“These eyes see, they see, you know, the where you are and I would go.”
Fortune Cookie Eyes
Basil sat down and massaged his temples to calm himself, resolved to keep his word. He would observe and learn, keep his thoughts to himself. Soon Professor Grimes’ attendants appeared, the precious cargo of Emily on a rolling bed between them. Basil recognized Mack and Louise, instructors from the University and well known to him, which accorded him a measure of relief. Mack nodded and Louise patted his arm as they rolled Emily past him.
When they reached the apparatus, Basil willed himself to sit tight, lest he rise and attempt to assist them in transferring Emily to the iron chair. True to his word, Professor Grimes had fitted it with comfortable looking pillows. It was less forbidding in appearance, its iron bones concealed. Mack and Louise moved Emily effortlessly from the bed to the apparatus. Louise held Emily’s body in place while Mack fastened restraints to her legs and torso. He very carefully tested each of them for snugness, made sure they weren’t too tight.
Basil watched their activities closely, the perfect student so far, clinical observer. His breath caught when his eyes reached Emily’s face, her dark hair splashed against the white linen covering the pillow supporting her head. Her closed eyes formed dark half-moons in the white alabaster of her face. ‘What tragic and fallen angel her frail countenance suggests,’ Basil thought. Professor Grimes’ voice interrupted his ruminations. “This,” he said, referring to a small rubber-looking object in his hand, “is the boot. It will be inserted into Emily’s mouth to prevent her from biting her tongue and otherwise harming herself.”
Grimes squeezed Emily’s cheeks slightly and worked the boot in between her teeth. “And this,” he pulled a handful of straps and sponge pads from the pocket of his white smock, “will fit under Emily’s chin and over the top of her head to hold her lower jaw in place.” He worked deftly and soon had the jaw restraint in place. His patient offered no resistance.
Basil, possessed of a delicate gag reflex himself, almost choked in sympathy at what he had seen so far. Emily sat listless throughout the application of the boot and jaw restraint. For the thousandth time Basil asked himself how one so bright and full of life could be instantly robbed of every facet of consciousness. ‘A muzzle,’ he fretted to himself, ‘they have muzzled the most beautiful creature that ever existed.’
Mack and Louise fitted the arms of Emily’s chair with soft leather pads. They took her hands from where they were folded in her lap and positioned her arms so that they were resting on the leather pads. Grimes examined the placement of Emily’s arms, made slight adjustments, a nudge here and there, and then applied pressure to a foot lever. Basil started at the unexpected clanging noise when four clamps on each side snapped into place to hold Emily’s upper and lower arms in place. An iron cuff, fitted with a dripping-wet sponge, was fastened to her ankle.
Basil had done extensive research on capital punishment, the electric chair and guillotine in particular. What he had observed so far was a close parallel to the horrific procedures involved in those practices. Were Emily conscious, Basil was sure he would be unable to sit still and observe the process. ‘You stupid!’ he thought to himself, ‘If Emily was conscious, we wouldn’t be here.’
“And this is the Cranial Loop.” Grimes held up what looked, for all the world, to Basil like a string of Christmas tree lights. “This loop will be fastened in a strategic pattern into a head piece designed specifically for the patient.” He opened a panel in the wall positioned next to Emily’s seat. Grimes consulted a schematic, then offered it and a helmet to Mack and Louise. “Doctors, please.”
Grimes gave Basil a comforting smile. “This control panel serves to deliver and monitor electrical impulses to the Cranial Loop. For today’s procedure, particularly since it is the first, the master setting,” he gestured toward a lever slide bar, “is set at absolute minimum. The master is locked into position and cannot be changed once the procedure is initiated. Subordinate settings cannot exceed the limit set by the master. All systems are, of course, backed up by battery packs and in-house generators to prevent interruption of the stimulus once it has begun. As in a surgical maneuver, it is imperative that every precaution be taken against interruption and contamination.”
