to fathom. Yes, she knew this current; she had known it for some time.
Caitlin was so preoccupied by her lack of breath that she was ignoring Isabel. She still couldn’t see anything. I knew you couldn’t do this, her inner critic smirked. But there was something—light reflected on a shiny surface like a desk or a table. And the light came from pear-colored blinds to the left of the desk. “Jack Borg,” Isabel said.
A man, an older man, stood behind the desk. “A man,” Caitlin said, her voice still leaden.
“What does he look like?” Isabel asked.
“White hair.” She wanted to say a receding hairline but couldn’t think of the words. “White eyebrows.” He wore a white, long-sleeved shirt, too. He seemed genial, maybe genteel, but those words were nowhere near her present working vocabulary.
Her inner eyes strained to see more, to answer Isabel’s questions but the impressions came singly, like old rusty slides held to the light. Seeing was more like letting go than like concentrating.
“Is James there?”
“Yes, James wants…”
“Can you see James?”
“See from James,” Caitlin corrected. That seemed obvious. “James wants something. A deal.”
[p.76]“Does this man have anything to do with Jack Borg?”
Caitlin paused, let the question sink. Then she drew in her breath. “This is Jack Borg. This is his study,” she said. Talking was a little easier, but the instant she paused, she felt the name was wrong. What she meant was, this was the man they were looking for. They had found him at last.
“What is James doing?”
She tuned in to the current again and found a kind of amusement there, a malicious mischief, but anxiety. He didn’t want to leave. She hunted for the word “stalling,” couldn’t find it and settled for, “James is waiting. He has his hand in his pocket.” Careful, said her inner critic, for Hubbard’s roommate Greg had told her how Ray Alexander was supposed to die—James had asked Greg to find a chemical compound he could slip into his food or drink to induce a heart attack. Maybe she was substituting that here—her investigative brain knew too much.
To her relief, Isabel asked her to step outside the place she was in and look around. She did. She was on a porch with posts or pillars but could see nothing directly across the street from her—no houses, though she felt she was in a town or city—no trees, though she sensed tall, old trees nearby.
“Can you see a street address on the house?”
She couldn’t but she had an impression of numbers. “Three,” she said, “five. I think a one in front of those.”
Could she see a street sign? No, but then a close-up of one appeared, unattached to any pole. White letters spelled Oak on a green background. “Oak Street,” she said, but by then the letters read Spruce. What kind of a psychic are you? her critic asked. Make up your mind.
“What does the house look like?”
“A white house, I think it’s frame, with a dark roof.”
[p.77]“Do you have any idea where you are? Are you in a city or a town or out in the country?”
“A town,” she said. “It feels rural. Summer. Big trees. A creek somewhere.”
Isabel had her go back inside and check her impressions there. Dark wood, she thought, books, rolled amber glass in a window, maybe in the kitchen, but all these were glimpses or just impressions. She could see so little from James. “James isn’t paying attention,” she said at last, discouraged.
Isabel brought her back to “Jack Borg,” though Caitlin now called him only “the man.” “He’s writing something.” That seemed odd with James still there. “There’s no deal.”
“Can you see what he’s writing?”
“A letter?” She could only see a date, “June 29, 1981,” and had the impression of a name—Lindsey. Jack Lindsey? She wondered. Her critic knew that name—how she wasn’t sure—and scoffed at the date: you know it was around that time.
Something shifted her from this confusion. James, she felt, was going into the kitchen, he was still stalling. She had a distinct impression of a tall, heavy glass tumbler in his hand.
Smashing that glass across the man’s head jolted through her mind. A flash of murder.
No. She thought James would put something from his pocket inside the tumbler, but she couldn’t see anything and couldn’t tell which part of her mind was thinking.
“Does he say anything?”
Distinctly, then, Caitlin heard James’s rather high, metallic voice and repeated his words for Isabel: “I brought you back a drink of water.”
Another slide then, of the man still smiling at something James had said, tipping back his head, the tumbler of water touching his lips. As that view froze into a slide, Caitlin felt despair, angst [p.78]like the grief projected by the families of James’s victims. Oh God. She pushed the pain away and came back to James. He was curious, nervous, interested, watching.
Caitlin wanted out.
What next, Isabel asked. Another slide: the man slumped down behind the desk. Grief again, but whose?
What is James thinking or doing? Isabel asked.
“James is happy.” Grief again. Again Caitlin wanted out.
“Does he do anything with the body?” Isabel asked.
Caitlin felt revulsion—her own. She saw no more slides, just a sense of a dark door, then the body falling. She offered her conclusion. “I think maybe he threw him down the stairs.”
Isabel had her look around again, inside and outside the house. She did, but her desperation to be free was growing. With an effort, she controlled her breathing and sat still.
