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I would question the sanity of anyone who’s not questioning their own sanity nowadays, Doctor, but this patient of mine — Patient Z, let’s call him — put even me on edge with his talk.
Had I read Poe’s “Imp of the Perverse”? he wanted to know, in which Poe described a certain bent of mind leading otherwise sane people to contemplate insane acts. Like the impulse to leap you might feel when stuck on a high ledge. Or — my patient’s example — your itchy fingers in reach of that EXIT handle while the rest of the plane sleeps.
Yes, I’d read the story, I said. Why do you mention it?
Why do you think, Doctor? he replied. Because I have that imp whispering in my ear all the time.
Whispering what? I asked, readying my pen.
Well, I wouldn’t like to say exactly, said my patient, and surely the specifics are beside the point, surely the point is to stop the whispering, to shut the imp up.
Or we could try just hearing and accepting the destructive thoughts that come along sometimes through the conduit of this “imp,” I put to him. Having such thoughts doesn’t oblige us to act on them.
Oh, this imp’s no conduit, Doctor, my patient said, fixing my gaze (Clozapine, I was thinking). In fact, he’s squatting right there on your shoulder, whispering what to dose me with, probably.
What does it tell you to do? I asked. For example? I did feel a little weight on my shoulder now, a tail flicking down my back.
All sorts, Doctor, whatever I shouldn’t. The absolute opposite of what I should. What if that happened? he asks. What if you did this? Alone it wouldn’t bother me so much, but I have a family, just like you (he pointed at my wedding ring, which I instinctively covered with my other hand) and a respected position in society, at work, whatever that means today.
It still means something, I answered him, and heard the imp screech.
But when they told me what Patient Z did, even I was surprised, Doctor. No wonder he’d wanted to keep the imp’s suggestions to himself, to stay away from specifics.
Still, I would question the sanity of anyone who’s not questioning their own sanity these days.
And that includes you.
Alex Sheal's stories have won awards such as the New Writer Novella Prize (2008) and the David Higham Award (2004). He lives in Hanoi, Vietnam, and is the co-founder of adventure travel company Vietnam in Focus.