“Everybody’s been there, everybody’s been stared down
By the enemy
Fallen for the fear and done some disappearing
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
…Show me how big your brave is.”
Sara Bareilles, Brave
Jennifer was packing clothes into shopping bags when Sarah got back to the dormitory. Sarah was staying in the dorms for the summer session, since she was working daily at the library. Jennifer was going back home. After Jennifer’s alcohol poisoning scare, her parents had planned several family trips throughout the summer including a stay at a cabin in Colorado that included Zach. It seemed like Jennifer was moving toward an established relationship with Zach and Sarah wondered how that would work out.
“When are you leaving?” Sarah asked.
“In about ten minutes. Zach is coming by to help me load up. I’ll bet you’re looking forward to having the room to yourself,” Jennifer replied.
“I’ll miss you, but yeah, it’ll be nice to spread out and not have to share bathroom time,” said Sarah.
Grinning, Jennifer answered, “You won’t have to work around a roommate when you want to have Adam up for pizza.” Emphasizing pizza was Jennifer’s code word for sex. Sarah had a flash of anxiety, but tingled at the same time. She still found the idea of sex with Adam scary and had sometimes been glad of a roommate when the subject had come up. Now that the pressure of classes was just about over, and the lure of summer evenings made Adam seem even more attractive, she fantasized frequently about seeing him naked and worried about being seen naked. Anxiety was Sarah’s closest friend and self-confidence an elusive acquaintance.
“We’re both going to have a rocking summer and I’m expecting to hear lots of stories about you two when I get back in the fall,” Jennifer nudged.
“It’s going to be a lot different in the fall. You’ll be in the sorority house and I’m still looking for a place that will be super cheap. I’ve got a lead on a place and think that I can room with Chloe,” said Sarah as she steered away from talk about Adam and her love life anxieties. Chloe was their suite mate and Sarah felt they’d get along ok. Chloe was a theatre major with loads of personality and ambition, an unlikely roommate for the analytical Sarah. But, they both needed cheap housing.
“We’ll stay friends,” said Jennifer sitting down next to Sarah on her bed, the only shopping bag-free space in the room. “You’re my lifeguard, the person I can count on to keep me thinking straight. I’ll be texting you all summer long. I’m sure my mom will be asking about you every day.”
“I’m going to work as many hours as I can this summer, to keep from getting too deep in student loan debt. It’s going to feel good saving up for fall tuition and taking the load off my mom. We’re both going to have great summers.
Let’s get you loaded up,” said Sarah, grabbing a couple of shopping bags, just as Zach arrived in the doorway.
Sarah stood behind the circulation desk, stacking books as she pulled them from the return bins. Lubna spoke with a faculty member about reserve materials he was turning in for an intersession course. There was so much material crammed into just a few weeks that everyone taking intersession courses or teaching them seemed a bit tense and the instructor exhibited that tension as he emphasized the need for the materials to be available that evening.
“I’ll be sure the materials are processed right away. You should be able to check on their availability online this afternoon,” said Lubna reassuringly. Although she was small, Lubna had an air of calm competence and she easily relaxed the young professor.
“You’ve been very helpful. What’s your name? I might like to call back this afternoon,” the professor asked. “It’s nice to have a contact who is informed and helpful.”
“My name is Lubna, and I’m the student supervisor. I’ll be here until the evening shift, so you can call the department any time before five and I’ll be here,” she replied.
“Lubna, is that a common name in your country?” The professor stuttered briefly has he awkwardly pronounced her name.
“It is a rather common name among Muslims. My family is Hindu, but my grandmother’s life was saved by her best friend during the violence at partition and she was a Muslim named Lubna. That’s how I got the name. It’s a kind of flower in Pakistan. I guess it’s like being named Rosie in America. I’ve always been proud of the name, because my grandmother’s friend was very courageous,” Lubna smiled as she explained.
After the professor left, Sarah asked, “I don’t really know anything about partition. What is it and how was your grandmother’s life saved?”
