He'd never broken himself of the habit. He still looked to the left every morning, just as he had today. But there was no window any more. There was only a blank wall. And beyond it, the smog and the clamor and the crowds.
Window-glass. Wilmer-Klibby had problems. Nobody was buying window-glass any more. Nobody except the people who put up buildings like this. There were still windows on the top floors, just like the window here in his office.
Harry stepped over to it, moving very slowly because of his head. It hurt to keep his eyes open, but he wanted to stare out of the window. Up this high you could see above the smog. You could see the sun like a radiant jewel packed in the cotton cumulus of clouds. If you opened the window you could feel fresh air against your forehead, you could breathe it in and breathe out the headache.
But you didn't dare look down. Oh, no, never look down, because then you'd see the buildings all around you. The buildings below, black and sooty, their jagged outlines like the stumps of rotten teeth. And they stretched off in all directions, as far as the eye could attain; row after row of rotten teeth grinning up from the smog-choked throat of the streets. From the maw of the city far below came this faint but endless howling, this screaming of traffic and toil. And you couldn't help it, you breathed that in too, along with the fresh air, and it poisoned you and it did more than make your head ache. It made your heart ache and it made your soul sick, and it made you close your eyes and your lungs and your brain against it.
Harry reeled, but he knew this was the only way. Close your brain against it. And then, when you opened your eyes again, maybe you could see the way things used to be- It was snowing out and it was a wet snow, the very best kind for snowballs and making a snowman, and the whole gang would come out after school.
But there was no school, this was Saturday, and the leaves were russet and gold and red so that it looked as if all the trees in the world were on fire. And you could scuff when you walked and pile up fallen leaves from the grass and roll in them.
And it was swell to roll down the front lawn in summer, just roll right down to the edge of the sidewalk like it was a big hill and let Daddy catch you at the bottom, laughing.
Mamma laughed too, and she said, Look, it's springtime, the lilacs are out, do you want to touch the pretty lilacs, Harry?
And Harry didn't quite understand what she was saying, but he reached out and they were purple and smelled of rain and soft sweetness and they were just beyond the window, if he reached a little further he could touch them- And then the snow and the leaves and the grass and the lilacs disappeared, and Harry could see the rotten teeth again, leering and looming and snapping at him. They were going to bite, they were going to chew, they were going to devour, and he couldn't stop them, couldn't stop himself. He was falling into the howling jaws of the city.
His last conscious effort was a desperate attempt to gulp fresh air into his lungs before he pinwheeled down. Fresh air was good for headaches....
2. Harry Collins-1998
It took them ten seconds to save Harry from falling, but it took him over ten weeks to regain his balance.
In fact, well over two months had passed before he could fully realize just what had happened, or where he was now. They must have noticed something was wrong with him that morning at the office, because two supervisors and an exec rushed in and caught him just as he was going out of the window. And then they had sent him away, sent him here.
"This is fine," he told Dr. Manschoff. "If I'd known how well they treated you, I'd have gone couch-happy years ago."
Dr. Manschoff's plump face was impassive, but the little laugh-lines deepened around the edges of his eyes. "Maybe that's why we take such care not to publicize our recent advances in mental therapy," he said. "Everybody would want to get into a treatment center, and then where would we be?"
Harry nodded, staring past the doctor's shoulder, staring out of the wide window at the broad expanse of rolling countryside beyond.
"I still don't understand, though," he murmured. "How can you possibly manage to maintain an institution like this, with all the space and the luxuries? The inmates seem to lead a better life than the adjusted individuals outside. It's topsy-turvy."
"Perhaps." Dr. Manschoff's fingers formed a pudgy steeple. "But then, so many things seem to be topsy-turvy nowadays, don't they? Wasn't it the realization of this fact which precipitated your own recent difficulties?"
"Almost precipitated me bodily out of that window," Harry admitted, cheerfully. "And that's another thing. I was sent here, I suppose, because I'd attempted suicide, gone into shock, temporary amnesia, something like that."
"Something like that," the doctor echoed, contemplating his steeple.
"But you didn't give me any treatment," Harry continued. "Oh, I was kept under sedation for a while, I realize that. And you and some of the other staff-members talked to me. But mainly I just rested in a nice big room and ate nice big meals."
"So?" The steeple's fleshy spire collapsed.
"So what I want to know is, when does the real treatment start? When do I go into analysis, or chemotherapy, and all that?"
Dr. Manschoff shrugged. "Do you think you need those things now?"
Harry gazed out at the sunlight beyond the window, half-squinting and half-frowning. "No, come to think of it, I don't believe I do. I feel better now than I have in years."
