When he woke from the coma the first thing
that he noticed was that he could not see his wife. He could hear the murmur of
her voice in the hum of the hospital noise, but where the voice came from was a
void around which dazzling light from a window fitted with slatted blinds
flickered. Was it Jean? Jane? June?
When Dr Thism loomed into view his grinning face was clear and his words cut through the buzzing and clanking, words like “stroke”, “lost mental functions”, “speech impairment”.
Apparently things were serious, but not hopeless. Was this then, the famous Dr Thism, whose therapy and scientific credentials were so impeccable that the rich and famous brain dead called upon him for second opinions?
A nurse helped the patient sit up and the rush of blood away from his head dizzied him. As he became used to the idea of sitting, he found a name that he thought must be his own. Silas, yes, he was Silas, in the silence and this was a hospital made of music.
Next thing he was aware of was being shaved and clothed and taken for a walk around the hospital. He felt that it should have been a run, but the connection between his head and his feet seemed precarious. He blew in the wind like a flower stalk and thought how good it would be to make mountains of rubber so that everyone could climb without injury.
In Dr Thism’s office Silas enjoyed being the object of close scrutiny. Dr Thism in his white coat and rimless glasses, stood before a row of photographs of celebrity mental degeneration. He broadcast the message to the assembled crowd that Silas was a unique case. He had blown a gasket and worked himself into a syndrome worthy of a scientific paper. Silas the walking grant generator, he called him, to much amusement.
Silas was proud of this diagnosis. If one was to be ill, one should be uniquely ill. If one was to be excluded from work, one could achieve usefulness in being the cause of use in others. If he had been poor, with a stroke, he would have been of no value, but as he was, he had Digital Deficiency Syndrome, and was thus a useful member of society.
Dr Thism patted Silas’s head, and with a magnifying glass showed the depths of the void of Silas’s pupils to his students. Injected with fluorescent dyes and poked with iron prods, the eyeballs of Silas, were walking symbols of sedentary post-modern life.
“One does not merely ask, how you are feeling, but “What do you mean?””
Dr Thism handed a buzzer to Silas. He was to press it every time he saw a light flash on a screen. Silas did nothing though and tried to explain that although he knew he had a buzzer in his hand, he could not imagine what one was supposed to do with it. Nor did he see any flashing light on the screen. And he was not even sure what this screen was, other than something flat.
Never mind, he was beginning to feel less panicked by strange gaps in his world. Bit by bit he would fill them in with whatever took his fancy. A freeway became a roller coaster because he could not imagine what a freeway was if it was neither free nor a way of life. Time also meant nothing and he would have it as long as he liked, in whichever order he fancied. So life was very easy. He was comfortable, relaxed, bothered by nothing. He was the centre of inexplicable interest, and food appeared as if by some miracle.
Life was beginning to shape up. He learned that he had a job and a house and a car as well, though the car was a bit vague in his mind, but he sensed the truth of the statement that he had one. There was a family, a history, and he could recall it, though almost as if it was somebody else’s. He remembered vividly that the often ignored prologue to Shakespeare’s Taming of The Shrew involved a drunken man coming round to find his friends pretending that he was a Duke with amnesia. Well, he was a dog with amnesia, or a maybe a god, though, more likely, he was a bicycle.
Bells were ringing and focus returned to his eyes as he wanted to explain the revelation to Nurse... Was it June, Joan, Jane, Jean, or maybe Jim? Was that his Nurse or his wife? And the name of his wife was... The name escaped him.
Instead of his nurse or wife he found Dr Thism, shaking his hand and saying, “welcome back” and almost as soon as Silas had worked out what welcome back meant, he was being driven away.
He patted the seat, the safety belt, the windscreen, and all were solid. This was the car. It never stopped at red lights and changed colour at green ones. It had a large bell on the roof, and a team of huskies pulled it. Then out of his right eye he thought he could see the steering wheel and maybe the driver.
He heard her voice and translated it somehow. He was going home. He would have time to relax. He would eat well. They would go on a holiday. To the moon. And although there were lots of messages from work, he was not allowed to turn on his computer and begin answering them. E-mail had killed him once before. No computer then. He knew the word but not the thing.
He was home, sitting in front of the TV, so he was told, though where it was he could not fathom. There was something out there but he could not understand what it was. It smelt of electricity though.
