All the Time
[part one of three]
l u k e o ' h a r a
One cold spring afternoon Vance Ikon shook himself awake as he strolled between the flat brick rises of ten-story tenements and sidewalk trees dripping with cold crystals. Watching the miniature lakes left in concrete glacier indentions, he had the impression he was skimming above the tundra of Canada like a Discovery channel camera. He suspected that he did know where he was.
The strange thing that occurred then was that he didn't mean to look back. Not that there was anything everyday about climbing the stoop of a crank doctor who had been arrested twice for misdemeanor distribution. But, in truth, Vance Ikon had not been sleeping well and when he did sleep he dreamed that he couldn't. He had developed a minor twitch and believed his vision was deteriorating. Desperation made Dr Shamas' Dream Control Clinic as palatable a solution as any other, although he classed the good doctor with the likes of car salesmen and school board members.
-Stop me if I've told you this before.
Dream all the time! the commercial promised. He gripped the ornate Georgian door handle, which seemed eccentric but not out of place. The door swung open easily and he was face to face with a woman, who likewise paused on her side of the doorframe. She seemed to have emerged out of the texture of the building, like a static shock. He stood, stung with her uncanny presence. He narrowed his eyes rudely trying to discern her peculiar memorious quality. He could make out no features, other than her transparent raincoat. She brushed past him without a word, on her way out, which again, was completely ordinary and unremarkable.
Vance caught the closing glass door with the rubber toe of his shoe. Then his head jerked around as if he had been snagged by an errant fishhook. Her peach perfume or shampoo mixed with the humid fog that intermittently fell as a warm rain. But that did not explain why he stopped to stare at the woman who hopped the steps, bounced a few times in a light jog and was slammed by a sports utility vehicle.
-Let me guess, she was gone when you looked for her.
-You mean you've heard this before, Doc?
-No, no. Hehe. It was a guess, a guess. Go on, Vance.
-Yeah, she was gone. Poof. Not a trace.
Dr. Shamas took a long drink of his porter, leaving a taste on his beard. The atmosphere inside the bar was that of a drowsy, dimly lit, scene from a detective novel. Vance sat on the next stool over. His head was cocked as he watched the butch bartender aggressively polish a mug. The room had one window, flooding garish, dust-ridden light on the troglodyte drinkers inside. A group of women behind them had begun a style gambling argument.
-Things are getting heavy over there.
-It's not everyone's bar. They only let you in here because you're heavily sedated and I told them you were buying.
-Why do you hold your sessions in a bar?
-I find that alcohol is the most commonly accessible drug for beginning the process of bringing the 'unconscious' to the foreground.
Vance woke up from the bottom of his drink. Dr. Shamas was watching him intently and scribbling on a bar napkin. What did he think he was doing? Playing buddy psychologist. Vance's stomach sloshed.
-I'm paranoid enough without that kind of talk.
-Have you ever really fully conceived of the possibilities of paranoia?
Shamas uncrossed his legs and handed Vance his bar napkin. On it was a fountain pen sketch of the woman in the doorway. It was a composite sketch of the few details he had remembered.
-Check that out. Can you tell me that's not the woman you saw?
-What's this? They'll fill it?
Shamas shot him a raised eyebrow. He turned back toward the bartender and got out his wallet. He let out a burp and put a ten on the counter. Vance set the napkin back on the bar.
-Whatever you do don't go to sleep. There's an address on the prescription.
-Do you ever feel like you're an experimental patient in some unofficial psychological testing institute?
Shamas turned, picked up the prescription and slipped into Vance's breast pocket with a pat.
-Don't be an ass.
The dissolving afternoon light, filtered down but the street level was overgrown with shadows and trash bins. He took out a pack of lights, which he had bought this morning. Less than half now. He had to stop to give himself a light, because he was incapable of walking during the procedure.
Shaking out the match and releasing a mouth of steam and smoke, he looked up at the alley wall, which was covered in graffiti. It was hieroglyphic. Were those letters or pictures? One piece of the wall was legible, a small sticker. He stepped up and found a discarded HELLO: My Name Is sticker with a cursive name and a series of numbers written under it. 122-80 = 42.
-You've got to be kidding me.
Vance felt his pocket then began to frisk himself aggressively. Pants, shirt, jacket. No. Where the hell was it? He smiled at his own desperation. It was a trivial thing, but where was it? The napkin was like a name he couldn't remember that distracts you during dinner. He tried to pick the sticker off the wall but only part of it came away in his hands. Ruined. The nameplate had a familiar cursive V-A then his own illegible flourish.
to be continued . . .