“Partition occurred when Pakistan and India were separated. It caused a big upheaval because Hindus living in Pakistan were pressured to leave and Muslims living in India were forced into Pakistan. There were a lot of violence and many people were killed. My grandmother lived in a neighborhood with both Hindus and Muslims and her best friend was Muslim. They were caught in a riot one day and only made it home alive because Lubna, my grandmother’s friend, told rioters that my grandmother was her cousin. It was very brave because the rioters had clubs and machetes and had already killed people for trying to protect innocent Hindus caught in the streets by the crowd. Some Hindus survived by becoming Christian or Muslim, but many died.”
“Wow. It’s hard to imagine such a dangerous situation over what church you attend. I guess I have always thought of Pakistanis and Indians as yogic, peaceful people. I didn’t know there was so much violence tied to religions that seem to promote peace and love,” Sarah observed.
“Religions can be misused by people trying to take advantage. It’s no different than race or some other excuse people make up to do bad things,” Lubna ruefully observed.
“Yeah, my dad always said the Nazi’s used religion to take the Jews stuff. They just made up an excuse to persecute the Jews because they wanted their possessions,” Sarah said.
Sarah slowly walked toward the shelves where books were sorted. She remembered that disabled people were victims of the Nazis along with homosexuals. It was hard to shake the anxiety those thoughts brought along with them, when she thought of Patty or imagined explaining Bernadette to a stranger… She wondered if she would have the same kind of courage that Lubna’s grandmother’s friend had. As she sorted, Sarah casually read the titles and noticed how the subjects reflected research underway at the university. She glanced at one title and couldn’t help thinking of Adam. The book was on the geophysics of aquifers. She remembered Adam mentioning that underground water could influence magnetic readings. She was sure Adam would want to see it. It brought her mind back to the incident at the pizza parlor and Mallory’s comment. She’d seen Mallory by the lockers and knew she was manning the desk at the old entrance this afternoon. They’d exchanged hellos, and Mallory had not said anything further, but Sarah still felt uneasy in her presence.
“Lubna, I can’t seem to shake that creepy feeling when I see Mallory and think that she may have overhead our discussion about Bernie. Do you think I’m overreacting?” Sarah looked earnestly at Lubna as she asked. Sensing her concern, Lubna was measured and careful in her response.
“Honestly, I don’t know. I suppose she could think we’re all weird. But, I doubt she spends much time thinking about us at all. People are usually preoccupied with their own thing and everybody’s got something to worry about,” she replied. “She might have thought it was funny at the time but has already forgotten about it. Your anxiety is probably making it seem bigger,” Lubna added.
“Yeah, I’m pretty good at worrying. Wish I was better at just being happy,” Sarah sighed. The thing about Bernadette was that Sarah wondered about her own thinking – was it Bernadette’s ideas or hers or a combination of Sarah, Bernadette and even Patty? And, if Patty was in there somewhere, didn’t that make Sarah just a little bit crazy? That worried Sarah. “Crazy” wasn’t good, if you thought about the Nazi’s. Her next thought was the most disturbing. Like stepping off into a void and not knowing what was below you in the fog – maybe it wasn’t Bernadette and Patty, but just some delusion of her own mind?
A ripple of anxiety passed through Sarah. She tried to get a grip on it, but could feel her heartrate increase. Clearly, she was headed for deep water if she didn’t clear her mind. She grasped for an idea to divert herself and tried to think of upcoming summer classes, but the thoughts weren’t strong enough to help her focus. So, she started reading the titles of the books she was shelving. Inevitably, her worry returned. Then she thought of her father and one of his favorite jokes. It was about a man who got a flat tire next to the insane asylum. As he replaced the tire, his hand overturned the hubcap with the lug nuts and they disappeared down a street drain. As the man wondered what he was going to do, a resident of the mental facility looking out the fence told him to take one nut from each of the three other tires and then drive slowly to a store where he could buy replacements. The traveler looked at the man on the other side of the fence and said, “I appreciate your help, but am surprised you’re in there if you are smart enough to solve this problem.”
“Hey man, I’m in here because I’m crazy, not because I’m stupid,” said the patient.
