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“What’s happening here?” Les Greenleaf demanded, after Renata had been sedated into a peaceful slumber and we’d returned to Fallon’s office. “I thought you told us that she has total amnesia.”
“Evidently, it’s not quite as total as we thought,” Fallon replied, grinning broadly. “I think this might be a major breakthrough.”
“Why does she recognize Mark and not us?” Inga sounded offended.
“I haven’t got the faintest idea,” Fallon confessed, “but the fact that she recognizes somebody is very significant. It means that her past isn’t a total blank.”
“Then she’ll get her memory back?” Inga asked.
“Some of it, at least. It’s too early to tell how much.” Fallon looked at me then. “Would it be possible for you to stay here for the next few days, Mark?” he asked. “For some reason, you seem to be the key to Renata’s memory, so I’d like to have you available.”
“No problem, Doc,” I replied. “If the boss can drop me off at my place, I’ll grab a few things and come right back up the hill.”
“Good. I’ll want you right there when Renata wakes up. We’ve made a connection, and we don’t want to lose it.”
Les and Inga took me back to my place when we left the sanitarium. I tossed some clothes and stuff into a suitcase, grabbed some books, and drove my old Dodge back to Lake Stevens. I was as baffled as everybody else had been by Renata’s recognition of me, and it’d caught me completely off guard. There’d been a kind of desperation about the way she’d clung to me—almost like somebody hanging on to a life raft.
“We don’t necessarily have to mention this to her parents, Mark,” Fallon told me when I reported in, “but I think you’d better be right there in the room when Renata wakes up. Let’s not take any chances and lose this. All the rooms here have surveillance cameras, so I’ll be watching and listening. Don’t push her or say anything about why she’s here. Just be there.”
“I think I see where you’re going, Doc,” I told him.
The shot Dr. Fallon had given her kept Twink totally out of it until the next morning, and that gave me time to think my way through the situation. I was still working through my grief at losing my parents, but it was time to put my problems aside and concentrate, here and now, on Twink. If she needed me, I sure as hell wasn’t going to let her down.
I pushed the reclining chair over beside her bed, pulled the blanket up around my ears, and tapped out.
When I woke the next morning, Renata was still sound asleep, but she was holding my hand. Either she’d come about halfway out of her drug-induced slumber and found something to hold on to, or she’d just groped around for it in her sleep. Then again, it might have been me who’d been looking. It was sort of hard to say.
One of the orderlies brought our breakfast about seven, and I tugged on Twink’s hand a couple of times. “Hey, sack-rat,” I said, “rise and shine. It’s daylight in the swamp.”
She woke up smiling, for God’s sake! That’s sick! Nobody smiles that early in the morning!
“I need a hug,” she said.
“Not ’til you get up.”
“Grouch,” she accused me, her face still radiant.
That first day was a little strange. Twink watched me all the time, and she had a vapid look on her face every minute. I tried to read, but it’s awfully hard to concentrate when you can feel somebody watching you.
There was also a fair amount of spontaneous hugging.
I checked in with Dr. Fallon late that afternoon, and he suggested that I should probably let Twink know that I wasn’t going to be a permanent fixture. “Tell her that you’ll have to go back to work before too much longer. Let her know that you’ll visit her often, but you have to earn a living.”
“That’s not entirely true, Doc,” I told him. “I’ve got a few bucks stashed away.”
“You don’t need to mention that, Mark. We don’t want her to become totally dependent on your presence here. I think the best course might be to gradually wean her away. Stay here for a few more days, and then find some reason to run back to Everett for an afternoon. We’ll play it by ear and see how she reacts. Sooner or later, she’s going to have to learn how to stand alone.”
“You’re the expert, Doc. I won’t do anything to hurt her, though.”
“I think she might surprise you, Mark.”
There was another bout of hugging when I got back to Twink’s room. That seemed just a bit odd. There hadn’t been much physical contact between the twins and me in the past, but now it seemed that every time I turned around, she had her arms wrapped around me. “Renata,” I said finally, “you do know that we aren’t alone, don’t you?” I pointed at the surveillance camera.
“These aren’t those kinds of hugs, Markie.” She shrugged it off. “There are hugs and then there are hugs. We don’t do the other kinds of hugs, do we? And I wish you wouldn’t call me ‘Renata.’ I don’t like that name.”
“I’m Twinkie, remember? Only people who don’t know me call me ‘Renata.’ I knew that I was Twinkie the moment I saw you. It was such a relief to find out who I really am. All the ‘Ren-blah-blah’ stuff made me want to throw up.”
“We don’t get to pick our names, kid. That’s in the mommy and daddy department.”
“Tough cookies. I’m Twinkie, and I’m so cute and sweet that nobody can stand me.”
“Steady on, Twink,” I told her.
“Don’t you think I’m cute and sweet, Markie?” she said with obviously put-on childishness, fluttering her eyelashes at me.
I laughed. I couldn’t help myself.
“Gotcha!” she crowed with delight. Then she threw a sly glance at the surveillance camera. “And I got you too, didn’t I, Dockie-poo?” she said, obviously addressing Dr. Fallon, who was almost certainly watching.
