fleeting glimpses out of the corner of your eye...what are they...why do we have them?
word count: 4,400
In her hands, Lisa Robicheaux twisted a handkerchief that she dug out of her white leather purse before we started. Maybe she expected to break down and cry, or perhaps she just needed something to help siphon off nervous tension. "It's always the same, Dr. Kendrick," she said. "Always a metallic flash, like from a knife, off to my side - too quick and too far to the left or right for me to get a good look." She gave the handkerchief another twist.
Across the top of the notepad I held, printed in white against a soothing, blue background were the words, Zoloft - Sertraline HCI. I drew a circle around the words and considered adding the Pfizer anti-depressant to the short list of drugs Ms. Robicheaux took: Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Allegra - D, and Ambien.
An interesting case, my last appointment on a Friday afternoon, Ms. Robicheaux suffered from curiously frequent episodes of a phenomenon I call Peripheral Visions.
"So, Ms. Robicheaux, do you actually see a knife when you —?"
“I never actually see one,” she interrupted. “I think I do - out of the corner of my eye, and then there…there just isn't anything there.”
Attractive, twenty-three years old, and recently divorced, this young lady came to me via a referral from Bob Hidey, her family doctor, who happens to be a buddy of mine. Because she complained of high anxiety, hallucinations and insomnia, symptoms that could be associated with a brain tumor, "Doctor Slice," as he's known in our Saturday morning foursome, referred Ms. Sanders to a neurosurgeon on the north side of Atlanta.
A taxing array of tests proved nothing, other than the fact that she had decent medical coverage. Our colleague from Peachtree Neurosurgery concluded that the patient's symptoms stemmed from divorce-related stress. Bob prescribed Ambien to help her sleep and suggested that she see me.
Knowing Ambien can trigger side-effects, including hallucinations, I ventured down that road. “Are you taking the medicine Doctor Hidey prescribed?”
“Every night, about an hour before I lay down.”
“Are you taking the pills with or without food?”
“Without, but Doctor Hidey said I could take them with food if they upset my stomach.“
"Have you experienced any side-effects - dryness of the mouth?"
"Any episodes of sleep-walking?"
"Don't think so," she replied. "I live alone now, though, so I can't be sure." She raised a hand and said, "By the way, I get these things when I’m at work, too.”
“You do?" I shifted in my chair, crossing my left leg over my right. "Ms. Robicheaux, do these visions ever occur when you’re engaged in a conversation at work?”
“Yeah, yeah they do, sometimes.” She spoke as if this were a revelation. “I can be right in the middle of a sentence and bam, it stops me cold - makes me lose my train of thought. I look around and get goose bumps on my arms when I realize nothing's there.”
"Tell me more about how you feel when these visions occur.”
Contemplating her reply, she glanced at her knees, then back up. “It’s unsettling - disorienting . . . always scary." She leaned forward, bringing the recliner I provide for my patients to its upright position, and placed her feet back on the floor, modestly making sure her white skirt remained at her knees. “I'm doing exactly what Dr. Hidey instructed," she professed. "I don't drink coffee or tea. The first thing I do when I get home from work is put on my shorts and go for a run.
"How long do you run?" I inquired, impressed with her dedication to doing the right things.
"An hour, every night around my subdivision. Then I do some stretches and take a hot shower. I spend the last half hour reading something peaceful before going to bed. Sometimes I listen to relaxing music, or look at family photos. So, why do I keep having these visions, Dr. Kendrick?”
I set the notepad and pen on my desk, uncrossed my legs and leaned forward, placing my weight on my elbows. Considering her plight, I formed a steeple with my two index fingers and pressed them against my lips. Why, indeed? Sometimes there's a gimme - an easy answer to a new patient's problems. Not this time. This one looked like a long, par five.
Lisa wound the rolled-up handkerchief around the index finger of her right hand and chewed on her glossy-red, bottom lip. Realizing that my silence fueled her distress, I picked up my Mont Blanc and the notepad, and turned down another alley. “Are you involved in a relationship with anyone?"
"No. I couldn't deal with anything like that - not while all this is going on."
“You told me you're divorced and that your ex-husband," I squinted, straining to remember his name, "uh, Toby, threatened you…is he ever on your mind when these events occur?”
“No,” she shook her head. Her sharp tone convinced me to probe a little further.
