Previously published by Audio Realms ©2005
“There’s none so blind as they who won’t see.”—Jonathan Swift
“I can’t help myself,” the man on the couch whined—not for the first time that session. “I really can’t.”
God, thought Dr. Rabe, is it going to be like this with every one of them for the rest of my life?
The good doctor had just about reached his limit. Over the years he had treated all manner of mental ailments stemming from a wide variety of causes. But, it had to be admitted that ever since he had first hung out his shingle, there had been a high volume of similar cases—a type of case he had grown loath to treat.
Always, always the same—the exact same whining, self-indulgent, self-deluded, pathetic slobbering morons finding their way to my doorway one after another.
It was true. Whether they were captains of industry, housewives, cartoonists or mechanics, high school students, bus drivers, dancers, secretaries, mail carriers—perhaps not, as the doctor would put it, “the whole damn world,” but at least a stiflingly similar cross-section of it—kept coming to him with the same complaint.
“It’s really not me, Doc.”
The same tired rationalization—
The latest feel-good, it’s-not-your-fault excuse making the rounds that every crying pity-sponge in the city seem to have soaked up at the same time.
“It’s these damn voices in my head.”
I really, thought the doctor, really don’t want to hear any more of this.
Rabe had been subjected to the words so many times, always—of course—expressed somewhat differently, but every time still a puffy phrase meant to cleanse away the outrage or stupidity which had driven each of his patients to him in the first place.
It’s not my fault—the words floated in Rabe’s mind like fall leaves smothering a lake—the voices, the whispers, I hear these ... suggestions, notions, whims, ideas, the strangest ideas, strange thoughts, I don’t know where they come from ... “No,” said the man on the couch with a sudden conviction. “It’s not voices. I shouldn’t say ‘voices.’ It’s only one. One voice. His voice.”
Well, thought the doctor, here was maybe something new. Possibly interesting. Certainly different. You know who’s speaking to you, do you, Peter? That would be a first.
Suddenly, Dr. Julian Rabe was intrigued. He had been hearing the same mindless chatter from his patients for so long that someone with a new angle, even if it were being applied to the same old geometry, was practically a cause for celebration.
Of course, the psychiatrist reminded himself, not every patient that entered his office had the same complaint. There were the usual helpless women trapped in bad relationships, the typical men still struggling to cut the umbilical cord, the inadequate who couldn’t find this or that piece of courage, the friendless, the obsessed, the sorrowful and all their clichéd brethren. Yes, certainly the usual cowardly flotsam made their way to Rabe’s door with checkbooks in hand, purchasing friendship an hour at a time, desperate for soothing answers to their pitiful questions. But lately, the past year or so, it seemed their type had been slipping by the wayside while “Flip’s Freaks” had been ever-climbing in number.
Rabe chuckled at the label. It had been coined by a colleague to give a name to the rising phenomenon they both had observed. It referred to a television comedian from some time back who had risen to popularity on the strength of a single catch phrase: “the devil made me do it.” In his often quite elaborate routines, he would always get caught up in some kind of hysterical trouble. When cornered, he would invariably offer the same punchline as his defense, eliciting a monstrous laugh from the audience.
“I, I ...” Peter stammered, struggling against some inner force to complete his sentence, “I think it’s Satan!”
Unlike the television audiences of old, Julian Rabe was not laughing.
Oh, Lord, he thought. Not another one? Don’t do this to me, Peter. Don’t tell me you think you’re possessed.
“What do you mean by that, Peter?”
“What do you mean, what do I mean? What do you think I mean? I’m telling you that I think the devil is in me. At first it was just a sound in my head, just a background noise, you know, like the buzzing of flies. But then, I began to be able to make out words. I could hear him—talking to me, pushing me, mocking me. I, I ...”
“Peter,” said the psychiatrist patiently, making a special effort not to scowl or laugh or sigh or to make any other normal, natural enlightened human reaction, “you know you don’t really believe that.”
