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09.03.02


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of two minds

by Leslie What

 

One condition of his parole was that Rogers attend weekly sessions for recovering criminals.

Six patients sat in a circle of hardback chairs while the therapist, Johnson, marked the head of the circle with his black leather recliner. Rogers knew that, unlike himself, a circle had no head, not really, not when you thought about it, intellectually.

Still, mimicking the others, he faced Johnson and faked attentiveness. It was difficult not to fixate on Johnson's swollen scar, jagged and discolored as faded ink tracing the line of a highway along an old roadmap.

Johnson's scar stretched from his unibrow across his forehead and disappeared beneath his hair.

Each person there had undergone cerebral commissurotomy, a surgery to sever the corpus collosum, the structure connecting the two hemispheres of the brain. (Except for Watkins, whose brain was naturally injured by a stray blade in a freak accident — some demonstration gone awry at the Yakima Chainsaw Art Festival.)

Commissurotomy severed the ability of one side of the brain to recognize what the other side was doing. Before his operation, Johnson, a crackhead once known as the Narquis de Sade, had pioneered (not by choice) the new procedure. Johnson had tortured and swindled his most vulnerable patients. When convicted, he had done time (nearly two weeks), and lost his license to practice medicine in Idaho for a month. Yet here he was now, a shining example of the administration's newest initiative, gainfully employed and helping former criminals lead useful lives. It was easy to reduce the crime rate — all it took was redefining the parameters of criminal behavior.

Rogers didn't trust the guy — not just because of the ugly scar or his annoying habit of clearing his throat and then spitting it out on his handkerchief to stare at while the others talked. This therapy crap wasn't his thing, but he tried not to take it personal. After all, this wasn't about him.

Rogers was no criminal. He had a medical condition. His operation was in response to uncontrollable seizures. The seizures had ended, yet two weeks after the commissurotomy, Rogers shot his ex-wife's lover. He was found not guilty, despite eyewitnesses and forensics corroboration, including burn marks on his fingertips. Rogers denied culpability. He did not recognize himself in the surveillance tapes, and did not recall firing the gun or even picking it up.

The others' offenses were less serious. Nartelli, for example, was a minor politician, implicated in a blackmail scheme involving an underage blonde and a family-sized tube of self-tanning lotion. Liz Dennison, whose treatment was initially for a brain tumor, was now a serial shoplifter. Watkins was your typical wife beater.

"Let's begin," said Johnson, tapping the man to his left.

"You talking to me?" said Alexander.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you. Will you please share?"

"I'm feeling anger," said Alexander. "That's what you want me to say, right?"

"And how has your anger expressed itself?" asked Johnson.

Alexander rose, threatening Johnson with his left fist. "I was framed," he said.

"Then who set the fire?"

"He did," said Alexander, pointing both his index fingers toward each other.

"Now we're getting somewhere," said Johnson. "Watkins, will you share next?"

"Sure. I really love anger management classes. I really love my supervised visits with the kids. But that bitch won't let me in my house," he said, one fist clenching. "She's lying — wasn't me who broke her jaw."

"It's not your fault you can't relate to your violent tendencies," said Johnson. "Perhaps you can open yourself up to her fear and pain?"

Rogers and Nartelli held back Watkins.

Liz Dennison rose, and puckered her lips like an anus. She pointed to Gregor, who sat masturbating with one hand, oblivious, but happy. "Stop that!" she cried.

Gregor looked around the room, his hand in his pants. "What," he said, not in the form of a question.

Johnson said, "Look down, Gregor."

Gregor's gaze dropped, his face flushed, he extricated one hand using the other and held it against its will in his lap. "Sorry," he said. "Didn't know what I was thinking."

"Happens to the best of us," said Alexander.

"That's why we're here," Johnson agreed.

Liz Dennison shrieked as Watkins jabbed her with his pen and was again restrained by Rogers and Nartelli.

"She was stealing my Uniball," Watkins said. "Stay away from my rollerballs! Touch my writing implements and you're dead."

"My apologies," said Liz. "I didn't realize."

"None of us do," said Nartelli.

"Someone's always gotta take the rap," said Watkins.

"You are victims, just like those you've harmed," said Johnson. "But science can help you. Now repeat after me: 'I am not responsible for my actions'."

An echo filled the room as each patient chanted, "I am not responsible for my actions."

"Good session," said Johnson, who stood and moved to the door. "See you next week," he said. As the patients exited the room, Johnson gave each a playful slap on the offending hand.

 

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Leslie What once tapdanced professionally dressed as a gorilla, but retired and became a Nebula-award-winning writer. She is a world-renowned Jell-o artist, a maskmaker, and a legend in her own time. Her fiction can make you laugh while breaking your heart. Check out Trent Walter's interview with Leslie on the SFSite. New What work will appear in the anthologies Polyphony, Mota, Women Writing SF as Men, and elsewhere.

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