Prose Header

Distinction in the Darkness

by Mike Madison

Part 1 appears
in this issue.


Dr. Thane almost always came to the nursing home in the morning and, since I was there for breakfast, we often ran into each other. I had considered asking her out a couple of times; I had heard she had gotten divorced the year before. I had always liked her, but it would have been pretty awkward considering she was my mother’s doctor.

We were about the same age, but I always talked myself out of it. Then I would go down the path of convincing myself I could fire her as my mother’s doctor, but only so I could date her and not because she was a bad doctor. Then I would realize how insane that sounded and talk myself out of it all over again.

As Dr. Thane left, I noticed music playing from the lounge. I left Mom asleep in her room and wheeled myself out to see what was going on. The young woman I had passed at the door was sitting at the piano and playing.

My mom’s neighbor, I never could remember her name, was constantly bragging up her granddaughter. She had studied opera in school, and was a brilliant pianist and singer. Sometimes she just played the piano, sometimes she sang. Today it sounded like she was just going to play. Some of the other residents were coming out of their rooms to listen.

I decided to hang around and listen for a while. I didn’t have anything pressing at work that day. She played a bunch of classical songs I recognized; Claire de Lune, Moonlight Sonata, and even more that I didn’t recognize.

I smirked when she slipped part of Stairway to Heaven in the middle of her brief performance, fairly certain that most of the residents wouldn’t recognize the Zeppelin song. Then again, in this unit, most of the residents probably weren’t aware that she was playing the piano anyway, so she could have just been banging on the keyboard and it wouldn’t have offended anyone.

She played longer than I thought she would, and eventually I knew I had to go. Work was fairly lenient about these sorts of things, but if I wasn’t at my desk by lunchtime, it wouldn’t look good. I left while she was playing one of the songs I didn’t recognize.

I wheeled back to the elevator and across the parking lot. I barely made it to the bus stop in time. I waited patiently as the driver lowered the wheelchair ramp, and found a spot near the back of the bus to secure my chair. I paid cash from my wallet, and calmly rode the bus towards work.

I had done this a thousand times and more since my mother had moved into the nursing home, but for some reason today it felt different. I felt nervous about going into the office. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I didn’t like it. I decided I probably wouldn’t stay the entire day; maybe I would ride back and have dinner with mom.

The driver dropped me off outside of the office; Encapsulation Dynamics was plastered on a large sign. It was a name that meant nothing. No one has ever heard of it. We build databases and sell them to a larger company whose name I never remember who then sells a complete product to other companies to manage their employees. Most of those companies never know they did business with us. This is why I tell people I work at Microsoft.

“Good morning,” I said to the receptionist as I came through the front door. She glanced up, but she didn’t look familiar. I got to the door that lead back into the non-public area of the building and fumbled in my pockets for my badge. I didn’t have it. I smacked my forehead in disbelief. I must have left it hanging by the door at the house.

“Excuse me,” I said to the receptionist. “I seem to have left my badge at home this morning, can you help me out please?”

She gave me a closer inspection, then handed me a clipboard. “Sign in there please,” she said. I did as she asked, noting my office number and the date and time. I gave her back the clipboard, and she opened the door for me. “Next time, I’ll have to send you down to the security office for a temp badge.”

“Thank you,” I said earnestly. “I appreciate you helping me out.”

I rolled through the door, and made my way through the seemingly endless labyrinth of hallways and cubicles. I know many a visitor who had gotten lost wandering around in our offices. Our building is particularly confusing. I still get turned around in it myself sometimes. Today, apparently, was one of those times.

When I finally got to my office, I fumbled again in my pockets and found that I didn’t have my office keys either. “Got to be kidding,” I grumbled to myself. All of the other doors in the hallway were closed. I tried the door, and found it unlocked. I remembered locking it the night before, but it could be that the janitor had left it unlocked again when he cleaned.

I opened the door, and froze. There was a man sitting at my desk. He looked up, looking as surprised as I felt.

“Can I help you?” he asked politely, but he was clearly irritated at being barged in on.

“I’m not sure,” I said, confused. I glanced at the office number: 507. It was my office. The name on it wasn’t my name, though; it was “Andrew McManis.” “You’re in my office?” I said, not understanding what was going on.

The man at the desk looked surprised. “No,” he said with an uncomfortable chuckle, “this has been my office for two years.” He typed something on the computer. “Let’s look you up in the directory, what’s your name?”

I gave it to him, scratching the side of my head. I couldn’t understand what was going on. I kept thinking that something about today felt different, that something didn’t feel normal. The man at the desk was typing, and a frown appeared on his face. “You don’t work here,” he said, looking back up at me again.

“Bull,” I said, getting frustrated. “I’ve worked here for fifteen years.” The man at the desk picked up his phone, and said something quietly into it that I couldn’t hear. “What’s that?” I asked.

