Earthquake Weather – Snippet 17

“Sorry. Sure.” He opened his fingers and the needle dropped to the tabletop. “I wasn’t listening.” He looked at the vinyl squares and saw that he had stitched them together and then with the blunt needle torn a hole in the center of each square. “I guess I wrecked your . . . your test,” he said lamely. And no doubt failed it, he thought. She’ll probably testify at my PCH.

“They’re not expensive. That’ll be all for today, Sid.” She stepped back a yard into the TV lounge as he pushed his chair back and sidled around the table to the door. “What,” she asked him as he walked past her toward the cafeteria, “were you making, there at the end?”

He stopped for a moment but didn’t look back at her. “Oh, nothing,” he said over his shoulder. “I just got bored and . . . distracted.”

Perhaps she nodded or smiled or frowned–he kept his eyes on the cafeteria door as he strode forward. He might or might not tell Armentrout, but would certainly not tell this woman, that he had been unthinkingly making a frail mask in which to face the mask that the big bull-headed man would be wearing.

Probably because of his having hit Long John Beach the night before, the knuckles of his right hand stung, and he alternately made a fist and stretched his fingers as he walked through the cafeteria and back out into the lounge without having seen Plumtree or Armentrout–Tammy Eddy was nowhere to be seen now either–and then started down the hall, past the Dutch door of the meds room, to the wing of patient rooms.

At every corner and intersection of hall there was a convex mirror attached to the ceiling, so that anyone walking through the unit could see around a corner before actually stepping around it. At L-corners the mirror was a triangular eighth of a globe wedged up in the corner, and at four-way crossings it was a full half-globe set in the middle of the ceiling. Cochran didn’t like the things–they seemed to be whole spheres, only partway intruded here and there through temporary violations of the architecture, like chrome eyes peering down curiously into the maze of hallways, and he couldn’t shake the irrational dread of rounding a turn and seeing two of them in the wall ahead of him, golden for once instead of silver, with a single horizontal black line across each of them–but he did reluctantly glance at a couple of them to get an advance look around corners on the way to Plumtree’s room.

But when he finally arrived at her room he saw that her door, in violation of the daytime rules, was closed. He shuffled up to it anyway, intending to knock, and then became aware of Plumtree speaking quietly inside; he couldn’t hear what she said, but it was followed by Armentrout’s voice saying, “So which one of you was it that took the shock?”

The question meant nothing to Cochran, and he was hesitant about interrupting a doctor-patient therapy session; and after a few moments of indecisive shuffling, and raising his hand and then lowering it, he let his shoulders slump and turned away and plodded back down the hall toward the TV lounge, defeatedly aware of the wide cuffs of his bell-bottom trousers flapping around his bare ankles.


“Somebody went flatline ten seconds after the shock,” Armentrout went on when Plumtree didn’t immediately answer. “We dragged the Waterloo cart into the treatment room, but your heart started up again before we had to put the paddles on you.” He was smiling, but he knew that he was still shaky about the incident, for he hadn’t meant to call it a “Waterloo cart” just now. Waterloo was the brand name of the thing, but it was known as a crash cart, or a cardiac defibrillator; the incident would probably have been his Waterloo, though, as soon as the idealistic Philip Muir heard about it, if Plumtree had died undergoing electroconvulsive therapy with forged permissions while just on a temporary conservatorship. Muir was surely going to be angry anyway, for ECT was not a treatment indicated for multiple personality disorder–or dissociative identity disorder, as Muir would trendily say.

And Armentrout couldn’t pretend anymore that he didn’t know she was a multiple–the ECT had separated out the personalities like a hammer breaking a piece of shale into distinct, individual hard slabs. Armentrout could have wished that it was a little less obvious, in fact; but perhaps the personalities would blend back together a little, before Muir saw her tomorrow.

“Valerie,” said the woman in the bed. “She always takes intolerable situations. It caught Cody by surprise.”

“And who are you?”

“I’m Janis.” She smiled at him, and in the dim lamplight her pupils didn’t seem notably dilated or constricted now.

“How many of you are there?”

“I really don’t know, Doctor. Some aren’t very developed, or exist just for one purpose . . . like the one called–what does he call himself?–‘The foul fiend Flibbertigibbet!’ What a name! He got it . . . from Shakespeare, according to him. Is there a play called Leah? He claims to have been a Shakespearean actor. I–don’t want to talk about him, he’s who we’ve brought up when we’ve had to fight, to defend our life. He makes our teeth hurt like we’ve got braces on, and he gives us nosebleeds. I don’t want to talk about him.” She shivered, and then smiled wryly. “We’re like the little cottage full of dwarves in Snow White–each of us with a job to do, while the poisoned girl sleeps. I used to sign my high-school papers ‘Snowy Eve White’ sometimes.”

“Snow White, Eve White–you’ve seen the movie The Three Faces of Eve? Or read the book?”

She shook her head. “No, I’ve never heard of it.”

“Hmm. I bet. And one of you is a man?”

She blinked–and Armentrout could feel the hairs standing up on his arms, for the woman’s face changed abruptly, as the muscles under the skin realigned themselves; her mouth seemed wider now, and her eyes narrower.

“Valerie says you had all my clothes off,” she said in a flat voice. “I’d be pissed about that if I didn’t know you’re a total queer. What did you hit me with?”

“Cody,” said Armentrout in cautious greeting, suddenly wishing Plumtree had been put back in restraints. She had recovered from the succinylcholine amazingly fast, and she didn’t seem to be dopy and blurry, as patients recovering from ECT generally were for at least the rest of the day.

“You’re the one,” he went on, “speaking of hitting, who hit Long John Beach last night, aren’t you, Cody?”

“I don’t know. Probably.” Plumtree’s forehead was dewed with sweat, and she was squinting. “Was this while I had my clothes off? He probably asked for it, he’s got a frisky spirit hand to go with the flesh-and-blood one. And I saw that Cockface guy’s hand–I don’t like his birthmark. A lot of tricky hands around here, and this place is a stinking flop.”

She was breathing through her open mouth, and she looked pale. Altogether she was acting like someone with a bad hangover, and it occurred to Armentrout that the Janis personality had been unimpaired because it had been Cody who had taken the shock treatment. Cody was the one who had given him the finger. Ten seconds had gone by before the Valerie personality, the one who took “intolerable situations,” had taken over. He leaned forward to look at Plumtree’s face, and he saw that her pupils were as tiny as pores. She definitely looked dopy and blurry now.

“What we’re going to try to do is achieve isolation, Cody,” he said. “We’ll decide which personality is most socially viable, and then bring that one forward and . . . cauterize the others off.” This was hardly a description of orthodox therapy, but he wanted to draw a reaction from her. She didn’t seem to be listening, though.

“How many of you are there, Cody?” Armentrout went on. “I’ve met you and Janis, that I know of, and I’ve heard about Valerie.”