Smoke and Mirrors
by James Wasserman
Drake Manley gripped his head. Another severe headache was coming on.
It was 4:37. The clock seemed frozen.
I can’t take this, Drake thought. He picked up his office phone and paged Dr. Reber, stood up, grabbing his cell as he went out of his office.
He left the building and went to his junky 15-year-old Pontiac Firefly. Why he even got this car, he didn’t know.
Drake’s cell phone chimed. He picked it up.
“It’s Dr. Reber, Drake.”
“Oh — Dr. Reber, thank God.”
“Bad headaches coming on? You’re lucky, I have some time for a quick session. Why don’t you drive over here immediately and we can talk.”
“Thanks... Thanks, Dr. Reber.”
Drake drove as fast as his 3-cylinder engine could. His head was starting to feel like a pot of boiling oil. Philip Reber was his psychiatrist and therapist. Right now, he needed to see him.
Phil Reber’s house was a large on on the “upper” side of the suburban town. Drake pulled up in Dr. Reber’s driveway. He caught a glimpse in his rear-view mirror; he didn’t look good. In fact, he seemed to look even worse than he felt, somehow more stubble on his face or something. He flew out of the car and knocked loudly on Reber’s door.
The door opened.
“Come on in, Drake.” Dr. Reber said. He was a relatively short, thin man who wore tiny glasses. He actually was in his forties, but seemed to dress as if he was 65.
As if in a trance, Drake walked behind Dr. Reber, and found himself sitting in a leather chair. The doctor sat in a similar chair, facing him.
“So what’s happened?” Reber asked calmly.
“Another splitting headache... I felt it come on.”
Reber nodded empathically. “Those are difficult to deal with. We’ll find you in this mess, together. Get you out of, what we call, your fugue state.”
“Fugue... that word again. It’s just so strange... So I’ve somehow...”
Reber cut him off. “Yes. In a fugue state, one flees their life and emerges in a totally new one. Often in these cases we can return people to where they came from.”
“I hope so. I just have this odd feeling... Well, I don’t know.”
“It’s all right, not knowing at this point, being confused,” Reber said, “these things take time. The headaches do bother me. Perhaps some pain medication could help, but I have a feeling it has something to do with what’s going on in there.”
“Something to do with what? Anyways, Dr. Reber, they’re unbearable. I can’t deal with them much longer.”
“All right. I’ll prescribe you some codeine-containing analgesics. Use them sparingly, though, because they can really interfere with the works.”
Drake drove home. It was quite the hovel: a one-bedroom cavern in a basement apartment. He felt comfortable in there, though; very little light came in. He kept the TV on white fuzz most of the time and sat in the dark. Drake really didn’t know why he lived the way he did. He gripped his head...
Stumbling around, booze-saturated...
The memory, or feeling, faded as fast as it came. It wasn’t much of a memory. He did, however, remember, or rather, obtain flashes of “his life” occasionally. Dr. Reber had been of much help.
He had remembered little and apparently was found walking woozily around the street at night with a massive head injury. He didn’t recall much except his name and that he had no family. After treatment, he was placed in rehab and had been disabled for some time. Eventually he got a job with a computer company. For some reason, he seemed to have advanced computer skills.
Dr. Reber was helping him rebuild his memory. They were still in the beginning stages; he had recalled, with Reber’s help, that he had been jogging down the street previous to the accident.
Drake stretched out on his couch. He looked up at the dark ceiling, picked up the small mirror on his coffee table and looked into it. Same old jerk. He did notice, however, that the tie pin he had bought several days ago, which he remembered to be a gold disc, looked quite weathered and silver. Odd.
The next day, Drake’s boss appeared in his office mid-morning.
“Gee, I hope I’m not disturbing you, Manley. It looks like you were busy doing nothing again.”
Drake wasn’t in the mood for this man.
“You’d better get a grip, Manley. You keep running off to see your doctor how many times a day? That’s not so compatible with your employment here.”
“Soooory, Mr. Trent. I’ll buck up like I always do.”
Yet minutes later, a headache coming on, Drake called Dr. Reber again.
“Swing by, Drake.” The doctor said simply.
He bolted out of the office again, glancing quickly at the mirror he had on his desk before he went. Same old, tired guy. Odd thing, though, the tie he was wearing looked to be white in the mirror. He was sure he wore a red tie. Hmmm... No time, no time...
Drake sat back on the plush couch, again with Dr. Reber facing him. He became sleepy immediately.
“Where are you now, Drake?”
Colours flew around in the patient’s head. He could make out some images but they were fuzzy. But he could...
“I... see... myself.” Drake muttered softly.
“What else?” Dr. Reber asked.
Drake looked around in his dreamlike state. “I’m... I’ve got blood over my head... I’m walking out of a car... but it looks distorted.”
“I’m hurt... I hear... voices, human voices...”
“What are they saying, Drake?”
“They are yelling or something... I’m all dizzy and confused... I’m...”
Drake rose, his visions gone.
