Too Much Information
By K. Alan Leitch
Jessica has become just psychic enough to get herself killed.
Fear The Feminator
Beatings are Persuasive
A Bit Squishier
Hips and Curves
Metal Grates and Mellow Meds
Some Things to Report
Twenty Dollars or So
Ten Milligrams of Anything
What Little Girls Know
Narcotics and Neo-Classical Moldings
Hot Spot in the Gladiolas
One Little Peek
Very Best World
From Chapter 4
Chapter 4 begins with Jessica’s friend Marnie convincing her to report her psychiatrist to their school’s in-house police liaison. Telling Officer Kelvin that Doctor Ukrenzian is murderer backfires: since they are basing the accusation entirely on a label, and have no body or murder weapon to back this up, he forces the girls to face their worst nightmare. He puts them in the hands of the school’s guidance counsellor, Mr. Tomlinson…
…but not before Jessica looks in Kelvin’s eyes, and his label tells her he is a ‘Killer.’
* * * * *
“We didn’t mean any disrespect,” I told Mr. Tomlinson, hoping to end this quickly.
“That’s all right,” he promised. “Let’s just put that in one drawer, and open some others.”
This was an infamous technique of Tomlinson’s: to tell students that they could choose to open and close ‘drawers’ on their different emotions. It doesn’t take a high-school student to imagine how much that image—his choice of the word ‘drawers’—earned him the wrong kind of respect.
Marnie was targeting that, now. “Mr. Tomlinson,” she asked, “if we look into Jessica’s drawers, do you think that we’ll see anything upsetting?”
His trusting response made me sad for him. “I think we will, very likely. I understand that she’s been through quite a bit.”
“Mm-hm,” Marnie nodded, deadpan. “And do you think that whatever is inside Jessica’s drawers could frighten—”
“It was a challenging week, yeah,” I answered his question to shut her up.
It’s not that Mr. Tomlinson himself was scary; he was actually a very nice man, who gave the impression of caring about students in distress. The problem—the really creepy part—was how forgiving he felt like he needed to be all the time. He ran his sessions as though he had never met a teenager: as though the animalistic instincts by which students our age lived were just a disguise for the sweet kindness we really wanted to practice. Mr. Tomlinson spoke sympathetically to everyone, no matter what they flung back in return, and he never, ever raised his voice. You could stand on his neck and call his mother a wombat, and he would ask you to describe how her marsupial nature made you feel.
I should have seen his response to my comment coming. “And how did the challenge make you feel?”
I looked over at Marnie, who had more than recovered from our encounter with Kelvin. “Um…challenged?”
“She felt a bit squishier, to me,” Marnie quipped. Her recovery from the recent scare was largely due to our change in environment; Mr. Tomlinson’s office was like an antithesis to Officer Kelvin’s, with every corner of it lit from direct or reflected natural light. Mobiles made of mirrors and glass spun and sparkled around us, casting their glare in tiny dots that salted us where we sat. Mr. Tomlinson thought that light could heal any emotion, and I had to admit that it seemed to be working on my friend.
None of it, though, had begun to put a dent in my darkness. “Actually,” I told him, “I’m seeing people differently, now. It’s harder than it used to be to look past their…” I paused, sifting through myself for honest words that would not reveal my new condition.
“Their challenges?” he prompted.
“Their mistakes,” I corrected him, choosing the closest word that I could to describe the labels.
Mr. Tomlinson nudged a dish of Skittles toward us, inside which I watched the colors until Marnie’s hand plunged into them. A clock on his wall ticked away the last seconds of our lunch break, and I watched my friend for a moment, making up her lost nutrition with refined sugars and neon dyes. It almost made the congealing Pizza Puff in my lap look appetizing, so I looked at it, too. I was determined, in fact, to look at anything but Tomlinson’s eyes.
“Mistakes,” he repeated. “And did you see any mistakes in Doctor Ukrenzian?” His voice took on an oddly hopeful tone, as he added, “Did you follow what you saw to seek help from Officer Beaumont?”
“Actually…” I was on the verge of an answer that was tempting me from the very depths of truth. Tomlinson was so close to that truth, and so hungry to help, that all I would had to do was tell him—tell him everything—then let him take care of whatever might come next. The little girl in me reached up from my past, begging me to let the adults solve my problems. “Actually…I followed Marnie there,” I finished.
