They took turns, doctor. Two of them held me down while the third…
As I lay Dying
The teacher looked at his watch, coughed and said,
“Time’s up. Pencils down.”
He started collecting the exam papers; he stopped when he noticed one of the students was still using his pencil.
“I said pencils down.”
The student didn’t seem to hear him; he was still busy penciling his swarming ideas. His right hand rested on the desk while his left hand moved in a circular motion. The teacher approached him and said,
“Marc, put your pencil down please.”
Sullen and spiritless, Marc kept drawing circles on his exam paper. He shrugged his shoulders and looked at the alarmed teacher, a glum hopeless look in his blue eyes. Mr. Sullivan, the teacher, stared at the black and white paper; there wasn’t a single word written on the answer sheet. Mr. Sullivan was stunned; Marc was the top student in his school.
Mr. Sullivan reported this incident to doctor Steve Jeffers, the school’s psychiatrist. This was the second exam in a row that Marc actually did not write a single word on his exam paper.
Next morning, Doctor Jeffers called him to his office. Marc was moving around restlessly, biting his swollen lip.
“Have a seat please,”
He glared at the doctor and said, “Then what?”
“Mr. Sullivan told me that you failed your exams.”
“I didn’t feel like writing.”
“You’re a brilliant student, Marc. There must be a reason that you failed.”
“I told you, I didn’t feel like writing.”
“What do you feel like doing?”
Doctor Jeffers gave him a pencil and a paper and asked him to paint the first thing that came to his mind; he drew a big circle.
“Why do you draw circles, Marc?” asked doctor Jeffers.
“Why don’t you paint something more productive?”
“Probably a tree or dog.”
“Would the tree bear leaves in spring and fruits in summer? Would it fill the room with fresh air? If I painted a dog, would it bark and cuddle beside me licking my face and hands?”
“I guess not.”
“Then what’s the difference if I paint circles or death?”
“Death?” doctor Jeffers was taken by surprise.
“Death is the full circle. There’s nothing more complete than the circle of death.”
“You mean the cycle of life.”
“No, the cycle of death.”
He covered his ears with his hands, “Stop, stop” he screamed.
“Those noises. Please, make them stop.”
“Bang, bang, bang. It’s all here, inside my head.”
He lay back on the couch and closed his eyes. “Listen,” he said.
“I don’t hear anything, Marc.”
“I told you they were inside my head,” he gritted his teeth.
“What do they say to you?”
“It’s time to end this meeting,” he fidgeted.
He stood up suddenly, staggered and sat down again whimpering and grabbing his stomach.
“Marc, are you all right?”
“I’m all right,” he rasped. “The noises are gone now. Now I can sleep.”
He walked over to the window; the rain was tapping the sill gently. He opened the window and stretched his arms under the rain,
“As I lay dying, you were basking in the sunlight,” he muttered.
“What did you say?”
“I love the rain,” he said. He leaned against the sill; Jeffers was alarmed, “Keep away from the window, Marc.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to jump. Not yet any way.”
“What’s bothering you, Marc?”
He turned and faced the doctor, took out a napkin and dried his trembling hands.
“Nothing, I’m perfectly all right,” he said and leaned against the window.
“What about those noises?”
“You said you were hearing noises, bang, bang, inside your head.”
“Did you ever look up that word in a dictionary?”
“Then you will never understand.”
“There is a dictionary on the right shelf. I’ll look it up.”
“Everybody knows what bang means, doctor,” he tittered. His face turned white and the tremor in his hands was getting stronger. He put his hands behind his back. The window was still wide open.
“What does it mean, Marc?”
Doctor Jeffers approached him cautiously. He tried to lead him away from the window; Marc twitched and regurgitated.
“Doctor, don’t wear the cologne again. It makes me sick.”
Doctor Jeffers contacted his uncle Scott Fairchild. Marc’s parents had passed away three years ago in a car accident. His uncle placed him in a boarding school for boys shortly after the accident.
“I can’t help him, Mr. Fairchild if he doesn’t tell me what’s bothering him. I tried but what he says doesn’t make any sense.”
“Is that why you contacted me? Because you can’t do your job!”
“I thought you could fill me in. When he first came here after the death of his parents, he was resentful of the school and of you because you kept him away from his home and friends. At least, he talked to me then. He worked through his feelings of anger and hurt. This time, he’s not like the boy I know. He’s introvert and possibly suicidal. ”
“Suicidal!” Scott was stunned.
“Yes, Mr. Fairchild, he talks a lot about death and dying.”
Scott sighed deeply. Even after the tragic death of his parents, Marc never talked about death.
“What happened, Mr. Fairchild? Something must have triggered this depression. I talked to his teachers. He was doing remarkably well until last week. Mr. Sullivan says that he sits in the classroom staring in space or drawing circles, circles that he calls the circles of death.”
“Last week, while he was spending the holiday at my mansion he was kidnapped for ransom,” he sighed. “I paid the money and he was released unharmed. We never informed the police.”
“Are you sure he was unharmed?”
