“This is rather abrupt,” said Dr. Pettigrew. “I thought the therapy had been progressing well in many respects. Are you sure – “
Anne Devereaux nodded, although her eyes brimmed with tears and her lips quivered slightly in their effort to remain set. “I’m sorry. I do appreciate how we’ve been able to resolve my issues around my boss, and I feel better about my relationship with my mom now. You’ve been so helpful with those things. But –“
“You don’t think I’ve been very helpful with those dreams you’ve been having.”
“Yes. Your interpretations just don’t . . . resonate with me. I had another dream last night, the most terrifying of them all, and I woke up in a complete panic. It – whatever it is – wants me to – I’m afraid it’s – ”
“Why don’t you just describe the dream. That is, if you . . . trust me with the material. I’ll withhold interpretation, out of respect for your decision to terminate therapy, but I get the sense you really need to talk about it.”
“Thank you, Dr. Pettigrew.” Anne looked away. She began to wring her hands, and her left foot bounced nervously. “The dream began like the others, with me at the table in my breakfast nook, drinking a cup of tea. Then, out of a cupboard in the pantry – in real life there’s no such cupboard – a little girl appeared and sat down across the table from me. She –“ The words seemed to catch in her throat. “She was a lovely child, but her . . . her forehead was bloody; it had a big gash in it and I could see her brain.”
“A very disturbing image. I can see why you were so frightened. Water?”
“Thank you.” She sipped from the glass the therapist handed her. “I offered her a sugar cookie from a plate I had at my elbow – you know I don’t eat that kind of thing in real life – but she declined, saying, ‘He took my stomach and bowels, and now I can’t eat any more.’ In the dream I felt so devastated. I wanted so much to help her, or at least console her. I handed her my favorite doll – I haven’t seen or thought about that precious old thing in many years; I don’t even know if my mom kept it – but she dropped it to the floor, saying, ‘He took my heart and womb, and now I can’t be a mother.’ Then my dog Timmy came to us, wagging his tail. But she said, ‘He took my arms and legs, and now I can’t walk the puppy.’ At this point I noticed –“ Anne took another sip from the water glass, and her hands shook as they replaced it on the side table –“the little girl had stumps for legs – and they were bleeding, and I knew she was going to die and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. Finally she looked at me with such sorrow, and a little anger, and said, ‘Why are you still here? I’ve been trying to tell you, you need to go away before it’s too late.’ And then I woke up and turned on every light in the house and sat there in a panic until morning. The little girl was so vivid, and everything about the dream was so intense, that I can’t help believing it’s a real warning, and I – I’m ready to flee the place, except where can I go? I sank my entire savings into it, and it sounds so crazy to abandon a house because of a nightmare.”
Dr. Pettigrew sighed. “We’ve talked about ways to understand these dreams other than as literal warnings.”
“Yes, I know. Everything you’ve said makes perfect sense, on one level. But . . .” She stood up, gathering her coat and purse. “Goodbye, Dr. Pettigrew. Maybe I’ll contact you again someday.”
“I hope so. Good luck, Anne.”
Dr. Pettigrew never, as a rule, overindulged in alcohol. But tonight she was going to have a third and maybe a fourth double scotch if that’s what it took to fight off the futilely urgent feelings of regret that were overwhelming her. She knew she should put the newspaper article away in Anne Devereaux’s now permanently closed file, but she couldn’t help rereading it.
“Police are saying the gruesome slaying on a quiet street in Crescentville may be the work of a serial killer believed to have been dormant for as long as a quarter century. The body of Anne Devereaux, 32, was found in her home on Mignonette Terrace last week by a coworker concerned at Devereaux’s out-of-character unannounced absence from the office. Police won’t reveal the exact condition of her body, but now sources say another set of dismembered remains has been found buried in the cellar of Devereaux’s home, apparently those of a girl around eight years of age who was reported missing in 1987 and whose parents then lived next door to the Mignonette Terrace home. Certain details of both killings match those of other unsolved murders along the West Coast. The investigation continues.”
It was a plain and simple fact: Anne Devereaux’s dreams and her horrible death could not be reconciled with the false intellectual comfort of psychoanalytic theory. Under the anesthetizing effect of the whiskey, Dr. Pettigrew tried and failed to think her way out of the dilemma.
Dr. Pettigrew sat on a stool at her kitchen counter, drinking a cup of coffee. It was time for her next appointment, and she poured another cup for the patient. The door to the back garden suddenly opened, although it was always kept locked. Anne entered and sat beside her.
“I’m glad you decided to resume therapy, Anne. Coffee?”
Anne raised the cup to her lips, but the contents flowed from the wound on her neck. “He slashed my throat, and now I can’t drink anymore,” she said.
Dr. Pettigrew woke, screaming.