Sarah chuckled to herself and decided that she’d just have to be smart about investigating the phenomenon of Patty, Bernadette and herself. As she planned her investigations in the basement bathroom she began to think of acronyms. It made her smile when she thought of Psychic Babble Syndrome – the first letter of each word was the same as the first letter of their names. It also made her think of cell phone interference, when you sometimes faintly hear the babble of another phone as your own reception falters. Perhaps they were just tuning in to another conversation in the universe, resonating with a previously undiscovered frequency? Besides, if anyone overheard, PBS would sound like they were talking about public television. The thought of coding the conversations gave her worrying brain some comfort as she finished the shelving and made her way to the front desk to relieve Lubna.
Bernadette awoke from her cozy, vibrating niche on the elevator as the button was pushed by someone interested in going down to the basement. She lay curled up, and enjoyed watching the large flywheel above her recede as she felt the elevator drop. Visions of icing covered cookies came to mind and for some time, she thought about what makes the best sugar cookie icing. She settled on flavored icing, not the kind that taste like a color, but the kind that taste like strawberries or oranges.
Suddenly, something felt wrong - something far away, outside the boundaries of her ecological niche. It confused her, but a sense of urgency built as she realized she could not reach the source without dissipating before she could arrive. It was Patty. Bernie floated through the masonry and found herself outside at night rushing toward the distress she felt resonating in her bones – the bones Bernadette imagined she possessed. As she moved through the soft summer night, she felt herself begin to disassociate, moving toward maximum entropy as her molecular structure spread out like a melting pad of butter. She stopped, but the sense of urgency she felt grew more intense and frustration mounted as she retreated and pulled herself together – cohesive once she returned from the edge of her boundary. As she coalesced, she flung her thoughts the other direction, finding Sarah riding her bike toward the dorms. Sarah had just ended her work shift at the library. As Bernadette intensified her intent, Sarah braked immediately, mid-campus and tried to look nonchalant as some other students walking by looked curiously at her sudden stop. She pretended to fiddle with the bike light on her helmet while she tried to connect to the feeling of fear that she felt and the need to help, which mixed urgently in her mind. Confused, she couldn’t tease the two feelings apart and shook her head, like she was trying to clear her vision. She had an overwhelming urge to help and a desire to run at the same time. The feelings were overlapping and confusing.
“What the hell?” Sarah muttered under her breath. Confused, she struggled and finally, with no clear sense of what she was doing, felt compelled to turn the bicycle the other direction and peddle hard. She found herself headed toward campus corner, the area of shops, restaurants and bars on the North end of campus. It was a mishmash of revived shops, seedy bars, traditional hangouts and a constantly changing array of food joints interspersed with old apartments and churches. Her favorite pizza place, the Hideaway, was there. Still confused, she aimed her bike that direction and somehow, it seemed right. She arrived at the pizza place breathless, but had the urge to pedal past cautiously down Buchanan street toward a dead end where cheap apartments and subdivided houses with all manner of basement dwellings for cash-strapped college students could be found.
As she pedaled past the corner street light toward the dead end she understood why she was there. Standing in the street was Patty. There were three young men, clearly drunk. They were circling Patty, and one of them stumbled sideways as he held both hands on the side of his head, making slits of his eyes
“We don’t need no crazies, go back home Chink,” he slurred as he stumbled.
“Watcha got there?” said another, as he snatched at her grocery bag and launched its contents across the street, breaking open several containers of iced cookies, scattering colored icing across the cement like an impressionist’s paintbrush slashes color on a canvas. As the cookies tumbled out, the third guy went down on his knees and started grabbing some, stuffing himself and giggling. The stumbler looked Sarah’s direction, realizing in a fuzzy way that the trio was no longer alone with Patty. Sarah had come to a full stop, breathless not just from pedaling, but from fear.
As the stumbler turned toward her, Sarah’s head turned his direction automatically, and inadvertently her helmet bike light shown directly in his face. He pulled up suddenly abashed, his hands flying to his face, trying to look past the light and assess Sarah. Everyone was momentarily motionless, as the three drunks paused confused. Patty grabbed at her grocery bag, but the other drunk, didn’t let go and growled, “Mine, bitch,” as he yanked back, pulling Patty to the ground. She fell hard, as she hadn’t let go and was no match for the young man, who was about twice her size.