I had already tried sharing with too many others, and it hadn’t worked out very well.
Marnie had frozen, with her jaw gummed shut through Skittle-power. Until then, she had thought she was just an audience during this session.
As I’d calculated, Tomlinson turned his attention toward her. “Perhaps…perhaps Marnie is more in tune with your ordeal than she realizes.”
My friend’s jaw began to work again, congealing masses of Skittle until she could swallow the lump of sugar to answer. Her lips curved upward at me, but I couldn’t call it a smile. “Oh, yes,” she answered smoothly. “I think that was it. I was just caught up in Jessica’s fear of Doctor Ukrenzian…”
“Fear?” Tomlinson snapped the word between his teeth, startling us in our seats. The Pizza Puff gave a little hop in my lap, then sagged over my shin as it landed. Then, just as my gaze met Marnie’s, the calmest man we had ever met nearly shouted a very unusual question. “Did you fear Ukrenzian?”
There was something in the phrasing that framed his question with much bigger questions. He had asked, ‘Did you fear Ukrenzian’—not, ‘Were you afraid of him,’ nor, ‘Did he scare you,’ nor a thousand other phrasings that would have been more natural—but did I fear him.
It was strange enough, even, for Marnie to mock. “Oh we feared him, all right. We feared the crap outta him.” In response to my warning glare, she added, “What? He was a scary dude! I mean, for the love of Pastrami, he’s got a freaking statue of himself outside. He scared you, he scared most of The Accessories, and he even scared someone who wasn’t his patient.” Into a pause, she clarified, “I mean, you know…me.”
Tomlinson was fascinated to the point of excitability by now. Leaning forward so far that he was nearly off his chair, he asked me—not Marnie—to clarify details of what she had said. “What scared you?” he fired, then, without resetting, fired again, “Who are The Accessories?”
I took a breath, still trying to choose my words carefully despite my friend’s indiscretions. “The Accessories,” I began, “are a group of patients there—all women. It’s a nickname I gave them, because…” A gap formed around my reluctance to reveal my labels to him. “…because they were all pretty, and all out of it.”
Marnie was watching me carefully, trying to decide what I was deciding. Was it time to admit what was happening? Could this man’s enthusiasm be a sign that he would be willing to believe me?
Still enthusiastic, he pressed, “And what is it that scared them about him?”
That question was it: the trigger that demanded my payload of truth. Whatever it was that our Counsellor was seeking, he was the only one so far—well, the only adult, anyway—who seemed willing to hear what I had to say without judging me. With a nod from Marnie, I braced myself against a fear that the last few days had developed in me—one that had nothing to do with Ukrenzian, or any psychologist.
“I don’t know,” I explored honestly, “what it is that scared them. But I will tell you what scared me about him.” I filled my lungs with air, and raised my face to look at Tomlinson. “I saw, in his eyes—”
Then, my lungs emptied from what I saw in this other pair of eyes. I glanced around me, past Marnie and toward the closed door, seeking a way to escape from my words and from this office. Standing in a shot, I knocked the Pizza Puff to the floor, then stepped on it twice before retrieving it apologetically.
Tomlinson stood, too, genuinely concerned by my response. Only Marnie remained in her seat; she seemed almost amused by the scene that was unfolding. “Jessica?” Tomlinson prodded. “What’s wrong? What is it you saw in his eyes?”
An idea erupted from the recesses of my creativity. “Cataracts!” I shouted. “He had cataracts.” I started toward the door, and Marnie rose to follow.
Tomlinson wasn’t nearly ready to let me go. “Cataracts? Those scared you?”
“Yeah,” I muttered, looking at the knob as I opened the door. “I’ve got a phobia about them.”
As I escaped around the corner, I heard Marnie covering for me. “It’s true: Jessica’s always hated eye doctors.” She called, “Thanks for the Skittles,” behind her, as she two-stepped to catch up to me in the hallway.
Then, when she saw where I was going, she stopped in place again. “Chesty, you can’t be serious,” she told me.
“Have we met?” I asked. “I can be a lot more serious than you can.”
She was right to be concerned, though. I was heading for a place that neither of us would find very pleasant, but I had really had enough. I couldn’t trust the eager dynamo we’d just left, after the label I’d seen in his eyes. In fact, there didn’t seem to be an adult left alive I could trust, so I would have to get help from one I didn’t—one whose secret was frightening enough that I could hold it for ransom.
