In a doctor’s waiting room, a boy is waiting for a girl to fix him and give his life some meaning. Things are rarely quite so simple though.
I know I’m not normal. I guess, on some level, I always have. I mean, it’s a pretty hard thing to come to terms with, knowing you have what feels like a whole other person inside you, a person that thinks about horrible things that you – the part that’s real, I mean, if either part is – just know are wrong and maybe even Evil. But I did come to terms with it, and I realised I needed to find a way to deal with it properly. I told some people and they suggested I get help. Real help. Good suggestion. I read some books first of all, tried to figure out what category of Crazy I belonged in. Turns out, you can read yourself into any box you like, especially if you’re someone who’s literally in two minds about everything. And well, I guess, in a way, that’s what led me here, to this place, today.
So, okay, I’m sitting in this doctor’s waiting room. Lot of people, they’d have maybe picked up one of the magazines on the table, flicked through it, read an article or maybe even just looked at the pictures. Just for something to do, to occupy their minds. Me, I was never the type of guy who needed his mind occupied. There’s enough inside it already. It’s occupied all right. There’s a permanent protest going on, but whether the guys waving the placards want world peace or redistribution of wealth or tighter gun control, hell if I know. So I just stare. People always say that freaks them out, the way I can just sit there and stare into space, hardly moving at all. I can stay like that for hours sometimes. Used to do it all the time when I was a kid. Mom was so busy with my older brothers though that she was just grateful I was quiet and not getting into trouble. I wonder if we’ll talk about my mom today. They always want to talk about your mom, right? That’s what the TV tells me.
I don’t even notice her at first. Not mom. Although I probably wouldn’t if it was her, since she’s as regular as they come, like me. But this person, the other person I’m talking about, she was anything but regular. It takes me a minute or two to come back to reality, come out of the weird daze I go into, and look at her sitting across the room from me. She’s about my age, maybe a little younger, with an old army jacket on – dark green, German flags on the shoulders, if it matters – denim cut-offs, tights with patterns, heavy pink boots, the kind I think might be called Doc Martens, hair with a red streaks in it. She’s got bangs and they almost cover her eyes. She looks at me and she smiles. “Hey,” she says.
“Hello.” What the hell do I say? She’s cute, but not the sort of girl I normally pay much attention to. Truth is, girls like her kind of scare me. She looks like she’s lived more in the last week than I have all year.
“Sure, I guess.”
“That’s a dumb answer.”
I blink at her. “Huh?”
She points at me. She’s wearing gloves with the fingers cut off. “Why would you be in this waiting room if you were okay?”
We’re alone, but it still seems like a rude thing to say. You’re not supposed to ask questions like that to people in places like this. That’s kind of the rule. I don’t think this girl cares much about rules though. Why else would she be dressed like she is? “Maybe I’m waiting for someone,” I tell her. Part of me wants her to leave me alone, but the other part – the part of me I’d sure like the doctor to take a look at – isn’t so sure.
“Okay,” she allows, “so who you waiting for?”
“My mom.” It’s all I can think of, since she was just in my head before.
“What’s her name?”
I ought to be able to recall my own mother’s name, right? But for someone reason my mind goes blank and the girl smiles. She’s got pretty dimples in her cheeks. “Okay, you got me,” I say. “I’m here for me. And I guess I’m not okay.”
She gets up from her chair and walks across to me. She isn’t tall, but she’s skinny under her big coat. She climbs into the seat next to me and sits with her legs crossed underneath her. She tilts her head at me so her bangs fall across her eyes. “It’s gonna be okay,” she tells me.
“How do you know?”
“I got a feeling.”
I smile. It feels like it’s been a long time since I did that. “You don’t even know my name.”
“So? What do names matter?”
“I think they matter a lot. How about your driving license?”
“I don’t drive.”
“Okay, well, passport then. You need a name for that.”
“I’ve never been to another country.”
“Not even Canada?”
“Not even Canada.”
“Why so surprised?”
I shrug. “I guess I thought you looked like the type who travelled.”
“What is your name anyway?”
“I’m Pixie.” She holds out a hand.
“Pixie?” I shake her hand. “That’s one heck of a name.”
“You think so?”
“Were your parents hippies or something?”
“Kinda. What’s your name?”