“Hey, those aren’t yours. Leave her alone,” Sarah said. But, her voice sounded squeaky and she coughed a bit, hoping to hide her very real fear.
“It’s another bitch,” said the growler. He seemed pleased, like he had momentarily assumed Sarah camouflaged by the bike helmet and light, was a guy. Hearing her voice instead he was emboldened and saw a potential victim. “Let’s make her a #metoo,” he said as he reached for his pants’ zipper, exposing himself. The fresh air seemed to momentarily divert him, and he began urinating. Sarah and Patty exchanged looks, as Sarah wondered if Patty was seriously hurt. Patty pushed herself up, away from the splashing urine. She seemed ok, but Sarah thought she saw blood. When he finished, he lurched toward Sarah, with his junk hanging out, drawing the other standing drunk with him. Sarah’s heart thumped, and she felt rooted to the spot, straddling her bike. For a moment, time slowed.
Suddenly the sound of retching and the splash of vomit hitting the pavement, stopped the stumbler, “Ewww, fuck this,” he said, as the smell of vomit wafted toward Sarah. Their buddy’s stomach had rebelled when the cookies mixed with what must have been a six pack. The growler was not dissuaded and grabbed her bike handle. Sarah automatically put her full weight on the pedal forcing him to skip backward awkwardly, slipping in the vomit and going down on one knee. A screeching sound, like a horn blast came from Patty’s direction. Patty had grabbed something from the ground and pushed. She’d retrieved a personal alert alarm that had been pulled from her hands with the bag as the two turned their attention to Sarah. Sarah could sense that a car driving across the intersection behind her slowed to a stop, the driver turning his head to look down the darkened dead end, that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.
The stumbler ran, yelling to his friends, “I’m outta here.”
“Bitches,” said the growler pushing himself onto his feet and realizing his hand had landed in the vomit. He grimaced and wiped his hand on his friend’s jacket, pulling him up at the same time. His friend hurled once again and the vomit splayed across the concrete in a wider arc. “Fuck man. This sucks,” the growler said while gagging himself. Moving his incapacitated friend into an unsteady jog down a darkened driveway they lurched away.
“Are you okay?’, the driver shouted over the alert horn, emerging from his car in the intersection. He seemed hesitant to move down the darker street, but stood by his car squinting into the darkness past the street light. Patty sat back, and the alarm stopped. She glanced toward the driveway making sure the two who had left were still moving away.
“Can you wait for a minute? I need to make sure my friend is able to walk,” Sarah yelled over her shoulder as she dropped her bike away from the cookie vomit and walked over to help Patty up. Patty grabbed Sarah’s elbow and pushed Sarah back toward her bike, hurrying her toward the light in the intersection and the car. The man’s wife had exited the car and came around toward them clucking, “Is everything alright?” They emerged into the circle of light cast by the street light and Sarah heard the woman’s intake of breath. There was blood on Patty’s chin and some had dripped down the front of her shirt. She’d struck her chin as she had been pulled to the pavement.
“I think I’m fine. It just feels like a road burn on my chin,” said Patty.
“Do you want us to take you to urgent care and see if that needs stitches?” The woman peered at Patty’s chin like a mother who had experience with skateboarding kids.
“No, I’m sure I’ll be ok. Thanks for stopping. I just want to get home and put a wet washcloth on it,” Patty said stoically. With an odd urgency, she pushed Sarah toward the campus.
“Who were those guys and what happened?” The man peered down the darkened street and looked back at them.
“Creeps,” said Sarah finally finding her voice. She’d begun shaking quietly, a delayed stress response.
“We can take you home or call the police,” the man offered.
“We’re good. Besides, Sarah needs her bike and I just live about two blocks away. It was just some drunks being stupid.” Patty forced a smile and pushed Sarah’s elbow, moving her forward as Sarah grudgingly took a few steps toward campus. She was still stunned and felt herself stiffen, refusing to budge when Patty next nudged her along. Those guys weren’t just being stupid, they were being threatening. Why didn’t Patty want to call the police? Thoughts whirled in Sarah’s head as she tried to clear her thinking.
