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THE WOMAN IN THE DOLLHOUSE
 
Chapter 1, continued
 
     “Your name is Tennyson,” the doctor tells me with great patience. “You’re not a woman called Marissa. She is something your brain has constructed.”
     Couldn’t my brain have constructed Tennyson instead of Marissa? Besides, what kind of name is Tennyson? Oh yes, I’ve been told it’s a Southern thing.
     The doctor calls me Tennyson frequently, knowingly, intimately. He stands, superior, a slight smile on his lips, as he explains. “Your life is complicated, Tennyson. Your mind has invented a simpler one.”
     “Why, Dr. Embry? Why do I need a simpler life?”
     “It’s Giles, Tennyson. You do remember that?”
     “Yes, I remember that. Giles. Why?” He didn’t answer my question.
     “The important thing is that you continue to discover and recover who you really are. Your therapy has been tailored specifically to your needs. You can tell me anything, Tennyson.”
     How can I tell him it feels as if someone is trying to kill me—blot me out, erase me a little bit at a time? Someone who started with my eyes.
     Dr. Embry—Giles—never flinches when I protest that I am not Tennyson. He ticks off facts like a statistician.
     “Your name is Tennyson Olivia Claxton. You are twenty-four years old, we are engaged, and you are going to marry me, Tennyson. We are going to be very happy.”
     Marry Giles Embry?  That has got to be a joke. Except that he doesn’t joke. We couldn’t possibly have anything in common. He must be at least ten years older than I am. He is a doctor and I’m—what am I? Who am I? I seem to be a blank slate.
     Dr. Embry is quite mistaken about an “us,” crazy even, yet I don’t say so. We don’t say crazy here, even though we might be as crazy as blue loons under the full moon.
     How could I be his patient and his fiancée? Is it some cosmic coincidence that I have lost my memory and he is a leading expert in this field? I’ve told him and told him that I am his patient, only his patient.
     “You’re a resident, Tennyson, not a patient. And it may be a coincidence, but it’s a lucky thing for both of us.”
     “What are you talking about?”
     “You know what I am talking about.”
     “I don’t remember you, Giles.”
     “You will. All you have to do is trust me, Tennyson.”
     How can I trust Giles when I can’t even trust the mirror? And my own eyes?
     The absence of my memory seems to make his heart grow fonder. Not mine. Giles is merely the head doctor in a pale blue lab coat with embroidered navy script over the pocket: Dr. Embry, followed by a string of initials. He is the handsome doctor who keeps me from my freedom.
     “You know what you did with your freedom, Tennyson.”
     I’ve heard rumors.
     When he talks about us together, I close my brown eyes. When I open them, he still observes me, never blinking.
     “You and I, Tennyson, we have a history. And a future. You are the most important case I will ever have.”
     “When can I leave the Campus?”
     “Soon.”
     Soon in Giles’s world is eons in mine. “How soon?” I asked.
     “We’ve just completed your Phase One—Phoenix.”
     “You call it Phoenix? Out of the ashes?”
     I’m just trying to emerge from this fog that surrounds me.
     He inclined his head, yes. “I’ve tailored this therapy protocol to your particular needs. Phase Two is a little more—intensive. It’s code-named Pegasus.”
     “But I thought. . .” More  intense than what I’ve been through? I cannot bear it.
     “This is the interim phase, Tennyson. A breather. I am giving you time to rest, to integrate all the memories you have recovered. Don’t worry. Pegasus will erase all thoughts of your mythical Marissa.”
     “How many phases are there?” I wasn’t sure I wanted to lose Marissa. I’ve only just found her.
     “As many as it takes.” He almost betrayed some irritation, but looked as if he thought better of it. “Listen, Tennyson, your physical injuries took time to heal. We had to go slow with your cognitive therapy. I had to take it easy on you.”
     “Easy?” I strangled the scream making its way up my throat. “What are the programs for other patients?”
     “Well, there’s Icarus, of course. But that doesn’t concern you.”  He put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “Nothing to worry about.”
     With his specialized research at the Campus, Giles hopes to find the answers to where memory lives, where it retreats, whether from trauma or disease, and how it can be retrieved—or jumpstarted with cables made from drugs and therapy. It must be very expensive. Giles tells me not to worry about that.
