Carson looked around trying to find the source of the noise. A faint whooshing drew him to the kitchen. The dishwasher was running. Footsteps to his left.
“Carson? What is it?”
Jenny. She had come in to his life three years ago, an angel that reached out a hand to a lost man. A blonde bombshell with a gentle touch and an even gentler spirit. He didn’t know where he’d be without her living in his apartment. They weren’t married, and they didn’t act like it, at least not physically. She took care of him, and he loved her for that, but he couldn’t find a way to express it without her trying to leave. Sometimes he wondered why she was even with him, but he didn’t want her to ever leave, so he never asked. What if she thought he wanted her to leave? What would he do? No, he was fine with the relationship they had, for now.
“Did you start that?”
“Yes, yes I did. Does it bother you?”
“No, I just– I just wanted to start it.”
“I’m sorry,” she took his hand, “I’ll let you do it next time. What’s on your schedule today, Carson?”
He scratched the ever present stubble on his chin. “I don’t really know. I might work in the garden, but I have to wash Jug before going to the doctor.”
“Well, whatever you end up doing, I’ll be in here until your appointment if you need anything.”
“Thank you, Jenny.”
He strolled across the small yard. He didn’t really understand why it was enclosed by such tall walls. Maybe the previous owner had deer trouble; maybe they were very private individuals. Whatever the case, he didn’t mind it too much, it made him feel safe when in his tiny garden which somehow grew every year. He looked up at the gray sky, the sun, barely visible. He couldn’t tell right now what of of weather the day would hold; maybe in a few minutes. He looked at his little garden. A sloppy row of tomato plants, some onions, and little carrot sprouts. He knelt, picking little weeds from around the tomato plants. Maybe this year he would actually get to taste something from his garden. It never produced much, but Jenny seemed to always get a taste of something from it before it went bad.
“Hey Carson, how’s it going, man?”
“Hey Rob,” Carson straightened, looking at the muscular Irishman, “I’m doing okay. How are you today?”
“I’m good, I’m good.” Rob glanced upward, “So, what do you think about this weather? Isn’t it great?”
“I don’t know, it looks like it might rain, and I want to work in my garden. Do you see my tomatoes? They’re almost ready!”
“Well look at it this way, the rain can help your garden grow. How about that?”
“Yeah, I guess so. Well, I guess I like the weather then. Did you talk to Jenny?”
“Oh yeah, I saw her on me way out here. I slept in a bit, that’s why I wasn’t with you two at lunch today, but I saw what she’s making for dinner–”
“Don’t tell me, ham & cheese sandwiches.”
“No, I think she learned her lesson the last time she tried to get you to eat one. You said Jug wouldn’t even eat it!”
“Well any self-respecting horse would know better, and I know Jug is a self-respecting horse!”
“Speaking of Jug, here he comes.” Rob waved his hand toward the apartment’s sliding patio doors. Jug was Carson’s favorite animal in the world. The miniature horse went with him everywhere. Sometimes when Rob took Carson along on a trip, he would let Jug come with them. He told Carson not to tell people that Jug was a real horse, he said they wouldn’t believe him. Rob was a smart guy, so Carson trusted him. Whenever they were in public, Jug was referred to as a dog, but Carson felt bad calling him a dog. He was better than any dog.
“Hey Jug, do you want a bath?” Carson asked.
“I’ll get the soap!” Rob said over his shoulder, already well on his way to the apartment.
Carson went to the wall where the hose came out from under the siding. He didn’t know how, but Rob had made the hose retract into the wall. It was nice not having to work so hard to get water.
After rinsing Jug down first, Carson started lathering the little horse with soap. Black foam dripped from the horse’s grey belly. Her auburn mane and tail looked like they were hopelessly tangled by the time he was done soaping them up. The little horse just stood there making small happy noises as Carson methodically cleaned, rinsed and brushed her coat. Soon she was gleaming, her tail and mane were good as new. Carson stepped back to admire his work. Jenny appeared at his side, smiling proudly at him.
“You did such a good job, Carson! She looks so happy!”