“Wait,” Sarah said, “I think those guys could hurt somebody. I think we need to report them to the police. They hurt you and I didn’t appreciate seeing that guys junk. Not my idea of fun!”
Patty looked at Sarah almost pleadingly, “Really, I’m fine and they were just…” Before Patty could finish her sentence blue and white flashing lights appeared, and a police car pulled up. Two policemen got out and one approached them as the other walked toward the darkened street.
“Hello folks. We received a call about an alarm from one of the residents in this area.”
“Yes,” the woman from the car stepped up, “These two women were being assaulted by some drunken men. We stopped to help when we heard the alarm and the young men ran off, toward the North. You should go after them. There were three of them and they were all drunk. I’m sure you can locate them easily.”
“Yes ma’am, can you please step over here and sir, can you come with me?” The policeman stepped to the other side of the car and directed the two passersby to accompany him. The policeman lowered his voice and a conversation began. Strangely, Sarah felt uneasy and turned to Patty with a raised eyebrow. She was still shaking and a bit confused. But, that unsettled feeling began to sharpen her senses. Something was weird…
“Hello Patty, hearing voices again? That’s quite a mess back there,” said the second policeman tipping his head toward the cookie vomit. “Did your personal ghost do it? Or, did you just eat too many cookies?” The policeman had a sarcastic tone and Sarah couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“Patty is hurt, officer. She was attacked by three drunks and they knocked her down right in front of me,” said Sarah said trying to keep the outrage out of her voice. She had an instinct to keep her voice level and unemotional, but it was hard because she was still shaken and emotional.
“What’s your name?”
“Sarah Felton,” she replied.
“Do you have some identification? Please step over here by the car and tell me exactly what you saw,” he said softening his tone a little, but still showing attitude.
“I was riding my bike and saw Patty surrounded by these three guys. When I stopped my bike, one of them was saying hateful things like, go home you Chink. Then one of them pulled at her shopping bag and pulled her to the ground. She’s bleeding some and might need some stitches. Then one of them turned on me and urinated in the street and exposed himself and then grabbed my bike. Patty pressed her alarm and these people stopped when they heard it,” Sarah said while looking over her shoulder for confirmation, but failing to get the attention of the couple engrossed in conversation with the other officer. “One of the guys started vomiting and then they all ran North when that man got out of his car. These folks asked us if we needed help and we were just trying to decide what to do when you got here,” Sarah finished and took a deep breath trying to hold back tears that were trying to form as the adrenalin levels in her body dissipated. For some reason she was feeling like this officer was blaming Patty and even herself. It was creepy and subtle warning signals seemed to be going off in her mind.
“How do you know Patty? Where were you going?” Sarah hesitated and took a deep breath. That was going to be harder to explain and she looked toward Patty who was glancing sideways and nervously looked down, seeming to signal Sarah – caution. “Patty comes to the campus library to do research quite a bit and I am a student worker there. I just finished my shift and…had an urge to come to the Hideaway. It was the truth, but it certainly left unmentioned the weird nature of the urge that had prompted her to come this way, instead of heading back to the dorms. I saw something in the dead end here and thought I recognized Patty. It didn’t look right so I passed the pizza place and came to investigate,” Sarah explained. It seemed cohesive and she relaxed bit, calmed by the attempt to focus and explain. Patty nodded almost imperceptibly as the policeman hesitated.
“We’re pretty familiar with Miss. Nakamura, aren’t we Patty? It’s not the first time we’ve spent some time with her,” he said as the other policeman signaled him to come over to where that officer and the couple stood. “You two wait here.”
“You ok?” Sarah asked with a raised eyebrow and searched her pockets for a clean Kleenex. She handed one to Patty and lowered her voice, “What’s going on? That policeman is acting kinda creepy,” Sarah whispered as she peered at Patty’s chin. It seemed to have stopped bleeding, as the Kleenex didn’t have much blood on it after Patty wiped her chin, but Sarah noticed her hands were shaky as she held the Kleenex in front of her examining it. Patty dabbed the corner of her eye and Sarah became more concerned, because Patty seemed to sway slightly. She grabbed her arm and suggested they sit down at the curb. As they walked toward the edge of the street, the policeman shouted,
“Hey, where do you think you’re going?”