“Doctor Grimes,” Louise offered the helmet, which was now connected to the Cranial Loop. Grimes took the helmet from her and nodded toward Emily. He consulted the schematic once more, pressed his fingers against the fittings inside the headpiece, and then turned to face Emily. Mack and Louise stood on opposite sides of her. They worked together well as a team, gently tilted Emily’s head forward and supported it while Grimes fitted the headpiece in place. When this was accomplished, he attached the business end of the Cranial Loop to a receptacle in the base of Emily’s chair.
Professor Grimes stepped over to the control panel and consulted its bank of monitors. He glanced toward Mack and Louise who were busy bathing Emily’s face and forearms with cool, wet sponges. Mack winked at the professor and he tweaked a single switch. A pattern of blinking lights appeared beneath the smoky clear surface of the helmet. The Christmas tree was live. “With no further ado,” Grimes said as he threw the master switch.
Basil’s eyes were glued to Emily’s face. Her eyes flew open, startled and eerily aware in appearance. Her body went rigid and a thin line of drool ran from the corner of her mouth. “Four pair,” Mack called out. Grimes made minute adjustments and Emily’s head turned to the left.
Basil was on the edge of his chair, hands balled into tight fists. It took every bit of his resolve to control himself. He wanted, in every fiber of his body, to stand and shout, to demand they stop at once. “Two pair,” Louise said to Grimes. He made a number of adjustments and Emily’s legs quivered, challenging the strength of their restraints. The iron cuff on her ankle banged loudly against the leg of the chair.
“Four pair off,” Mack chimed in, “Initiate nine.” Emily’s chin dropped to her shoulder and her eyes rolled back in her head.
“Maintain two and seven pair half,” from Louise. Basil slid backward in his chair until he felt it firmly against his spine. Shocked and afraid, he cursed himself for blinking lest he miss a moment in the hopeful process, the resurrection of his beloved Emily.
Forty-five minutes later the procedure was over. Mack and Louise released Emily from her restraints. With professional and caring hands, they unfastened the headpiece. Louise removed the jaw restraint and the boot from Emily’s slack mouth. Mack rolled the bed to the side of the chair and they lifted Emily into it. Louise began checking her vital signs. Professor Grimes was seated before the control panel, pecking away feverishly at a keyboard. The panel buzzed and whirred, spit paper out into a wire basket.
Louise approached Grimes and spoke to him in hushed tones for a moment. “Good, good,” Grimes responded. “Take her back now and thank-you kind folks for your time and assistance. Your support is invaluable.”
Mack and Louise offered Basil a thumbs-up as they exited the room with Emily. “Well?” Basil demanded of Grimes the moment they were gone from the room. The sound of his own voice startled him. It came out loud and strident, much more aggressive than he intended.
Professor Grimes, normally a patient and gentle man, replied in kind. “Pipe down, boy! We have an agreement and you are still the observer, the student here. This is no time for hysterics.” Basil, embarrassed and rebuked, held his water.
A few minutes later, Grimes pulled his chair over next to Basil’s and sat down. He brought the computer data reports with him. He glanced at Basil and stroked his goatee thoughtfully. “Sorry I barked at you, my boy. This is quite stressful for all involved. Your tone of voice startled me.”
“I didn’t mean to shout,” Basil offered. “My voice took off on its own.”
“You did very well throughout the procedure,” the professor allowed. “Much better than I expected. Observation is an important and powerful asset, an extremely difficult discipline to master. You will make a great doctor, one this professor is proud to have tutored.”
“Thank-you,” Basil replied. He counted slowly to himself, one, two, three, four, then, “Well?”
“Yes, well,” Grimes began. “I am pleased with the outcome of this session and will recommend ten procedures to follow, one every three days to commence immediately. Following that, we’ll take the next thirty days off to perform a careful and intensive evaluation of the patient. The results of those findings will lead us to our next step.”
Basil cleared his throat. “Professor Grimes.”
