Monday, November 14, 2011

Story 3: An Unhappy Coincidence


Confused about what's going on here? This may help. The story starts below. Enjoy!

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The rain fell in a torrent, sheet after sheet, coming down so fast and hard it felt sometimes like it was moving up. After Ananda was in it for a few minutes, she stopped feeling the individual droplets, which made the direction the rain was falling even easier to forget. The rain was constant and reassuring. It was unrelenting in a way that few things were these days, and even a bit timeless.
Ananda was wearing everything she owned, which would spell trouble for her later, when she was trying to dry off, but it was currently far from her mind, as she reveled and danced in the rain, running around the park and stomping at puddles.
To an arbitrary onlooker, if anyone would dare to go out in such weather, it would appear that Ananda was running erratically, heading nowhere in particular, enjoying the rain for its own sake, maybe a block or two away from where she lived, so she could go back and dry off and drink some hot cocoa after a few minutes of revelry.
In reality, though, Ananda was quite far away from home, and she had a very particular destination in mind, just little inclination to get there before the rain stopped. Ananda had lived on the other end of town until earlier that morning. She'd never even been to this neighborhood, much less the park in which she was now gyrating.
She was on her way to see Patricia Bender, a psychiatrist specializing in post-traumatic stress. Her office was still another mile or two away, up away from the residential area, with the bigger buildings of glass an chrome that loomed even now over the park, looking big and imposing in the rain. She didn't have an appointment, but she expected Patricia's appointment book to clear up due to the rain, and even if she was busy, there was always lunch, or dinner.
By the time, Ananda had decided to see Patricia, she had no phone, nor the money to pay for a payphone, so making an appointment was out of the question even if she'd wanted to. Which, of course, she didn't.
As Ananda made it to the far end of the park, the rain started to peter out, and it was only a tiny drizzle when she arrived at Patricia's office building.
She looked up at it extending dizzyingly high, and when she looked down again, she was briefly disoriented. She sighed and walked in.
The building was a maze of halls and elevators and stairs behind unmarked doors. She circled the first three floors two times before finding a floor legend at the entrance.
On it read, "Floor 7 - Dr. Patricia Bender - 720"
By the time Ananda finally entered Patricia's office, she was almost dry. The office had two sections. An area to Ananda's left was full of empty gray cushioned chairs sitting around a coffee table, as if holding invisible guests engrossed in polite conversation about the latest fashions from Zurich. Directly in front of the entrance was a tall desk with a bell on it. Standing behind the desk was a woman in her late 30s, wearing a loose sweater and a pearl necklace. She was talking to an older woman with graying hair on the other side of the counter, one who was wearing a doctor's coat. Presumably, this was Patricia. The entire room was peppered by the occasional tall green, leafy plant.
Ananda walked up to the two women with a great big smile on her face and said, "Hi, Patricia!"
The woman behind the counter looked up at her in surprise. She said, "Excuse me. Do I know you?"
The other woman turned around from her side, looked Ananda up and down, and then turned back.
Ananda hesitated. She said, "Err... well. Not _technically._"
The woman behind the counter (who apparently was Patricia) said, "I... see. Most patients call me Dr. Bender. Do you have an appointment?"
Ananda said, "No, not that either."
Patricia said, "I'm afraid I can't help you without an appointment. You can, of course, set one up if you like."
Ananda said, "Oh. Ahh. I'm not actually here for an appointment."
Patricia squinted at her, and the other woman did a full body turn to face her.
"I need," Ananda continued and then eyed the other woman. "Do you mind if we talk in private?"
Patricia said, "Actually, yes. I don't know you."
Ananda sighed, wishing she had bothered to prepare for this encounter. She said, "Okay. Well, so. Here goes I guess." She paused. "I need... No." She paused again. "Do you believe in fate, Patricia?"
Patricia said, "Please call me Dr. Bender."
Ananda said, "Well, I do. You see. I believe in fate, and you and I are fated to become close, quite close, very close. Do you mind if I call you Patricia, if we're going to be close?"
Patricia said, "Yes. If we become close, you can call me Patty, but for now, please call me Dr. Bender."
Ananda said, "Fair enough. Yes. So, Patty." Patty and the other woman both glared at her. "Here's why I think you and I are fated to be close: I asked fate. I asked fate for a friend, and fate chose you."
Ananda smiled her widest smile.
Patty cocked her head briefly. She said, "How did you ask fate?"