“W-What do you mean, Dr. Rabe?”
“Peter, listen to yourself. Do you actually think you’re possessed? I mean ... really?”
While his patient stammered out contradicting sentences, Rabe thought once more on all the other things he could have done with his life. Things he had intended to do, started to do, wanted to do. Surgeon—to please his mother—purposely not attempted to displease her. Policeman—to follow in Daddy’s footsteps, until Daddy died shot down in the street and more sober notions took control. Poet—for Melinda, for a while, a moment. Architect—for Mr. Kinney, the high school teacher with such an interest in his abilities, at least, that was what he had thought the interest was in ...
And for yourself, Julian? Did you ever want to be something simply for yourself?
Rabe smiled at the thought. Childhood memories swarmed his mind—had he actually wanted to be a cowboy? Oh, yes—at one time. And a soccer player, as well. An orchestra conductor. And a secret agent—not a James Bond running about with murderous intent, but one of the brain boys, the practical thinkers, a strategy planner, sitting around, dreaming up missions for the lesser fools ...
“All right, Peter,” Rabe answered his patient a bit too curtly, “let’s say for a moment that I believe you actually think you’re possessed. Tell me ... what makes you think you’re possessed?”
“I can hear him, in my mind ... the devil, Satan, I mean, goading me on, trying to get me to, to, um ... I can’t say it.”
“Why not, Peter?”
“Because ... because it feels as if, if I were to actually say what I hear in my head out loud, that I would have to do it. That there wouldn’t be any stopping it.”
Oh, it was getting tiresome. At first it had only been one or two a year, but lately it seemed they were turning up every time his secretary picked up the phone.
“Peter,” Rabe struggled to find a balance for his tone somewhere between understanding and displeasure, “now, you don’t really believe in the Devil, do you?”
“I, I, well, yeah. Doesn’t everyone?”
“We’re not here to talk about everyone, Peter. We’re here to talk about you. And why you suddenly feel a need to blame your problems on a divine bogeyman.”
Peter mewled on, mouthing the same kind of self-justifying rationalizations Rabe had grown so bored with over the years.
But, Doc, it’s true ... it’s the voices in my head, that’s why I eat so much, hate my wife, can’t get an erection, do so much coke, feel like killing myself, can never please a man, have no interest in my kids ... the voices, they tell me to, tease me, taunt me, keep after me—
Me, me, me, me me me memememememeeeeeee
Peter was actually crying by that point. Rabe said nothing. He had simply seen it too many times. Another sad, crippled mind so bent on avoiding responsibility for living in the world that it would accept medieval hocus pocus as reality rather than face its host’s actual problem. The doctor knew what he would do next. He had used the stratagem successfully more than once already. Rabe had little doubt it would work this time as well.
When Peter finally stopped his blubbering about the whispering voice of the forces of darkness Rabe would simply tell him if Peter was unshakably convinced he was actually in the grip of the devil that their current session would have to be their last. He would explain it as he had in the past—obviously Peter was beyond the point where Rabe could help him. He would have to go to the Church for further assistance. Rabe, after all, was a doctor of the mind, not the soul. That almost always got them to stop sniveling about voices that commanded them to do this and that, beguiled them, ordered, forced, cajoled ...
The psychiatrist smiled to himself. Voices. Weak-willed little moron. Rabe waited, gauging Peter’s rambling pleas, watching for the moment when he could get his patient back on track.
This is a lousy way to pay for a summer home at the Vineyard, the doctor thought to himself for the thousandth time. Forty-two and still listening to this kind of dribble. You do have options, Julian, he reminded himself. There’s enough money piled up. You could just walk away from all this ...
But why, came a contradictory thought. Why walk away? You’re so much smarter than these fools. And they need you. No one’s going to be able to save them but you. They’re helpless without you. Brainless cattle, desperate without your wisdom.
Stay, the voice laughed, comfort them, take their money...
Rabe smiled. He was better than them. He was.
And the hum of tiny wings spread further and further.