“Did James ever kill anyone else?” Isabel asked slowly.
Caitlin took a long breath, waited. A thick resentment welled inside her like pus pushing through an abscess. “He wanted to,” she said.
“Who did he want to kill?”
Another pause, then Caitlin saw James’s father’s face, the bright, pained eyes that couldn’t help his innocent son, charged with murder. “His father,” she answered, loathing James for it.
Now Isabel was bringing her back, and she hurried, surprised at how long it took before she could open her eyes again, for her thoughts continued their flow. She looked at Nick, blinked.
“Wow,” he said and shook his head.
She looked at Isabel. Isabel looked back.
Caitlin felt conspicuous and defensive. “I’m a writer,” she said. “Did I make that up?”
“It’s hard to know exactly what happens,” Isabel said, still calm and analytical. “All you can do is fit things together and watch [p.79]for consistency. See how they check out. I wish we could have gotten more concrete bits of information.”
“I’m sorry,” Caitlin said. “That’s all I could see.”
“Now pay attention,” Isabel said, “to anything else you dream or any other impressions.”
“Okay.” Caitlin reached for her bag.
“If you have any more impressions, would you write them down?” Nick asked. ‘‘I’m going to be gone for a week.”
Trembling all over, her mind whirling, Caitlin wondered if they were trying to smooth what had been essentially a waste of time; if so, she appreciated their effort. After all, the two of them had sat with their eyes open and tongues nimble while she had been lost in that inarticulate dark. Had the session been a total bust? She had no idea nor the nerve to ask.
Out in the foyer, Nick helped Caitlin into her raincoat. She would remember that later, as if she had desperately needed even a brush of contact. Lonely again she drove home, urgently wanting a bathroom. She didn’t know what she thought. What had she seen, really? Did it mean anything? Was her mind inventing pictures to fit what she already suspected? What about that current that felt like James? Not for two days did it occur to her that the little scene she had described would take her about ninety seconds to invent, not ninety minutes, if she’d had control of her creative process.
When Caitlin pulled up in front of her house, she saw Julie holding her nephew Danny up to the window. Quite literally her heart sank. Didn’t Roger, wherever he was, fathom the emotional toll he was exacting from Robyn?
She closed her eyes for ten seconds against the headache building at the back of her skull, then went inside.
Julie and Heidi, both sporting hats and long dresses from the dress-up chest, were thrilled to play with Danny and Kerry. [p.80]Caitlin could see that she’d have little to do except change diapers occasionally and referee activities.
“Robyn’s coming up for dinner about six,” Jake explained, following her to the bedroom and watching while Caitlin changed into her oldest jeans. “She wanted to do a few things before her folks fly in tomorrow to stay for a couple of days. I couldn’t turn her down.”
“I’m glad,” Caitlin said, and meant it. “What shall we have for dinner.?”
“Let’s let the kids wallow in spaghetti. They’ll love that. I’ll fix some garlic bread and a salad.”
“Why don’t I bake cookies first then,” Caitlin suggested.
“Cookies would be a success,” Jake said, trying to get a closer look at her face. She pulled a sweatshirt over it. “How did it go?”
“Depends on who you ask,” Caitlin mumbled. “I think I watched a murder, but maybe I made it up.” She left him sitting on the bed and hurried into the kitchen.
Of course Danny played around Caitlin’s feet while she mixed the cookies. She gave him some pots, mixing spoons, a spatula, a metal bowl, and cookie cutters to play with. They made a lovely clatter being stirred.
In a way it was relaxing to measure the ingredients and absently listen to Danny’s chatter. She had done this for years with the twins, and for a moment she felt nostalgia. Certainly domesticity differed from taking on a psychopath—unless, of course, you lived with one, which she didn’t. Tonight domesticity felt good.
The four children kept dinner lively, though Robyn, when she arrived, looked demoralized. After dinner Jake cleaned up the kitchen and the women got the babies into pajamas; Robyn talked and talked. Caitlin listened. Then she listed the agencies that might help Robyn get on her feet financially. She described [p.81]what she had learned last year writing an article on child care, the pros and cons of agencies versus babysitters, if Robyn could find a job.
“Cait, what do you honestly think happened to him?” Robyn asked, her eyes searching Caitlin’s face. “Do you think he’s had a breakdown? Or he’s with another woman? Is he lying to me?”
Caitlin tried to shift to whatever part of her mind had been operative lately, but it felt worn bare. “No,” she said finally. “I really don’t. I think he’s alive and relatively okay.”
“I do, too,” Robyn said, starting to cry, Hand in some ways that’s worse. What did I do to deserve this?”
“Nothing, Robyn. Really. People do strange things. It’s something within Roger. It probably doesn’t have anything to do with you.”
