Waking Up With Mr Clean
He wakes up in a world of white--a soft white glow. He tries to roll over but can’t move his arms. For a moment he panics, jerking his arms frantically at his side. He can’t breathe. A small cry escapes him. Then . . .
Then he understands the white room, and what it is that binds him, prevents his arms from moving.
It is a cell.
It is a straightjacket.
A man about Georgie’s age taps on the small window in the door. Georgie looks up. The man smiles and opens the door.
“I see that you’re up,” the man says. He lifts a clipboard and props it on his forearm. “How are you doing today?”
“Wh-what?” Georgie says.
The man squints at him.
“Do you know where you are?” he asks.
Georgie shakes his head.
The man inhales deeply. “Mercyhurst Hospital?” he says. “Remember now?”
Georgie shakes his head ‘no.’
“You remember me?”
Again, Georgie shakes his head.
“Dr Weinstein?” the man says. “Your psychiatrist?”
Georgie tries to shake the cobwebs from his head. “So I’m uh . . . I’m uh . . . I’m not dead?”
Dr Weinstein looks at him with a slight smile. “Alive as ever,” he says. Georgie detects a slightly ironic tone, but doesn’t understand it. He decides that it’s nothing.
“Where’s Claudia?” Georgie demands.
“Claudia. My girlfriend.”
Dr Weinstein frowns slightly, notes something on his iPad then glances at Georgie.
“Who’s Claudia?” he says.
“I told you, my girlfriend.”
“You have no girlfriend.”
“Red hair. Freckles,” Georgie says.
“There’s no one like that. Not here. And there’s no Claudia.”
Georgie stares at his doctor and then, as a smile spreads across Georgie’s face, his arms, his neck, his entire body relaxes. No Claudia. She never existed, never hurt him. Never killed him. He breathes a sigh of relief.
And yet, at the same time . . . If she didn’t exist, then . . . Then the pain of her nonexistence is almost stronger than the pain of her actual existence. If she wasn’t real, then what else wasn’t--isn’t--real? No, he decides, somewhere Claudia does exist, somewhere the doctor can’t find, but no--Claudia was too real not to have existed at all.
The doctor is wrong.
And then, as if the doctor can read Georgie’s mind, he asks, “Do you know how long you’ve been here? At Mercyhurst?”
Georgie shakes his head. He doesn’t want to know.
“Fifteen years,” the doctor says. “Nearly half your life.”
Georgie reels back, struggling to free his arms. The doctor notices.
“The trick to getting out of those,” he says, motioning to the restraints, “is to stop fighting them. Stop fighting us.”
Georgie’s mind is blank. He can’t remember fighting anyone. Ever. He is complacent, isn’t he? Acquiescent. He doesn’t fight.
“Do you remember what you’re doing here?”
Again, Georgie’s mind is blank.
“I don’t mean at Mercyhurst. I mean here . . . .” This time, the doctor gestures around the room, at the cushioned walls, the small barred window. “Do you remember what you did to end up in seclusion? To end up in restraints?”
Georgie’s eyes widen; he shakes his head frantically back and forth. All he can remember is Claudia. Margaret. The house in the woods. The pain. That’s what he remembers.
“Well,” the doctor says, turning to leave. “Why don’t we give you some time to think? I’m sure once your mind clears, you’ll remember.”
And then the doctor, pulling a jangling ring of keys from his pocket, unlocks the door and walks out, leaving Georgie completely alone, restrained, and still unable to remember a thing.
The doctor sticks his head in the door: “It’s not that bad. Really. Mercyhurst is state of the art.”
State of the art, but it’s still fifteen years. Fifteen years of a life only imagined. He stumbles, falls to his knees. Claudia. Margaret. A dream. A dream. A dream . . . Something wets his cheeks, rolls to his chin.
Tears. Georgie is crying.
He sobs, feeling the loss and the terror rise up in him. Then it subsides. Leaving him empty. Clean. Some time passes as Georgie tries desperately to comprehend a situation that seems impossible.
Georgie gasps, pulling at his restraints, staring at the ceiling above. His personal hell. This can’t be happening. This can’t be real. It comes to him, then. It isn’t real. This--Mercyhurst, the restraints—this is the dream. The hallucination.
He screams into the silent room: “Somebody help me. Somebody. Claudia?”
