The Old Man

[Prompt: One day at home you are dusting off your pictures on the wall and you notice in all of the pictures there is a tall elderly man in a black button down suit standing in all of them but you’ve never noticed it before ]

     “Mark? Mark, are you listening to me?”
     I was sitting on a couch. I looked around the room, confused about my location. A large landscape painting dominated the wall above a desk. I looked to my right at the woman sitting in the chair. Her legs were crossed, skirt stopping just above the knees, grey blazer over a white blouse. She looked professional. Oh. She was professional. My doctor. Dr…
     “Mark? Are you here?”
     “Y-yes,” my throat felt dry. I cleared it, my voice was more steady as I spoke again, “Yes, sorry, I’m here Dr. Lima.”
     I’m sure the smile she directed at me was meant to be polite, maybe even encouraging. But to me, it just seemed sad. It seemed like she was pitying me.


     “Mark, can you recall what I just told you? I’d like to hear it from you, so that I can make sure we’re on the same page.”
     I tapped into my memory, even though my conscience hadn’t been present for the conversation, the words were still tucked into a section of my brain that I could reach. I closed my eyes for a moment and then narrowed my eyes as I responded in a despondent tone, “You want me to take note of the things that I see that I believe to be out of place. Keep a record until our next meeting.”
     She nodded approvingly, raising an eyebrow slightly as she asked, “And when is our next meeting?”
     I sighed heavily, “Next Monday.”
     “That’s right,” she spoke with more encouragement than was necessary, “I know you are going to be fine. I really think that we’ve got a good balance between your dosages now. Just trust that we can do this together. I am here to help.” She stood and approached her desk, opening a drawer and pulling a notebook out. “Here is a place for you to keep your recordings. Make sure you bring it with you when you come next Monday.”      She walked across the office and offered me the notebook. It was a red, spiral bound pad, nothing special. A blue pen was stuck down in the metal curls, the cap sticking out the top. I took the notebook and flipped through the pages, they were blank.      Dr. Lima cleared her throat, “Okay Mark, that’s all the time we have for today. We have a good plan in place, keep to your part and I will do mine.” 
     I watched her smile and considered writing how fake it was on the first page, but I knew I needed to leave. Standing, I shook her outstretched hand and then left the office. 

Wednesday

  • 3:42 p.m. Woman with red hat sitting behind me on bus. Cloudy day, not raining, no sun. No reason for hat. Suspicious. 
  • 4:58 p.m. Dog barking in apartment next door. Neighbor doesn’t have dog.
  • 8:01 p.m. Chicken nugget shaped like Florida. Never been to Florida.
  • 10:15 p.m. The light in my room is off, but when I close my eyes it turns on. When I open them it is off again.
  • 11:49 p.m. Had to pee. Toilet water was blue. Water should be clear.


Thursday

  • 6:14 a.m. No matching socks. Did laundry on Monday and should have matching socks.
  • 7:27 a.m. Bus wheels smell like cheese. 
  • 8:38 a.m. Carla in accounting keeps asking me about numbers. I don’t work in accounting. She shouldn’t ask me about numbers.
  • 12:19 p.m. Lunchbox has sandwich in it, but I packed leftover pizza. Pizza transformed into sandwich.
  • 2:94 p.m. Clock says 2:94, but time doesn’t work that way. 
  • 4:32 p.m. Dog waiting at my door. I don’t have a dog.
  • 4:33 p.m. Blinked and dog replaced by takeout bag. I didn’t order takeout.
  • 4:45 p.m. Now concerned that takeout is made out of dog. 
  • 6:18 p.m. Can’t keep eyes open. Sleep is inevitable. 


Friday

  • 2:51 a.m. Toilet water still blue.
  • 4:18 a.m. Can’t keep eyes closed. Waking is inevitable.
  • 5:36 a.m. Weatherman is a floating head and hands. Someone stole his body.
  • 7:34 a.m. Man carrying umbrella, forecast is sunny.
  • 9:15 a.m. Carla in accounting asked if I want her digits. I already have fingers and toes.
  • 10:46 a.m. Rhonda from accounting keeps glaring at me. I don’t have anything on my face.
  • 12:22 p.m. Green bench I always sit on at lunch turned to gold.
  • 4:38 p.m. While dusting pictures on my wall, noticed old man in suit in every picture. Don’t recognize the man.
  • 6:15 p.m. Called my mom to ask about the man in the picture. Her response was a question about my medication.
  • 8:28 p.m. Dog barking next door. My neighbor still doesn’t have a dog.
  • 10:34 p.m. Pen I am writing with was blue, but now turned to black.
  • 11:29 p.m. Toilet water is green.


Saturday

  • 7:43 a.m. Woke up thinking about man in pictures. Checked pictures. He is still there.
  • 8:12 a.m. On bus to park, noticed man from pictures on 5th Ave as bus drove by.
  • 9:35 a.m. Man from pictures is teaching yoga class in the park.
  • 9:36 a.m. Man teaching yoga class changed into a woman.
  • 11:14 a.m. My reflection in fountain is man from pictures. I think forgot what I look like.
  • 12:56 p.m. My photo ID doesn’t look like man from pictures. 
  • 1:39 p.m. Mirror in bathroom reveals I look like my photo ID. I am not man from pictures like I thought.
  • 2:15 p.m. I am one of the men from the pictures. There are two men. I am one of them.
  • 4:46 p.m. My neighbor keeps barking. My neighbor turned into a dog.
  • 5:15 p.m. I can taste the colors on my tv screen. Weed I smoked was expired.
  • 8:49 p.m. Woke up, don’t remember falling asleep. Read last entry but can’t remember smoking weed.
  • 10:14 p.m. Checked pictures for man. He was hiding. Or on vacation.