“I think Patty is a little lightheaded, we’re going to sit down over here on the curb,” Sarah said failing to keep a bit of irritation from her voice. Sarah and Patty sat down and surprisingly, Patty laid her head on Sarah’s shoulders and Sarah felt her sob silently.
“Please don’t aggravate him. They arrested me last fall. I was having a bad day and somebody in one of the shops here on campus corner called the police because I was pacing back and forth on the sidewalk and talking to myself. It was bad, and I didn’t have anyone to call. Please don’t make him mad,” Patty whispered as she turned her face into Sarah’s shoulder and shuddered. Sarah was shocked by the fear in Patty’s voice.
Sarah watched the exchange between the couple and the two policemen. Anxiety, Sarah’s familiar friend, began to dominate her thoughts. She felt sorry for Patty, but her fear of being deemed crazy herself played in the back of her mind. She hugged Patty as she felt her shake once again. She wondered what she herself would do if she had been dragged into a police station without any friends or family to call? Her mind recalled a lecture her dad had given her when she was learning to drive. Never argue with a policeman. Always be respectful. They have a difficult job and they have a gun. At the time, she thought her dad was going a bit overboard, but now she had a sense of vulnerability, picked up from Patty’s clear concern and wondered if her dad had ever been arrested.
“Ma’am we’ll take care of it,” she heard one of the policemen say, as the man got back into the car and the woman looked over at them both with an encouraging smile. Sarah looked back and realizing they were about to leave, got up from the curb and walked toward the car.
“I just want to thank you both for stopping. I was really scared and I’m not sure what that guy would have done if you hadn’t stopped. Who knows,” Sarah said as she could feel tears well up. “Thanks, just thanks so much.”
“It takes a village,” the woman said. “I would have wanted someone to stop if it had been me.”
The second policeman who had spent his time with the couple seemed to take charge, “Let’s take a closer look at Miss Nakamura. I think we might need to take her to the hospital.”
“I was going to take her back to my place. I have an extra bed since my roommate moved out this week and I can keep an eye on her…I don’t think she has any insurance,” Sarah volunteered hesitantly. She watched the two policemen exchange knowing glances. They walked toward Patty, who had risen to her feet. She looked pitiful, tired and resigned.
“How are you feeling? Did you land on your wrist when you fell? Sometimes things don’t really register and later you realize you have a sprain or even a broken wrist or jammed shoulder or something,” the policeman explained.
Patty held out her hands and turned them over, one hand had some road burn, but she moved the wrist with ease and said, “It seems ok, I just want to wash my chin and put some antibiotic ointment on it. Can we leave? I really need to just lay down.”
“I told them I’d take you to my place for a few hours, so you could lay down and I could keep an eye on you. Just to make sure you’re ok. Would you be willing to come with me? I just live in the dorms. It’s the other side of campus,” Sarah volunteered, though concerns about Patty flitted across her thoughts. What if she really is crazy and all this …
“Sure,” Patty nodded. Sarah looked over at her bike trying to decide if she should leave it.
“We’ve got a bike rack in the trunk, we can drive you over to the dorms and bring your bike,” said the policeman.
“Thanks,” said Sarah, relieved that she wasn’t going to have to leave her bike in a rack on the street. She liked her bike and had been worried that it might be stolen if she’d had to leave it overnight. The two officers loaded the bike while Sarah and Patty got into the back of the police car. Patty had hesitated briefly before she climbed in and Sarah understood once she was seated behind the wire cage that separated the front of the car from the back seat. It felt like the cage that it was and frankly, Sarah herself felt trapped.
“Why do you guys have a bike rack in the trunk?” Sarah asked, trying to start a conversation that took her mind off the feeling of being caged.
