Always the dark, warm, hot warm, the hot warm dark, and the distant sound of drumming. Always the hot warm dark and the drums, the comforting drums, the drums that define the world. It is comfortable here. I am comfortable here. I do not want to leave again.
Dr. Morrison looked up from my journal and smiled. He always showed too many teeth when he was trying to be reassuring, stretching his lips so wide that he looked like he was getting ready to lean over and take a bite of my throat.
“I wish you wouldn’t smile at me like that,” I said. My skin was knotting itself into lumps of gooseflesh. I forced myself to sit still, refusing to give him the pleasure of seeing just how uncomfortable he made me.
For a professional therapist, Dr. Morrison seemed to take an unhealthy amount of joy in making me twitch. “Like what, Sally?”
“With the teeth,” I said, and shuddered. I don’t like teeth. I liked Dr. Morrison’s teeth less than most. If he smiled too much, I was going to wind up having another one of those nightmares, the ones where his smile spread all the way around his head and met at the back of his neck. Once that happened, his skull would spread open like a flower, and the mouth hidden behind his smile—his real mouth—would finally be revealed.
Crazy dreams, right? It was only appropriate, I guess. I was seeing him because I was a crazy, crazy girl. At least, that’s what the people who would know kept telling me, and it wasn’t like I could tell them any different. They were the ones who went to college and got degrees in are-you-crazy. I was just a girl who had to be reminded of her own name.
“We’ve discussed your odontophobia before, Sally. There’s no clinical reason for you to be afraid of teeth.”
“I’m not afraid of teeth,” I snapped. “I just don’t want to look at them.”
Dr. Morrison stopped smiling and shook his head, leaning over to jot something on his ever-present notepad. He didn’t bother hiding it from me anymore. He knew I couldn’t read it without taking a lot more time than I had. “You understand what this dream is telling us, don’t you?” His tone was as poisonously warm as his too-wide smile had been.
“I don’t know, Dr. Morrison,” I answered. “Why don’t you tell me, and we’ll see if we can come to a mutual conclusion?”
“Now, Sally, you know that dream interpretation doesn’t work that way,” he said, voice turning lightly chiding. I was being a smart-ass. Again. Dr. Morrison didn’t like that, which was fine by me, since I didn’t like Dr. Morrison. “Why don’t you tell me what the dream means to you?”
“It means I shouldn’t eat leftover spaghetti after midnight,” I said. “It means I feel guilty about forgetting to save yesterday’s bread for the ducks. It means I still don’t understand what irony is, even though I keep asking people to explain it. It means—”
He cut me off. “You’re dreaming about the coma,” he said. “Your mind is trying to cope with the blank places that remain part of your inner landscape. To some degree, you may even be longing to go back to that blankness, to a time when Sally Mitchell could be anything.”
The implication that the person Sally Mitchell became—namely, me—wasn’t good enough for my subconscious mind stung, but I wasn’t going to let him see that. “Wow. You really think that’s what the dream’s about?”
I didn’t answer.
This was my last visit before my six-month check-in with the staff at SymboGen. Dr. Morrison would be turning in his recommendations before that, and the last thing I wanted to do was give him an excuse to recommend we go back to meeting twice a week, or even three times a week, like we had when I first started seeing him. I didn’t want to be adjusted to fit some model of the “psychiatric norm” drawn up by doctors who’d never met me and didn’t know my situation. I was tired of putting up with Dr. Morrison’s clumsy attempts to force me into that mold. We both knew he was only doing it because he hoped to write a book once SymboGen’s media blackout on my life was finally lifted. The Curing of Sally Mitchell. He’d make a mint.
Even more, I was tired of the way he always looked at me out of the corner of his eye, like I was going to flip out and start stabbing people. Then again, maybe he was right about that, on some level. There was no time when I felt more like stabbing people than immediately after one of our sessions.
“The imagery is crude, even childish. Clearly, you’re regressing in your sleep, returning to a time before you had so many things to worry about. I know it’s been hard on you, relearning everything about yourself. So much has changed in the last six years.” Dr. Morrison flipped to the next page in my journal, smiling again. It looked more artificial, and more dangerous, than ever. “How are your headaches, Sally? Are they getting any better?”
I bared my own teeth at him as I lied smoothly, saying, “I haven’t had a headache in weeks.” It helped if I reminded myself that I wasn’t totally lying. I wasn’t having the real banger migraines anymore, the ones that made me feel like it would have been a blessing if I’d died in the accident. All I got anymore were the little gnawing aches at my temples, the ones where it felt like my skull was shrinking. Those went away if I spent a few hours lying down in a dark room. They were nothing the doctor needed to be concerned about.
“You know, Sally, I can’t help you if you won’t let me.”