I realise I haven’t told her, but just as I open my mouth, the nurse looks up from the computer and calls it out. I smile apologetically at Pixie. “I have to go. It was nice meeting you.”
She watches me go. She’s cute. Her eyes are brown and I really dig the dimples now I think about it. But I don’t actually have time for thinking about that stuff.
Of course, doctors can only help with so much. And the problem with me is that I’ve been living a lie for so long, pretending to be a normal, functional person, that I can’t even talk to them about it. I clam up all over again, fake that things are okay, give them the barest smattering of the truth, let them prescribe me something they say will take the edge off. I don’t know if it will. I don’t know if I trust drugs for this kind of thing. I just want my life to make sense. I just want to be content, like everyone else is. The doctor, he tells me that no one’s as happy as they pretend to be. Neurosis is the human condition. He says I’ve coped this far. Is there something that brings me joy? Is there something that brings me peace? There is, I say. Then do that. But ‘that’ is the whole reason I came here. Because I know that ‘that’ is unhealthy. I’m not supposed to want to do ‘that’. All right-thinking folks would agree.
I walk out of the doctor’s. It’s a nice day outside I guess, but I was never the type to care much about that sort of thing. My car’s parked a couple blocks away, but I walk past a bus stop and I see someone I recognise sitting there. She watches me come closer. “Hey, Pixie,” I say to her. I don’t know why, but I sit down next to her. We’re alone again. It’s that kind of day.
“You catching a bus too?” she asks.
“No,” I admit.
“It’s okay. I could use the company.”
I nod. The road’s empty. “You live nearby?”
“Well, far enough away I need to get a bus.”
She’s smiling, but I feel dumb. I can tell she’s got a mind like a lightning bolt underneath those red-streaked bangs. Something that sparkles in her eyes just tells me so. “You want a ride?”
“I just met you.”
“So you could be a serial killer.”
I wince. That hit a little too close to home. She isn’t the first person to say that about me, if you want to know the truth. “I won’t hurt you. I just thought I could save you the fare.”
“I already got a return ticket.”
“Oh, okay.” I get up to leave, my hands in my pockets.
“You wanna go to the mall?” she asks suddenly.
“The mall. We can walk there. We’ll go to the mall, and if you don’t kill me, you can give me a ride home.”
I think about it. It’s impulsive, especially for me. Remember, I’m the guy who can sit staring into space for hours. “I haven’t been to the mall for a while.”
“You don’t hang out at the mall?”
“I’m not a kid.”
“Well, neither am I. But I still hang out there sometimes.”
As she gets up and swings her satchel over her shoulder with all its buttons I don’t recognise, I think maybe she is a kid compared to me. She could be anything from seventeen to thirty. Nothing’s going to happen though. Cute as she is, Pixie really isn’t my type. I don’t even know if I have a type. I wonder if she does? “Okay, let’s go to the mall.” It’s a totally unnecessary thing to say, because she’s already out of her seat and we’re already walking there. So we go to the mall.
Mostly I like to buy things online. I don’t like the crowds in malls and places like that. Too many eyes watching me. Pixie makes it okay though, somehow, even though even more people are looking now. She’s magnetic, but she doesn’t seem to care. She leads me to a place that sells frozen yoghurt, taking my hand to do it, and she doesn’t let go when we get there, so we’re standing at the counter, holding hands. It makes me feel good. People are looking at me, wondering what I’m doing holding hands with a girl like this and, for the first time in my life, I’m enjoying their stares. I feel better about myself with Pixie, I realise.
“What do you want?” she asks.
She points. “What flavour?”
I look at the options. “I don’t know.”
“Well what’s your favourite?”
I can’t answer. I don’t really have favourite things. When I was a kid, people used to ask what my favourite colour was. How do you answer that? Who cares about colours? “I dunno,” I shrug.
“Well, you like strawberry?”
“I like strawberry. That’s why my hair’s red right now.”
That makes me smile again. “You change your hair a lot?”
“When I feel like it. That’s what I do. When I feel things, I just do them. How about you?”
“I don’t really feel things.”
“I just…I don’t know. I guess that’s why I was at the doctor’s.”
“I like strawberry,” she repeated, “but I also like chocolate. Do you do strawberry and chocolate together?” This is directed at the guy behind the counter, a spotty kid who looks bored. He says they don’t. “Can you mix ’em up for us then?” He doesn’t look too happy about it, but Pixie begs and pleads and I guess she wins him over because he makes a couple of concoctions of brown and pink sludge and hands them over.