He forgot the warning and found his desk. He was apparently a dotcom entrepreneur, running a large dotcom business. He was a computer wizard, a boy genius who became too old and he had not been to the moon, but had once had a dog when he was a boy before he was a genius. He remembered it all so well, but at his desk he found nothing but a flat screen and a keyboard. The voice warned him not to switch it on but he could not tell whether it was on or not.
A bell rang and he was told that lunch was cooked. And in the kitchen he could see a steaming plate of food emerge from a haze of more steam. A door clicked shut and then he was sat at a table with knives and fork, eating and hearing birds twittering in the gardens outside. He remembered running through grass, chasing a dog, and riding a bicycle.
“I want a bicycle,” he said and the voice laughed. If Dr Thism said it was OK then it would be OK.
Bicycle therapy was obviously scientifically reputable.
He began to cycle to the hospital on a regular basis and Dr Thism explained to the gathered students that illness is not only a matter of being unable to do things but a matter of not wishing to. All pills and potions are useless if the patient refuses to get well. If one can persuade sick people of the truth of this then only the truly sick remain sick, and the only truly sick are dead, for which he was also working on a cure. And Dr Thism, bowed amidst the laughter.
His therapy for Silas was thus to hand him a video camera and have him film his life. But Silas could not see the video camera.
“Pretend you can see it,” said Dr Thism, “And pretend to reacquaint yourself with the world! From pretence comes reality!”
“Yes yes!” said Silas, “Shakespeare. The forgotten scene.”
Silas took his pretend camera to make a pretend film that Dr Thism could pretend to watch. As Silas understood it, the meaningless object in his hand which had mass, volume, and shape, was a device for transforming what he thought knowable into the unseeable so that Dr Thism could see whether he really saw what he thought he did not!
Although he had no idea whether he had pressed a button, the imaginary camera made a satisfying “ding ding”. It was thus like a curious bicycle bell and he felt comfortable with that. Levers, he understood. Pedals, were very solid. Gears and cogs were a source of fascination. So his first project was to make an imaginary video of the town museum where great chugging machines built in England, worked up the grease on steel pistons. And he “videod” them. At least he thought he did when he heard the imaginary camera go ding ding. On looking through the imaginary viewfinder, he could see nothing but the reflection of his own dark pupil but when watching the videos with Dr Thism they both would howl with laughter.
“All this thrusting, all these pistons, all this steam blowing off! It is a sign that you are thinking of resuming your sex life with your wife.”
At the next video session Dr Thism was most pleased.
“Your wife is hot!” yelled Dr Thism as he excitedly called in all the members of the psychiatric unit to witness this breakthrough. “Now how can you say that you cannot see your wife? Tell me! How could you make this movie using a video camera and not know what the camera is?”
Silas thought this was a valid point. If only he had not thought that all he had shot on his imaginary camera was an imaginary bicycle ride through the imaginary local woods where the trees were columns of rock n’ roll and the leaves semi-demi-quavers riffing with the wind section.
“What are you trying to tell me?” asked Dr Thism, when Silas brought him another imaginary video and described what was on it for him.
“This is Jane, and that’s her dog. That’s the big fire in her sitting room. And that’s me on the telephone telling my wife I won’t be home for dinner...”
“But you are home, with your wife!”
Saddened with his progress, Silas found that he was not bicycling home, but in another direction. He rode his bicycle all the away across town to his company where, as soon as he walked through the door, he found he was the centre of attention. Strangers who seemed familiar to him greeted him. He was sure he would discover their names. He was ushered through the cubicles full of young men and women sat at empty desks staring into empty space. Inexplicably he felt cold.
“How’s it going partner!” said a concerned young man. “We’re well placed for the next quarter. Do you want to be brought up to speed on developments? I’ll get all the papers over to you. How’s Janet by the way?”
Silas heard the words but could not see the point from which they came. Then he heard a strange gargling sound but it meant nothing. There was a momentary image of red face, poking tongue, bulging eyes, and flaying arms, and he heard himself utter the words, “Die you supercilious little bastard!” But the words faded into mist and he could no longer imagine what he was doing there, so he rode away on his bicycle. He flew into the air, flapping his wings. He was a bird. He ate pizza. He barked. And Janet loved him and cleaned out his cage every night. Or was it June this time?
Dr Thism was very disappointed.
“Never mind, because here we have no failures,” said Dr Thism, “Only set backs.”
Silas growled. He felt much better. The old dog was back.