“He was exhausted. His wrists and ankles were swollen and bloody from tugging at the ropes and there were bruises on his face as well. ”
“Was he examined by a physician?”
“He said he was fine.”
“Did you notice anything strange about him?”
Scott paused for a while trying to remember. “His dragging gait.”
“He shuffled his feet wearily. He was enervated. It was as if he couldn’t walk.”
“You should have taken him to a hospital.”
“You’re right, doctor. He had a fever and he was moaning all night but he wouldn’t let me call a doctor. He didn’t want anyone to know.”
Doctor Jeffers called him to his office again. Marc was still walking languidly.
“Why did you call me? I told you last meeting that I’m perfectly all right.”
“Sit down, Marc.”
“You’re still wearing that disgusting cologne,” he said irritated.
“My wife gave it to me for my birthday. I think it smells nice.”
“It makes me sick.”
Jeffers took out the bottle, opened the cap and sprayed the cologne in the air.
“Why don’t you try it on?” he said.
His face turned ghastly pale and he had a frightened desperate look in his eyes. He grabbed his stomach wincing in pain.
“Take it away, doctor. I told you this smell makes me sick.”
“Marc, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, just a cramp.”
“Let me examine you.”
“No,” he screamed. “Keep away from me.”
He couldn’t stand up any longer; he sat on the couch trying to catch his breath.
“Bang, bang, bang. Those noises again,” he said and covered his ears.
“I looked up the word in a dictionary, Marc. Now I know what it means.”
Marc stood aghast. His hands trembled and he put them behind his back in embarrassment. He walked to other corner of the room and gazed at a replica of Munch’s anguished painting, The Scream.
“You talked to uncle Scott, didn’t you?” he stammered.
“Yes, Marc. He told me what happened last Sunday.”
“God,” he covered his face with his hands. “I told him not to tell anyone.”
“Marc, you’re hurting. You need to talk to somebody.”
“Why don’t we start with the cologne?”
“He wore that stinking smell all the time. He sprayed it on my clothes before…”
He walked closer to the painting. “Beautiful colors,” he sighed. “Why is the subject of this painting screaming? Do you know why, doctor?”
“Marc, please talk to me.”
He banged his fist against the wall and screamed,
“What’s the point? Scott paid the money and it’s over.”
“It’s not over yet. You must work through those feelings first.”
“What feelings? I feel nothing, I’m completely numb.”
“It’s not true , Marc.”
“Munch has a strong way of expressing anguish. He reminds me of my paintings when my parents died. Every brushstroke was a scream.”
“Why do you think the subject of the painting is screaming?”
“I need some fresh air.” He walked to the window. He took a deep breath. “That’s better.”
“Sexual intercourse,” said Jeffers stressing every syllable.
“What?” he recoiled in horror at hearing those words.
“That is the meaning you were talking about, isn’t it?”
“What are you trying to say, doctor?”
“I need you to tell me what happened, Marc. You won’t get over the pain unless you talk about what happened.”
“Stop patronizing me, doctor. It won’t help to talk about it, to relive the memories every moment, day and night. This baggage is mine alone.”
“Let’s talk about something else then.”
“Are you getting along with your uncle?”
“Scott is OK.”
“How do you feel about him?”
“An important corporation director like him doesn’t want the responsibility of raising a teenager, that’s why he shipped me here.”
“You still resent that, don’t you?”
“Yes, doctor. I resent the way he treated me. I’m not some commodity he could easily dispose of.”
“What about last summer? You told me that you two had a good time together.”
“A cruise on his fancy yacht, who wouldn’t have a good time?”
“Are you guys talking to each other at all?”
“Scott alienated his sister because she married someone beneath her class. He still doesn’t talk about her as if she never existed. He didn’t want me because I remind him of her.”
“Do you hate your uncle, Marc?”
“I don’t hate Scott, doctor. I learned to understand his motives. I just wish that …”
“I have died with Mom and Dad.”
Next Sunday was the school annual swimming contest. Marc, last year’s winner, withdrew before the race due to severe stomach cramps.
His uncle drove him home. He rushed to his bedroom and locked the door.
“Marc, please open the door. I want to talk to you.” Scott banged the door. “I’m worried about you, kid.”
“Leave me alone,” he screamed.
He stood in front of the mirror in his bathing suit. The bruises on his stomach were still visible. He fell to his knees crying.
He walked into Jeffers office. Sweat rolled down his pale face and he was holding his stomach.
“Doctor, I need to talk to you,” he said.
“Come in, Marc. What is it? Is it the swimming contest?”
“I need help, doctor. It hurts too bad. I don’t think I can take it any more.”
“What they did to me was far worse, doctor. They tied my hands and legs with ropes and they…”
“They did what, Marc?”
“I can’t,” he gasped. “God, I can’t breathe.”
“You can talk to me, Marc. Please, tell me what happened.”
“They took turns, doctor. Two of them held me down while the third… they hit me, kicked me in the stomach and burned my arms and legs with cigarettes. They said if I ever told anyone they would come after me again. They used ski masks to hide their ugly faces, but the smell… the smell of the cheap cologne, doctor. I will never forget that smell.”