the right questions?
Charlie finishes his shift a little after six and takes me out to an old-fashion 50′s style diner. It’s a funny place, resembling a very long, oversized camper. Or like a giant tin can, it was hard to tell really. We sit in a booth in the middle by the windows, the seats covered in red leather - and we check out the menus. I glance at him from time to time, thinking about how he looked after walking out of the hospital. He had this strange expression as if he needed to get the difficult part over with, and at the same time... hmm, like he really wanted to believe the truths I was going to feed him with. Every part of him that was responsible for common sense and logic protesting.
Oh, how loudly it protested.
I look down at the menu again and frown. The prices were reasonable; however, I was really low on money. Plus, I think I didn’t actually take any, too busy surviving the turmoil that was taking over my mind. Funny, I used to mock all of the telepaths in those lame TV shows before. Always saying how those actors overplayed everything. Really ‘experiencing’ the pain of those tortured souls. It seemed too forced for me. And now, as I hear the buzzing in my head growing louder, I just shake my head at my own stupidity and at how insensitive I was. I stare at the list of different hamburgers and my mouth literally waters. I swallow and start to look around in my pocket. I feel a few coins under my fingers.
Charlie, I’m kind of low on cash, I think I can still offer the coffee but...
No problem. I am the one thirsty for information, so let’s say I am inviting. Plus I did have tea in your flat, so it’s only fair that I buy the food.
Well, unless the tea I made was filled with gold leaves, which it wasn’t, I think that’s a bit too much.
Nora, relax. It’s just some burgers at a diner. I might not be a Rockefeller but this I can still afford. Even with what I earn.
I stare at him, my eyes narrowed. My moodiness mixing with hunger. I clear my throat.
You do remember my full name, Doogie*? Or is school and medical care too much for you?
A part of me feels satisfied seeing his expression, the other part snaps like a rubber band and sends a painful sting to my conscience. Ugh, guilt. I haven’t felt that in a long while. I watch his features soften as a crooked smile replaces the scowl.
Call it a payoff for the food, There will be more to come. Now pick something, and let’s get this show on the road.
I gaze at him for a while, lifting an eyebrow but then just do as he says. I was too old for playing the sweet idiot or a damsel in distress. I stopped being shy when I was ten, and other people proved to me, that there was no place for such foolishness.
Fine, big spender. I will have two cheeseburgers, double fries on the side and a strawberry milkshake to top it off.
He seems amused as a waitress walks up to us. She’s tall, has brown hair pinned up and glasses with a silver chain. She looks like she could be in her mid-forties. She also seems bored and exhausted from just breathing, not to mention serving the customers. I look at her apron, it has a minty color with white edges, just like the rest of her retro outfit. Charlie looks up at her and gives her a warm smile. She seems to relax a bit and takes our order. It’s the thing I wanted and the same for him but he goes for a vanilla milkshake instead.
As the waitress walks off in a much better mood, I recall what Susan said to me not long ago. “So another one infatuated with Mr. blue eyes?” I gaze at him for a moment while he searches for something on his phone. He takes a napkin and writes something down. I frown as I judge his looks. Hmm, I guess that he was handsome. Tall, muscular shoulders. Great hair and kind, blue eyes. What could a girl want more, right? Hmm, the waitress sure seemed to agree with that.
I put my head to the side, while I keep studying his features, and at the same time wondering, how long was the line of girls piling up to him. I amuse myself with the thought that you had to get tickets to get to him, and maybe wait longer than for a premiere for a new Star Wars movie. I cover my mouth in case I snort came out again. He looks at me questioningly and hands me the small piece of paper. I take it and lift my eyebrow.
My cell phone number and the one for work, plus my pager if anything - unexpected happened.
Unexpected, what a lovely way to describe it, but thanks, I really appreciate it. You sure, you want me to bother you at all hours of day and night? Ain’t that a bit risky?
I’m a big boy, I think I can handle my own affairs.
I’m sure you can. I think to myself, and so do the ladies. I try not to smirk.
Ok, I accept. But be aware, that by doing this, you are purchasing a madhouse.