“We both do bike patrol a couple days of the week and usually carry our patrol bikes with us,” replied one of the officers. Sarah asked about the officers’ bikes, how they select the kind of bike they use, how many hours they spent a week on bikes. Did they like being on a bike and how did it compare to being in a patrol car? Her questions kept flowing, as she automatically tried to keep her anxiety in check as they drove toward the dorms. She sensed Patty’s edginess and just wanted to get there. Eventually, they arrived and only then did Sarah realize she couldn’t exit the patrol car until one of the officers got out and opened the door. Momentarily, she wondered what it must feel like to really be arrested and she didn’t like the feeling at all. She was grateful for the officers’ help. But, couldn’t shed the feeling she’d had when the initial response to their narrative had been one of suspicion and she suspected they might have drawn a different conclusion about whole event if the couple hadn’t stopped to help. It was disconcerting imagining the possibility that both Patty and she could have been taken to the police station and somehow been in the position of defending their actions, when they’d been the victims! Sarah wanted to believe that the system was fair, but she was beginning to see how things could turn on a dime.
“Thank you, officers,” Sarah said pushing herself to smile as they unloaded her bike. “We appreciate the ride. I’ll be sure and keep an eye on Patty until I am sure she is ok.”
Sarah felt a rush of relief as she opened the dorm room door and closed it. She directed Patty to her roommate’s bed, asking her to sit down while she headed to the bathroom to get some hydrogen peroxide and ointment for Patty’s chin. Instead, Patty followed her into the bathroom and positioned herself in front of a mirror, tilting her head back to look at the abrasion.
“I could pass as Charlie Chan right now,” Patty said in her dry, deadpan voice. Turning to Sarah she squinted purposely, accentuating her Asian heritage. Sarah caught the reference, as her dad had been a fan of old movies. When he was too sick to work, he and Sarah would watch the Turner Classic movie channel and a few times, they caught a Charlie Chan detective movie from the 1930s.
Sarah began to giggle, as she realized that Patty’s chin was suggestive of a goatee, once she began she couldn’t stop. Patty also started to laugh and soon they were both laughing hysterically, Sarah making her way to the bed and rolling side to side as she looked at Patty, who carried the impersonation further, “Tongue often hang man quicker than rope,” she said. It was too much for Sarah and she dissolved into laughter further, gasping for breath. She recognized that the laughter was a relief of tension and fear. She relished it, as Patty continued the pantomime of stroking a non-existent mustache and saying, “Mind, like parachute, only function when open.” Their laughter continued for minutes, erupting repeatedly between moments of catching their breath and waves of laughter.
Eventually, the laughter played out and Sarah handed Patty a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a washcloth. Sarah used the microwave to brew a couple of cups of cocoa and they ended up ensconced on the two beds sipping cocoa. “Why don’t you just sleep here tonight? It’s getting awfully late, and I’m really tired,” Sarah said as she realized she was. The spent tension of the encounter and the doubting police ran together into an odd, disturbing recollection. The part of the recollection that now occupied Sarah’s thoughts had little to do though with the police. Sarah found herself reliving the encounter with the drunk. She cringed mentally as she recalled her responses. They weren’t exactly what she expected she would do when faced with a threat.
She’d played lots of video games and she always triumphed when faced with gorgons or soldiers of an apocalyptic world. She pulled the trigger without hesitation, she kick boxed and rolled away turning to fight again without a problem, in a video world. But, she was scathing in her analysis of her actions in the real world. She remembered clearly the fear that froze her response and her hesitation when faced with the possibility of a real threat. How her voice was almost a whisper, when she meant it to be an angry threat. Finally, she remembered how close she had come to running away. Her hold on the bike, more than any courage she could muster, kept her there. She was embarrassed to realize all the time she’d spent being a hero was false, and she didn’t measure up to the bold hero she’d been impersonating in her video life. Sarah’s analytical personality wasn’t cutting her any slack. She could feel her face flush in the dark as she lay there analyzing, critiquing, reliving.
“Sarah,” Patty said.
“Thanks for the help. It was almost unbelievable that you were there at the same time I was attacked by those creeps,” Patty said. “I think it would have taken a pretty dark turn if you hadn’t shown up.”