Grimes looked up from the sheaf of papers in his hand. “Yes Basil, what is it?”
Basil pressed his hands together, said softly, “Emily?”
Grimes rolled the papers into a tube and tapped Basil’s knee with them. “I’ll have to study these reports. Emily’s nerve pathways seem to function fine. We’ll expand these sessions to the level of physical therapy, which was what I set out to do with these experiments in the first place. Her muscles won’t be as likely to atrophy. We usually initiate local stimulus at this stage in cases of temporary paralysis. The physical therapist initiated massage therapy at the onset of Emily’s illness. The more activity we can stimulate, the better.”
“Her eyes,” Basil said, “There was a certain awareness about her eyes.”
“Careful, Basil,” Grimes counseled, “Try to maintain a clinical stance. Your love is very important to Emily but, as a professional, you must be possessed of a separate view. Doing this and loving her at the same time is the most likely way for you to affect Emily’s wellbeing.”
“May I visit her, Professor?” Basil asked.
“You must and at once!” Grimes replied enthusiastically. “This old man has to go home and get some rest.”
Basil got up to leave. “Listen, Basil,” Grimes said, “I know you’ve read the literature but you talk to that girl of yours like everything’s normal. Sing to her and recite poetry. Whether she hears you or not, love can do amazing things.”
“I already do those things,” Basil said. “I do it for myself as well. I need to get those feelings out.” He took a step toward the door, then paused. “Thanks, Professor, from Emily and me both.”
Grimes stood up with a groan. “Mind helping me lock up? I’ll walk you to the elevator. I’d hate to lose you in the tunnels under this old school.”
The next month passed quickly for Basil. His life was a blur of classes, Cranial Loop sessions with Emily, and long sleepless nights. For the first time in his academic career, he was struggling with classes. The Cranial Loop team helped him through his difficult times. The ordeal with Emily was taking its toll on him and Professor Grimes, ever aware, enlisted the assistance of Mack and Louise and others to help Basil along. Basil was depressed and embarrassed that he, of all people, required mentoring and tutoring. Winter vacation was just around the corner and, for the first time in his life, he was looking forward to the break.
A mirrored opposite, Hedgeny was at the top of his game. Proficient at any athletic endeavor he applied himself to, he was the football player’s football player. He ran, passed, kicked, and protected his teammates with a fierce loyalty that assured him their unadulterated devotion. Hedgeny had become an institution. In a couple of weeks, what was being lauded as the game of the century was to be played.
Hedgeny and his teammates would face a longstanding rival of the school, their nemesis. For the first time ever, and on the strength of Hedgeny, the school had fostered a team that stood an odds-on chance to literally bring home the gold. Hedgeny was a Goliath of confidence, boasting and jeering, poking good-natured fun at the opposing team whenever he got the chance. And that was often enough since sports reporters loved him. They plastered his handsome face and boisterous quotes in media across the country. He had become the fun and frolicking, Mohammed Ali of college football. Like Ali, he could back up his mouth with stellar performance.
A few days before break, Basil answered a summons to Grimes’ office. The professor was in jovial spirits. “Sit down, my boy; take a load off! Tell me about your holiday plans.”
Basil took a seat across from Grimes’ desk and watched as the man filled two tumblers with ice cubes. “I don’t really have any plans,” Basil replied, “I know you’re aware that I don’t have any family and wouldn’t leave Emily in any case. Then there’s the money thing. I’m about at the end of my rope on finances. Emily’s folks plan to visit and I wouldn’t want to miss the chance to get to meet them. I’m going to go over the Cranial Loop reports with them; that is, if it’s okay with you.”
“Fine, fine,” Grimes replied. He winked at Basil. “I don’t need to remind you to keep it professional.” He poured thick tan colored liquid over the ice cubes and set a glass in front of Basil.
Basil stared at the glass. “I don’t usually drink alcohol, Sir.”
