“Hello Scott,” you say from the backseat.
“Jesus Christ!” I say and in my surprised shock, I yank the wheel and the car fishtails into the next lane as the vehicles around me honk in disapproval of my erratic driving.
There was no way you could have gotten into the car. I would have noticed it. You weren’t there when I merged onto the highway… then, now suddenly you were…
“I’m not going to talk to you.” I say. “Doctor Claron says I’m supposed to ignore you.”
You smile and shrug. “If I’m not here, then don’t… but if I’m not, then why do you see me?”
“Because my brain is fucked.” I tell you…
But you knew that. We talked about all of this the last time we sat down together. During the exit interview. I told you why I was afraid about the gap in insurance and prescription coverage, because of my condition, but I was taking the job anyway. The offer was too good to pass on. When I told you there was nothing that you or the company could do to keep me because you couldn’t afford my new salary, you said you understood. We talked for a while longer and you offered to pay out my unused week of vacation as a parting gift. That was very nice of you. I always liked you, Rick. None of our mutual acquaintances have ever had anything negative to say about you. Having you for a boss was one of the things I knew I’d miss most about that job.
I haven’t taken the medication for a while now because I can’t afford it until my new insurance begins. 600mg of Thioridazine a day is not cheap, even with generics…but you probably know all of this because probably you can read my mind…heck, you are my mind, so I don’t tell you about it because you’re not real. I’m making you up right now. You’re not in the backseat at all and Doctor Claron says I’m supposed to ignore you just like the others until you go away.
“I might,” you say, “eventually.”
Are you reading my thoughts?
I can feel a tremor begin to grow in my hands and I grip the steering wheel tighter to make it stop.
“I called you almost three weeks ago,” you say, “did you not get my voicemail?”
I sigh, looking up at the mirror and I can see your reflection there in the rear passenger seat with your seatbelt on. You certainly seem to be there. Maybe this was all a mistake? It seemed real enough now. Maybe you hid and stowed away back there somehow.
“I deleted it this morning,” I tell you finally, and I can feel the guilty bile begin to bubble and churn somewhere inside. “I didn’t need to listen to it again.”
“You never called me back,” you said, “it’s not a big deal. Not now. But three weeks ago I was hoping you might.”
“Well I didn’t work for you anymore and I couldn’t see what the point would be,” I said. “I wasn’t going to at first, but Adam said I should.”
“Well, why didn’t you?”
“Well, I guess I forgot. By the time I remembered it seemed like it had been too long,” I tell you, “so I decided not to. I guess I was kind of embarrassed for forgetting.”
“I forgive you.” You say. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Well I do worry a little bit.” I say, “it was kind of rude of me. You wouldn’t have done that if it was the other way around. You would have called me back. I’m actually on my way to see you now, to apologize for doing it in person.”
I park the car. I think you must have gone inside before me because you’re gone again but maybe you were never there at all and I sit for a moment to collect myself alone before getting out. A moment to decide what I want to say to you when you’re no longer a hallucination. No longer in the backseat.
The wallpaper is ugly here. This patterned room I’ve seen before, two months ago, when we did this for Jenny. It’s not her parents standing at the door this time, but your wife and your son and your daughter.
“I’m sorry for your loss.” I say to them. Your wife thanks me, but the kids say nothing. They don’t need to. The tears don’t fall, they crash to the floor around them in big pregnant drops. The room is so quiet I can hear them shatter against the tile as I make my way to where you are, lying with your eyes closed, surrounded by flowers. The suit you are wearing is one I’ve seen. You were wearing it when you rode here with me in my backseat. My conscience called me here because of the guilt that twists in my stomach, coiled around my insides like a boa constrictor. My condition called you to me as I drove.
I regret not returning that call; it was rude of me. You were a better person than most people I’ve ever known in my entire life. Fair and thoughtful and kind. I’ve never heard anyone say anything negative about you.
And though I know it no longer matters and it’s not a big deal, I just came because I wanted to let you know I’m sorry.