"Have you seen him lately?" I asked.
"No." She shook her head again. The tension in her voice and face edged up a notch.
"Do you want to?" I had to ask.
Her eyes lit up, and I don't mean with delight. "I don't ever want to see his face again. That's what I told him the last time I saw him." She wrapped the handkerchief even tighter around her finger and glared at me.
Some of my colleagues might have stepped across the metaphorical line she drew. I didn't want to push her too far - not in our first session. She might never come back.
"Are the peripheral visions more frequent at night?” I asked.
She sighed, seeming relieved to be asked about something other than Toby. "No, but thinking about them keeps me awake and sometimes I have nightmares."
"Tell me about these nightmares."
Before she could answer, the subdued light in the office brightened, signaling the end of our first session. I stood up, slid my pen into my shirt pocket and placed my notepad on the edge of the desk.
"Time's up?" she asked, unwinding the handkerchief from her finger, the tip of which had turned white.
"Goes by fast, doesn't it?" I offered an understanding smile. "We'll explore dreams and nightmares next Friday. Hopefully, you won't have any nightmares to report."
"What if I do?"
"Keep a notepad and pen near your bed," I suggested. "Write down the details of any dreams you have."
She stuffed her handkerchief back in her purse. Rising from the recliner she looked like she could use a little encouragement. I knew we hadn't begun to scratch the surface, but said, "You're doing fine, Ms. Robicheaux, especially for a first session. Keep taking the Ambien that Dr. Hidey prescribed, and keep being as open and honest with me as you were today."
Her needy expression broadcast her reluctance to leave. Some patients find it difficult to venture back out into the world after discussing their innermost thoughts and fears. When we shook hands, I grasped the magnitude of her anxiety. A deep sense of foreboding oozed in through the pores on my palm, flowed up my arm, down my chest, and lodged in my gut, leaving me weak and queasy. I'd never experienced anything like it before.
When she closed the door behind her, I stared down at my right hand. Fighting off the urge to run to the restroom and scrub it, I asked myself, What the hell was that? As incredible as it seemed, I felt like I had been infected. With what, I did not know.
~ ~ ~
That night, after watching "Sleepless in Seattle," Lisa Robicheaux fed Patches, her sixteen-year-old cat, and crawled into bed. Still awake two hours later, she winced at the soft glow of the digital alarm clock beside her bed, knowing she'd be in a fog the next day.
She wished her lack of sleep were the result of a late date or staying out partying with the girls like she used to back in Baton Rouge. Unfortunately, recollections of running around with her sorority friends at LSU were not what occupied Lisa's mind.
At least I don't have to get up early to go to work, she thought. The clock's blue-green numerals showed two-fifteen. She had taken her Ambien, yet sleep eluded her. She used to fall asleep so easily and slept soundly, but since learning of Toby's affair and being subjected to the painful divorce, she found it difficult to drift off. She lay in the dark, tossing and turning; wondering what the future held and thinking about the things she shared with the doctor. Maybe I should have told him more, she thought. Maybe I will, next time.
Lisa thought about what her dread-locked, Creole Cajun "ex" said to her on the steps of the courthouse after the divorce trial. When she told him she never wanted to see his face again, she expected him to slap her.
Instead, he grabbed her right hand, held it, and pointed the index finger of his left hand at her. He wiggled it around in her face like a magic wand and said, "What you think you see, you really can't. Who you think I is, I really ain't. From dis day forward 'til da day you've died you'll be tortured by visions far off to da side."
What did he do to me? she wondered.
The silvery flash in the dark appeared again in the corner of her eye. "Shit!" She shivered and glanced down at Patches, curled up comfortably in her own bed on the floor. "Here, kitty,” Lisa patted the side of the bed. “Wanna sleep up here tonight?"
Patches looked up and meowed.
Not much later, while Lisa stroked the cat's soft fur, the Ambien crept up and did its job.
The peaceful rest she needed proved to be brief as Lisa soon found herself a few steps behind Patches, chasing someone down a hallway. Gaining on whoever she pursued, she wondered what she would do if she caught up with him. She glanced at the cat for only a second, but when she looked up she found herself at the end of the hall with no one in front of her.