Robyn shook her head. Caitlin realized how foolish that sounded to a young wife. Nevertheless it felt true. Before Robyn left, Caitlin gave her a long hug, though it felt awkward at first. By the time Robyn’s headlights turned away from the window, Caitlin felt that she had given everything away sometime during the day or evening; only her husk was left, standing by the door, waving.
She walked straight into the bedroom, lay down, and within seconds was asleep. She woke only when Jake went to bed hours later and had to get her to move off the bedspread. Stumbling into the bathroom, she automatically removed her clothes and ran steaming water into the tub. She soaked for a while but kept her eyes open. She never wanted to close them again. After she dried herself, she reached for the steroid cream and smoothed it on the rash that tonight extended across her shoulders and chest and down her arms. Then she went to bed.
Jake gathered her in, circled her with his arms and legs. “Tell me,” he said into her hair.
[p.82]At first she could only get out bits, as if language eluded her, but finally her sentences became fluid. He rubbed her back and neck as she talked, and she felt herself come alive. Here, inside her own body, not floating somewhere between the prison and the past.
“What do you think?” she asked finally. Jake was eminently rational. Maybe he could talk her out of it—or into it.
“I don’t know, babe. I can’t explain it. I don’t think you made it up, it’s too strange. The details are too odd.”
“It fits what we know without proving a thing. That’s what’s so maddening. What did I find out that will be any help at all?”
“I don’t know,” he said again.
Now his hands were moving under her nightgown, as if she had no rash, as if she might not be connected to the coldest, darkest, phoniest personality she had yet encountered, as if she were still Caitlin, just herself. For a moment, she resisted. She didn’t want to loosen her mind to pleasure. She wanted to think in a straight line, rational and provable. But her body gave way. She turned toward him, hands buried in his hair as he pulled her nightgown over her head. His hands moved down her as if he embraced something precious; she felt herself filling her body fully, and she moved onto his.
The next morning as Caitlin woke, even before she opened her eyes, she saw light corning through the window opposite their bed. Backlit against the window, she saw the bold outline of a mountain, flanked by another. Those were Central Utah mountains, she told herself sleepily, and then the thought jolted her awake.
That didn’t happen, she told herself I was still asleep. She got [p.83]up, brushed her teeth, dressed. The morning sky promised a clear day.
She was halfway through making orange juice when she suddenly put down the spoon and picked up a pencil instead. “All right, already,” she grumbled, looking for paper.
“What’s wrong, Mom?” Heidi asked, het dark eyes flashing mischief as usual.
“Just talking to myself,” Caitlin said. “I need to make a note about something.” She drew the outline of the mountains she had seen. Now she could put it out of her mind.
“You didn’t write anything,” Heidi observed.
“No, it’s just an image. Like in a poem. Maybe I’ll find words later.”
“I wrote the best poem in my class last week,” Heidi said.
“You did? I didn’t know that. May I read it?”
“Miss Larson tacked it up on the board, but I can probably remember. I’ll write it down for you.”
“Terrific. I didn’t know your class was writing poetry.”
“Yeah. Julie’s class is, too, but they can write whatever they want. Miss Larson gives us an opening line, and then we make up the rest. The one I chose was, ‘When he turned.’”
Caitlin smiled and began cracking eggs to scramble. By the time she had them mixed and simmering, Heidi was back with her poem. Caitlin read her careful cursive:
When he turned,
I thought it was the bomber.
My mouth went dry
and my knees went stiff.
I couldn’t run or scream.
Then I saw
it was just a regular man
[p.84]putting regular gas
in his car.
I felt silly.
This wasn’t a bad dream.
“Oh, Heidi,” Caitlin said. She sat down hard and pulled Heidi onto her lap, though she barely fit any more. “God, I’m sorry.” She kissed the dark curls.
“It’s okay, Mommy. I know he’s locked up. It’s only a poem.”
“It’s a good poem, honey. I’m just sorry you were scared.”
Heidi’s arms went around her neck then, tightly, and they sat there for a minute, each close to tears. “Mostly I was worried about you,” Heidi squeaked, “writing those articles.”
“Well, there’s nothing to worry about any more,” Caitlin said. “He’s going to be in prison for a long, long time. You aren’t scared now, are you? Do you have nightmares?”
“Just about Mr. Taylor, our principal,” Heidi answered more cheerfu1ly. She surreptitiously wiped her face on Caitlin’s shoulder. “Don’t we have any bacon today?”
“Oh—yeah. I’d better get back to work. Tell Dad and Julie we’re almost ready, okay?”
Caitlin bit her lips, blew her nose, and rinsed her eyes with cold water. She worked fast, finishing breakfast. Then they all sat down together and ate like a normal family.