So, with Marnie oscillating in the hallway, I burst back into the darkness, through the door of Officer Kelvin Beaumont.
“Well,” he greeted, raising himself from a slouch to look past me at Marnie. “If it isn’t Nancy Drew.”
“It isn’t,” Marnie squeaked quietly.
He stood, then, probably as a part of his standard routine: intimidate the suspects. “Have you girls worked it all out with Mr. Tomlinson? Do you agree to stop accusing Doctor Ukrenzian of those ridiculous crimes?”
I could have just agreed with him, and escaped into the anonymity I craved. What I saw in his eyes, like in so many eyes, repelled me enough to do just that. My friend, though—my only friend, the way things were going—was cowering in a way I’d never seen her cower, so I stepped into his office, and into the slime of his sins, to ask him a question in my most menacing tone.
“Did he shoot first?”
Officer Kelvin faltered, the way a bear might when punched in the nose. “What are…what do you mean?”
Channeling the hours of cop shows I’d been watching, I recited a clichéd scenario. “I think, maybe, that you shot first, and just made it look like he did.”
The room rewarded me with a silence that seemed to mute even the outside rush of students to Fourth Period.
“It’s probably for the best,” I granted him, raising my palms. “I’m sure that he was a dangerous criminal, or whatever. Still, it must be hard. The guilt.” I turned left, then right, to gesture toward the heroic photos framed on his walls. “Could even drive an ex-cop to take a gig in a high-school.”
Kelvin sat again, shakily, and put the handkerchief he’d been wringing back to his face. “I’m still a cop.”
“Whatever you say, Jump Street.”
He looked at the pad, reached toward it, and then changed his mind to ask me a question that sounded like a deal. “What is it you want?”
I told him, “We’re not accusing anyone of anything. Not yet.” Not quite believing the dialogue that was oozing from me, I added, “We just need to know about anything shady going on at Shady Acres.” Without waiting for a reply, I walked out in the direction of Student Services, where I would sign in late for Fourth Period, and face a lecture from some teacher while trying to ignore the worst in their eyes.
Marnie, however, had never been quite so adept at keeping quiet. Slicing her hands together at him, she rapped, “Nan-cy Drew, in da house! Oh, yeah,” before racing, for the second time that day, to catch up with me.
“I think I’m in love with you,” she lampooned. “I’ve never liked girls before, but I’ll turn for you. Just promise me you’ll mess with authority, just like that, every single day that we’re married.”
“That,” I pointed, turning on her, “was a mistake.”
Her face was caught somewhere between beaming at me and calling for help. “Why?”
The chatter of other students stretched past us, as deep as silence, both ahead and behind. Each of them dragged a word behind them, and I couldn’t avoid looking at some; a plagiarist walked past, then a bully, like Candace: like my mother had been. These were my peers, and the worst part of knowing this was knowing that I was just like them.
I ran a hand over my own face, and tried to explain something she couldn’t possibly understand. “Because I took advantage of him. I saw his label.”
We both knew that I was here because of Marnie; as much as my condition had fed me data, Marnie had been the one to insist that we use it. Without my permission, Marnie had chosen a direction for us both: not only through this hallway, but also into a situation that I was too young, too scared, and too messed up from my coma to manage. I didn’t need super-powers to see her struggling with a question. “Well?” she finally asked. “What was his word? Was it ‘Nancy’? Or ‘Drew’?”
I shut down her sarcasm with the word she was seeking. “Killer.”
Having dropped this, I left it rolling freely behind us to head us back on our way. “Wow. Killer Kelvin. Who knew?” Even Marnie seemed concerned enough to ask, “Shouldn’t…shouldn’t we report that, too?”
“I don’t think so.”
I laced my answer with false certainty. “Because it was ‘killer,’ not ‘murderer.’ I think there’s a difference, and, thanks to you, we’re busy chasing the one who’s worse.”
Our footsteps measured the distance to the Student Services office, and we had almost reached it before she replied. “Well, then. That leaves us with only two questions.”
Marnie stopped me in the hallway to puzzle over something with her.
“Who’s Nancy,” my friend asked, “and what did she draw?”