Panting from exertion and fright, she broke into a cold sweat. Goosebumps rose on her trembling arms. Where'd he go? she wondered, and then she knew. The hairs at the base of her neck stood up. She turned around. Nauseated and weakened by fear, her legs threatened to give way. Patches arched her back and hissed. Lisa tried to scream, but only managed a feeble wheeze.
She couldn't make out the nose or eyes. A shadow, pulled down like a mask over the sinister figure's head obscured all facial details. She gasped at a fleeting glimpse of silver slicing through the air on her left. The shock jerked her out of the dark dream.
Lisa propped herself up on one elbow and blinked at the familiar sight of her own darkened bedroom. As her breath returned to normal she wiped perspiration from her face. God, I wish I could get a good night's rest, she thought, but doubted her ability to fall asleep again. How could she relax, knowing the faceless demon waited for her in the land of dreams?
Annoyed by the commotion, Patches returned to her bed on the floor. Lisa's chin trembled as tears puddled in her eyes. The alarm clock became so blurry she could barely make out the time - three-fifteen. She heaved a ragged sigh, wiped a tear from her cheek, leaned over to turn on the lamp, and grabbed the notepad and pen from her nightstand.
At three-fifteen I sat upright, turned on the light, and propped my back against the headboard of my king-sized four-poster. I hadn't had a nightmare in years, but this one scared the shit out of me. Feeling like one of my patients, I started scrawling the details of the dream onto the notepad I keep in the top drawer of the nightstand next to my bed.
Had my encounter with Lisa Robicheaux influenced my subconscious mind? Why would I dream about running with a cat down a dark hallway, chasing some indistinct figure? I tried to maintain my objectivity as I dissected the bizarre dream, but the clarity with which I recalled the shadowy face with no eyes or mouth brought a chill that slithered down my spine. Damn!
The more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I became. Feeling thirsty, I placed the notepad and pen back in the drawer and got out of bed. If I couldn't get my mind off that dream, I wouldn't get any more sleep, and probably wouldn't feel like playing golf in the morning.
On my way to the kitchen, I caught a faint glilmmer of something out of the corner of my eye as I passed the guest bedroom. I stopped in the hallway a couple of steps beyond the door and went back to look in. I flipped the light switch. Nothing there. And then turned the light back off. "Hmmm."
Crawling back into bed after addressing my thirst and rechecking the guest bedroom, I glanced at the phone on the nightstand. I wonder if Lisa Robicheaux is getting any sleep tonight?
The phone rang.
God, there went another year of my life. On the second ring I picked it up, figuring it had to either be my answering service or my eighty-year-old mother who believes the mafia is after her.
"This is your answering service, sir."
"Okay, what's happened?"
"We got a call from a Lisa Robicheaux a few moments ago. She claimed to be one of your patients."
"Ms. Robicheaux seemed very agitated. Frantic is a better description. She requested that you call."
I got the phone number and dialed it.
Befored the first ring finished, I heard, "Dr. Kendrick, is that you?"
"Yes Lisa, what seems —"
"It's here!" She sounded terrified - close to hysterical.
Dreading the answer, I asked, "What's there?"
"The thing with no face!"
My heart almost stopped. She hadn't mentioned anything at my office about the shadowy specter. We ran out of time before we could talk about her dreams. But now she spoke as if I should be acutely aware of its existence - as if she knew I saw it too.
I urged her to call 9-1-1 and would have said I was on my way over, but the line went dead. No dial tone, just dead, as if it had been cut. Jesus! Could she actually be struggling with the demon from our dreams?
Pulling on a T-shirt and a pair of jeans, I remembered Lisa's address from her patient chart. She lived in a nice neighborhood, fifteen minutes away. I ran a couple of lights and made it in ten. Stopping on the street in front of her one-story, red-brick house, I expected to see cops crawling all over the place, but there weren't any in sight. Had she even called them? A black Volkswagen Jetta with a "Cajun Ladies Love LSU," bumper sticker on it and a beat-up, primer-gray, Chevy Truck sat in the driveway.
I jumped out of my Jaguar and sprinted to her front door. Pieces of wood from the frame lay on the cement. The damaged door stood slightly ajar. Oh shit!
Pushing it open, I leaned in and called out, "Ms. Robicheaux? Ms. Robicheaux, it's Dr. Kendrick." From somewhere in the back of the dark house a woman screamed. Running through the place looking for her didn't seem like the best idea. After all, she said her husband had threatened her. That must have been his truck outside. Where were the police?
