Robert Spielman's short stories and poetry have previously been published in The Blue Earth Review, Allegory, Pif Magazine, and other journals. He also has an MFA from Concordia University. Currently, he makes a living as a writing consultant while living in Minneapolis with his wife and two children.
The Strange Case of Jude
Sometimes I learn from a client, sometimes the client learns from me, and sometimes it is better if we had never met. That statement was never truer than when a woman brought her husband to me on a dull and thundery midmorning in the middle of October. I had just finished my second cup of cool coffee when they entered my office. To be truthful, the scene was not unlike hundreds of other appointments I could never fully recount. The woman, perhaps in her mid-thirties, entered my office first. Her hair was colored a bit darker than her eyebrows and her clothes fit well against her attractive, yet slowly aging body. Her heels clicked against the marble flooring. Immediately behind her, a thin man with disheveled hair followed. He looked to the floor and then to the far wall. He used his pinky and index finger to adjust his glasses. I rose from my chair to meet them at the door. As I approached closer, I noticed that the man stayed behind the woman. The woman held out her hand, and I took it. “Dr. Gould?” “Yes,” I said. It took me a few seconds to shake off the sudden tiredness that overtook me. “Please, come in and sit.” The man still had not looked at me. Most days I would have made an immediate diagnosis based on the two minutes of observation. He was dominated by his wife and displaying depressive behaviors, I would have thought. He married her because she was willing to fuck him on a regular basis. After the novelty of that ran out, he suddenly opened his eyes and saw that he lived with a flirt who had a bad temper and hedonistic tendencies. That is what I would have deduced. I would have wrapped it up and sent them out with a prescription for an anti-depressant and a referral to the marriage counselor down the hall. However, I didn’t do that. I didn’t make a rash diagnosis because something about the man’s extensive nervousness caused me to pause. So, I led them to the couch across from my familiar plush chair. We exchanged pleasantries and names. Her name was Joyce and his was Jude. I thought that was alliterative and expected them to be cartoonish in their affection for each other. Nothing could have been further from the truth. “Doctor,” she said. I hated being called ‘doctor,’ though I certainly put in the years and the money for that distinction. I always feared that someone in a crowded room would call for a doctor for a dying man, and I would have to profess to not being a ‘real’ doctor. I would have to confess to the fact that I know nothing about ailments of the heart, only ailments of the head. “My husband,” she continued, “thinks that he hears voices and sees things that aren’t there. I mean, that’s not normal, right? Jude, wouldn’t you agree?” I kept my focus on Jude during Joyce’s short explanation. Jude did not respond to her question, so she continued her seemingly rehearsed speech. She didn’t stop talking for five minutes or so, and during that time, Jude never acknowledged her or me. Joyce finished her speech with a plea for drugs, which is usually the way each of my initial interviews end. “Please wait for us in the waiting room,” I said. “I’d like to speak to Jude for a while.” “I don’t mean to be rude –” she started. I tuned her out again. She shifted in her seat and for the first time I noticed she had nice legs. I would have fucked her, too. I would have fallen into the same trap as Jude, I thought. The thought made me cringe. I remembered the lone indiscretion in my professional and married career. That woman had a great ass and a tremendous self-esteem issue. I took advantage of both, and I still felt guilty about it. The remembrance caused me to stop looking at Joyce as she walked towards the door. “He cries her name at night. I don’t know if he’s dreaming or not, he just mumbles the name ‘Annelise’ over and over again,” she finished. She hesitantly closed the oak door behind her. I turned to Jude to see if his demeanor changed. He held a tissue tenderly in his left hand and the arm of my leather couch in his right; his knuckles were white from the pressure. He looked up at me for the first time. His eyes were green and somewhat distorted by the thickness of his glasses. His right ear was lower than his left; I could tell by the tilt of his glasses. We sat and stared at each other for a few minutes. I always liked to make my clients speak before I did. They usually start with an awkward squeak and try to say something funny. It’s one of the few enjoyments I get during a session. Jude licked his lips and took a big gulp before he spoke. “What is normal?” he asked. I wasn’t ready for that. The textbooks would say that I should have answered with, ‘What do you think is normal?’ I hate the textbooks. “How would I know?” I responded. Jude wasn’t impressed. Usually I think I’m the most glib and quick-witted person in the room. But this room was different. The client sitting across from me wasn’t a lonely woman looking for someone to listen to her mundane problems. This was a man looking for the answer to one of the most basic and troublesome questions of society. “What do you see,” I responded. “What do you hear?” I saw a shadow shuffling from under the door. I knew Jude’s wife was trying to listen, but I also knew that she wouldn’t be able to hear his soft voice. I wondered if Jude knew that she was trying to listen to his story. I wondered if he had ever really told her anything about his emotions and motivations. I would have guessed he had not. He crumpled up his tissue and put it in the breast pocket of his button- up shirt. He sat up a little straighter. “It started with a voice,” he said. “A sweet, sweet voice. Now, I know what you’re thinking… most people would have thought they were insane the minute – but her voice is so sweet.” He looked suddenly to his left, which made me a little jumpy. “She whispered my name, like she was trying to get my attention,” he continued. “I thought there was really a woman behind a door or a wall, trapped, waiting to be freed.” I suddenly noticed that I had forgotten to grab my notebook and pen from the end table to my right. Usually, I wouldn’t have cared, but this time I opened up to the last page and wrote down a synopsis of what Jude had said. We talked for a while longer about the voices. He told me he longed to hear her voice. He said it brought him comfort. I underlined that word multiple times. I don’t think I had ever heard a client use that word. I liked that word. Towards the end of the session I told him that ‘normal’ people do not hear disembodied voices. I tried to convince him that the answer to his initial question was the reason he was in my office. Jude didn’t seem to buy it. “It’s not that I don’t believe the things you tell me, Doctor. I just can’t do anything about it,” he responded. “Don’t you understand,” I said, “that you can’t go about your life looking for someone who does not exist?” “Who says she doesn’t exist… you? Why should I listen to you when I can see her in my dreams every night, when I can feel her beside me when I wake up in the morning? Have you ever had that sensation of hearing someone call your name when no one else is around, when you only hear it inside your own head?” I said I had never experienced such a thing. I hesitated a minute after answering, wondering if that was true. I wanted to keep the possibility of my own insanity hidden, as we all do. “I know what your wife wants, but what do you want, Jude?” “I want Annelise,” he said. Time was up. The clock on my end table chimed. I told Jude I enjoyed our visit and that I hoped to see him again on Thursday. He nodded and extended his hand. I could see his relief.
I usually take the subway home, but for some reason I had decided to drive that morning. Because of that unwise decision, it took me forty-five minutes to get out of Manhattan in the cold fog that had settled on the island. My hands gripped tightly on the wheel of my late model sedan. The car had reached the tipping point of age and smell. I wanted to trade it in, but I couldn’t justify the added cost, so I took another of the vent air fresheners out of the glove box and clipped it in. My nose was stunned with the aroma of strawberries mixed with fast food. The headlights of the other cars put me in a pseudo-trance. I started to wonder what it would be like to have a schizophrenic break, as had most likely happened to Jude. If I did believe in a god or gods and heaven and hell I think I would have had an easier time coming to grips with Jude. I could have maybe thought that he was seeing the ghost of an old love, or perhaps an angel? Unfortunately, my inherent skepticism kept me from believing such fantasies. What would I do if I suddenly saw someone that no one else could see? My daze took me all the way to my driveway. As I turned in, the security lights flashed several times. The garage doors opened, and I saw my wife’s luxury car parked too far in the middle of the garage, as usual. I walked through the front door. My wife was sitting at the kitchen counter, mesmerized by her laptop. She didn’t greet me or make any movement that acknowledged the fact that I had entered the house. That was not uncommon. She was still wearing her dress skirt and blouse from the office. They were both too small for her thighs and waist. I didn’t mind that she had gained weight; I really didn’t. I approached the counter and set Jude’s file folder close to her