His companion leaned back. "Meaning that for years you felt all wrong. Because you were constricted, physically, psychically, and emotionally. You were cramped, squeezed in a vise until the pressure became intolerable. But now that pressure has been removed. As a result you no longer suffer, and there is no need to seek escape in death or denial of identity.
"This radical change of attitude has been brought about here in just a little more than two months' time. And yet you're asking me when the 'real treatment' begins."
"I guess I've already had the real treatment then, haven't I?"
"That is correct. Prolonged analysis or drastic therapy is unnecessary. We've merely given you what you seemed to need."
"I'm very grateful," Harry said. "But how can you afford to do it?"
Dr. Manschoff built another temple to an unknown god. He inspected the architecture critically now as he spoke. "Because your problem is a rarity," he said.
"Rarity? I'd have thought millions of people would be breaking down every month. The Naturalists say-"
The doctor nodded wearily. "I know what they say. But let's dismiss rumors and consider facts. Have you ever read any official report stating that the number of cases of mental illness ran into the millions?"
"No, I haven't."
"For that matter, do you happen to know of anyone who was ever sent to a treatment center such as this?"
"Well, of course, everybody goes in to see the medics for regular check-ups and this includes an interview with a psych. But if they're in bad shape he just puts them on extra tranquilizers. I guess sometimes he reviews their Vocational Apt tests and shifts them over into different jobs in other areas."
Dr. Manschoff bowed his head in reverence above the steeple, as if satisfied with the labors he had wrought. "That is roughly correct. And I believe, if you search your memory, you won't recall even a mention of a treatment center. This sort of place is virtually extinct, nowadays. There are still some institutions for those suffering from functional mental disorders-paresis, senile dementia, congenital abnormalities. But regular check-ups and preventative therapy take care of the great majority. We've ceased concentrating on the result of mental illnesses and learned to attack the causes.
"It's the old yellow fever problem all over again, you see. Once upon a time, physicians dealt exclusively with treatment of yellow fever patients. Then they shifted their attention to the source of the disease. They went after the mosquitoes, drained the swamps, and the yellow fever problem vanished.
"That's been our approach in recent years. We've developed social therapy, and so the need for individual therapy has diminished.
"What were the sources of the tensions producing mental disturbances? Physical and financial insecurity, the threat of war, the aggressive patterns of a competitive society, the unresolved Oedipus-situation rooted in the old-style family relationship. These were the swamps where the mosquitoes buzzed and bit. Most of the swamps have been dredged, most of the insects exterminated.
"Today we're moving into a social situation where nobody goes hungry, nobody is jobless or unprovided for, nobody needs to struggle for status. Vocational Apt determines a man's rightful place and function in society, and there's no longer the artificial distinction imposed by race, color or creed. War is a thing of the past. Best of all, the old-fashioned 'home-life,' with all of its unhealthy emotional ties, is being replaced by sensible conditioning when a child reaches school age. The umbilical cord is no longer a permanent leash, a strangler's noose, or a silver-plated life-line stretching back to the womb."
Harry Collins nodded. "I suppose only the exceptional cases ever need to go to a treatment center like this."
"But what makes me one of the exceptions? Is it because of the way the folks brought me up, in a small town, with all the old-fashioned books and everything? Is that why I hated confinement and conformity so much? Is it because of all the years I spent reading? And why-"
Dr. Manschoff stood up. "You tempt me," he said. "You tempt me strongly. As you can see, I dearly love a lecture-and a captive audience. But right now, the audience must not remain captive. I prescribe an immediate dose of freedom."
"You mean I'm to leave here?"
"Is that what you want to do?"
"Frankly, no. Not if it means going back to my job."
"That hasn't been decided upon. We can discuss the problem later, and perhaps we can go into the answers to those questions you just posed. But at the moment, I'd suggest you stay with us, though without the restraint of remaining in your room or in the wards. In other words, I want you to start going outside again."
"You'll find several square miles of open country just beyond the doors here. You're at liberty to wander around and enjoy yourself. Plenty of fresh air and sunshine-come and go as you wish. I've already issued instructions which permit you to keep your own hours. Meals will be available when you desire them."
"You're very kind."
"Nonsense. I'm prescribing what you need. And when the time comes, we'll arrange to talk again. You know where to find me."
Dr. Manschoff dismantled his steeple and placed a half of the roof in each trouser-pocket.
And Harry Collins went outdoors.
It was wonderful just to be free and alone-like returning to that faraway childhood in Wheaton once again. Harry appreciated every minute of it during the first week of his wandering.