I heard Lisa shriek, "I told you I never wanted to see your face again!"
Why hadn't I called the police? If he killed her and found me in the house, chances were slim that he'd be pleased to see me. I doubted that I could persuade him to let me go by offering a free psychiatric evaluation. I considered running for the door. Not the heroic thing to do, but it beat being written about as the dead psychiatrist whose presence the police couldn't explain. Debating the wisdom of my actions, I made my way to the kitchen and rummaged through the drawers for something to protect myself.
My fingers wrapped around the handle of a long, carving knife as a light came on. I jumped, startled out of my wits, and squinted at the sight of Lisa Robicheaux. She stood in the doorway wearing a pair of 101 Dalmatian pajamas, adorable except for the fact they were covered with blood. In her right hand, dangling from rope-like coils of black hair, she carried Toby Robicheaux's severed head.
"Lisa!" I shouted. "What have you done?"
In a monotone, she explained, "Toby came to see me, without calling first." Her eyes and voice were lifeless. She raised the slack-jawed, wide-eyed head to eye level and spoke to it. "Didn't you, Toby?" She turned to face me.
In Lisa's left hand she held a nasty, serrated blade that resembled one of those Ginsu knives you see advertised on TV. Add neck bones to the list of things they can cut through. Maybe I should have prescribed the Zoloft, after all.
We stared down as a calico cat joined us in the kitchen. Lisa's zombie persona melted as the predominately white cat with splashes of orange and black rubbed its side against her leg. "Hi Patches," she said. "Whatcha got there, kitty?"
The cat held something in her mouth that she dropped at Lisa's bare feet. My stomach twisted and my jaw dropped at the sight.
"Yeah," Lisa shrugged. "I cut that off, too." Patches batted playfully at her newfound toy as if it were a mouse. Lisa raised the decapitated head again and said, "I told you I would do that if you ever cheated on me."
"Lisa," I asked, "do you even begin to realize what you've done?" I thought she might be in shock.
"Well, he didn't need it anymore."
"No, not that. Are you aware that the police are going to arrest you for murder? Did you ever call them?" I nodded towards the phone which lay next to the sink.
"No." She shook her head.
I took a cautionary step back as she raised the foot-long blade and inspected it. Streaks of drying blood dulled the mirror-like finish.
Lisa set the head on the floor, put the knife down, picked the phone up from the counter and dialed 9-1-1. She repeated the first question she encountered. "The nature of the emergency?" She pursed her lips, considering her answer and said, "It isn't much of an emergency, anymore." After being asked to explain, she replied, "I've killed my ex-husband." Then she said, "Am I sure he's dead?"
She turned and stared at me as if she couldn't believe she had to answer that one. "Look," she said. "I stabbed him in the heart, cut his head off, and my cat's chewing on his dick, which I also cut off, so yeah, I'm pretty sure he's dead."
As soon as she hung up I posed the obvious question, "So, why'd you kill him?"
"After what he did to me, I couldn't let him get away with it and maybe do the same thing to someone else."
"What'd he do?"
"He shared me with his friends. The things they made me do were..." Overwhelmed with emotion, Lisa shook her head and looked away. "And I'm not sure," she wiped a tear from her cheek, "I think he infected me with some kind of Voodoo curse he learned in Savannah. I'd ask him for you, but..."
We glanced down at Toby's head. Already bored with her flaccid, one-eyed toy, Patches had become enamored with Toby's opened mouth. "What's the matter, Toby?" Lisa smirked. "Cat got your tongue?"
I stared at her, revolted, but at the same time amused and ashamed. "So he was the man with no face?" I asked. "The figure in our dreams with the shadow for a head?"
"Yeah," she nodded. "Don't ask me how we could have had the same dream or even how I knew you were having it, because I don't know. All I know is that when he came over tonight that freaky shadow covered his head. I never saw his face until I cut off his head. Then the shadow vanished. I might have stabbed him," she admitted, "but I wouldn't have decapitated him if that shadow hadn't been there."
In the distance the sound of sirens grew louder as Lisa's final minutes of freedom ticked away. She reached down, picked up the cat, stroked its fur and said, "I guess the police will be here pretty soon. Dr. Kendrick. Will you testify that I was temporarily insane?"