Is that so?
Yeah, I think you saw what this thing can do to me.
He stares at me with a serious look. I gulp, suddenly nervous and prepare myself for his next words.
And what is “this thing” exactly, Eleonore?
I stare out the window and hold my hands tighter under the table until my fingers and knuckles turn almost white. I stare at the dark sky and the rain that starts to pour. I notice some lightning and frown, I wasn’t a fan of those. I turn back and gaze at him. In the corner of my eye, I see the waitress coming back with our order. I sigh in relief.
Can we eat first?
He turns his head to where I am looking and nods his head.
Sure, no reason to handle life trauma on an empty stomach.
The woman comes with our food and puts everything on the table. My lips twitch a bit. He gets his food first, of course. I look at her name tag (did everyone have one? because they seemed to be everywhere these days) and read the name. Sammy. Well, how not fitting.
Will there be anything else, Charlie?
No, Samantha, we’re good.
That you are, that you are.
She heads back, her hips swaying very suggestively but Charlie doesn’t seem to notice her efforts. He doesn’t even turn around for her. He seems more than oblivious to what she is doing. Or maybe he is used to it by know if he knows her by name? He grabs his hamburger and takes a big bite. I smile.
I see that you are very popular here. Is that the misses?
Very funny, it’s just that I come here at least three times a week. By now I know everyone’s name.
Alright, alright. I’m not judging.
I grin at him and dive into my burger. Oh, this was so good. I also stuff my mouth with some fries and sigh happily. Maybe I really would survive this conversion better after eating all of this; though probably not. We take our time, enjoying the food and throwing a couple of comments here and there. However, it’s mostly me making approving sounds with a full mouth. I finish before him and pat my stomach with satisfaction. Oh yes, this should last me for a longer time. He stares at me with wide eyes as I lick my fingers, making sure nothing is left. I shrug my shoulders. What? Who knew when the next opportunity like this would happen again.
Okay, I know I am stalling here, but can we start with a little chitchat first?
As long as you get to the point before the end of time, preferably before the apocalypse, Nora.
I am not amused.
And I am very patient. So can we begin?
I stare at him a bit agitated by now and cross my arms tightly over my chest. Then I undo them and start to tap my fingers against the table. My right hand doing almost a dance there, while the left one stays on my thigh, fingernails digging in. I take a deep breath, hold it in and then exhale.
Fine, fire away, Mr. Evans.
He sits back, more comfortable and puts his left arm against the headrest. I look at his forehead and imagine words moving around in his head, creating sentences and questions.
Alright, something easy. How old are you?
Is that the first question you’re going to ask a woman?
You’re stalling again.
Fine, I’m 24. Satisfied?
Barely. Are your parents alive?
Yes, they are.
Do you have a good connection with them?
I stare at him, annoyed that I had to talk about myself. I didn’t like that.
Yet I knew that it was important, to be honest with him, as much as I could anyway. I owed him that much at least for everything that he was doing for me. I also I wanted him to stay, so I had to untangle my tongue a bit for him.
No. We don’t really talk right now.
And why is that?
I did a lot of things in my life that they didn’t approve.
Let’s just say they had plans for me and I didn’t share the same enthusiasm as they did.
Ok, that will do for now. Do you have siblings?
Other family members?
No. I mean, I used to have an aunt, but she died. That’s how I got the apartment... it used to look much better when I got it. Guess, I am not very ‘tidy’, as you are aware by now.
What did your parents think about you moving away?
They were all for it. I think they enjoyed the distance.
And when did you move there?
When I was 19 - before then, I spent over a year with a friend of mine. We shared an apartment for fifteen months.
Was the friend your boyfriend?
No, it was a girl I met at work. We were both messed up and broke, so we decided to share the expenses in her tiny flat... it was half the size, of what I have now. Can you imagine?
I smile, remembering Cara and the rathole that she was renting. It was horrible, but I still felt happy there. She was a great friend, though she was even more messed up than I was. I missed her a lot, but I guess at one point in my life I really closed a lot of gates shut behind me. Burning all the bridges. Charlie stares at me as I relive things that happened to me in the last couple of years.
