“It’s killing me,” I say as I lay horizontally, staring at the ceiling. “Figuratively, of course. Or maybe metaphorically. Whatever. All I know is that every night I’m plunged into the depths again. I struggle to reach the surface. Struggle to breathe. Only now there’s something weighing me down. Something in my pocket.”

“And what is that, in your pocket? What is weighing you down?” Dr. Brennon asks.

“A fucking flash drive,” I say. “Pardon my language.”

“There is no reason to apologize,” she says. “Swearing is cathartic; it provides us an avenue of expression for our emotions and frees us from the feelings of anger or frustration that we so dearly want to hold on to. It is also a coping mechanism that helps us deal with stressful situations, one that you likely developed during your time abroad, perhaps?

I think about what she says as I stare at the stately, dark walnut desk in the corner. The desk that looks exactly the same every time I’m in heresame old-fashioned fountain pen in the upper right-hand corner; same books held in place by ornate silver bookends; and the same blank pad of paper laying in the middle. Either she has raging OCD or the desk is just for show. 

Perhaps,” I say with a sigh, as I avert my eyes from the desk and sink deeper into the plush, cream sofa. I could sit on the chair across from Dr. Brennon like her other clients do, as she has reminded on more than one occasion. But I like to get my full hundred and fifty bucks worth of therapy. Plus, it looks cool.

“But then, I was in constant fear of being blown up while I sat in a cafe typing out a story, so shouting shit or fuck whenever a car parked out front really calmed my nerves. …Again, pardon my language.”

I look over to see her smiling at me. I bet Dr. Brennan was a real looker in her day. She’s still attractive in an early-sixties, handsome woman kind of way. Her silver gray hair frames her softly-lined face, falling just under her chin, and when she smiles her hazel eyes wrinkle upward. Which is a sign she’s really smiling. Smiles that don’t reach the eyes aren’t smiles. Maybe they taught her that in shrink school. Or maybe I’m just that funny.

“Ah, yes,” she says. “Humor. Another mechanism you often employ to inject an emotional component into your purposefully vague conversations.”

I roll my eyes at her and return them to the ceiling.

“Now, then. This flash drive, what does it mean to you?” she says.

“Nothing, really,” I say.

“It cannot mean nothing to you,” she says. “Clearly by the way it is affecting you, it means a great deal to you.”

“I don’t even know what’s on it,” I say. “I can’t open the files. And the creepy thing is that it was given to me by a dead guy.

“In your dream?”

“No, not in my dream,” I say as I sit up to face her. “An actual flash drive from an actual dead guy.”

How does a dead man give you a flash drive?” she asks, in her nothing-surprises-me therapist face.

“Well, he wasn’t dead when he gave it to me,” I say.

“I see,” she says, nodding her head. “But he’s dead now?”

“Yes,” I say.

“Do you feel responsible for his death?”

No,” I say. “I didn’t even know him.”

“I see,” she says. “Then why did he give you this flash drive?”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” I say, bottling up my frustration and purposely refraining from swearing.

“And is there anyone who could help you figure this out?” she asks.

“No.” I reply.

“No, there isn’t anyone or no, you don’t want to ask anyone?” she asks.

“I already asked someone, but she couldn’t help me.”

“And there’s absolutely no one else you can turn to?”

“Well… I’ll just figure it out myself.”

“Ahh…” she says, with a slight nod of her head “as you so often do.”

“I know, Dr. Brennan. No man is an island, and all that. Can we save that speech for another day and go back to the dream?”

She smiles her crinkly-eyed smile and continues, “Of course,” she says, “but it’s important to realize that all of our thoughts and actions are connected through our past hurts. Even if we’re not consciously aware of it, there’s a thread linking it all together, Riley.”

I say nothing.

“So is it possible that your unsuccessful attempt at seeking help, combined with being unable to master something right away has given you that sense of dreaded helplessness we’ve spoken about before?”

“Maybe,” I reply.

“And is it possible that a man giving you something shortly before his death reminds you of what happened in North Africa?” she asks.

I just stare at her.

“I find it interesting that the elements of helplessness and displaced guilt continually play out in different areas of your life,” she continues.

“Are you saying that I asked some guy I barely know to give me a flash drive and then die so that I can repeat some sort of pattern in my life?” I respond.

“Of course not,” she says. “Unrelated life experiences occur all the time. But the degree to which something affects us depends on how familiar it feels to our subconscious.


“Meaning, on the surface you’re affected by this because anyone would be disturbed by having received something from a person so soon before his death. However, when we don’t deal with an issue on a conscious level, the pattern repeats over and over as our subconscious tries to find a solution.”

“Maybe,” I say, not wanting to fully agree, on, you know, a conscious level. “I just want to sleep one night without waking up in a panic. So what do I do to relieve the stress, Doc?”

“What do you think you should do?” she asks.

“I dunno. Get myself some crayons and an adult coloring book?”

“Ah, there it is againhumor,” she says, not looking nearly as amused as she was earlier.

I let out a long sigh. “I guess I need to figure out just what the hell is on that flash drive.”

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