Ananda said, "I chose you at random from a phone book."
Patty said, "And, you consider this to be fate?"
Ananda said, "Well, I chose someone else first Arthur Detritus, but he's an electrician, which sounds boring. You were my second choice, and you sounded way more interesting."
Patty said, "This doesn't sound much like fate to me."
The other lady turned to Patty and muttered something that Ananda couldn't hear.
Patty muttered back, "It's lunch anyhow; could be interesting," just loudly enough for Ananda to hear.
The other woman shrugged. She said, "Well, I've gotta go soon, so."
Patty said to Ananda, "This is my friend, Dr. Gaitskill."
The woman said, "Hello."
Ananda smiled briefly. She said, "I think I may be about to kill somebody."
A shadow passed over the two women in front her. They glanced at each other and edged closer together.
Ananda said, "Oh, no! Sorry. I didn't mean either of you. And not even on purpose. I'm not some kind of deranged lunatic. It's a fate thing."
The two eased a bit, but still looked tense. Patty said, "What makes you think that you're going to kill someone?"
Ananda said, "I don't know. I just have this, you know, gut feeling. Like, you know how sometimes you stare at a jelly donut, and you say to yourself, 'I'm going to get fired today,' and then you get fired that day without warning?"
Patty said, "I'm not sure I've ever experienced something like that."
Gaitskill shook her head.
Ananda said, "Well, that's just how it is. I just know. I woke up today knowing, and I just know." She shrugged.
Patty said, "What do you expect me and Dr. Gaitskill to do with this information?"
Ananda said, "I dunno. Whatever you think is best, I guess. I trust you already, since we're going to be such good friends."
Patty said, "I don't think I want to be friends with a murderer."
Ananda chuckled. She said, "Yeah, me neither. Heck, I don't even want to _be_ a murderer."
Patty said, "So, can't you stop it?"
Ananda shook her head. She said, "You can't stop fate."
There was a pause.
Gaitskill suddenly erupted. She said, "You can't go around killing people and blaming fate!" She turned again to Patty. "We need to call the police right now."
Patty kept her eyes on Ananda. She said, "Do you know who you're going to kill, or how you're going to kill this person?"
Ananda said, "Not the specifics. I know that it's going to be a guy, in his late 40s maybe?, with this kind of graying brown hair. I think he's got glasses. I don't know how I kill him, though. I just feel an echo of the guilt."
Patty said, "The guilt? So you'll feel guilty killing this man?"
Ananda said, "Of course! I'm not some kind of sociopath. This'll eat at me so much that I can feel it now, that I woke up with it."
Patty said, "What exactly do you feel?"
Ananda said, "I can't describe it. A clawing inside me. And the guy's picture all blurry keeps coming at me from out of nowhere, and whenever it does, the clawing gets stronger and more painful."
Gaitskill interjected again with, "Patty. Please. Let's call the police."
Patty just kept looking at Ananda.
She said, "How do you know that you're the one who's going to kill him?"
Ananda said, "It's the way he looks at me. There's so much, I don't know, blame in his face. He looks like he's about to accuse me in front of a court room. But, then, his face fills with dread, and that's when the clawing gets to its worst." She sighed. "Do you mind if I sit down?"
Patty said, "Sure. Go for it."
Gaitskill glared at her, as Ananda scooted a chair to face them and sat in it. She wondered briefly if she'd broken up an invisible person tea conversation.
Patty said, "Do you know anything else?"
Ananda said, "About the guy? No, that's about it."
Patty's face fell slightly. She said, "Oh."
Ananda said, "Oh, but I know other things. I've had lots of experiences like this, if you want to hear about those."
Patty said, "That does sound interesting, but I'm really worried about this man you're going to kill."
Gaitskill hissed, "She's not going to kill anybody!"
Ananda said, "Yeah, me too, but what can you do? It's already a done deal. I didn't come here to talk about that, just to get to know you, since we're going to be so close anyway."
Patty said, "Okay." She looked at Gaitskill for a few seconds and then said, "Okay, tell me about some of these other things, then."
Ananda smiled. She said, "I told you about the jelly donut and my job already. This one time, when I was in high school, I dreamt up an assignment before they gave it to us."
Patty said, "You dreamt up an assignment?"
Ananda said, "Yeah, I had a dream about this sheet of paper with an assignment telling us to write about one of the battles in the civil war. I remember, it even said, 'The Battle of Gettysburg is off limits,' and that's exactly what the assignment said. Those exact words."