hand. She moved her hand away as if I had invaded her space. “Hi,” I said. “Should I make some of those frozen vegetables for dinner, or are you good?” She closed a couple of windows on the screen and looked up at me. “The stupid dog puked on the rug again.” “Have I ever given you comfort?” I asked. “What?” I moved closer to her and put my arm around her shoulder, which was something I rarely did anymore. She didn’t move away, but she didn’t move into me either. I sat half my butt on the stool next to her and saw a genuine concern in her eyes. “I mean,” I continued, “do I make you feel like you’re—well, I guess I don’t know what I mean.” “Ah, one of your cases got to you?” She did know me. Spending almost every day with someone for six years will give you that. I picked up the folder in front of her and opened it. “Very unusual late-age schizophrenic… he thinks he can see a woman who doesn’t exist. He thinks this woman is trying to tell him something, or, well, I have to find out exactly, I guess.” She was pretending to listen to me. She had turned her attention back to Facebook and nodded her head. I couldn’t get mad at her; I had done that same thing to her countless times. I stood and went to the refrigerator. I opened the door and noticed the mold forming on the top of the leftover Chinese takeout. I glanced back at my wife as she finally closed the laptop cover. Her eyes bounced around the room a few times to acclimate to the distance. There was a passion when we first met, but there is passion when all relationships start. I wondered if this is what Jude was compensating for in his own relationship. Was Annelise only a shadow of a time he wished he could relive? Or was she some great unrealized romantic fantasy? God knows I had romantic fantasies when I was younger. I majored in English Literature in college. I spent nights and weekends reading Keats, Eliot, and Wordsworth. I believed love deserved a capital ‘L’. I dreamt of a time when I would meet my lover and we would fall into the climax of a tale as old as mankind itself. The collapse of that ideal is probably what led me to psychology. “I’ll clean up after the dog,” I said. “I already did,” my wife responded. “Thank you though.” I closed the fridge and picked up Jude’s file. I planned on reading some more upstairs, maybe take a few notes. I couldn’t find my pen. “I’m going to turn in. It’s been a long day and I’m beat,” I said. I walked back over to the counter and twiddled my fingers in the vase of dahlias that was starting to turn a shade of brown. I bought those a week earlier for her birthday. I pinched one of the stems and moved the flower close to my nose. It still smelled fresh. I couldn’t get the word ‘comfort’ out of my thoughts. It had awakened something within me—some sort of longing. I tried to tell her that I loved her but the words would not exit my lips. I felt like a man trying to deny his god. I took a deep breath before taking a pen out of the counter drawer. I turned and headed upstairs for the night.
Thursday came along quickly. I arrived at the office earlier than ever before. I took the time to look out my window and spy on the mass of people rummaging around the full parking ramps and drizzle-filled streets. They were avoiding each other while bumping into each other at the same time; it was beautiful. I loved the city. I loved the people-watching and the drama. Every day there was a new relationship to decode, or person to diagnose from the lofty perch of my office window. I could read their story just by their interactions on the street, how they walked, or even by the space with which they stood apart. I took a deep breath. The cleaning person always came on Wednesday night. She had sprinkled some sort of deodorizer over the floors and window coverings. It smelled like lilacs. I moved away from the window and cracked open my daily can of diet soda pop. It fizzled and bubbled a bit over the rim. I always had a pop and a candy bar in the morning. The rush of sugar gave me a burst of energy, although I didn’t think I needed it for Jude’s session. I was curious about Jude. I didn’t feel like I had a strong handle on his psyche and that got my intellect started. A soft knock on my door came between bites of my candy bar. I put it on the edge of my chair and opened the door. Jude stood in the entry, dressed in a silk shirt and tie. Jude smiled, which took me aback. His faced beamed. “How are you, Jude?” “I saw her again,” he said. I invited him to come in and sit on the couch. He declined. He walked back and forth behind the couch. I stayed standing as well. “Yes, Annelise,” I said. “You saw her? What happened?” “She’s beautiful,” he said. Of course, I thought. He continued, “After our last talk, I went for a walk… alone, in the park. She came up beside me somewhere after the Lennon Memorial. I told her she wasn’t