I thought about that for a moment. "I probably will, yeah. But that won't stop them from taking you downtown and booking you."
Outside, several patrol cars screeched to a halt.
"Will you take care of Patches for me?" Without any warning, she handed me the cat.
As they led her away, her wrists shackled behind her, she glanced back and said, "I'm sorry you had to get infected."
"Infected?" I shouted back. "Infected?" The police whisked her out the door before I could find out what she meant. I knew I'd get other chances to speak to her, but this wasn't the kind of information I wanted to wait for.
Patches licked my arm and purred as I instinctively began to stroke her fur. Maybe having a pet wouldn't be so bad, after all, I thought. Then I grimaced, remembering where the cat's mouth and tongue had been.
The meat wagon hauled off Toby and his detached components long before I left Lisa's house. While the boys in forensics poked around for further evidence, two detectives sat me down and began to interrogate me. Two hours later, I breathed a sigh of relief when they decided not to book me as an accomplice.
On my way home, the stars twinkled and the quarter moon sunk low in the west. The eastern horizon hadn't begun to reveal signs of serving up another day. I'd be lucky to get any sleep before I'd have to get up to go play golf. Fortunately, I lived right on the course, within a block of the clubhouse.
My cell phone rang as I pulled away from the traffic light that led into my subdivision. The readout said, Private Number. This had to be my mother. As Patches peered over the side of the cardboard box she rode in, I sighed, lifted my phone and said, "Hi Mom, up early this morning, I see."
"I wouldn't have called this early, son, but I thought you ought to know..."
"Know what, Mom?" I could see my house from the corner as I turned onto my street. I pulled into my driveway, took a deep breath and let it out.
Waiting for the garage door to finish opening, I listened to my dementia-plagued Mom who claimed to have been robbed, again. She proceeded to tell me the mafia broke into her house, overnight. This time, she claimed they stole the piano she bought for me when I was eight years old. I convinced her to go out to the living room and check one more time. She sounded so annoyed when she said, "Oh, there it is. Never mind."
An idea struck me that I hoped might cheer her up and would help me out at the same time. "Hey, Mom, would you like a cat? I've come across a calico that needs a good home." I poked the button on my dash to close the garage door, backed out of my driveway, and headed for my Mom's place. She only lived about thirty minutes away. That would give me enough time to drop Patches off and make it back home to freshen up before tee time.
~ ~ ~
At the first hole that morning, I took more than the normal amount of practice swings with my jumbo driver. "Doctor Slice" and my two other friends, Frank Robinowitz and Mohammad Elmoustaquim seemed to be getting impatient.
Slice drawled, "You gonna play golf, Randy, or are you just gonna air condition the fairway?"
I shot Slice an annoyed glance and stepped up to the Tee. Midway through my backswing, a metallic flash caught the corner of my eye. It broke my concentration and caused me to hit the worst shot of my entire adult life. To the utter delight of my three friends, the ball zoomed off into the trees and disappeared like a NASA missile launch gone awry.
While they doubled over and hooted, I shouted, "Who did that? Which one of you assholes waved a club, or whatever, right in the middle of my backswing?" The laughter stopped. "Come on," I demanded. "That's F'd up, man!"
Bob Hidey stepped forward, his palms out in a calming gesture. "Randy, buddy, nobody waved anything. We wouldn't do that, man. We don't need your money that bad," he smiled. "Besides, we win it every week without having to resort to tactics of that nature."
Frank and Mo chuckled and nodded in agreement.
"Bullshit!" I slammed my club down and pointed an accusatory finger at Bob. "Look, 'Slice', you let me shoot that shot over or I'm going home, right now. You know I had a bad night, man...didn't get any sleep at all."
Bob turned around to the other guys and said, "Whadaya say, fellas? Overs?"
Frank and Mo both shrugged and nodded. "Sure, why not?"
"Well, all right then." I picked up my driver. Realizing how badly I overreacted, I reached out to apologize. When our hands met, Bob's face twisted grotesquely and became pale. He let go, took an awkward step back, and stared down as if someone had driven a nail through his hand.
"What the hell was that?" he shouted.
So, what did you think of Peripheral Visions? I'd like to know. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can contact me via my personal email at email@example.com. For those that would like to get to know me better, check me out on Facebook and send me a friend request.