“That was very educating, Drake.” Dr. Reber said. “I expect that your headaches, not to mention everything else, will get better the more time we spend exploring these issues.”
This didn't make much sense to Drake. He wanted a second opinion, even though he had great reverence for Dr. Reber.
He stopped by at a clinic on his way to work. Eventually, he talked to a psychiatry resident. The woman was fairly young, blond. Of course, he would have rather talked to an experienced mental health professional, but this minimal-fee clinic obviously couldn’t do that. You basically had five minutes to talk to someone.
“I’m Dr. Leeds. How can I help you, Mr. Manley?” she asked.
“Well... I guess I should put it in a nutshell...
“I’m seeing a doctor who thinks I’m in a fugue state. I don’t remember anything from my life previous to me arriving in this town, drunk and woozy, with a head injury.
“He is helping with my memory. I just thought... how easily could you retrieve memories? I mean, I just sit down, feel sleepy, and images just appear. Just like that.”
Dr. Leeds looked a little baffled. “A fugue state? And you say he can recover your memories in that short a timeframe?”
“Pretty much.” Drake murmured.
“Of course, everyone’s different, and disorders present themselves differently in different people. I’m not sure I’m buying that story... ...seems suspect. Then again, as I said, it could be perfectly legitimate.”
His five minutes of fame went by pretty quick. Why would Dr. Reber lie about his condition? Did he just miss something, an honest mistake or, simply, a more educated appraisal than say... a resident might give?
He decided to continue to put his faith in Dr. Reber, who had been his savior many a time.
Drake glanced in the mirror in the doctor’s room before he left. He was a little vain and self-conscious, and found that he had to check himself out before he went anywhere. In such a cursory glance, he didn’t notice the fact that his shoes, which were black, appeared brown in the mirror.
“I’m getting anxious about you, Manley.” Ah, the laugh of the day. Drake smiled at his wimp of a boss. He wouldn’t fire him. He was afraid of Drake: Drake mused that it could be the combination of how easily he could kick the man’s ass, or that the man so admired his sheer masculinity. Whatever.
“Why is that, Mr. Trent? Are you concerned about my health?” Drake asked, still smiling.
“Well, then, I suppose I won’t sue you for discrimination because I see a psychiatrist.”
Trent mumbled to himself, slack-jawed, and then tried to muster an intimidating face. “Discrimination nothing. You’re neglecting your work.” Trent stormed out of Drake’s office.
Nothing changed; Milhous Trent was right. Dr. Reber got the trademark call. This time, Drake was a little wary, but that one encounter had not really changed Reber’s image.
As Drake was leaving, though, he found an alarming, bizarre addendum to some of his previous observations. He glanced in his mirror as usual, scanned himself for signs of disarray, and found... that he was wearing a blue suit instead of a black one, and his tie still appeared white.
Drake looked down at himself. The mirror was in error. He was wearing a black suit and a red tie. He looked around. Was someone playing some kind of trick? He took another look at the mirror. Same story. His reflected self also had lighter hair than he did.
What the hell is this? Drake looked at his — inaccurate reflection in horror. In fact, now he noticed retrospectively that there had been prior inaccuracies with his mirror images. Someone’s playing a trick on me, he thought. Maybe the drugs... Trick mirror. Well, whatever.
He proceeded to Dr. Reber’s home/office. Again, Dr. Reber made room for him in his schedule. While Drake had some doubts struck in his head, they were mostly alleviated at this point. He didn’t think that the man was a quack. What did a resident know, really? Besides, psychiatry can be a pretty subjective business, Drake had discovered. The important thing, really, was that his suffering was being alleviated. Who cared about theories at that point? Pragmatism.
He did tell the doctor about the mirror images.
“This was in only one mirror?” Dr. Reber asked.
“Uh... now that I think of it, I can’t remember.” Drake replied.
“Look there.” Reber pointed at a full-length mirror near his desk. Drake rose and walked over.
His hands started to shake and a headache was brewing. The image was not only like the image he had seen in his office mirror, it was also more inaccurate. This time, almost everything, save his face, was different. He was balding now. As well, the image had lost quite a few pounds. Drake was a pretty big guy.
“Doctor... what the hell is this? How is it possible?”
“I’m not sure, Drake. I looked in that mirror with your image – and all I saw was you. No inaccuracies.”
The idea that he was finally off his rocker bounced around in Drake’s head.
“Please... Dr. Reber... what’s happening... am I completely crazy?” He said, stuttering.
The doctor displayed a neutral, but still a compassionate image on his face. “You’re not crazy, Drake.”
Drake didn’t respond.
“Sit down, Drake.”
“My head...” Drake moaned, “I... I...”
As soon as Drake had laid down, Reber, as per the standard treatment, spoke to him in whispers... like a gentle sound, Drake not able to make out the words.
“Where are you, Drake?”
Drake, also as per usual, fell into his half-sleepy state.
“I’m... looking down... There’s someone on the ground... I’m yelling for help...”
The images ended.
“Wow... you’re getting it together, Drake. Wake up.”