real, that, that, I couldn’t love her. Doctor, she laughed and she touched me.” I needed to sit down. I moved my pop can out of the way and fell into my seat. It was a rare occasion to have a happy client in my office. I’ve seen depression, guilt, and shame, but I don’t think I had ever seen unbridled happiness. “I felt her, Doctor, she’s real!” Damn if a tear didn’t form in Jude’s eye. “What is it about this woman that you love so much?” I asked. He went on to describe Annelise in great detail. He told me about her eyes, her breasts, and her interests. He even gave me a history of her life. She was a writer with aspirations of being published. She loved children and wide-open spaces. He looked like a kid on his first trip to Disneyland. I couldn’t break him. Damn if I didn’t even start to believe him; I mean who could come up with such a full story for a make-believe woman? I stopped him halfway through his description. I didn’t want his delusion to become even more entrenched in his mind. “What would your wife think of this… your kids?” I asked. I hoped maybe this might shock him back to the reality of the moment. In truth, I did not have much experience dealing with major mental illness. I did a practicum at Bellevue, but most of that work dealt with making sure the droolers had their daily supply of anti- psychotics to keep them from throwing their own feces at visitors. The attempt didn’t faze him or his shit-eating grin. “I don’t care,” he said. “I’m in love.” Love, I thought, the capital kind. Throughout history that word had brought so many to war, famine, and even revolution. I couldn’t remember the exact quote about Helen of Troy, but for some reason the phrase ‘the tits that launched a thousand ships’ came to mind. I sighed at the thought. I knew that wasn’t the right phrase, but it seemed right in my own mind. So, Jude actually did have something in common with all the depressed housewives that usually made 9:30 a.m. appointments on Thursdays. It was that damn word that I hated. Half my clients didn’t even know what the word meant. They learned the word from story books in their toddler years and that myth stayed with them ever since. Somehow, I had to convince Jude that love was not a majestic thing; it was just a chemical transaction in the human brain, a reaction to external stimuli that had been perfected over thousands of years of evolution. “Where did you meet your wife?” I asked. Jude raised his eyebrows as if I had annoyed him with the question. I didn’t really want to anger him, although I knew that was probably the best approach. I knew that he thought we were friends. The transference was in full effect, I could see it in his eyes. He wouldn’t talk about his wife, though. I made a note about that. “Doctor, how long do we have to live? Who knows? Why do you want to live one second being unhappy, unnecessarily?” I wrote down the word ‘unnecessarily’. I thought that was an interesting and very unnecessary word for Jude to say. I couldn’t stand watching Jude pace around the front of my office anymore, so I got up from my chair and stood by my coffeemaker. I had thoughts of making a pot, but then realized how rude that would seem to a client. My mind was muddled with what was reality and fantasy. For the first time in my professional career, I didn’t know what to say. I stood at the coffeemaker for another couple of anxious minutes, shaking a packet of sugar. I looked to my left, towards my bookshelf. My eyes were drawn to an old copy of Great Expectations. The binding was well worn and the cover frail as an autumn leaf. It gave me an idea. “This woman, this Annelise… does she know about your wife, your past, your failures? What have you told her about yourself?” Jude stopped pacing. “If I have to move to a deserted island in the South Pacific to be with her and to be happy, I’ll do it,” he said. “I’m done being unhappy. Things are different now, Doctor. I see the leaves on the trees and I listen to the sound of water rushing down the gutters and I hear my favorite song and I feel. I’m happy.” I was over my head and I knew it. He needed Freud, not me. I knew I should have pressed him about his past. I knew there was something in his childhood that screwed him up, but I didn’t want to know that some family friend had touched his privates when he was nine, or that his brother’s death was really his fault. More importantly, I didn’t want him to know. There was something familiar about his smile, something archetypical. He shook my hand. His grip was strong. He was strong. If I would have been treating him for depression I would have written some sort of article about my success, instead, I was merely confused. The clock chimed. I usually stop immediately at the chime, but I needed to say something. “Jude…” I started. I didn’t know what to say. Instead, I merely said, “Goodbye.”