So we walk away, little cups of yoghurt in hand, slurping away together and somehow we’re still holding hands. “What kind of music do you like?” Pixie asks me.
“You don’t know that either?”
“I guess I don’t.”
“So let’s go to the record store.”
I eye up the big, blazing place on the corner of the next intersection. There’s a thumping beat drifting out of the doors, an electro-R’n’B rhythm that almost brings me out into a cold sweat. “I should probably get going, actually…” I let go of her hand.
She follows my eyes, then shakes her head and grabs my hand again. “Not there. I know a better place.” She leads me off and I follow, helplessly caught up in her gravity.
Yeah, serial killer. They say it’s in my eyes, see? Don’t ask me how you can tell a thing like that. They say they’re the windows to the soul, I guess, but how can anyone see that deep, into my innermost thoughts? I was never a bad kid. Polite, kind, worked hard at school, but I had these thoughts, these horrible, nasty, cruel thoughts. That’s what I came to think of as the other person in my head, the weirdo inside me that had hitched a lift from some bad place. I guess in olden times they’d have called it demonic possession. I don’t believe in demons though. I know both mes are just me, but different bits. Maybe other people are whole or maybe, like the doctor said, everyone else is carrying their own passenger too. I bet theirs doesn’t make them do what mine does though.
Pixie’s flicking though the rack of records. Proper records: vinyl I mean. This is a much smaller place, with fewer people, down in the mall’s basement where all the weird little stores are. I bet nobody comes here much, except people like Pixie. Strangely, I feel even less comfortable here. I’d never even think about walking into this place if I was on my own. Pixie makes it okay, but I’m still a little itchy, inside I mean. Pixie’s wholly fixated on the records. She’s as far as B. “So c’mon,” she says suddenly, “you must like something.”
“I don’t listen to a whole lot of music.” Something’s playing on the store’s sound system, the polar opposite of the thump-thump-thump from the other place. I don’t recognise it, but I quite like it. “What’s this?”
“It’s The Shins,” she answer absently.
She looks up. “You like it?”
“You got a real record player at home?”
“Uh…maybe.” I think my mom might have one in the basement. “Why?”
“I only buy vinyl,” she clarifies. “It’s the only way to listen to music.”
“It sounds better. More real. Especially if you’re buying something from before the 80s.”
“Are The Shins from before the 80s?”
She laughs. It’s loud and actually kind of obnoxious, but it’s infectious and soon I’m smiling along with her, even though I don’t get the joke. “I need to educate you,” she goes on, continuing her alphabetical progress through the records. “See, if it’s from before they moved to cassettes, vinyl’s how the musicians themselves would’ve heard the songs, right?”
“Because, you know, they say you know you’ve made it when you hear your song on the radio, yeah?”
“So this is how they heard it.” She pulls something out. “You like The BeeGees?”
I look her up and down. She doesn’t look like a BeeGees girl. “My mom likes the BeeGees.” I don’t really know if that’s true, but I’m going with principle over fact here. Pixie’s about four decades late for disco.
“The BeeGees are some of the greatest song writers of all time. That’s an indisputable fact.” She hands me the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever.
“Are you serious?”
“Trust me. What about The Beatles?”
“I like The Beatles.”
I think about it. Everyone likes The Beatles, right? I tell her that.
“That’s not what I asked.” She pokes a little finger in my chest. “I want to know what you like. I want to know what’s in your head. This is all for you, okay?”
“I don’t really know much about The Beatles. I know Sgt. Pepper’s. Yellow Submarine.”
“Forget that stuff. This is Rubber Soul. This is where it all got started.” She puts it in my arms, on top of the other album. “You’ll like it,” she promises. “And, since you asked.” She walks to another rack, me following like a puppy, and pulls out another album. “Something by The Shins.” I don’t make out the title, but the cover is aquamarine blue.
I buy the albums, still with no idea why I’m doing it, but Pixie seems happy and that’s good enough for me. We go to the food court and share some fries. My purchases from the record store are in a bag by the foot of my chair. “I don’t know anything about you,” I say.
She dips each french fry in the plastic pot of ketchup, then turns it around and dips the other end in the barbecue sauce. She then alternates which end she eats from until she reaches the last bite, which she just tosses into her mouth. It’s awkward, but she does it for every single one. “Well, what do you want to know?”
