I called Jenna from the psych clinic and asked her for a ride. Suppressed memories from the therapy session stirred my voices and took the life from my pickup. I had Jenna pull her car up to the battery, but when I tried to jump it, the starter only made a whirring sound. Nasty voices came at me from every direction telling me to hide and give up. Aggravated, I skipped out on work, and we went for lunch at Three Brothers Diner.
Jenna suggested I talk to her mom’s mechanic, but I told her I could handle it myself once I got paid on Friday. Still reeling from the voices, my attention drifted, and Jenna’s words faded into background conversations and the noise of clinking forks and plates. My eyes then wandered to a man in wire-framed glasses.
Jenna, whose voice echoed between the spaces of the diner, fell silent and stiffened as a ballad played overhead. “My husband used to beat me to this song,” she said with empty eyes.
I stopped and turned to her.
“He slapped me so hard his wedding ring nearly broke my cheekbone.” She checked her surroundings and pulled at her shirt. “At least, that’s how it felt.”
I dropped my hands to my lap angry she had to go through that. My instincts told me to beat him, and I would if I could, but he disappeared somewhere outside Vegas, and she escaped home to Connecticut not knowing what became of him.
I met Jenna at the scene of an accident. She backed her car through the window with the winning lottery signs at a gas station I maintained. I wasn’t planning on boarding up and ordering a window, but when she stepped out of her Toyota, I was in love.
“Are you okay?” I asked her.
“No!” She swung her blonde hair aside and came around the back of her car. She had a long, upturned nose and pink lips I couldn’t stop staring at. “I just came here for some mints. I have a job interview in 20 minutes. I got distracted by my phone, and. . .” Jenna looked at the damage. “Damn it!”
Wanting to put her at ease, I called it how I saw it. “It’s not bad. There are a few scratches on your car, but the window can be replaced.”
“I’m sorry. Who are you?”
I reached out my hand. “I’m Booker. I do maintenance here. . . and you are?”
“Jenna. Sorry about this,” she said giving me a handshake.
“It’s not bad, really. I’ll just take your number and make a copy of your insurance, and you can get on the road to your interview.”
I held Jenna’s hands which were collapsed together across the table. “It’s not your fault,” I said. “He had problems. That’s on him.”
Jenna’s eyes glazed over, and she turned her head. “He’d stay out late and come home drunk. If he wasn’t home by 7:00, I knew he’d have it in for me.”
My voices started to break, and I entered a trance. “Look at Booker. . . so pathetic! There’s nothing he can do!” I looked around and saw the man in the wire-framed glasses. Was he one of the Three Brothers?
I came to toward the end of the conversation and assured Jenna she was safe. Her husband was gone, and she no longer had to worry. She tried to believe me, but I got the feeling she didn’t.
Jenna drove me from the gas station to other properties the boss owned, and the voices kept telling me how small I was for relying on her. I chanted in my head. This doesn’t feel good.
She stayed over a few nights and drove me to work. After she showered, she applied lotion in bed and looked at me twice like she had something to say.
“I was looking for the toothpaste, and I saw your meds,” she said. “I know we talked, and you said you had some problems, but do you really need all those?”
I had to be truthful without scaring her off. “I had problems as a kid and that developed into a mental illness. I have a hard time functioning without the meds.”
“What kinds of problems did you have?” she asked as she applied the lotion to her elbows.
“Well,” I took a deep breath, “I was mistreated and later molested by a neighbor. I knew it was wrong, but I wanted to be a man about it, so I kept it inside. The secrets ate at me until I was 17, and then I had more problems.”
“Oh. I see.” Jenna stretched to reach her ankles and feet.
I stared the wall. I wanted to tell her more but couldn’t.
Over the next couple days I called the junkyards looking for cheap rates and settled on Chuck & Eddie’s where I could strip the part myself. I cleared things with Jenna, and we planned to pick up the part on Saturday once I got paid. Jenna was good about it, but since our relationship was new, I felt like I was putting her out.
“You’re not mad at me, are you?” For a moment I worried everything would come crashing down.
She turned her head and gave me a look. “Mad? No, I’m not mad. Why would I be mad?”
I started to hear the rustling of voices in the background telling me to run off. “I’ve been asking a lot of you this week, and I thought it might be too much.”
“No, I understand,” she said sitting up straight. “Your truck broke down. It’s not a big deal.”
On Friday Jenna cooked us dinner with what I had in the freezer. After we ate, we sat on the couch, and she confessed to me that she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she was a kid. She cried, and I cried with her. I never felt so close to anyone.