“My boss is coming down,” the man said. “She’ll get to the bottom of this.”

A moment later a young woman walked around the corner. She glanced at me, and then at the man in the office. “Can I help you?” she asked pleasantly, but I could hear the discomfort in her voice.

“You can tell me why this man is in my office,” I said, hearing the anger in my voice. It was surreal, almost as if I was experiencing my own emotions as a bystander.

I’m not proud of what followed. I got pretty belligerent. She got more and more uncomfortable and someone called Security. There were two men standing in the corridor behind me before I realized it. We were wheeling down the hall a few seconds later. Doors opened up and down the hallway, faces I didn’t recognize were looking out to see what the commotion was. We rounded a corner and rolled by a television. The date was at the bottom of the screen and I froze. 2013. This couldn’t be 2013; it was 1993.

“What’s the date today,” I asked the guard.

“June 8th,” the guard said.

“I know it’s June 8th, dumbass, I’m not stupid,” I snapped. “What year is it?” I certainly felt stupid asking that question. I had signed and dated the clipboard on the way into the building as I always did: 06/08/93. The women hadn’t blinked.

“2013 old-timer,” the man said. He sounded pissed. We wheeled out into the lobby. He left me for a moment, and walked over to the receptionist. I couldn’t hear what he said, but he looked pretty upset. He pointed at me several times, and the woman looked at me uncomfortably.

The security officer came back. “How did you get here?” he demanded.

“Bus,” I said, my brain reeling as I tried to make sense of what was going on.

“From where?”

I mumbled the name of Mom’s nursing home without thinking. It was where I had come from after all.

Twenty minutes later, a couple of the nurses from my mother’s nursing home got there.

“There you are, Mr. Raynes,” one of them said out of breath. “We’ve been looking for you all over.”

“Why?” I asked, dazed. Confused.

“Let’s get you back to your room,” she said, patting me on my hand.

Her touch drew my attention to my hand and I noticed for the first time that under the watch on my arm was a wristband like the ones you get in the hospital. I took my watch off as the nurses wheeled me out to a van with the nursing home’s name on the side. My name was on the band.

I noticed with a start that my hand wasn’t the hand of a young man, or even a middle-aged man. It looked like my mother’s hand. The skin was leathered, splotched, and the veins stood out almost a quarter of an inch above the skin.

“I don’t know how he got into that building,” one of the nurses said from behind me.

“Look at him,” the other answered. “I know him, and he looks dressed for work to me. I know him, Gina, and I probably would have let him in.” I looked down: I was wearing my suit. I didn’t understand. “Mr. Raynes, did you put your nice clothes on today?” she asked. I noticed she was talking more slowly and loudly than she did when addressing the other nurse.

“Yes,” I said, “I had to go to work today.” They put me onto a lift and got me into the back of the van.

Dr. Thane was at the nursing home, in my mother’s room waiting for me when the nurses got me back. “I was worried about you, Alex,” she said with a smile. “Are you all right?”

“No,” I said, still confused. “What’s going on?”

“Don’t you remember, Alex?” she asked calmly.

I glanced around. My mother was still asleep for her nap, in the bed. “Is something wrong with Mom?”

Dr. Thane looked around the room. “Is your mother here?”

I pointed at the bed. “She’s taking a nap.”

The doctor looked at the bed, and then back at me. “Alex, this is your room. There’s no one in the bed.” She sighed. “Remember? We talked about this just this morning. Your mother is never going to move on if you can’t face some of the issues with your relationship.”

I looked from the doctor to the bed. I looked at the photos on the wall, the photos of my family. The photos of my mother. I felt my stomach clench and unclench. I felt tired and scared and, surprisingly, angry.

“Why?” I asked, suddenly trying not to cry. The torrent of emotions was running so fast that I couldn’t keep track of everything. Even worse, I still didn’t understand anything. The confusion was almost a palpable, physical thing. A wall keeping my mind from working like it should.

Dr. Thane, smiled comfortingly and took my old man’s, wrinkled hand in hers. She wasn’t my age; her hand in mine made that obvious. Her hand was that of a late middle-aged woman. “It’s okay, Alex,” she said softly, kindly. “Sometimes a lucid day doesn’t have to be a real day. You thought it was just another work day. That’s part of it.”

I stared at her, slowly comprehending and wishing I couldn’t. My eyes focused on a mirror that hung on the wall over her left shoulder. For the first time that day, I saw my own reflection. I saw the old man that I had become. There were no memories, there was nothing there but the life I should have been living and the blank, empty stare of a man who didn’t know where he was.

There was nothing there but the look I had seen on my mother’s face as she stared out the window. My dead mother’s face. I saw the tears begin to roll down that old man’s face, and there was nothing I could do to stop them. There was no light in his eyes.

Copyright © 2014 by Mike Madison

Proceed to Challenge 596...

Home Page