He knows she won’t come.
He tries again: “I demand that all my angels, spirit guides, all of you who know me, who want to help. I demand: Touch my head so I know you’re here. Wake me up from this nightmare.”
Nothing happens, and once again Georgie sobs. But then . . .
He feels a hand on his head. He moves his head, trying to look, trying to see. And then Ben’s face comes into view, smiling at him. Smiling at Georgie.
Ben nods slowly.
“I can see you,” Georgie says.
“Yes,” Ben says.
Or is it the voice—the voice in Georgie’s head—the voice that’s been there always, ever since. (’Don’t think about that.)
He stares closely into Ben’s face, taking in the nose, the mouth, the cheeks. “You’re not bad-looking,” Georgie says. “You have the face I should have had. The face I always wanted.”
Ben smiles as if Georgie’s said something funny. Something clever.
And then Georgie looks deeply into Ben’s eyes, a mirror of the soul. His soul.
(It’s impossible to say. Neither of us turned out quite the way we thought we would.)
“Why can I see you now?”
(Couldn’t you see me before?)
“I don’t know.”
(You don’t have to talk, you know. You can just think.)
“You’re always listening, aren’t you?”
Georgie relaxes, staring at the blank, acoustic ceiling, thinking nothing, wanting nothing. Somewhere, even if he can’t see him, somewhere Ben waits. Ben is there. Ben has always been there, always will be.
“Are we dead?” Georgie asks.
Ben gives a mental shrug. (How should I know?)
“You’re not good for much, are you?”
Georgie longs to pick at his fingernails, but his arms are still tightly restrained. He can’t even scratch himself. He can do nothing but stare at the ceiling, turn his head and stare at a wall.
“Who are you?” Georgie finally asks. Ahhh. The million-dollar question.
(You, Georgie. I’m you. Just as you, in all your delusions, your hallucinations are me. We are one.)
Georgie wants to jump free, slam himself into the wall, but, even if could, what would be the point? What would he gain? Instead . . .
“Why is my driver named Ben?” he asks.
(Why is your driver named Ben? Or why I am your driver?)
Ben seems to be laughing. (You never listen, do you? Dr C explained it to you hundreds of times. I drive. You ride. Simple as that. Or some such bullshite.)
“I don’t get it.”
(Bullshite. I drive, but you tell me where, when. You’re more than the rider, the passenger. Aren’t you?)
Georgie wants to rub his eyes, clear his head. “Huh?”
(I’m not your alter ego, Georgie; you’re mine.)
Georgie’s mind whirls. He doesn’t understand.
(You’re not real. You’ve never been real.)
Georgie nods. Of course. That’s it. He’s not real. He’s not the driver, not the rider. Not the passenger. He’s never really been here. Not in Mercyhurst. Not with Claudia. It is a blessing. A relief.
Georgie closes his eyes, sinks slowly away. Now. Now he gets it. Farther and farther he sinks. The room fades. Ben fades. Life fades. Somewhere--far, far off in the distance--Georgie hears Ben’s voice screaming:
“I want a cigarette, goddamnit. Somebody in this fucking shitehole bring me a goddamn cigarette. Did you hear me? I’m Ben Schreiber, and I want a goddamn fucking cigarette. And I want it now.”
Georgie hears the voice. He smiles.
The best I can, to not overreact, no matter what. Yikes.
If you think about it, the whole world, at least my miniature world, is encompassed within the universe, this universe that we can only imagine as seemingly having no end. So with the death of Claudia, going back in time to the beginning, you can even trace the speed of light, it’s an incredible phenomenon. People wondered how the damn thing was created in the first place. Back in the year 1000, men never lived long enough nor did Claudia, and they didn’t travel far enough to get really beyond the town where they lived, so they could only imagine what existed beyond the hills and it’s ironic because the things that existed right in front of them, they knew extremely well, every tree, every villa, every knoll of land. But they could only image what existed beyond that, and one doesn’t know, we fear, ultimately. So beyond the hills, and beyond that dense primeval forest, existed fairies and sometimes demons that would rush out and destroy them, or fierce indescribable animals that would tear them apart if they ever wandered beyond their clod fields. Reality is strange. And so, I allowed Claudia to decide my imagination . . . my reality. It all began on the road . . .