The rest of the week flew by faster than the subway train that was racing by my gaze. The heads in the windows bobbed and weaved like a kaleidoscope on drugs. The brakes screeched as a group of people huddled around me, waiting. It took me quite a while to get used to taking the subway when I first moved to the city. It always amazed me how people who would otherwise be somewhat friendly on the surface would turn into emotionless zombies underground. They would avoid any gaze or conversation in the tunnels. It must have been some sort of psychological adaptation to crowded confinement, I thought. The doors to the car in front of me opened with a rush of wind. I let a timid-looking Asian woman pass in front of me before I entered and found an empty seat. One of my favorite vagrants that rode the trains was sitting across from me. I called him Bob. I had no idea what his real name was, but he looked like a Bob. He had a white beard and a long brown trench coat with assorted beverage stains. He wore dark sunglasses and a sign on his chest that read ‘blind’. A cigar box sat open at his feet with a variety of dollar bills inside. I nodded at him and smiled. He smiled back. I opened the Newsweek that I always brought with me in the morning. Instead of reading an article, I opened to Jude’s file, which I had tucked in the magazine for safe keeping. The notes I had taken were barely decipherable. I squinted to try to make sense out of my quick and careless handwriting. After reading what I could, I turned the page to some notes I had written down about the symptomology of schizophrenia. The train came to a stop at 10th and Broadway. I could have gotten off and walked the extra two blocks to the office, but I decided to finish my reading instead and take the next stop. “I like your watch,” a petite voice said. I had been so entrenched in my reading that I hadn’t noticed that a woman sat down in the empty seat to my left. She wore a green scarf that was lying gingerly across my arm. Her hair was black as black can be; it waivered over her blushed cheeks and down the nape of her jacket. She was very attractive, though maybe not in the most conventional sense, but there was an aura of confidence about her. It took me a couple of seconds to get my wits about me. I had never spoken to anyone on the train before. For five years it was as if I was a mute every weekday morning. “Oh, thanks. I got it in Chinatown, not too long ago,” I said. I hesitated for a couple of seconds then got my legs back under me. “I like your necklace too. Is that a sapphire?” She placed her fingers on the necklace that lay on her slightly freckled chest. “Oh, yes… oh I forgot to return this. It’s a prop from a play I just finished auditioning for, Alive, the name of the play that is. Oh, god, how embarrassing. Is that considered stealing?” We laughed. I felt a tingle, but not in the place where I usually felt a tingle; I felt it in my core somewhere. I don’t think I had ever felt anything like that before. It was so easy. We talked for another five minutes about my job and hers. She told me that she would love to watch the start of the marathon from the location of my office and damn if I almost didn’t invite her to watch it with me. I turned toward her to face her more clearly when I felt a buzzing from the inside of my coat pocket. Damn, I thought. I took out my smart phone; my finger was ready to push the button that would send the call to voice mail. I recognized the number only because I glanced at it in the emergency contact section of Jude’s folder. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I have to take this.” The woman politely smiled and nodded her head. I felt her scarf fall from my arm. The phone felt cold on my ear. The connection was spotty, so I had to hold it close. It was Jude’s wife and she wasn’t happy. “Doctor,” she said, “I need you to prescribe something for him, it’s getting worse, so much worse. He doesn’t go to work anymore; they’re ready to fire him. I, I had to talk his boss out of it this morning, I told him he was sick, he is sick, Doctor, he’s sick.” The call cut out for a couple of seconds and the train stopped. The air rushed in through the cabin and the train jerked back to motion. She started talking again. “We can’t pay our bills,” she continued, “They’re going to start foreclosure proceedings on the house… he’s got a good job, he’s a system analyst at Bank of America. He makes good money, we need that money.” I heard her holding back tears. I sighed. I feared I was making no headway in his treatment, but I also wondered what Jude needed as a treatment. He was alive and youthful. He was a totally different man in the span of only a couple of weeks. I didn’t know how to tell Joyce that her absence in his life had made him happy. She had been replaced by a delusion and that might not be a bad thing. “I understand, but I don’t think we’ve given therapy enough time, Joyce. Psychotropic meds aren’t a cure-all for situations like this. There’s still some sort of underlying –” “Doctor,” she interrupted, “I’ve already talked to your supervisor, Doctor Ahid. He agrees with me and is prepared to write the prescription if you don’t.” She paused. “I didn’t want to go over your head but this is destroying our family.” Nice, I thought, she already had an ace up her sleeve and she was just screwing with me. It’s not that I didn’t feel empathy for her situation or that I didn’t believe her. I did. The fact of the matter was that I knew what the damn drugs were going to do to Jude. He was sick, but there is always a cause to sickness; the drugs weren’t going to cure the cause. It was like prescribing Jack Daniel’s for a broken leg. At least that is what I believed, but it didn’t matter anymore what I believed. “All right,” I said, “I’ll send it in. I want to see him in two weeks, though. I want –” “Thank you, Doctor.” The line cut out. I felt defeated. I turned to continue my conversation with the woman next to me, but she was gone and I was in Brooklyn.
