“Jessie, wake up now,” I hear, and I’m back in Michael’s office. He looks concerned as his secretary fans me with one of the reception room magazines. I stare at the white ceiling and it seems far away, but the cool green walls envelop me like a forest, like a breath of nature. I’m glad of the familiar surroundings, of leather couch, tapestry chairs, and that desk Michael always sits behind. Things here make sense. Like I’m home, but not.
“Good girl, Jessie. Come back to us. You fainted.” Michael looks to Marjorie, the receptionist with the purple painted fingernails and matching lipstick. “Thanks, Marj. I’ve got it from here.”
Michael helps me onto the sofa, which I’ve never actually sat on before. I always choose the left chair. The couch feels smooth and cool under me and I’m suddenly tired. I want to lie down, so I do.
“Are you all right?” Michael asks, his voice not the usual monotone.
“I’ll be okay. I didn’t eat much lunch today, and forgot to eat my snack after school.”
“Do you have something to eat?”
I nod and point at my backpack on the floor. Michael hands it to me and I take out a slightly bruised apple from two days ago. I eat it lying down, staring at the way the overhead lights reflect in its red peel.
“Tell me about what’s happening here,” Michael says.
“What,” I say. Not a question. Let him tell me something.
“You’re different today. Tell me why. No bullshit.”
I sigh. I sit up. I chew. I stare at Michael. He stares back.
“I’m seeing something . . .” I say. Chewing again. Swallowing. Apples are so sweet.
“Seeing . . . something? Not someone?” he asks.
“Something, someone. I’m not sure. It’s a . . . thing. A person, I guess. Someone.”
I pause. I can’t tell him what I know, what The Granddaughter has shared. Somehow it seems like a secret. But I can’t lie, either. I don’t lie to Michael, not really. I play the game we play, but I don’t lie. And who else can I talk to about The Granddaughter?
“It’s a woman, I think. But not really. She’s tall and gray and has big eyes and can . . . shimmer, you know, disappear and reappear, in and out of my room. She looks like an alien. I saw her last night. And just now. She’s like a visitor or something. She touched me and it left a mark.”
I place my hand over the area The Granddaughter touched. Michael looks at me, at my arm, back into my eyes. As if I am some delicate instrument with important survival instructions but I must be read just right, or something will self-destruct. Probably me.
“Are you afraid?” he asks.
“Um . . . no. Well, at first, last night, but I didn’t pass out because I was afraid. I just . . . “ I can’t explain it. The Granddaughter takes something from me when she comes to me, like she steals a piece of my soul away. I shrug.
“Did she talk to you?”
“Last night she told me some stuff.”
“Just, stuff. She warned me about Jimmy, weirdly enough.”
Michael makes a note in my file, and I realize I led him right to an assumption. I’m having problems with Jimmy now, in Michael’s mind. I must want to leave/change/ upgrade/something that relationship. It’s an issue I clearly haven’t explored, so I’m seeing silver aliens in my bedroom until I get to the bottom of it. How brilliant the teenage mind is! Michael must surely be pleased with his new discovery.
“You didn’t tell me earlier,” Michael says, switching tacks.
“I thought it was just a dream, until I saw her shimmering again in the bathroom.”
“Just now,” Michael says.
“Yes, just now.”
Michael writes again. I’m getting that nagging feeling I got right after I slashed my wrist last spring, when my cuts were healing but my mind was doubtful. I’d felt so right in doing it then, and was a little disappointed my dad found me in time but hey, whatever, I made it. I lived. But the whole world is still treating me as if I were the alien, an unknowable thing that can’t be touched or trusted and can never fit in, and people won’t look me in the eyes anymore, and just for awhile, before I realized most people are assholes who will never get it, I wondered. This nagging, creeping doubt kept coming to me: Was I really wrong for doing what I did? Am I nuts? Am I the bad one here, even though it’s my life? Everyone but Dad treated me like I was the alien. Mother is still a mess and while I was in the hospital she would only come and say hello and pat my arm and then wait in the hall while Dad talked to me and told me about his latest gaffer gig on the movie set and he’d tell me about the stars and how they acted, and mostly they were okay, he said, but sometimes they’d be jerks and he’d tell me about that too.
“Are you –seeing — the alien now?” Michael asks. I come out of my daze, feeling anger welling up in me. Quit treating me like a moron, Michael.
Michael writes again, and I put down my apple and unzip my hoodie. The welts are on my upper arm, lightly glowing. I triumphantly show them to Michael.
“She left these, last night, if you don’t believe me,” I say.
Michael gets up and walks over to me. He reaches toward my upper arm but hesitates and doesn’t touch the welts.
“Does it hurt?” he asks in a dry voice.
I shake my head, wondering if he believes me. But there’s something in his eyes, something beyond his believing me or not, something more like suspicion. I cover my arms by pulling up my jacket. Michael sits back down.
“I don’t know what’s happening,” I say, my confidence shattered. “Do you think I really am being abducted by aliens or something?”
“We’ll look into it, Jessie. Try not to worry about it. I’ve read about things like this . . . ”
“About alien abductions?”
“About alien abductions and how they relate to mental wellness,” Michael says stiffly. I nod dumbly as I usually do when Michael says inane things like that. But I can kind of put together what it means . . . he thinks I’m crazy and that I think I’m being abducted by aliens. Great. But I won’t give The Granddaughter up, not to him.
“Um . . . can I go home? Mother worries if I miss the bus.”
“Yes, we are a bit behind schedule today. And I’m glad to hear that you’re concerned about your mother’s feelings. Go ahead . . . are you sure you’re all right? I can arrange for a ride.”
“I’m good. The apple helped.” I get my backpack and head out, a usual act but everything feels different, like Michael and I just went on a trip together and didn’t get along. I should stay and fix things with him but I’m still dizzy and not ready to play the game. I just want to go and curl up in my bed and sleep, something Michael told Mother she should let me do. Michael believes teens need more sleep than anyone else, even as much as babies, thank God for me. I’m always so damn tired.
I close my eyes and try to close out the sound on Santa Monica Boulevard as I wait for the bus. Mother is at work till six or seven, and her assistant is probably driving my brother to wherever it is he goes after school. There’s no one really waiting for me at home. It takes twenty minutes to get to my stop, but within thirty minutes I’m lying on my bed watching the late afternoon sun hit my wall, watching patterns of leaf shadows dance in a chaotic silent way across the ecru paint. My eyes grow tired, and finally I’m able to drift away from my mind again, my favorite place to be.