“I’ve never seen you around.”
“So it’s a small town. I think I’d remember you.”
“You know everyone in town?”
“No. But you stand out.”
That makes me grin. A lot of people might be insulted by that, but not Pixie. “Did you go to school here?”
“I was home schooled.”
“Yeah. Kinda weird. My parents were both teachers though, so it worked out okay.”
“How come you were in the doctor’s today?”
“You never told me why you were there. Why should I tell you why I was?” She doesn’t sound angry, but her brown eyes are challenging me again. As she sits there, nibbling her fries in that crazy way, I realise how much she’s growing on me.
“Fair point. I was there because I think I’m crazy. You?”
“I was waiting for someone.”
I laugh. When did I last do that? “All right then.”
“Are you crazy?” she asks, getting serious.
“I don’t know. The doctor wasn’t sure. He gave me a prescription though.”
“You think that’s the answer?”
“It could be part of an answer.”
“In what way are you crazy?”
“I feel like nothing matters. It’s all grey. Does that make sense?”
“Sure. I feel that way sometimes.”
I give her an incredulous look. “You? I don’t believe that.”
She eyes me over her latest french fry. Ketchup, barbecue, ketchup, barbecue. Unfailing, every time. “Know how I deal with it?”
“I go find some colour.”
“Like…I watch an old movie. Or I take a walk in the forest. You ever go out there in the fall?”
“You should. Or I listen to The BeeGees. That’s a good one.”
“Shame we don’t have a record player with us right now then.”
“I have one in my room.”
She watches me carefully. She’s down to her last french fry. I finished my share a while ago, since it didn’t take me so long to eat them. “You didn’t try to kill me,” she says as she finishes the last middle bite and dusts off her hands. “So why don’t you give me that ride home? Then I’ll introduce you to The BeeGees.”
“That sounds…pretty good.”
“I think so too.” Her dimples again. I really like those dimples.
Who was the first? I don’t remember now. It’s all a bit of a mess in my head, as I guess you’re figuring out. I wasn’t mean about it. No one suffered. I got in, did my thing, cleared up the mess, got on with my life. I don’t keep souvenirs – this isn’t TV – and afterwards I handle everything real methodically. My mind goes into a different place. Clean up, get out. Leave no trace, that’s my mantra. Sometimes, early on, I was sloppy and people asked questions. But no one would ever suspect me of doing this kind of thing. Why would they? I’m a good person. Everyone says so. Never mind that nobody even really knows me, that there isn’t a person on Earth you could point to and say they were my friend, really and truly. I’ve had a lot of practice being a good human being. I’m real good at faking it now. If I took the meds, what would they even leave behind anyhow? I don’t know who I’d be. But how much longer can this really go on? Maybe just one more time. Although, truth is, I always say that…
Pixie lives out in the suburbs in a nice little house with a wooden porch. Inside it’s homely and warm, but nobody else is home. “Mom probably went out to the store,” she explains.
“You live with your mom?”
“Uh huh. How about you?”
“I have an apartment. But I come home a lot, actually. At the weekend, for meals. Stuff like that. I guess I never really left.”
“What’s wrong with staying close to the people you love?”
“How old are you?” I ask again.
“Not as young as I look.”
She eyes me as she kicks off her boots. “What do you think’s going to happen here, huh?”
I’m embarrassed. “Nothing. I mean…I didn’t think…I…I don’t know what I meant.”
“It’s okay. Let’s play your records.” She leads me up the creaky, narrow stairs to her room. It’s a nice little space, decorated with drapes over the bed, which is an old, metal-framed type. She has posters on her walls that are faded with age. Bands and musicians, mostly. I recognise The BeeGees, front and centre. “Sit,” she says, gesturing to her bed.
I do as she asks. I have to move a worn, threadbare stuffed animal to do it. It’s an elephant, coming apart at the seams, with pictures of musical instruments on its blue-green sides and stitched, soulful eyes staring at me. I hold it up. “Nice.”
“Hey, that’s Bo-Bo.”
“Uh huh.” She’s setting up her record player, but she turns to me. She’s out of her jacket now, and she has a knitted sweater on underneath. It’s baggy and the weave’s loose enough that I can the shape of her body through it. She’s got a tight shirt on underneath. “Don’t you have any of your old toys?”
