By Ben Pienaar
Usually if I get someone outright delusional I refer them to a specialist. Minor self-delusions are fine — in fact almost everyone does that to some degree. I’m fine with almost anything, in moderate measures, but when someone comes to me genuinely believing in the impossible … I must refer them.
Take for instance the young man who sits before me now, Dane Fynes. All signs show him to be a reasonable teenager. He’s well dressed, has a clear and present gaze. A rational attitude, but with an open mind, and he has just the right amounts of introspection and self-consciousness.
And yet he believes the impossible.
“So these windows,” I ask him. “They can be anywhere at all?”
“Yes.” He nods seriously, half smiling as though he knows how ridiculous it all sounds. “I mean, they appear, you know, it’s not like they’re always there. Some windows in my house are normal one day, then for a while they change, and then a bit later I look over and it’s just the same again.”
This patient is different, for the same reasons I mentioned before. He is rational in his approach to everything. In fact, it was he who suggested in the first place that he might be delusional or schizophrenic, not I. The dangers of him doing something drastic, therefore, are low.
“Can you describe exactly what you see? Is it the same every time?”
He nods. “Yes, I mean no. Each window gives me a different view of the same place, you know? My bedroom window looks out on a huge field, with huge oak trees scattered around and long grass. The kitchen window shows a big lake with an island in the middle, and the one in my grandfather’s apartment looks out of the lake from the island. Then there are the car windows. Those are weird, because the view moves with the car, as though I was driving through this place. Usually it’s these jungle pathways. The bathroom window view has mountains in the distance, and my dad’s office has a desert, but in the end it’s all the same place.”
“Oh? And what place is that?”
He smiles. “Paradise,” he says.
I wait. Sometimes in therapy the best thing you can do is wait. In English culture especially, conversational silence is rarely tolerated. If a silence arises, everyone present starts thinking of possible conversation openers, and if nothing is said after four seconds, someone will usually blurt something out on the fifth.
“It’s incredible,” he says, after ten seconds of contemplating the ceiling of my office. “I see animals, usually. If I ever see people, they’re either strangers or someone I knew who died. I’ve seen my grandmother a couple of times, and she always waves. My uncle just kind of looks at me and winks. Whoever they are, they look really happy. I guess it makes sense. I mean there’s so much stuff to do there, as well. Almost any window I look through, somewhere in the view I see a well. Like those stone ones you get at farmhouses. And every now and again I see someone take something out of the well.”
“What kind of things do they take out?”
“Oh, anything. Anything they want. My uncle always takes out whiskey or cigars. Kids always seem to take out candy or junk food or toys. Different people take different things, but sometimes they just kneel by the well and pray, I think, and then walk away. I think they get what they pray for,” he adds.
“When did you start seeing these windows?”
“About a month ago. I know what you’re going to ask me, but I haven’t had anyone I know die recently — my grandma and uncle were years ago. And I’m not suicidal or anything either, and I don’t have strong desires to see either of them again, I just kind of miss them.”
“I take it you’ve been to another psychiatrist?”
He chuckles and looks a little sheepish. “Yeah. But that guy was a quack. Maybe that’s harsh, but he barely heard me talk for ten minutes before he prescribed a bunch of drugs. What the hell is that all about?”
I nod and smile. “I can’t speak for the quack, but personally I believe you’ll be able to get to the bottom of this all by yourself, Mr. Fynes. Do you honestly believe these things are real?”
He seems to consider it for a minute. A car honks outside, and he turns to stare out my open window. A strange look comes across his face and he seems transfixed. My window looks out on a brick wall.
“You’re seeing it now?” I say, more a statement than a question.
He nods and smiles again. His gaze is fixed on something very far away, and for a moment I’m sure I can see something reflected in his iris — something green and bright — but then it’s gone.
“What do you see now?” I say, unable to keep the fascination from my voice. It’s a rare thing to see someone who has completely rational thought processes faced with delusion.
“It’s weird. I’m trying to see the bricks, you know? Because I know the bricks are really there. But all I see are these long, rolling hills, and these partying people.” He laughs.
“What time of day is it?”
“The same. It’s always the same time of day as it is on this side. So right now, about three o’clock, I’d say. Weather’s always the same as well.”
“And what do you feel, right now?”
His eyes are glassy, but I can tell he’s thinking, hard. It is a sort of comfort, to know that despite his delusions, he still has a capacity for reason. I’ve always wondered, if I ever went insane, would I be able to approach my own insanity with the same objective reasoning as I approach that of other people?