But Harry wasn't a child any more, and after a week he began to wonder instead of wander.
The grounds around the treatment center were more than spacious; they seemed absolutely endless. No matter how far he walked during the course of a day, Harry had never encountered any walls, fences or artificial barriers; there was nothing to stay his progress but the natural barriers of high, steeply-slanting precipices which seemed to rim all sides of a vast valley. Apparently the center itself was set in the middle of a large canyon-a canyon big enough to contain an airstrip for helicopter landings. The single paved road leading from the main buildings terminated at the airstrip, and Harry saw helicopters arrive and depart from time to time; apparently they brought in food and supplies.
As for the center itself, it consisted of four large structures, two of which Harry was familiar with. The largest was made up of apartments for individual patients, and staffed by nurses and attendants. Harry's own room was here, on the second floor, and from the beginning he'd been allowed to roam around the communal halls below at will.
The second building was obviously administrative-Dr. Manschoff's private office was situated therein, and presumably the other staff-members operated out of here.
The other two buildings were apparently inaccessible; not guarded or policed or even distinguished by signs prohibiting access, but merely locked and unused. At least, Harry had found the doors locked when-out of normal curiosity-he had ventured to approach them. Nor had he ever seen anyone enter or leave the premises. Perhaps these structures were unnecessary under the present circumstances, and had been built for future accommodations.
Still, Harry couldn't help wondering.
And now, on this particular afternoon, he sat on the bank of the little river which ran through the valley, feeling the mid-summer sun beating down upon his forehead and staring down at the eddying current with its ripples and reflections.
Ripples and reflections....
Dr. Manschoff had answered his questions well, yet new questions had arisen.
Most people didn't go crazy any more, the doctor had explained, and so there were very few treatment centers such as this.
Question: Why were there any at all?
A place like this cost a fortune to staff and maintain. In an age where living-space and areable acreage was at such a premium, why waste this vast and fertile expanse? And in a society more and more openly committed to the policy of promoting the greatest good for the greatest number, why bother about the fate of an admittedly insignificant group of mentally disturbed patients?
Not that Harry resented his situation; in fact, it was almost too good to be true.
Question: Was it too good to be true?
Why, come to realize it, he'd seen less than a dozen other patients during his entire stay here! All of them were male, and all of them-apparently-were recovering from a condition somewhat similar to his own. At least, he'd recognized the same reticence and diffidence when it came to exchanging more than a perfunctory greeting in an encounter in an outer corridor. At the time, he'd accepted their unwillingness to communicate; welcomed and understood it because of his condition. And that in itself wasn't what he questioned now.
But why were there so few patients beside himself? Why were they all males? And why weren't they roaming the countryside now the way he was?
So many staff-members and so few patients. So much room and luxury and freedom, and so little use of it. So little apparent purpose to it all.
Question: Was there a hidden purpose?
Harry stared down into the ripples and reflections, and the sun was suddenly intolerably hot, its glare on the water suddenly blinding and bewildering. He saw his face mirrored on the water's surface, and it was not the familiar countenance he knew-the features were bloated, distorted, shimmering and wavering.
Maybe it was starting all over again. Maybe he was getting another one of those headaches. Maybe he was going to lose control again.
Yes, and maybe he was just imagining things. Sitting here in all this heat wasn't a good idea.
Why not take a swim?
That seemed reasonable enough. In fact, it seemed like a delightful distraction. Harry rose and stripped. He entered the water awkwardly-one didn't dive, not after twenty years of abstinence from the outdoor life-but he found that he could swim, after a fashion. The water was cooling, soothing. A few minutes of immersion and Harry found himself forgetting his speculations. The uneasy feeling had vanished. Now, when he stared down into the water, he saw his own face reflected, looking just the way it should. And when he stared up- He saw her standing there, on the bank.
She was tall, slim, and blonde. Very tall, very slim, and very blonde.
She was also very desirable.
Up until a moment ago, Harry had considered swimming a delightful distraction. But now- "How's the water?" she called.
She nodded, smiling down at him.
"Aren't you coming in?" he asked.
"Then what are you doing here?"
"I was looking for you, Harry."
"You know my name?"
She nodded again. "Dr. Manschoff told me."
"You mean, he sent you here to find me?"
"But I don't understand. If you're not going swimming, then why-I mean-"
Her smile broadened. "It's just part of the therapy, Harry."
"Part of the therapy?"
"That's right. Part." She giggled. "Don't you think you'd like to come out of the water now and see what the rest of it might be?"
Harry thought so.
With mounting enthusiasm, he eagerly embraced his treatment and entered into a state of active cooperation.