Message in a Bottle

I imagine him sitting on a plush couch, or possibly standing, a newborn snuggling up against his shoulder. His eyes are closed, he is humming softly, unconsciously making endless tiny adjustments as the infant shifts.

It’s 1970, and he doesn’t have a beard yet, though his sideburns lightly tickle the baby’s face. He makes little shushing sounds, gently willing the tiny person to sleep. Being born is painful, and the next couple of months will be a struggle for all involved. This is his second child, and he knows the drill.

He hears little shushing noises coming back, and assumes that the baby is starting to settle down for a nap. He feels soothed, comfortable, a sense of wellbeing and undirected relief radiating through his frame.

“Dad.”

He cocks his head, furrows his brows, but doesn’t open his eyes.

“Dad.”

There it is again. It’s spoken softly, whispered into his ear, unmistakeable but otherwise impossible.

“Listen carefully. Invest in Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway. The Internet will be a big deal. Yahoo, Netscape, eBay, Paypal, Google. The market will crash in early 2000, then again in 2008.”

He is hearing a voice, and it is telling him to do things. He is a psychiatrist by training, and he understands that he is having a psychotic break. He keeps his body loose, refusing to let his muscles tense, refusing to communicate anything but calm to the little life perched happily on his shoulder.

“Keep the condo in Mammoth, it will be worth a lot one day.”

Lining the walls around him are bookshelves, filled to bursting with science fiction. Years of Analog magazines organized by date, Heinlein, Zelazny, Silverberg, E. E. Doc Smith, Delany, Bradbury, Asimov. Though his rational mind understands that he’s going mad, in a way he’s been preparing for this moment, getting ready to believe, his whole life.

“Stay away from trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup. Exercise more. Oh, and get your feet resized. Most of your foot pain is being caused by wearing shoes that are too small.”

If a psychotic hears voices and chooses to ignore them, he wonders, is he truly mad? Especially since this is, in large part, the goal of therapy?

“Stay off airplanes, and out of New York City in September 2001. Stay away from Madrid in March 2004. Don’t fly on the Concorde.”

He feels an unreasonable desire to respond, to tell the voice to stop, to ask for details, but knows that he has to act as though he isn’t hearing it at all. Lunatics will yell and scream at the voices in their heads, but it doesn’t do them any good, only reinforces the psychosis.

“We all turn out OK.”

The voice goes on like this. At least it isn’t saying disturbing things. Some people live in a virtual hell of imagined voices hurling vile abuse.

“Listen carefully. This last part is important.”

He listens. He doesn’t know what else to do.

“In March 2002, you will go shopping for dress shirts, and discover that your neck size has gone up by a half inch. You will ignore this, and a month later it will go up another half inch. This will happen several more times before you see a doctor. You will be diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, which you will fight for the better part of a decade. In mid 2010 it will develop into an acute form.”

A chill goes down his spine.

“No one knows why it happens, and maybe there’s nothing you can do. But at least you’ll know to watch for the signs. Please don’t leave us early.”

The baby shifts on his shoulder, snuggles in close, and kisses him delicately on the neck.

“I love you, Dad.”

He sits there for a while, until he hears the soft nasal drone of the baby’s snore. A tear slides down his cheek, and he knows that he can not, will not, ever speak of this to anyone. He kisses the baby on the forehead, and it squirms a little in unconscious, uncomprehending pleasure, a tiny half-smile on its face.

Yes, that is it, that is how I imagine it happening.

I love you, Dad. I miss you.

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