“Funny you should say that, because I didn’t just happen to be there. I think Bernadette made me go.” Sarah replied. True to her self-critique, Sarah furthered, “I was scared Patty. I’m not sure I could have helped. Felt like I was frozen to the spot. If you hadn’t set off the alarm, I don’t know. I don’t think I’m as brave as my video game avatars. In fact, I think I might just be worthless in a real fight. I wanted to run.” As she admitted the failure, she sobbed quietly, disappointed in herself.
“Well, you didn’t run, and you came. Both those things matter…to me. Besides, I’m thinking we owe a debt of gratitude to vomit, more than alarms,” said Patty in her deadpan voice. Sarah giggled and wiped her eyes. “How did Bernadette tell you to be there? Do you realize that you just said that Bernadette communicated? Did you hear a voice? What got you there and how did you know where to go?”
“I’m not sure. I had a feeling, for some reason it makes me think of a cat purring in your lap, something vibrating. It felt like I needed to be there, and I didn’t know where there was. I just felt pulled. I didn’t know where I was headed until I got there,” Sarah said as she thought about her drive to turn around and head toward campus corner. “I remember feeling like I had to be there and at the same time feeling like running away,” Sarah said as she tried to recreate the sensations that washed over her when she stopped her bike and turned around.
“Running away, that’s what I was thinking, but I didn’t run because I thought running away from those creeps would just make them want to chase me. I definitely felt like running. I wonder if you felt what I was feeling? Remember when we were in the bathroom trying to communicate with Bernadette and we both thought of Galileo? Maybe when we ‘communicate’ with Bernadette we are linked up with each other too?" As Patty theorized, she rolled over Sarah’s direction and in the dim moonlight from the window, Sarah saw Patty’s brow furrow.
“Maybe, maybe we’re just linked up telepathically and there is no Bernadette? Isn’t that more likely? What if Bernadette is just an imaginary friend who somehow became part of our explanation for telepathic communication?” Even as Sarah voiced the thought, she felt a sensation that diverted her from that idea and drifted her thinking. Abruptly, she thought again of her fear and began to critique herself. She was no superhero and frankly, she doubted if she could or even would have found the strength to fight off the drunk. A wave of shame assailed her, and she turned toward the wall feeling small and wanting to get smaller, like a child trying to hide among tousled bed sheets. She tried to hide from herself remembering the heroic feelings she’d frequently felt conquering some video assailant, feelings that now seemed ridiculous. The memory made her blush when she realized her courage was only virtual. And, come to think of it, being telepathically linked to someone as unusual as Patty, how did that play? It could just mean she was off the rails herself?
“Sarah, did you know that Galileo was placed under house arrest and threatened by the church when he challenged the dogma about the solar system and said the earth revolved around the sun? I’m sure he knew he could be tortured for it, and I think he retreated but eventually his view, based on evidence that was provable by other astronomers of the time, prevailed. I’m sure he was scared, and people even accused him of being crazy and blasphemous. Blasphemy was a death sentence. I think courage isn’t a matter of feeling fearless. I think it’s knowing the odds and picking your way through the minefield,” Patty said.
“So, you’re saying we’re in a minefield – I don’t remember being issued a flak jacket,” Sarah rolled back over as she said it, “but, I suppose my bike helmet might be useful. We’d all look weird wearing bike helmets around the library. We might as well wear those aluminum foil turbans and ghostbuster overalls…” Patty began laughing at Sarah’s droll observation realizing Sarah was mirroring her normal deadpan commentary and Sarah, letting go of a belly laugh, could feel her anxiety dissipate as her guffaws became a series of uncontrollable giggles. Patty began a hilarious description of some of her more unusual thrift store attire that would pair nicely with aluminum foil accessories. Only for a moment did Sarah wonder how Patty knew exactly what to say to stop the self-flagellation. Then, she was caught up again in Patty’s outrageous fashion statements as she imagined them both on a New York runway, holding Papier Mache mobiles of the solar system and traipsing down the runway in crazy socks and flip flops.
Bernadette, floating above the angel-headed rafters in the ornate reading room of the library smiled as she felt Sarah and Patty’s tension dissolve. She relaxed against the woodcarving that resonated with the distant feel of the woodcarver’s touch, as the waves of laughter floated over her consciousness.