“Same thing I always feel,” he says. “I want to go there. I’m thirsty and I want to drink from that stream. And lie down in the sun. I feel like all I have to do is jump out that window and I’ll be there.”
For a moment, it seems as if he’s about to stand up, but he holds himself back with apparent effort, before turning and smiling self-consciously at me. It is a worrying point to end the session on, but I have faith in the boy.
“I want you to promise me something, Dane,” I say. “You will not attempt to jump out of any window … yet. In fact until our next session I’d like you to do your very best to ignore all windows completely. If you see these visions, avert your eyes. Spend a lot of time outside, or with the curtains drawn. Do you think you can do that?”
“Uh, sure. So, what exactly did you mean by ‘yet’?”
I smile. “That is for next week.” I’m planning to show him ground floor windows until he sees his vision and then have him go through it. Then, I’m sure, he will be able to start the process of recovery.
But now, the day is over. Dane and I shake hands and then I watch him go, feeling strangely elated. After he’s gone, I walk over to my window and stare out of it for a long time, seeing the bricks but also, in my mind’s eye, trying to imagine the incredible paradise he sees with the same view. It strikes me that there are some mental ‘illnesses’ that aren’t really that unpleasant at all.
The next three days are very strange. It becomes a habit of mine to look out of windows, any windows, all the time. Just sort of dreamily, thoughtfully, with nothing specific in mind. This is a problem, of course, because before I know it I find myself staring wistfully out of my office window while patients spill their life stories and deep emotions to me, and I can’t for the life of me keep track of it.
On the third day I see something. I keep my bedroom window open all the time, and usually wake up with warm rays of sunlight spilling over my face. Today is no different, but when I open my eyes and look out the window I don’t see my garden; I see paradise. Real paradise, exactly as Dane described it to me. Rolling valleys, glistening streams and waterfalls, and such happy people. I even see the well, sitting in the shadow of a great oak, and my own mother, who died four years ago, sitting by it and waving.
I wave back, and close my eyes, certain that I can hear the sounds of the place. For a moment, I hear children’s laughter, but then it is gone and when I open my eyes, the scene is gone. My garden is there, and the sunlight, and that is all. I notice I’ve gotten out of bed and walked over to the window without even realizing it.
Needless to say, I’m shaken. I spend the following three days trying desperately to take my own advice and ignore the fantastic sights beyond the windows, but it’s impossible. I close every curtain in my house, but still I can see the heavenly glow creeping from behind the drapes. Sometimes I hear laughter and music and look eagerly for the source, only to find that I’m standing near a large window. The car is the worst. I must drive, staring straight ahead, because the temptation to explore paradise is immense. Once I saw a huge lake down a path to my right and barely resisted the urge to swing the wheel and drive to it.
One terrifying day, my front windscreen showed the other world. I slammed my foot on the brakes, shocked, and for a minute I was certain that I’d been transported into heaven. Perhaps I’d been in a road accident, I thought hopefully. I opened the door and broke out into the day, only to find myself confronted by a hundred tooting horns and angry motorists. When I got back in the car, the windscreen was clear.
Finally, Monday comes again and I wait in my office for the last session of the day, Dane. He’s late, and in the meantime I sorely resist the urge to look out my window. Today I’m going to let him go through a ground floor window, and though I curse myself for a coward, I know that now I’m partly doing it because I want to see what happens to him, first. I’d never have questioned it before, but now I wonder what will happen. Maybe I’ll see him go through the window, and run into those yellow green fields to join the celebrations. Maybe, if I don’t see the scene myself, he’ll just step out of the window and disappear. I make up my mind that, if that does happen, I’ll follow him a second later.
But Dane does not arrive. I wait for half an hour, and there is no knock on the door. My heart begins to beat faster and I fidget. He’s gone through a window, I think. He’s gone without me.
I pace the room, I ask my secretary twice if there have been any messages, and then I dismiss her for the day. Eventually I call him myself.
There is no answer. He’s gone.
I know where he lives: He spoke of moving out of home recently and into a tenth floor apartment on Galston road. That in itself is worrisome, because on the tenth floor there really are no safe windows one can jump from.
I pull up at the front of the building and head inside, my heart already filling with dread — but strangely, horribly — it is not from fear that he has died, but that he has disappeared. That he left the world and me behind. Will the visions stop when he’s gone, I wonder, with another stab of worry. Will I be left here alone, with no way to paradise?
I take the lift to the tenth floor, where I find a hallway with ten doors on either side. A maid is pushing a trolley loaded with cleaning equipment door to door.
