Aphelion Issue 254, Volume 24
September 2020
 
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Patient Interview

by Iain Muir


I don’t belong in here. I’m not insane. Yeah, I know you must hear that a lot, but in this case, it’s true. I guess you must hear that a lot too, huh? It’s simple: I did not attack my sister-in-law. Firstly, she attacked me. Secondly, whoever or whatever she is, that is not my sister-in-law. The guy whose testimony put me in here for ‘observation’? That’s not my brother.

When I say it like that, I can see how it sounds. Okay, let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

Fred moved to Hamilton about, what, twelve years ago, now? Said he wanted somewhere quiet and less hectic to bring up the kids. Hamilton is what all small communities surrounded by sheep-farms are: quiet, bucolic, incestuous, and obsessed with what the neighbours are up to. Fred fit right in.

You can’t really do business in a small town like that unless you join the local lodge; Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, Rotary, whatever it is. In Hamilton, it’s something called the Esoteric Order of the Golden Ram. Stupid name, huh? Seems a nephew of Aleister Crowley settled in Hamilton in the early 1900’s looking to get as far away from some scandal in London as he could manage. Then he started the same kind of nonsense in Hamilton. He disappeared in 1928. Nobody seems to have looked for him very hard. Anyway, fast forward seventy years or so, and the Esoteric Order is more like the local branch of the Freemasons: an place for paunchy businessmen to have rather good dinners, rather nice scotch, and a game of poker on a Friday night.

Fred joined the Order for the business contacts. The lunches, dinners, and outfits the waitresses wore did nothing to discourage him, either, but Lorraine wasn’t worried Fred would have wandering hands. Her attitude was that he could look as much as he liked. If he touched anything, he was going to lose a limb. Fred made sure he only looked.

I went to the place with him a couple of times when I was in town, and it all seemed harmless. As I said, a businessmen’s club with some ‘naughty’ historical trappings. The men I met all seemed straightforward types, and most of them could not play poker to save their lives. I liked the place.

More importantly, Fred liked the place, the contacts it made him drove his accounting business, and he was making a nice little turnover. The kids had a good school, Lorraine could be a ‘lady who lunched’ with the local matrons, she was great friends with the Mayor’s wife, and all was going smoothly.

Look, I’ve got my own life. I only get to see my brother a couple of times a year, if that. He was doing well, I was doing well, it was all good, you know? We talked on the phone, swapped comments about the weather and the idiocies of politicians, it was all normal.

About eighteen months back, Fred told me he was looking to get onto the management board at the Order. I didn’t think anything of it. He’d been a member a while, it seemed like a logical thing to do. He said something about some ceremonies he had to go through, but I thought it was all more window-dressing. No big deal.

Then Fred stopped calling me. It’s not like we talked every day, or even every week, but I slowly noticed that I was making all the calls. He didn’t initiate contact any more. And he was less forthcoming about how things were going in Hamilton. I made a joke about whether he’d “penetrated the inner mysteries”, and he got quite uptight. Hung up on me.

That was in March. In April, I got a call from Lorraine, inviting me to come visit for the Easter long weekend. I said I would see what I could do, but she got quite insistent. Said I had to come, that she needed my help with something. She wouldn’t say what, but she sounded quite upset. Long story short, I changed my plans for Easter and headed out to Hamilton.

This is where things get weird. I showed up at Fred’s place on the Thursday night, and Lorraine came to the door. First off, it was as if she didn’t recognise me. I had to remind her who I was! Then, it was as if she’d forgotten that she’d invited me down. She covered her surprise quite well, but I could see that she was not expecting me. She invited me in, sat me down in the lounge, and went off to make coffee. I could hear her talking on the phone while she was in the kitchen.

She came out with a tray, the coffee plunger, brown sugar, creamer, and put it on the table between us. She poured me a cup, and told me to help myself to cream and sugar. I’ve known Lorraine for twenty years. She knows I’m diabetic, and always keeps sweetener on hand for me. And it’s been her running joke for twenty years that my heart is as black as the coffee I drink.

I said nothing about it, but sipped my coffee, and made awkward small talk about how the kids were doing at school. It wasn’t long before I heard a car pull up outside and Fred walked in. He didn’t look happy. He poured himself a cup of coffee, he sat down, and we started talking, but it was weird, stilted. He was more formal than we’ve ever been with each other in our lives, calling me “James” rather than “Jim,” and he obviously had had no idea I was coming.

He asked me where I was staying, and I must have looked surprised, because he quickly said something about the spare room being renovated, and not suitable for company. I said I was sure the local motel would have a vacancy, and he agreed. We carried on making the sort of awkward small talk you make with an inconvenient guest, not the casual conversation of two brothers who haven’t seen each other in a while.

The oddest thing was the way he stared at me the whole time. I’m sure he did not blink even once during the entire conversation.

Eventually, I made an excuse and got up to leave. As I was making for the door, Lorraine, who had said nothing since Fred came home, suddenly screamed “He knows!” and leaped on my back, raking at my eyes with her finger-nails, which felt an awful lot more like claws, let me tell you. I shrugged her off, and she fell to the floor. I ran to my car and high-tailed it to the local police station, but of course Fred had called ahead, so when I walked in they arrested me for assault. I told my story, Fred told his, and here I am talking to you.

I don’t know what’s going on here, but I am sure that whoever those folks are, that’s not Fred, and that’s not Lorraine. Yeah, right. I’ll see you tomorrow.

***

The psychiatrist walked into the observation room and approached the man who had watched the interview through the two-way mirror.

“It’s hopeless,” he said, “He’s convinced that you’re not his brother. It’s probably the eyes that gave you away. You must remember to blink!”


2020 Iain Muir

What can we say about Iain Muir that he hasn't already said himself? Wit, raconteur, soldier of fortune, and heir to the legacy of Munchausen. Rumours of his invention (and subsequent suppression) of the elastic-band-powered FTL 'snap' drive are vehemently denied (until he can get the patent through).

For the last several years, he has been poetry editor at Aphelion. No, we don't know how he gets away with it either.

Find more by Iain Muir in the Author Index.

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