Saturday morning I woke up early. My check came the day before, and I had the money for the part. After breakfast, we stopped at the ATM and then left for the junkyard.
We pulled into the dirt lot at Chuck & Eddie’s, and Jenna waited in the car. I opened the dented metal door and told the man inside I was there about the 2010 Ford F-150s.
“Yeah, we’ve got a couple.” The overweight man put some papers in a tray. “It’s $1 to enter the yard. Fetch the part yourself.”
“It’s $60, right?”
He checked his PC. “Sixty even.”
“How much to order one?”
He looked up through his thick brown glasses. “Seventy used. Two-hundred new.”
I put a dollar in the water jug and opened the door to the junkyard.
It was warm for early April – about 55 degrees. The glare reflecting off the cracked windshields gave the illusion of a hot summer day. I could see the pickups on the hill toward the back, and I walked between the dusty rows of old cars.
“Turn around,” a voice said to me. “Look behind you.”
I couldn’t help but look, and walking behind me was a man in wire-framed glasses similar to the man at the diner. He spoke through his thoughts, but I ignored him, turned, and kept moving.
Who was he, and what did he want? Was my boss tracking me because I left and cheated on my time card. How did he find out? Did he check the cameras?
“You did it, and you like it,” the man said, but I kept walking. “Doesn’t it feel good?”
When I got to the trucks, I found one F-150 the year I needed, but the starter was gone, so I kicked the fender out of frustration. On my way back to the desk I passed the man in the wire-framed glasses. He looked up from underneath a hood. I nodded, and his eyes followed me until I looked away.
After I ordered the part, Jenna and I stopped at the grocery store and came home to eat. As she cut up the celery for tuna salad, I drifted into a world of my own.
Maybe if I told somebody about Bob, I could’ve seen a therapist before the trouble began. Maybe he would’ve gotten arrested. Maybe there were other kids like me.
My head spun around.
“Did you want yours toasted with cheese?”
Jenna took out the bread and put it in the toaster. “Is everything alright?” she asked, and she cored the lettuce.
“Yeah.” I nodded my head and stared out the window.
Behind me, I could hear Jenna rinsing the lettuce in the sink. “I haven’t been completely honest with you. I have PTSD,” she said, “from my mother’s boyfriend, so I know what it’s like to have a mental illness.”
I didn’t want to say I had schizophrenia, so I told her I was sorry.
“I can’t sleep. I wake up from nightmares worried if my sister is okay. Sometimes I’ll call her in the middle of the night. . .” Jenna’s voice tightened and went up in pitch.
“And she’ll always says she’s fine and that I can stop worrying, but I never do.”
I walked over and put my arms around her. “I’m sorry about what happened,” I said.
“I’m sorry too.”
We stood in the kitchen holding each other. Afterwards, we ate and then laid in bed sharing. I didn’t tell her I had schizophrenia. I told her everything but.
That Tuesday my part came in. I left work, and Jenna drove me to the junkyard. When we got there, I went inside and handed the guy my receipt. Tired, I hopped in Jenna’s car and asked her to stop for coffee at the Berkshire next door.
As I walked toward the store, another man in wire-framed glasses stared at me from the driver’s seat of a Honda.
Who was he? Was he the third brother? I grimaced and then thought about work. This doesn’t make sense. Did my boss really hire a private investigator because I cheated him out of $80?
I got my coffee, sat in Jenna’s car, and shut the door with a loud thud. I turned to her. “Do you see that guy in the Honda?”
“Is he real?”
“Real?” Jenna gave me a confused look. “Of course he’s real. What are you getting at?”
“I had the dumb idea I was being followed. I saw one guy at the diner last week, one at the junkyard, and now this one.” I glared out the window. “Sometimes I make these connections when there isn’t one. Other times, I’m not sure if I’m remembering things or if I’m making them up.”
Jenna put her hand on my shoulder. “Booker,” she said. “I’ve seen your medicine cabinet. I have an idea of what’s going on. There’s no one following you.”
I faced forward and got my thoughts together. I needed to fix my pickup before it got dark, so I put on my seat belt, and we drove to my doctor’s office.
About the Author
Ryan T. Douglas lives in Connecticut, and is currently writing a book proposal for the second draft of a memoir, Over the Edge: Drugs, Delusions, and Schizophrenia. Ryan’s short fiction has been published in the Spring 2019 edition of Open Minds Quarterly, and you can find Ryan online at thepeakexperience.tumblr.com.