“Dockie-poo?” I asked mildly.
“All of us cute and sweet nutcases make up pet names for the people and things around us. I have long conversations with Moppie and Broomie all the time. They aren’t too interesting, but a girl needs somebody to talk to, doesn’t she?”
“I think your load’s shifting, Twink.”
“I know. That’s why I’m in the nuthouse. This is the walnut ward. They keep the filberts and pecans in the other wing. We aren’t supposed to talk with them, because their shells are awfully brittle, and they crack up if you look at them too hard. I was kind of brittle when I first got here, but now that I know who I really am, everything’s all right again.”
She was sharp; she was clever; and she could be absolutely adorable when she wanted to be. I definitely hoped that Doc Fallon was watching. I was certain that her distaste for her name was very significant. Now she had “Twinkie” to hold on to, so she could push “Renata”—and “Regina”—into the background. Maybe “Twinkie” was going to be her passport back to the world of people who call themselves “normal.” ••• I stayed for a couple more days, and then I used the “gotta go to work” ploy Fallon had suggested to ease my way out—well, sort of. I didn’t really stay away very much. As soon as I got off work at the door factory, I’d bag it on up to Lake Stevens to spend the evening with Twink.
Once she’d made the name-change and put “Renata” on the back burner, Twink’s recovery to at least partial sanity seemed to surprise even Dr. Fallon. Evidently, her switchover to “Twink” was something on the order of an escape hatch. She left “Regina” behind, along with “Renata,” and she seemed to grow more stable with each passing day.
Dr. Fallon decided that she was doing well enough that it’d probably be all right if she took a short furlough for Christmas.
It was a subdued sort of holiday—1995 hadn’t been a very good year for any of us. Twink’s aunt Mary, her dad’s sister, was about the only bright spot during the whole long holiday weekend, which might seem a bit strange, in view of the fact that Mary was a Seattle police officer. But she’d always been fond of the twins, and now she refused to treat Twink as if she were damaged merchandise—the way Les and Inga did. She smoothly stepped over the blank spots in Twink’s memory and more or less ignored her niece’s status as a mental patient on furlough. That seemed to help Twink, and the two of them grew very close during that long weekend. That in turn helped me raise a subject that had worried me more than a little.
It was on Christmas Day that I braced myself and finally broke the news to Twink that our schedule was about to change. “I’ll still be living at home, Twink,” I reassured her, “but I’ll be going to classes at the university instead of working at the door factory. I’ll have to study quite a bit, though, so my visits might be a little shorter.”
“I’ll be fine, Markie,” she said. Then she gave me one of those wide-eyed, vapid looks. “Have you heard the news? Some terribly clever fellow named Bell came up with the niftiest idea you ever heard of. He calls it the telephone. Isn’t that neat? You can visit me without even driving up the hill to the bughouse.”
Mary suddenly exploded with laughter.
“All right, Twink.” I felt a little foolish. “Would it bother you if I gave you a phone call instead of coming up there?”
“As long as I know that you care, I’ll be fine. I’m a tough little cookie—or hadn’t you noticed?”
“Maybe you two should clear that with Dr. Fallon,” Inga suggested, sounding worried.
“I’ll be fine, Inga,” Renata assured her. For some reason, Twink had trouble with “Mom” and “Dad,” so she called her parents by their names instead. I decided to have a talk with Fallon about that.
After the holidays, I returned to the university and started taking seminars, beginning with Graduate English Studies. That’s when I discovered just how far down into the bowels of the earth the main library building extended. I think there was more of it underground than above the surface. Graduate English Studies concentrated on “how to find stuff in the Lye-berry.” That deliberate mispronunciation used to make Dr. Conrad crazy, so I’d drop it on him every now and then just for laughs.
I was still commuting to Everett, even though the two hours of driving back and forth cut into my study time quite a bit. I had a long talk with Twink, and we sort of worked out a schedule. I’d visit her on weekends, but our weekday conversations were held on the phone. Dr. Fallon wasn’t too happy about that, but headshrinkers sometimes lose contact with the real world—occupational hazard, I suppose.
Renata’s amnesia remained more or less total—except for occasional flashes that didn’t really make much sense to her. Her furloughs from the hospital grew more frequent and lasted for longer periods of time. Dr. Fallon didn’t come right out and say it, but it seemed to me that he’d finally concluded that Twinkie would never regain her memory.
Inga Greenleaf, with characteristic German efficiency, went through Castle Greenleaf and removed everything even remotely connected to Regina. •••
When the fall quarter of 1996 rolled around, Dr. Conrad decided that it was time for me to get my feet wet on the front side of the classroom, so he bullied me into applying for a graduate teaching assistantship, the academic equivalent of slavery. We didn’t pick cotton; we taught fresh- man English instead. It was called Expository Writing, and it definitely exposed the nearly universal incompetence of college freshmen. I soon reached the point where I was absolutely certain that if I saw, “. . . in my opinion, I think that . . .” one more time, I’d be joining Twinkie in the bughouse.