And after that time?
I moved to my Aunt’s place. It’s where I lived with a guy I met.
What an understatement of the year, I think. But I wasn’t going to dwell into that right now, it wasn’t the time - and maybe it never would be.
Was it serious?
It was... it lasted a while.
What was his name?
None of your business - I say shortly and cross my arms. I wasn’t going to budge on this.
Alright, I get it, a touchy subject.
You could say that.
Do you have a job?
I used to, but thanks to the ‘current circumstances,’ I am out of work.
Well, it’s hard to find safe questions for you.
Tell me about it.
I stare at him and move my head to the side. I guess I could get some information too.
And how old are you, Mr. Evans?
Not really a secret. I’m 28.
I tap my fingers against the table again. What did I actually wanna know about him?
Are you married? A girlfriend, boyfriend perhaps... a cat that loves you?
None of the above. Especially not the last one. Why do you ask?
I was just wondering if I bothered you too much, would some jealous party come and beat me up with a shovel, or a baseball bat, if they were more cultural, of course.
Well, aren’t you just adorable?
Yes, I am a real peach.
I smile at him and relax just a little bit. It was so much easier asking the questions rather than receiving them.
Where do you live, Charlie?
Do you want the full address?
No, just the general location so I can paint myself a better picture of you.
Alright. I have my own place but I am sharing it with my younger brother, he’s in college, but stays with me cause it’s cheaper. He also raids my fridge on a daily basis but throws a couple of bucks from his half-time job.
What kind of college?
He’s going to be a veterinarian. He has a gift when it comes to animals and an unnatural strong addiction to his Xbox.
He sounds like a great guy.
Want his phone number, or is 21 a bit low for you?
Still not amused, besides I’m not really looking for anyone in my state. I think you can understand that.
And before this happened? Oh, and for how long has this been happening?
For around two weeks. Don’t look at me like that, I haven’t been always THIS messed up - and before, I wasn’t looking either. Too busy trying to earn a living.
I look at my empty plate and the nails of my left hand dig in deeper into my thigh. I think he notices the change in mood because he asks a different question.
What interests you?
As in hobby or something?
He nods and I relax again.
I don’t really have that many interests but I am actually good at taking photos and I can’t really say that about a lot of things, that I can do. I even got paid for it; it was my part-time job.
Okay, favorite movie?
I don’t really watch TV, these days.
But when you did?
I think about it for a moment until my mind hits something.
“The Secret Life of Bees” and before you ask, I am not exactly sure why maybe because I like how the bees work together and always take care of their kind. Or maybe I am secretly in love with Queen Latifa, who knows?
Yeah, I have no idea where I got it from.
We stare at each other for a while, not saying anything. And I can feel the tension building up, though it’s mostly coming from me. Mister patient, just studies my reactions. He moves his hand forward and touches my right wrist. I feel the warmth spread but then I shake my head and pull away.
It’s not that - that thing is on a ‘neutral’ level, which means I can handle it on my own. Still, thanks for that. This time it’s just me not wanting to answer some questions, but I am trying, I really am.
I know that you are. Can we move on?
Alright, I won’t ask for the specifics but can you tell me, where is the pain coming from? Is it in your head, muscles? Is it a constant feeling, or does it have different intensity depending on different factors?
Is this the moment where you ask “on a scale of 1-10, where would you say your pain is right now”?
Very funny. I wasn’t going to... alright, maybe I was. Can you just describe it to me in your own words, so I can visualize it properly?
Ah, mister big words. But okay. It’s this massive pain that attacks my brain and spreads to my entire body though it’s not like, suddenly my hand or leg hurts; it’s more this overpowering sensation that I am being attacked from the inside. It’s as if the pain shoots for my senses, my sight suddenly gets very sensitive to light; the sounds that seem to vibrate through my nervous system. It’s as if I feel the world with all my senses.
Okay, imagine this. You’re in a club and the music is very loud. So loud that it vibrates through your entire body, the volume is so high that you almost start to jump as if your teeth were going to fall out at any moment. Do you know what I mean?