Patty said, "That's a pretty strange dream."
Ananda said, "Yeah, I'll say. I usually dreamed about samurais and ninjas at that age. Dreaming about homework at all was pretty unprecedented."
Patty said, "Not to mention that it came true."
Ananda said, "Yeah, sure. But, I was pretty much expecting that. I mean, as I said, this has happened several times, and you just kind of know when it will."
Patty said, "When was the first time it happened?"
Ananda said, "Oh, I don't even remember. Maybe when I was five? I remember something about just knowing I was going to get a dog before I got one, and I think that was at five."
Patty said, "And, how often does this happen?"
Ananda shrugged. "It depends. Sometimes with small things you can't tell. Like, maybe you know that your keys are under the couch, but who knows if it's because you remember kicking them down there, or if it's just fate that they're there and you'll find them quickly."
Patty said, "I see. And, how often have you been sure that it happened?"
Ananda said, "Probably ten or fifteen all told."
Patty said, "So, under one a year?"
Ananda said, "Yeah, not counting the ones I'm not sure about. But, there are lots of those. Probably one every couple of days, if not more."
Patty said, "But, still. You've had two big ones so far today."
Ananda said, "Yeah."
Patty said, "That's pretty uncommon, right?"
Ananda said, "Yeah, I guess it is, now that you mention it."
Patty said, "Why do you think that's happened?"
Ananda grinned at Patty. "I think I know why we're going to be friends -- you're brilliant! You think these two events are related!"
Patty said, "Well, not exac-"
Ananda said, "No, that makes perfect sense. Oh, of course!"
From out of nowhere, Gaitskill exploded. She started yelling, "You've got to be kidding me! You can't... This is just... Yaugggh!"
She suddenly turned to Ananda, sitting in her chair, and she said, "Look. Fate doesn't exist."
Ananda leaned forward and opened her mouth to speak, but Gaitskill continued, speaking so quickly her words sometimes meshed together. "It's been scientifically proven. When people talk about fate, they really just notice coincidence. Sure, you've foreseen a couple of things here and there, but you've also been wrong, right? A bunch of times? You just forget about those when talking about your foresight. But, here's the thing: probabilistically, if you make educated guesses about your future, sometimes they'll be right. Fate or no fate. You're just letting your imagination get the better of you."
Patty said quietly, "Alice..."
Gaitskill spun at her. She said, "And, you! You're feeding this delusion, even after this woman threatens to kill somebody? Call the effing police, Patty. Or I will."
Patty shrank back from her. She said again, "Alice..."
But, Ananda was having none of this. She glared at Gaitskill. She said, "Look, Gaitskill. I don't care if you believe me. If you don't believe in fate, your life is small, and you don't matter to me."
Gaitskill said, "Small! The universe is so grand as it is. And, it's ludicrous beliefs like fate that keep you from learning about it."
Ananda said, "Ha! But, you're assuming I don't know about the universe. I do. I study the universe in every aspect."
Gaitskill said, "Every aspect?"
Ananda said, "Sure, I study the science. I like the whole space-time stuff. But, none of it is actually _about_ the universe. It's just models upon models upon models."
Gaitskill said, "But, underlying it is a system, a beautiful system."
Ananda shrugged. She said, "For me, underlying it is a beautiful, mystical system that allows the models to flow, but which is itself only visible when we look beyond the models, at the things that don't fit within them."
Gaitskill said, "But, everything fits within the system. That is built into the scientific process: everything we can sense is within its confines."
Ananda said, "No, no. Sure, science can tell me why it rains, but it can't tell me why the feel of it on my skin makes it tingle, or why it reminds me of being a kid, even though I grew up in the desert."
Gaitskill said, "Yes, sure it can! Just give it time. We're making such progress already in neuroscience. Just wait another few years, maybe ten, and we'll be able to tell you exactly what's happening in your brain."
Ananda said, "Sure, you'll be able to tell me what synapses fired in my brain, and maybe which synapses will fire in my brain tomorrow, but that's a pretty sorry explanation for why I love the rain."
Gaitskill said, "And, that's where psychologists come in, finding the patterns in human thought and explaining what causes them and why they are significant."
Ananda shook her head. "Just another model, missing the point entirely. You can tell me that I love the rain because it was rare where I grew up, or because the slight touches to my skin remind me of caresses."
Gaitskill nodded. "Yeah, right."