“Drop the Sir!” Grimes said with mock sternness. “Let your hair down a bit, Basil, and toast an old friend.”
Basil lifted his glass and tilted it toward Grimes. “Cheers, Professor.”
“That’s better, my boy.” Grimes clinked his glass against Basil’s, “and cheers to you.” He took a deep drink, then withdrew an envelope from his vest pocket. He pushed it across the desk. “Happy Holidays from Mrs. Grimes and yours truly.”
Basil stared at the envelope. “I couldn’t.”
“Don’t start,” the professor warned. “It’s bad enough you haven’t so much as tasted your drink after toasting me.”
Basil sipped at his drink. No lover of liquor, he was genuinely surprised that its taste agreed with him. He tipped the glass and enjoyed a nice long swallow. Grimes clapped his hands. “That’s the spirit, my boy, Irish Crème, nectar of the Gods. I’m glad you like it!”
“It’s good,” Basil agreed, “Like a milkshake with a bite.”
“Spoken like a true connoisseur,” Grimes chuckled. “No holiday plans, huh? Just as I thought and that brings me to one of the reasons I asked you here. That money thing you mentioned; I know you struggle, Basil. I’d like to make you an offer. Actually, it’s better than that, a situation where you have choices. Mrs. Grimes thinks the world of you and so do I. We weren’t able to have children of our own. Were you aware of that, Basil?”
Basil drained his glass, the icy liquor warming him through and through. He shifted a bit in his chair, uneasy with the direction the professor’s conversation was taking. “No, Professor, I wasn’t aware of that. I’m sorry for the pain that must have brought to you.”
Grimes reached across and filled Basil’s glass. “Spilt milk, my boy, spilt milk. Never mind that, it’s just the maudlin rambling of an old man in his cups. The point I’m trying to make is that we’d like you to come stay with us.”
Basil ran a finger down the length of his glass. “Professor, I don’t think…”
“Now, hold on,” Grimes interrupted, “I wasn’t through. That was just one of the choices I want you to think about. I have spoken to the administrators. My God, Basil, everyone knows how much time you spend over here working, helping with Emily and all. The fee you pay at the dorm could be used for other things. Emily is our only patient. We don’t even accept patients anymore. She’s a very special case. Anyway, how would you feel about taking a room here in the Psychiatry Building? A bright young man like yourself could make it livable. For your part of the deal, you’d make sure the building was locked up every night and open for business on weekdays. You’re here round the clock most days as it is.” Grimes winked at Basil. “The room next to Emily’s is a double and has a connecting door. It wouldn’t do her any harm to have a loved one close to hand.”
Basil was moved by Grimes’ offer. He chose his words carefully when he answered. “Professor, I am honored by your offer, especially by the obvious fact that you and the administrators trust me to such an extent. It touches me deeply that you and Mrs. Grimes would consider taking me in. Truth be known, I’m at the end of my budget and have been seeking gainful employment.”
“I won’t hear of it,” Grimes interjected. “Your time should be spent on your studies. Allow me, if you will, to council you a bit on financial matters from here on out. We'll have you squared away in no time.”
“I’d appreciate that,” Basil replied earnestly. “My needs are few but lately, with my grades slipping and all, I’ve begun to wonder if I’m truly cut out for the life of a scholar.”
Grimes sat back in his chair, incredulous. “How can you even think such a thing, dear boy, let alone put it to words? You were top of the class for three consecutive semesters. Emily’s illness is certainly a significant setback but one you can and will overcome, believe me. You are a world-class talent, a key asset to this institution, the true stuff it is made of. Think of Emily. What would she have you do?”
“You’re right, of course,” Basil said. “With your counseling and assistance, I could go on. I don’t know how I’d ever pay you back.”
Grimes reached across the desk and covered Basil’s hand with his own. “You, Basil, are the answer to every teacher’s dream. You’re the student who works hard on his own, excels and finally begins to teach the teacher.”
