An assortment of hair ties, a pack of Mentos, a nail file and nail clippers, a small flashlight that doesn’t work any more but has this cute picture of a dolphin on it, an expired bus ticket, three ink pens, lip balm, a drinking straw, a thirty-seven cents in loose change, a toothpick, a toothbrush, a travel tube of toothpaste, a pair of pantyhose, a business card from someone she doesn’t remember who or why she’s keeping it but you just never know, several tissues in various stages of use, sunglasses, another pair of sunglasses, ketchup pack, blue and pink artificial sweetener packs, receipts from last night through three months ago, a postcard she meant to send to her sister if she ever got around to writing something on it, a key that doesn’t fit anything as far as she knows but it looks nice on the commemorative keychain fob from the art museum when they had an exhibit of impressionist artists, an old wallet she doesn’t use any more which is empty save for three dollars tucked away that she’s forgotten about, an ice scraper for the car, a flash drive she found in a hotel parking lot she’s too afraid it might have a virus to plug it into her laptop, a comb, a hairbrush, a book of matches even though she doesn’t smoke anymore, and a folded up plastic bag in case she forgets to bring the canvas bag when she’s grocery shopping.
Had to avoid Main Street because of the police action. More of a surge, really. A response to the squatters in the old Capitol building. The anarchists started moving in about a month ago and I guess the mayor had had enough and decided to clean house. That, or there was an election coming up. Not that I care. You wouldn’t catch me at a polling place. Nothing but target practice for one group or another or the worst, a random lone wolf looking to make a name for himself in the annals of history.
So I had to reroute to Cherry Avenue and work my way around the ruckus. Would have made it too, if it hadn’t been for the sink hole. Swallowed up the whole intersection, antique autos and mopeds and stray dogs probably. I didn’t stick around to find out. I should have chosen another path because the surge had encountered more resistance from the squatters than they’d planned for. Ironic, no? How did anarchists become so organized? The riot swarmed over me and I end up with a face full of mace and a lung full of teargas. I couldn’t see or breath to find my way out.
The room felt disheveled, untidy. He’d expected that. An unordered environment, while not conclusive in itself, always expressed itself in cases like this. In his line of work, investigating potential enforced integration, the internal conflict between a primary or initial personality and a secondary or invading personality rendered the vessel, the physical person, impaired in several ways. A pronounced lack of propriety among them.
A formal interview of the patient would come, in time, but first, there was an investigation. That was the protocol, and he insisted on gathering a clear understanding of the environment. To confront the person without first placing them in time and space produced a biased understanding; and a first impression would also tinge the perception of the place to fit that bias instead of telling its own story in its own way. Not that he heard voices in the room. No, there were no spirits untethered to roam. All spirits needed anchoring. There could be no animas without an animal in which to reside. Inanimate objects were just that, things without spirit.
He started with the bedroom. This would be the place where the patient was most vulnerable. Sleepers experience dreams without inhibitions, or rather only those inhibitions the sleepers truly believe in rather than those imposed by the world around them. Their true selves would be expressed in this place, this room of sanctuary. It was here that he would find evidence, if any existed, of the imposition of alien personalities.
He first noticed the weed growing in his garden when he’d dashed out in the middle of a hails storm to place plastic buckets over his tomato starters. If the tomatoes were smashed, he’d have to reseed them and might not have a long enough growing season. After last year’s debacle, he decided a few bruises were worth it.
Once the storm subsided, he went into the back yard to assess the damage. One of his starters was smashed, completely ruined under the icy onslaught. He was sure he’d covered all of them, but must have missed this one. As he collected the sturdy painter’s buckets, he admired his remaining tomato plants, until the last bucket, a little out of line with his other tomatoes. Underneath the last bucket he found a weed. How on earth could he have mistaken that ungainly thing for one of his prize San Marzano tomato plants?
He frowned and traded the buckets for a pair of gloves and his favorite trowel from the shed. He’d take care of this weed right now. When he returned to his garden, the weed somehow seemed a little bigger than he’d first thought. As he dug into the loose soil of the raised garden-bed, the leaves were much thicker and spikier than he’d remembered, and he had to dig much deeper than he thought he would have to.
The deeper he dug, the more roots he found. This weed, whatever it was, certainly was tenacious. He traded the trowel for his favorite spade and returned to finish the job. Careful not to disturb the rest of the garden, he set to digging a deeper and deeper hole. It became obvious he wasn’t getting anywhere.
Spade replaced with post-hole digger, and now he was making a very deep hole indeed. Only briefly did he stop to consider that maybe he ought to check with the city to make sure he wasn’t in danger of hitting a power line or some other utility. And that weed was still growing!
Too late, he noticed the weed had flowered, sprouted teeth, and without so much as a by-your-leave, the noxious weed had chomped down on his face, pinning his arms to his side, and proceeded to suffocate him. His last thought was regret that he’d left the job undone, the root of the weed had bested him.
“Did you pack your bag?” Mother always asked me to do things by asking a question, like ‘is your room cleaned up?’ meant I was supposed to clean up my room.
“Yes,” I said. “I have it right here.”
I lifted up my little suitcase. It was the right size for me, but it still felt heavy with two sets of all my clothes and an extra pair shoes.
“Do you remember the game we play?” The game was The Quiet Game. We played that one a lot. It was her favorite. Sometimes we’d play The Quiet Game with Daddy was asleep, or if he was in the next room yelling at the football players on the TV, or even if Daddy wasn’t home at all. We played it a lot, and I knew I wasn’t supposed to say a word, or I’d be out. I nodded.
Mom smiled at me and took my hand. She had her own suitcase in her other hand. It was much bigger than mine. Maybe she had three set of everything in hers. I bet it was really heavy.
As we walked toward the front door, the garage door clanged. It always did that when the garage door opener started lifting. I wasn’t supposed to use the garage door remote, but sometimes, if I was home, I did anyway, just to listen to it rise up and go back down.
Mom looked at me. She had a funny face, like she was scared of something. I could see the veins in her neck pulse. Why would she be scared of the garage door? It was probably just Daddy coming home. She squeezed my hand but I didn’t cry out because we were playing The Quiet Game even if she did hurt my hand. I don’t think she meant to hurt me.