It was an interesting two weeks. I admit that I looked for that woman I met on the subway for the first couple of mornings, but then I stopped. I went home and made love to my wife every night. I didn’t fall in love with her again or any other such romantic notion, but it made me feel better about my professional and personal disappointments to find somewhere known and real. At the end of the two weeks I knew I would have to see Jude one last time. As I waited in my office waiting room that morning, I knew a few things. I knew that Jude was transferring his psychological services to Dr. Ahid. Also, he had been taking the anti- psychotic/anti-depressant cocktail I had prescribed him. And, I knew that my time with him and the case was at an end. The one thing I didn’t know about Jude was who would walk through that door. I stared at that rustic brownstone door for what seemed like hours. I looked at my watch; it was 8:40 a.m., ten minutes late. Suddenly, a sharp knock jolted me from my daze. I bid them to enter. Joyce walked into the waiting room first. She strode in confidently and buoyant. Jude followed behind. His eyes were glued to the ground. He looked so much shorter than just a couple of weeks ago. “Doctor Gould,” Joyce said. “I’d like to thank you for helping Jude. He’s back to the way he was, he’s normal again.” “What is normal?” I responded. I hoped that Jude would look up and maybe at least call me an asshole for using his words against him; instead, he just kept looking at his feet. “Well, he’s back to work. The company took him back, thank God. We were probably only a couple weeks away from ruin, isn’t that right, Jude?” Joyce said. Jude nodded. I backed towards my receptionist’s empty desk and picked a pen up from a stack of papers. I guess I did it out of habit. I wanted to write something down; I would have written down the word ‘ruin’ and underlined it twice. Instead, I clicked the pen a few times and set it back on the desk. “Are you back to work, Jude?” I asked. Joyce started to answer, but I held up my hand. “Yes, Doctor, back to work,” he said. There was sadness in his eyes at the response. I read between the lines. He was back to the grey-filled cube world, sitting in front of a computer screen for eight hours a day. He wasn’t walking in the park during the day anymore, admiring the trees and the flowers, now he was sitting in a fluorescent-lighted meeting room listening to others argue about whose responsibility it was that Tokyo didn’t get the memo last night, and Jude didn’t give a fuck. Somewhere in the recesses of his subconscious, Jude was in the park with Annelise; he always would be. I looked at the picture of myself on the wall that was taken when I started working at the office five years earlier. There was a sparkle in my eyes and a smile on my face. I looked so young in that picture. The world was at my feet and I had still believed in the ‘L’ word. I wondered if that spark was gone from me as completely as it had disappeared from Jude. I wondered what it would take and what I would sacrifice to get it back. Jude thanked me for my help. We shook hands and he cracked a half-hearted smile. That light in his eyes was gone, as were the hope and aspirations of the stranger I had come to know and admire. They walked out, not hand-in-hand, but with Jude following behind, his chin planted on his chest. The office door closed behind them with a stale click. I exhaled, breath flowing out of my mouth from all the way down at my toes. The clock ticked away above my head. I thought of her, the woman from the train. A faint knock. I thought at first it may have just been a loose floorboard in the hallway. Knock. Knock. I looked around the waiting room for the scarf or the handbag that Jude’s wife had most assuredly forgotten. Nothing. I walked to the office door, surrounded the brass knob with my defeated hand and turned. She stood there, on the other side, the woman from the train, hair held up and back with two golden barrettes, that necklace of hers resting on the velvet skin of her chest, the countenance, breasts, general form of the one that I longed to Love, the capital kind. “Hello, Robert. It’s me, Annelise.”