Yeah, I do.
When it’s exactly like that but times ten.
Afraid not (long sigh) though I wish I was.
And is it always like that?
I stare at his concerned face and my stomach tightens. I never actually told anyone about any of this. Not that I could have had a long enough break to share these pieces of information. I tap my fingers against the table.
I swallow. Dangerous territory. Very dangerous indeed. I sigh again. It was time to really confess to the insanity, without telling the most important part. The reason why this was happening. I couldn’t tell him everything he wanted to hear, yet I had to tell him some part of it.
Is this the scene when you stand up and storm out of here, while the wind lifts your hair in an over-dramatic way?
I look at him and smile. He sure knew how to break the tension.
No, sorry. I was going to say more but you stopped me.
He lifts an eyebrow and shrugs his shoulders as if not completely believing me. I couldn’t really blame him for that.
Let me try again. Listen, the thing that I am feeling isn’t just about the physical pain. It has more to do with the things that are in my head, and I how I feel. How I react to the world.
I don’t think that I follow.
Ok, Charlie. The easiest way to put without getting into all the dirt and filth of it all is to say... Hmm, in a way you could call me an empath*.
You know what that means, right?
Of course, I do, but that stuff doesn’t happen outside movies and science-fiction novels. You can’t be serious.
Oh, I am. Deadly serious.
But that can’t even begin to cover the subject. Your pain that you’re experiencing, the headache you must feel, the weight loss...
I hear voices, Charlie.
He seems to be taken aback by what I said. I can almost hear the little screws and bolts moving around in his brain, and I know that nothing adds up for him. I cover my face in my hands and count to ten before I speak.
Do you want me to leave?
He stares confused at me.
What? No, of course not. I am just trying to understand what you are saying, and I have got to say you are really making it hard for me.
Then ask me more questions and I will promise to answer them as honestly as I can. I really want to tell you about it, it’s just hard to understand it. Even I still can’t seem to wrap my mind around it.
That’s very helpful, Eleonore.
Well, there is an upside to it. You managed to recall my full name.
This isn’t funny.
Oh come on, I’m breaking the ice here. Mind helping me out?
Fine... what... I mean, where...
Okay, listen, it’s almost eight in the morning. I know you must be exhausted and frankly so am I. Don’t look at me like that. I am going to tell you everything you want to know; well, everything that I can. Alright, release those eyebrows before something snaps on your forehead.
No, stop. I am really not going to run away, and we are going to have this conversation again. Cause, let’s face it. I can’t really disappear. I mean, could a migraine patient escape her paracetamol bottle?
I grin at him and he sends me a dirty look. My grin widens.
I am going to tell you. Just for now this is all you’re getting, I’m afraid. So for now, you can just think of everything that I said and clarify your opinion of me - and I promise not to run if I hear the police sirens in the middle of the night next to my building.
He moves his hands against his face and his fingers go up and through his hair as if he was considering pulling them out. I grab one of his hands and put it on the table, I squeeze it with force and feel my senses relax instantly, the low buzzing stops. I want to grab his attention. It seems to work because he finally looks at me.
I told you I was messed up. Now, how about we go back to our places and each party has some much-needed sleep?
He nods after a while and gets up to get the check. He comes back after a couple of minutes and hands me a bag. I take it and stare into its contents. I see two burgers and greasy fries. I look up at him with eyes big like saucers.
He smiles, a tired smile at me and we leave, parting on a sidewalk. Heading in different directions. I watch a faint light trying to get through the thick clouds. The sun. It seems that I haven’t seen it in a whole lifetime. I stare at a couple of sunrays that manage to slip past the dark barrier. Well, look at that. It was finally shining on me too.
* Doogie Howser, M.D. is an American medical comedy-drama television series that ran for four seasons on ABC (...) The show stars Neil Patrick Harris in the title role as a teenage physician who balances the challenge of practicing medicine with the everyday problems of teenage life.
** Empath - a person with the paranormal ability to perceive the mental or emotional state of another individual.