Basil’s mouth dropped open. “I beg your pardon, Sir. Did you say teach the teacher?”
Grimes chuckled, a warm sound in the close room. “Oh yes, you’ll teach this teacher. Already your devotion to Emily has taught me humility and the deepest meaning of loyalty. You owe it to me as well as to yourself to see this academic road to its wonderful end.”
“And so I shall,” Basil said, relief evident in his voice. “With no disrespect to you and your wife, I choose to stay here next to Emily until she is well.”
“There is one condition to that choice,” Grimes said grimly.
“What is that?” asked Basil.
Grimes took a hearty swallow of his drink, ran his tongue over his lips as if to savor its taste. “Mrs. Grimes anticipated your choice. She is much more interested in you and Emily than you can imagine. She insists that you come to dinner at our home each school night.” Grimes rubbed his tummy. “She wants to put some meat on those bones of yours. I think she wants us to be the Mama and Papa you never had. Will you do that, Basil? Will you come have dinner with us and bring Emily when she is well?”
Basil blushed. “I already feel as if I am home.”
“Good! Good!” the professor said excitedly. He pushed a large ring of keys across the desk. “Here are the keys to the building. You’ll have to sort them out as you go. You’re probably familiar with some of them already. Administration will have some papers for you to sign. Mrs. Grimes and I are going on holiday to Germany with Mack and Louise. We’ll finalize the arrangement with the University when we return.”
Basil’s head was spinning. He felt better than he had in a good long time. The professor had no way of knowing that he had just answered a number of silent prayers.
“That’s that!” Grimes said emphatically. “Now, come around here, my boy. I have the truest of gifts for you!”
Basil, unused to the ingesting of spirits, felt tipsy when he stood up. He steadied himself with one hand on the desk as he rounded it to join the professor. Grimes reached into the pocket of his shirt and pulled out a fortune cookie. “Here, Basil. This is for you, son.”
Basil stood, nonplussed, before the professor. He stared at the tiny gift in the man’s hand. He was afraid, for some reason, to accept it. “Take it,” Grimes insisted, “And open it right now!”
He pushed it into Basil’s hand. Basil made a tight fist, crushed the cookie and dropped the broken pieces on Grimes’ desk. He picked up the message from the crumbs and read it. His legs gave way but the professor was ready. He caught Basil and set him in his desk chair. “Does it mean?” Basil squeaked, “Does it?”
The professor hugged Basil’s head and stroked his hair. “I’m not sure what it means, dear boy, but is good, no?”
Basil threw his arms around the professor, returned his embrace and then some. “It is good, yes, Professor. It is good, yes!”
“You go see that girl of yours,” Grimes said softly. “Tomorrow you come have dinner with me and the Missus, say around five. You can see us off to the airport, then have this smelly old place all to yourself for a couple of weeks.”
Basil pulled himself up. “I will. I will and I am so grateful for your kindness.”
“Go now,” Grimes urged. “And don’t forget your envelope. Don’t open it until Christmas day.”
Basil walked around the desk, put the envelope in his pocket, and headed for the door. “Everything will be all right, son,” the professor assured him as Basil left the room. He picked up the phone and dialed hurriedly. “Mary, phone that man who called for a reference and tell him Basil is definitely not interested in the job. Yes, yes, I told him. Of course, he’s happy. Hang up, dear lady, and call that man back before he reaches Basil through other channels. No more questions; I love you too and I’ll be home directly to tell you all about it.”
Basil leaned against the wall in the hallway outside Emily’s room. Tears ran down his cheeks and he stared at the tiny piece of paper in his hands through blurry eyes. He drew it to his mouth and kissed it, then kissed it again and again, its words etched a hundred miles inside him where hope existed alone and afraid. Its words echoed through the very core of his being: EMILY BLINKED.
© 2017 artwork, music and words
conceived by and property of
Tom (WordWulf) Sterner 2017 ©