     The Campus is not its real name.  Unofficially, it is “The Hunt Country Campus, a C&B Memory Project.” A research institute, it also has long-term care for lost souls like me, we who might yet hold the keys to memory recovery.
     I assume everyone on this side of the pastel lab coat has been poked, prodded, and provoked, as I have been. Our gray matter is massaged with transcranial magnetic stimulation to encourage lost history to be rediscovered. Our brains are mapped by MRIs and subjected to other machines with long names, like the “quantitative electroencephalograph,” which I’m told measures brainwaves.
     We are the bugs under the microscope. The frogs dissected, skin flayed open, and pinned back in wax-lined trays for all to see.
     We are the “residents” with holes in our minds—holes that used to be filled with people, places, and things. Some of us have traumatic brain injuries or PTSD, some have inexplicable memory loss, and some have Alzheimer’s disease.
     Then there is me, Tennyson Olivia Claxton. Poor Tennyson and her disordered brain. Missing years,  as well as people, places, and things. Yet somewhere down Memory Lane, I picked up a hitchhiker whose name is Marissa... Marissa Alexandra Brookshire,  who has green eyes. I may have Tennyson’s eyes, but I have Marissa’s memories, as well as Tennyson’s.
     Giles insists the Campus is not a hospital, yet there are doctors and nurses and various assistants on staff. They all wear pastel lab coats, coded to their ranks and specialties: doctors in blue, nurses in green or pink, lab techs in yellow, research assistants in lavender, and orderlies in white. Colors that do not excite the brain or raise blood pressure.
     Instead of clipboards and pens, staff members carry digital tablets to record their observations of the “residents.” Instead of jewelry, they wear microphones and body cams to capture interactions, as if they were policemen on patrol. Instead of humans, they act like machines, without emotions or empathy. Giles says they are simply trained professionals doing their jobs.
     There is no place to hide from Dr. Embry or his minions. His cameras are everywhere. In every room, on every rooftop, over every door. They are mounted on poles in the gardens. Motion sensitive, they turn, lenses focusing on us as we walk by. I have observed it all, like one of the cameras.
     Oddly, amid this wonderland of computers and cameras and digital surveillance, there is one oversight. Giles has neglected to provide me with a phone or a computer. Of course I wouldn’t dare use one. He could listen to my calls, trace my keystrokes, stalk even more of my thoughts. Am I paranoid? Giles assures me that I am.
     I have started a journal where I pray he will never find it. Writing in an old book in a corner of my suite, between the bed and the wall, where the camera lens doesn’t see. At least I hope it doesn’t. I write in tiny print between the lines, and sometimes in the margins, of an ancient book that looks as if no one ever cracked it open. I found it on the bookshelf in my room, placed there as a decoration, nothing more. Many of the gold-tipped pages have to be carefully pried apart for the first time. 
     I’ve hidden my thoughts in this book. Under a line of poetry, I pen a line of my diary. Like this:
 

     Saved from the jaws of death by heaven’s decree,
     My name is Tennyson Claxton. My eyes are brown.
     The tempest drove him to these shores, and thee.
     I survived a terrible accident that I can’t remember.
     Him, Jove now orders to his native lands
     My name is Marissa Brookshire. My eyes are green.
     Straight to dismiss: so destiny commands:
     One of us might not actually exist.
     Impatient Fate his near return attends
     I am stuck in a prison called the Campus.
     And calls him to his country, and his friends.
     I have no friends. I am alone. No one visits me but the doctors.

 

     Jotting words down in this book, which no one else will ever read, is safer than talking to Giles, and certainly more honest. This is The Odyssey  that only I will know. My odyssey.
     After the nightmares wake me up, on the nights when I’m sure he’s gone home, I scribble my words in the dim light. I don’t want him to know what I am thinking. I don’t want his kind solicitations, or his unkind suspicions. I don’t want to hear him call me Tennyson.
     How can I be that Tennyson? 
     Giles makes my skin crawl.
     What is he doing in my bed?

 


 

The Woman in the Dollhouse is available from Amazon.
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