The Devices Employed To Reconnect With Each Other
A Short Story by Tim Josephs
Written using the suggestion "Marriage"
Originally featured on 08-01-2008
As part of our series "The Ancient Trappings of Humanity’s Endless Summer (Age-Old Traps)"

After exactly four rotations around the clear glass mug, Dr. Morgan removed the plastic spoon and tossed it onto his desk; the scattered drippings of coffee were the same color as puddle-water a day after an autumn rainstorm.

“Today we’re going to do something different,” he said to the man and woman sitting on the other side of his desk.

They glanced at each other; Hanley’s fuzzy-caterpillar eyebrows raised, Tilda, her pale pink lips clamped together like two warring pieces of raw salmon.

Dr. Morgan took a long drink from his cup, made the customary “ahh” one makes after a particularly satisfying sip of his or her favorite beverage, and frowned.

“Although we’ve made progress with the Separation Analysis Treatment, I think we should try something new.”

Hanley’s eyebrows drooped slightly and Tilda’s lips released their death-grip they’d had on each other.

It had been Tilda’s idea to go to a marriage counselor. She thought their four-year union had grown stale, that they were stuck in a quicksand-coated rut. Stagnant was the word she had used more than once. For days after they’d had that conversation the word had rolled around Hanley’s head like Sisyphus’s rock. He had arrived home from work early that day to find Tilda sitting at the kitchen table eating leftover green bean casserole, her moist, light brown eyes fixated on a non-existent spot on the wall. She had made the casserole exactly how Hanley liked it — gooey on the inside and crispy, almost burnt on the outside, the top layer of dried onions resembling crumbled tree bark.

“Hanley….sit down.”

Stagnant. Stagnant. Hanley couldn’t stop thinking about it, said the word over and over to himself so much that it ceased to have any meaning. Three days later they were in Dr. Morgan’s office.

Dr. Morgan did things differently than most marriage counselors, he had explained in that first meeting. He didn’t subscribe to the common methods and practices most therapists utilized, and his system — if followed precisely, he said — was almost always effective.

The Separation Analysis Treatment (SAT) consisted of a large soundproof box constructed of two-way mirrors. After removing his watch and cufflinks (because of the slight magnetic charge), Hanley had gone in first while Tilda stayed outside. Sitting down on a small wooden stool, he nervously watched as Dr. Morgan closed and locked the door. The lock, Dr. Morgan had said, was for the patient’s safety entirely but he didn’t elaborate any further.

“Now, watch your husband,” he said to Tilda.

Tilda crossed her arms and stared at Hanley.

“Get closer.”

She took one sandaled step forward.

“Closer,” Dr. Morgan said, the impatience in his voice trickling out all over the plush, brown carpet. “Put your head against the box.”

Tilda glanced at him, her sockeye lips frozen into a quizzical pose, and then pressed her forehead against the glass.

“Now, what do you see?”

“Hanley,” Tilda said after a moment. “I see Hanley.”

“No!” Dr. Morgan barked. “What do you see?!”
She shuddered; Dr. Morgan reminded her of a history teacher she’d once had who was always so nice but then one day snapped at her for not knowing the Civil War general who preceded Grant.

Tilda was hot, she could feel the sweat from her forehead seeping onto the glass. She swallowed hard; the inside of her mouth felt exactly like it did when she was five and her older sister had bullied her into eating a clump of sand.

“I…I,” she stammered. “I see Hanley…my husband. I see…a man, I don’t know what you want me to-”

All of a sudden Hanley’s face changed. His eyes became sunken dark orbs, his blonde hair turned a bright green and then morphed into a rusty brown, his nose — his Roman nose Hanley called it though there wasn’t a drop of Italian blood anywhere in his family — seemed to expand and then contract, like it had its own heartbeat.

“Doctor-“ Tilda started.

“Keep watching.”

Hanley’s eyes — or at least where his eyes had been — began to glow; little dots of color flickered from within and began floating upwards. Tilda watched them disappear as they hit the top of the box. She felt a strange, warming sensation start in her stomach and then spread throughout her body. Her legs gave out and she fell backwards, right into the chair Dr. Morgan had brought over.