Sunday

  • 3:14 a.m. Man is outside my window. He escaped the frames.
  • 5:26 a.m. Man made my neighbor stop barking. I think he is bad.
  • 8:28 a.m. Man knocked on my door. Hid in my closet.
  • 9:30 a.m. Man said he was police, asked if I needed help. I didn’t answer. 
  • 12:37 p.m. Wanted to make sandwich, man ate all my pickles.
  • 2:13 p.m. Checked pictures. Man still not back. 
  • 3:49 p.m. Hiding in closet, found matching socks.
  • 5:58 p.m. Pizza delivery guy is man from pictures. Did not accept pizza.
  • 7:33 p.m. Flipping through channels, man is on every show.
  • 8:12 p.m. Checked pictures. Man is back.
  • 9:56 p.m. Made bed, sheets were wet. It was not raining in my house.
  • 10:04 p.m. Took down pictures so man will stop watching me.
  • 11:18 p.m. Pillow talks too much, can’t sleep.


Monday

  • 12:47 a.m. Wall keeps saying it’s naked, hung pictures back up.
  • 1:15 a.m. Man is watching me.
  • 2:28 a.m. Man is gone again.
  • 4:42 a.m. Neighbor is barking.
  • 7:49 a.m. Bus driver is man from pictures, didn’t get on bus.

     Dr. Lima paged through the notebook, a thoughtful look on her face. She didn’t seem to be reading the entries, just admiring that I had kept such complete records. 
     “Let’s see,” she tapped the side of her head with one finger as she flipped back to the first page with the other hand, “let’s start from the beginning.” She began to read the entries to herself, after finishing the first page, she looked up at me and smiled. “Okay, I think I have an explanation for Wednesday’s events. The woman with the red hat was simply fashionable. Your neighbor must have been dog sitting, or got a new pet, unknown to you. Chicken nuggets can be defective shapes. It appears you were experiencing a side effect from your medication with the light reaction while you tried to go to sleep…and as for the blue toilet water, I suspect that you put toilet bowl cleaner in it and may have forgotten about it.”
     I considered her words. They all seemed to make sense. Maybe she was right about my new medication lineup. I nodded and waited for her to continue.
     “So Thursday, let’s see,” she pointed at each line as she went through them, “It seems like you must have misplaced your socks. The smell on the bus was probably the odor the brakes can give off when they are hot.” She tilted her head and considered her answer for the next line momentarily, “I’m not sure about Carla, maybe she needed some information about something work related and there was some miscommunication. I think that you probably packed a sandwich for lunch but forgot about it, one of the side effects from a medication your on is distorted short term memory…Oh, and also dyslexia, which it looks like you encountered when you thought your clock read 2:94. And as for the last items on the list, it seems you were tired, yet another side effect of a medication you are on. Sometimes sleepiness can alter our view of things. You probably just didn’t remember calling for the takeout, or perhaps it was delivered to the wrong address.”
     I nodded, a small part of me felt hopeful that maybe the medications were actually working. My foot tapped impatiently, eager for her to continue debunking my world.
     She began reading the third page and laughed, looking at me with a level of charm I could never achieve. “Oh Mark, Friday is an interesting one. We already covered the water color. Trouble sleeping is another side effect of the medication, so that explains your early rising. I also saw the floating weatherman that morning, his green shirt was too close in color to the green-screen they use, so he looked like floating appendages. Some people carry umbrellas out of habit,” she paused and giggled again. I felt annoyed at the laughter, she could tell.
     “I apologize for my reaction, it’s just, this next entry, I think it’s just a big misunderstanding. It sounds like Carla from accounting is trying to get a date with you.”
     I raised an eyebrow suspiciously. I sure hadn’t gotten that impression. Why wouldn’t she just ask to go out rather than present odd questions? The look on my face must have prompted Dr. Lima to continue.
     “See, I think Rhonda is upset with you because you hurt Carla’s feelings. Perhaps you should try to mend things with Carla when you go back to work tomorrow.”
     I nodded, still unsure of her reasoning. But, she was a woman after all, she knew more than I did about these things.
     “Hmm, bench changing colors,” she continued, “Perhaps it was painted, things need to be updated every now and then…”
     Dr. Lima trailed off, her eyes continued to skim the page. She was silent as she turned the page, offering no more explanations for Friday. This made me nervous. My foot stopped tapping. 
     She looked up, offering a smile, “Oh, one moment Mark, I’m just seeing what else we have here.” 
     Her tone had changed. I knew something was off. I glanced at the door behind her. I should just leave. 
     Dr. Lima turned the page again, no words for me about Saturday’s events. I felt sweat beginning to form on my forehead. I took a deep breath. She was here to help me. We were going to get through this together. That’s what she had said last time. My new medications were helping. Everything was fine. The other entries were so uneventful, she didn’t even need to address them. 
     She leaned back and pressed a button on her phone, presenting a smile of assurance, “Just a moment Mark, I think we’ll need a little longer appointment today.”
     I nodded quickly. Sweat dripped down the side of my face at the movement. Dr. Lima was helping me.
     There was a knock at the door. My eyes shot to the door then to the doctor’s face. She looked sad as she closed my notebook and got to her feet, but kept the pitiful smile pinned in place.
     “Mark, I think we might need to rebalance some of your medication…I’ve called on someone to help us out…”
     The door opened as she spoke the last word. My breath caught in my chest and my eyes widened in fear. I tried to object but my mouth merely offered a choking sound. The man from the pictures stood in the doorway smiling, and he was holding a straight jacket.

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