Drake sat up. “That felt... strange...”
“Do you still have a headache?”
Drake shook his head side to side. “I... I think...”
“I’ll prescribe you some more painkillers. We still need to probe further, and we can’t risk your noggin splitting open, can we?”
Drake, still highly disturbed, jumped in his car. He went to the pharmacy first, as usual. Without a word, he handed his prescription to the pharmacist — which was unusual, because he usually dealt with some other employee. There weren’t very many people
“How much time, please? My headache is coming back... getting worse.” Drake fiddled with his pockets.
“Your headache?” The pharmacist, name-tagged Jervais, looked at Drake confusedly.
“Yes, yes, my headache...” Drake became annoyed.
“You have been taking this medication for headaches?”
“For the last bloody time, YES!”
Jervais The Pharmacist looked at the slip again. “Mr. Manley, this drug is called clonazepam.”
“Sir, this is not headache medication. It is a depressant, like valium, only less strong and longer-acting. It is used to treat anxiety, mostly. At this dose, however, it is likely to cause drowsiness and confusion.”
Drake stopped short. “Confusion? Drowsiness?”
Jervais the pharmacist nodded.
“Could, perhaps, the effects of this drug cause... confusion of memory? Could it...” Drake thought of the hazes he walked around in... how easily Dr. Reber put him into “hypnotic” states. What was going on?
“Well, as I said, it is a sedating, anti-anxiety drug; by design.”
Drake decided to buzz Dr. Reber again.
The man called back as usual, this time on Drake’s cell phone, which he rarely used. “Are you still having problems? What’s the matter?” Dr. Reber asked.
“Can I drop by?” Drake queried.
“Well... okay, Drake, but you know I can’t start seeing you several times a day every day.”
Drake dropped the phone and drove to Reber’s house. He noticed, again with some horror, that his reflection had changed again. His nose was different; smaller than Drake’s. However, this time, he chalked it up to this hazy drowsiness brought on by the drug. He was being driven, though, by some sense of urgency... and some sense of dread.
Again, he walked the path. Dr. Reber was at the door. “Come in, Drake.”
Drake’s facial expression, one of confusion, did not change.
Once inside, Dr. Reber sat on his usual chair, just like always. Drake refused to sit.
“What’s wrong, Drake?” the shrink asked.
“Why are you prescribing me a sedative? Clone-something?”
Reber smiled. “It helps the process, Drake. Memory retrieval.”
Drake cut him off. “You told me they were painkillers... you said they had codeine.”
Reber nodded. “I’m sorry, Drake. I don’t know what to say.”
Drake looked bewildered. “You can tell me what’s happening. The memories. The mirrors.”
Reber’s smile did not falter. “I must admit, I did use the drugs to assist, and for that I apologize. I needed it, though, to keep you on the path to recovery. You’ve done nicely. Anyway, this is good timing.”
Drake was getting frustrated. It was like riddle after riddle. “Explain what the hell is going on, please!”
Reber’s smile got broader. “Take a look in my mirror.”
Drake walked over to the mirror beside Reber’s desk.
The change was complete. Drake Manley was not the person in the mirror. Instead, the face was... familiar...
It looked like Dr. Reber; but at the same time, it didn’t. Like some features were there and others differed. Drake stared.
Memories started to awaken in Drake’s mind, as well as a headache. The face was familiar, not just because it resembled his doctor.
It was becoming clear.
He had far less memory loss than he thought. Reber must have taken advantage of him when he was in hospital, then helped him remember some things, suppressing others. That’s why life was pretty easy as Drake Manley. He had an intact memory, for the most part.
He looked down at himself, his real self, not the mirror image. He was wearing the image’s clothes. He turned away from the mirror...
And was no longer in Reber’s office. He was standing on the street, in a neighborhood he recognized. He was sure what was going to happen. He didn’t know how Reber had done it. But he wasn’t Drake Manley right now.
A car came careening down the street. The driver was clearly drunk. The car swerved back and forth.
Drake, or the man formerly known as Drake, stood stunned. Before he knew it, he was staring into the driver’s face. The avalanche of memories were coming back. He wasn’t Philip Reber. The resemblance was... because...
He’d reversed roles.
The car neared. The face...
Drake had been idle in thought too long. There wasn’t much...
Drake Manley, saturated with booze, tried to keep the car under control. He promised he’d never DUI again, but today he had been depressed...
Too late. He mashed straight through a man who had been standing, bewildered, on the street. The brakes were screeching. More bad judgement; no seat belt. Drake’s body was propelled violently through the windshield as the car stopped at rest on top of the pedestrian’s broken body. Drake flew off the hood and came to a crash on the asphalt.
Suddenly people were around him. He managed to stand up, staggering around and holding his badly traumatized head, blood dripping everywhere. He saw the dead man under the car and threw up down his shirt. God damn, what have I done!
A man was standing still on the sidewalk, as if out of nowhere.
Philip Reber had watched the drunk destroy his brother. This time, though, he smiled broadly.