Ananda said, "But that's missing the point entirely. I love the rain because that's who I am, because it's part of my essence. I have to love the rain, because I'm me, and not someone else."
Gaitskill said, "You're assuming you have an essence."
Ananda said, "Of course, I have an essence! It is the thing connecting all of these diverse pieces of your science: my memories of growing up, my future in front of me, why my dopamine flows sometimes, and what happens when it flows. Science lets you talk about some of these things separately. Inherently, it breaks things up. But, they have their real meaning and beauty together." 
Gaitskill smiled at Ananda, her face transforming from an old and bitter wreck, slowly shifting, creases moving, until she looked bright and almost young. Her eyes crinkled; her teeth showed slightly.
She said, "I like you, lady."
Ananda smiled back. "I like you too."
There was a short silence, and soon over this silence, the growing sound of a police car could be heard. When it came to a stop, it was still faint, as though it were going elsewhere entirely, but Ananda turned to Patty, her mouth and eyes opening wide.
Ananda said, "You..."
Patty was staring at Ananda. Her hand was shaking as it held a phone receiver up to her face. She said, just audibly enough for Ananda to hear, "Yes, they just arrived. Thank you." And then, she slowly hung up the phone, keeping her eyes on Ananda the entire time.
Ananda said, "But, we're supposed to be friends..."
Gaitskill was gawking at Patty. She said, "You called the police?"
Patty, still looking at Ananda, said, "You told me to."
Gaitskill said, "Yeah, but... I mean, clearly she's not..."
She looked back at Ananda, who was slowly deflating.
Ananda said, "But, I haven't even done anything..."
Patty said, "You threatened to kill someone..."
Ananda said, "It's fate. I didn't threaten anybody." Her voice was shaking.
Patty said, "But, there's no such thing as..." She looked over at Gaitskill, who was looking between Patty and Ananda, who had crumpled down to the floor. Gaitskill did not say anything, or even make a readable facial expression at either woman.
There was a pounding at the door, and Ananda jumped up. She started running to her left, then to her right. She looked at the two women in front of her, eyes wild, sweating.
She said again, "I didn't do anything."
A deep-voiced man yelled, "Police. Open up."
Patty said, "It's open," first quietly and then more loudly.
The door opened, but Ananda was facing away from it. She just saw the reactions of the two women in front of her, both looking behind her, presumably at the police officer, both with a look almost pleading, both shaking almost imperceptibly.
The police officer said, "So, what seems to be the problem?"
There was a momentary pause. Gaitskill opened her mouth, then closed it. Patty did the same. Ananda stayed slumped on the ground, still unwilling to face the police officer. She felt an itch in her stomach.
Then, Patty said, "This woman here, on the ground. She said that she's going to kill someone."
The police officer said, "Figures. Place like this."
Gaitskill started to say, "What?"
But, Patty spoke over her. She said, "Yes, right. Exactly."
Her shaking was increasing.
She turned to Gaitskill and said, "Alice..." But, Gaitskill didn't respond.
The police officer said, "Well, no problem. We'll just need to take you down and ask you a few questions, lady, maybe get you to calm down. If you'll come with me."
Ananda's eyes were shining. She looked up at Gaitskill and smiled. She said, "It won't help."
The police officer said, "Excuse me?"
Ananda, still looking at Gaitskill, said, "It can't be helped. You can't stop me."
Gaitskill shook her head, her eyes widening. Even Patty's eyes widened slightly.
The police officer said, "Are you threatening me?!"
Ananda said, "No, I-"
The police officer said, "You are under arrest. Put your hands above your head and then slowly stand up."
Ananda said, "I can't..." She reached her hand out to Gaitskill.
Ananda heard a shuffling, presumably of a gun leaving a holster. The police officer said, "I said, put your hands above your head and stand up."
And, she tried. She put her hands on her head, and she pushed and pushed, and there she was standing up, the two women at the counter now at eye level with her. She smiled absently and turned around.
She said, "I didn't..."
And then, there he was, looking at her accusingly, curled over, clutching at his stomach. And, her arm hurt, and her hand was heavy, and she felt almost like it was raining again, but it was now a clawing instead of a caress. And, his look changed from accusation to dread, and then he fell over.
The gun fell from her hand.
She turned and looked over at Patty and Gaitskill. They were covered in blood, and Patty was crying, but Gaitskill just looked at her and looked at her, and then there were more police, and they grabbed her, and knocked her down, so that all she could see was the police officer, long dead, his face frozen in terror.

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