“Not really. I had a bear when I was little, but I guess he got thrown away sometime.”
She looks at me. “That’s sad.”
She means it too, I can tell. “Is it?”
“Yeah. These things are important, you know.”
“Toys, places, people. You said everything was grey, right?”
“Things like that are what brings colour to the world. Old memories. Smells, sounds.”
“I know that.” I did, but when had I ever put it into practice?
Pixie finally gets her record player ready. She takes out the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and puts it on. There’s a squeal and a scratch and then a familiar bass thump. I frown. Where had I heard this before? “Wait,” she says, “let’s start in a different place.” She moves the needle, and then I hear something else. A twinkle and a strum of guitar or, for all I knew, a harp. I definitely know this song.
“What is this?” I ask her.
“How Deep Is Your Love.”
“I remember this song.”
“From when?” There’s a challenge in her eyes. Maybe she thinks I’m joking.
“I think… I think my mom used to play it.” I’m feeling things I don’t think I’ve ever felt before. Stirring inside. Memories of a childhood I’d forgotten, not because it was bad, but because I’d just never bothered holding onto it.
“Are you okay?” Pixie asks me, coming to sit beside me. She holds my hand again.
“I don’t know. I feel pretty strange. Like…like things I’ve been burying are bubbling up. I’ve been going through the motions for so long, I think I forgot how to live.”
“That’s the power of The BeeGees,” she smiles. “I think they’re better than any meds.”
“What about the doctor?”
“Were you honest with him?”
“Were you honest with me?”
“So who are you gonna listen to? We both just met you, but I’m the only one you really talked to.”
“Good point.” I look into her eyes. Really look. Try to see what’s inside. “Who are you? Why are you helping me?”
“I’m Pixie,” she shrugs, “and I’m helping you ’cause you need it.”
“Thanks.” When has anyone ever helped me like this before? I couldn’t tell you.
“It’s gonna take a while to listen to all your new records,” she says after a minute. “Plus I kinda wanna play you a few others.”
“I guess so.”
“You can stay the night. If you want I mean.”
“Will your mom mind?”
“It’ll be fine. Tell me more about yourself.”
So I do. The BeeGees play out in the background, their half-familiar harmonies filling the little room and my big, mixed-up mind, and I spill my whole story. She’s the first person who ever seemed to understand it all.
He finally goes to sleep and I pull myself free from his arms. It’s been a long, tiring day and keeping this mask on is always exhausting at the best of times. I gently fade the music. No need to wake him up with a needle scratch. I fetch my bag and climb back onto the bed next to him. I know how to do this quickly. I could probably manage it without even waking him, if I wanted to. I don’t want to though. I want to give him one last moment. I watch him sleeping gently, knowing peace for probably the first time in years. The doctor’s office is such a great place to pick them up, these poor, fragile little boys. They latch onto you so easily, vulnerable as they are, and it only takes a little bit of pushing to get them here. They’re all looking for Pixie. It’s sweet, in a way, but even I’d get bored of it if I had to do it for more than a day at a time. Once this is over, I’ll feel guilty as hell, but never mind. Right now I need the rush, the thing that makes me whole. If this one had stopped to ask – if any of them ever stopped to ask – the facade would crumble right away. Nothing I’ve told him holds up to scrutiny. My mom died years ago. And who gives a fuck about vinyl? But they never ask. They let you fit the pattern they already have in their poor, diseased brains and you can lead them on a merry little dance. It’s all fine. They’ll remember the girl he was with in an army jacket, Doc Martens and red-streaked hair. Tomorrow, all that will be in the garbage, along with him. I shake his shoulder gently, and he opens his eyes, smiles. He looks at his Pixie one last time, the girl he’s convinced himself is going to save him, and I bet he doesn’t even feel the knife going into his flesh, behind the windpipe. Maybe there’s an instant of pain, but it’s snuffed out in less than a moment, along with the light in his eyes as I jerk the knife towards me, carving his throat in half. How many times have I done this now? Hard to say. If I’d given the doctor even a conservative estimate, I’d already be in a padded cell. As I watch the blood leak all over the comforter and that fucking elephant I bought from Goodwill last week, I wonder if I should give the meds a try after all. It’d certainly be less mess to clean up.