“Very good,” he said, unlocking the box. “Now let’s reverse the process.”

The treatment was repeated this time with Tilda in the box. Hanley watched his wife change — her hair went from it’s natural reddish-brown to sky blue and then settled on a lavender; colors, more colors than he ever knew existed, streamed from her eyes — and he also nearly swooned as she had.

“The SAT is something I’ve developed over time,” Dr. Morgan said when they were all back at his desk. “It took me years to finalize and in fact, might not be as completely…refined as I previously thought.”

“What…what were those things?” Tilda asked.

“The SAT,” Dr. Morgan continued, ignoring her question like a buzzing fly, “is made up of three essential components. The first, obviously, is the box. To eliminate any audible distractions it’s entirely soundproof. The person inside can’t see out while the person outside can see in. The person in the box is told this and that’s important because they have to know, need to know that they are being watched. And the magnetic charge, whether you felt it or not — only about thirty-seven percent of my patients do — acts as an enabler for the neurons in the cerebral cortex — the brain waves — to function in an alternately hyper and hypo mode. Basically your brain is being sped up and slowed down at a rapid pace. The second essential component is the person outside the box watching. Only that person can witness what transpires, not even the individual it is happening to can see it. While you looked at your own reflection, neither of you saw a change, am I right? Of course I am. And lastly, what is needed, is the connection between the two people. This would never work with two strangers, believe me, I’ve tried. Causal friends show a glimmer. For best friends, it’s stronger, but for couples, and specifically married couples, it is by far the strongest.”

He stared at Hanley and Tilda, a tired look on his gray, weathered face.

“Uh, Dr. Morgan,” Hanley said. “I don’t think we quite get it.”

Dr. Morgan sighed. “The SAT is a soul-reading machine. What you saw, what both of you saw, was each other’s soul. It probably doesn’t mean anything to you now but over time trust me, it will. I’ll see you next week.”

Over several weeks Tilda and Hanley used the SAT. Dr. Morgan told them in order to get to the root of their true feelings, they had to see everything then comprehend it all. He explained what the fluctuations in the face meant, the meaning behind every tiny flake of color, the minute, almost undetectable variations in light, shade, shape.

It took them a while to get acclimated — Tilda felt ill after the first few times — but eventually they began to recognize what they were seeing, and more importantly, understand. They saw their compatibilities, their differences, likes, dislikes, wants, needs, sadness, joy, passion. They saw everything. And slowly, things between them began to change; they looked at each other differently, there was a new spark, a new flash of energy in their stares, their glances. They were communicating more, and not just verbally, they were reading each other’s body language, knowing the other person was going to do something even before they knew they were going to do it. If asked, both of them would have said they had never been happier.

But then the dreams started. Violent, angry, cruel dreams. Dreams about severed limbs, headless children, voracious, sharp-toothed creatures. Hanley and Tilda discovered they were having similar dreams, sometimes with the exact same grotesque images.

And then, two days earlier, Hanley had woken from another turbulent sleep with a sharp pain on his lower back. The toothpaste-flecked bathroom mirror revealed a crimson, oval-shaped gash below his ribcage just starting to scab over. The same morning Tilda woke with specks of red between her teeth and a peculiar metallic taste in her mouth.

 

“Dr. Morgan,” Hanley said. “We really need to-”

Dr. Morgan waved his hand. “In time. Now, for this portion of the treatment you can leave your metal objects on but anything you’re wearing made of synthetic fibers must be removed. If you have a doubt, take it off, you’ll be around some highly flammable materials. Now, follow me.”

He stood, grabbed his mug, and led them to the other side of the room to a door they’d never noticed before.

“I won’t be going in,” Dr. Morgan said. “But once inside, everything will be clear.”

He opened the door. There was a low pitched humming sound and a bright yellow light made Hanley and Tilda squint. They glanced at each other again and stepped inside.

Read More By Tim Josephs

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