“Thanks, Jenny. I just like to see her happy.” Truth was, he liked seeing Jenny happy, and he knew that cleaning Jug was one way to make Jenny happy.
“Well Carson, it’s almost time for your appointment, you better get ready.”
“Okay. Will you help me make sure I look good? I want to make the doctor happy.”
“Of course, Carson, just pick out some clothes and I’ll tell you what I think. I’ll be back in the kitchen again.”
“Oh, what about dinner?”
“We’ll eat after the doctor. Sorry, I thought I more time.”
Sliding his closet door open, he looked at his options. He selected carefully, and strode proudly to the kitchen. Jenny was checking on something in the oven, and closed it when he walked in. He couldn’t make out the smell, but it was her cooking, it was always good. A smile splashed across her face.
“Well, Carson, what did you find there?”
“I found my outfit! I thought the red and blue of my sweater would go well with my white pants. It’s like the Fourth of July! And I found these old shoes in the back of my closet, they’re my favorite! Can we go now? Can we?”
“Well Carson, that’s definitely you! It’s perfect. Let’s go! Rob just went to get the car.”
Rob sat across from Dr. Thomas Uliby, watching his brother talk to the receptionist in the waiting room. Jenny Poland, the nurse assigned to Carson sat in the plush chair next to his.
“As I was saying, Rob, your brother has given the medical community a lot of hope, let’s not waste this opportunity!”
“But Doctor, he thinks that the sky is gray! It’s completely clear! He thinks that a few dandelions and crab grass are a garden!”
“It’s been slow, I know, but–”
“Slow? It’s been years! Your experimental drugs haven’t given him anything but delusions!”
“Doctor,” Jenny spoke up, “he thinks his seeing eye dog is a horse. Everything he sees is a lie. He told me how he loves my long blond hair.” She pointed to her short black hair to make the point. “Did you notice what he’s wearing?”
“Did he pick those clothes out?”
“Yes. An ugly Christmas sweater, overalls, and some women’s pumps he somehow got a hold of.” Jenny snapped back. “He thinks it’s a red and blue shirt with white pants and his favorite shoes.”
“What about his hearing?” asked Dr. Uliby.
“It’s fine, but misguided.” answered Rob.
“Today he thought I started the dishwasher, but I was vacuuming.”
“I see how you both can think he’s not ready to live off-campus.” the doctor said.
“Uh, doctor, I think he is still happy with his apartment with a small yard.”
“He still thinks that?”
“Yes, he has no grid for a mental hospital with a small courtyard.”
“About that, how is his mental state? He seemed happy when I talked to him.”
“He is happy whenever I visit. It’s getting harder to get time during the week anymore, Doctor, I mean, he is my brother, but I need to get in the hours so I can pay for his care.”
“Sometimes,” Jenny started, “sometimes he gets panicky if we deviate from his routine. The other morning, I tried to feed him a sandwich rather than soup at dinner. He threw it at me. I’ve tried to keep him up, but he runs to bed at 8:30 exactly, no matter what. He’s still capable of volatility, and I think putting him in an uncontrolled environment is just asking for it.”
“Doctor,” Rob leaned forward, “be straightforward with me. Is there hope for my brother?”
“You know, Rob, I wish I could say everything will be fine,” the doctor sighed and looked away, “but I can’t. I’m afraid we’ve allowed him to build an imaginary world, and imaginary worlds can be destroyed by the slightest changes, the smallest evolution. If an imaginary world is destroyed, it can destroy the person living it.”
“I know, it’s hard to take in, but we’ve prepared for this.”
“How so?” Both Rob and Jenny looked at the doctor.
“I’ve had a place arranged that is exactly like here, only that the people there are better equipped for long term patients. I’ve had a copy of his room made there, and it’s closer to where you live, Rob. What do you think?”
“I think it’s great! What about you, Jenny?”
“I think I can do it. How far away is it?”
“It’s only half an hour.”
“Great! Let’s do it!”
“It is a little more expensive though, Rob.”
“I don’t mind, as long as Carson’s okay.”
“He will be, he will be.”
“Where do I sign?”