“Hi, sorry, would you happen to know which room belongs to Dane Fyne?” I ask, smiling despite my fear.
She looks worried at first, but then sees my warm expression and says “One oh one seven, sir,” and points me to the door second from the end. It is not closed properly. Is he expecting me? Did he leave in a hurry and forget to lock it? I thank her and make a show of knocking on the door and waiting, and then I duck inside as soon as she enters another room. It’s a nice place, if small, and for a minute I marvel that such a young man could afford something like this.
“Dane?” I call. I already know he isn’t here by the silence that falls when I close the door behind me. But no, it isn’t total silence. I hear the sound of flapping curtains coming from his bedroom. I feel the cool draught wafting through the open bedroom door. I hear laughter.
“Dane?” barely a whisper now. I know he’s gone.
I enter his bedroom. The bed is a mess, with the covers flipped from when he got out, I notice, on the side nearest the window. It’s a large window, too, easily big enough for a grown man to step through. I’m amazed they make windows so large on the tenth floor, and then I see that the mechanism on the frame meant to keep the window opening too wide has been disabled; a screwdriver and the loose screws lie by the bedside table.
My eyes move, inevitably, to the view, and I suck in a deep breath of fresh air. Not city air, but the air of heaven. I see it all, and not from a bird’s eye view but near the ground. The grass is barely a meter under the sill, I’m sure.
In this part of paradise, there is a great forest to the right and I see an ocean far in the distance. The sun is setting on the horizon. Another gust blows into my face and I take it into my lungs, tasting the salt. Somewhere, far in the distance, I see Dane. His back is to me and he seems to be walking dreamily toward the sea.
Barely aware of what I’m doing, I take off my shoes, thinking only of how good it will feel to have the grass and the soft sand between my toes. I step up onto the solid metal frame, my heart beating harder now, not from fear but from exhilaration, excitement.
I stand there, my arms bracing me, and extend a foot. Below it, I see only a short drop onto infinitely soft, dewy grass. I let one of my hands go and swing forward, already feeling the hot sun of heaven warm my skin.
I’m an instant from letting go of the window frame when the phone on the bedside table rings and I stop myself at the last minute. I swing there for a moment, undecided, yearning to let go and just forget it all. But what if it is Dane’s mother or father? I must tell them what happened, I owe them that at least. I push myself away and step back into the room. It isn’t like paradise will go anywhere, after all.
“Hello, Dane Fyne’s apartment here,” I say, feeling completely absurd.
“Hello? Is that you, doctor?”
I freeze, staring at the ruffled bed. “Dane?” I say, my mouth dry.
“Oh, thank god. Sorry I must have worried you so much, after last session and the open window and all. I tried to get hold of you, but you weren’t in your office, so I figured you might have got really worried and gone to my place.”
“Where are you?” I said, steadying myself against the wall.
“I’m on my way, now. I’m really sorry I didn’t make the session, but it’s okay. I mean, sort of. I climbed out of a bus window today, if you can believe that. The vision was just so strong, I had to. Don’t worry, I only got a few grazes, nothing serious, but when I hit the road on the other side, I knew it was over. Doc, that was what you were planning, wasn’t it? To take me through a window so I’d see what happened? Well it worked! I don’t see them anymore, I’m cured!”
I was silent.
“Doctor? Are you okay? Sorry if I worried you so much, but like I say it’s been a big day. I keep looking out of windows and expecting to see it all, but I don’t anymore. It’s gone for good.”
“Ah, yes. That’s excellent, Dane. Maybe one more session, just to be sure, unless you’re totally confident…”
“I really am, Doc.”
“Well, perhaps there’s no need, then. Sorry for my intrusion, but I was a bit shaken.”
“Yeah, well. It was a close one. This morning I even unscrewed my window so I could jump out, and then I remembered what you said and I stopped myself. Thanks so much, doctor. It’s horrifying to think about, isn’t it? What might have happened.”
“Yes,” I said. “Truly horrifying.”
Ben Pienaar was born in South Africa and moved to Australia in 2000, where he lives and, more importantly, writes his days away. He also works two jobs to finance his crippling addiction to coffee, and spends his free time reading until his eyes hurt. After countless submissions, he got four stories published, ‘Beyond,’ ‘Dreamer,’ ‘Fair Trade,’ and ‘Till Death.’ The rest of his stories can be found on freenightmares.wordpress.com. He writes obsessively, in the hopes that if can only pass his nightmares on to others, they might leave him alone.