(This is a short story that I wrote in 1988. It is protected by copyright.)A Frame of Mind
It seemed it would rain forever. The streets were stone cold grey rivers of despair unfit for even the bravest pedestrian. Cars were jammed one behind another and looked like stationary shelters moving to the dance only at the command of the street lights. Their occupants were warm and dry and unaffected.
Peter stepped out onto the landing of his brownstone. Discovering the reality of the streets before him, he felt a twinge of loss for his dry, comfortable home. Wrapped in his isolation, he began the long walk to work.
Practically wading down the sidewalk, his feet in their huge galoshes resembled two lonely salmon attempting to swim upstream in their final hours. Glistening droplets of water landed on his lashes from the brim of his hat and his vision was temporarily lost.
After a quick pass of his hands over his eyes to derail the water, he caught a glimpse of his latest multi-level metro housing project. Only a few months ago, it was still a baby waiting to be born-to take its place in the world. Amidst the skyscrapers it was still a child, but it would grow quickly."The way of the future!" they had declared. "A brilliant conception! Affordable housing for the up and coming and they do deserve it!"
He recalled the pride he had felt upon receiving his promotion to Chief City Planner. What an honour it was to plan for the future of thousands, maybe even millions! The memory took away his chills-almost.
Peter was totally caught up in his thoughts when a sudden gust of wind grasped his hat and flung it a few feet ahead. In a split second of shock, he stood still, gazing at the people around him. They all seemed so miserable and displaced. The rain was such an inconvenience. He trotted ahead and bent down to rescue his sopping hat from the water.
As he rose, he caught a look at the pedestrians again. They were smiling now as if the pellets of rain had suddenly turned to beams of sun. But, nothing had changed... Why were they happy now when only a moment ago...? He walked back to the place he had been when his hat had lost its owner. Here, again, the people all looked grey-as grey as the rest of the world. And then, he saw it.
It was very faint and he had to squint to see it through the downpour, but it was there. An outline, almost crystalline, as if it was made of the raindrops-almost invisible. Its shape was that of a frame; like an eight foot high doorway without the door. And he had passed through it; and he had passed through form where the world seemed evil to where the world seemed good. And it was real. He passed through again and again, and it was real. He didn't want to leave it behind, but something inside told him that now that he had found it, it was his and would always be there for him.
He did not take his new found revelation to work with him, cautiously leaving it in the confines of his mind, although he thought he might implode.
This was important. This was the answer. This explained everything, for everybody. But, this would have to wait until it could be shared with the person he trusted most.
The pressures of the day dissolved and his mind wandered back to those wonderful college days with Eveline. They had spent countless late nights contemplating the meaning of so many things and he had known that someday, somehow, he would leave his mark on the world and it would be important. She would rejoice.
"This is incredible!!" Peter said.
"This is impossible!!" replied Eveline.
"Why?" he queried.
"Poor, poor Peter." she cried as she quietly picked up the phone to call for help.
There was a dull orange haze in front of him and he blinked his eyes open and shut a few times to focus. Orange bricks, hundreds of them, stacked on top of each other to form the most massive, impenetrable structure. A veritable fort in the woods, existing not to keep people out, but rather to keep them in. It swallowed up people and raped them of their identity in the name of "health". The keepers were watchers who observed humanity from behind a glass window as if the inhabitants were contagious.
The doors of the vehicle opened and he was forced through moving glass doors into the sterilized admitting chambers. The cheap disinfectant stung his nostrils and seemed to emphatically state,"No germs live here now and they never, ever will."
When he finally realized where he was, Peter tried to run. But his body had been bound in a white, antiquated straightjacket. He was helpless.
"Take me to my frame!" he screamed. "I'm on the wrong side here. I need to go back! This is a mistake. This side of the frame will kill me if I don't get back!" The sounds of his screams reverberated off the walls like words in an echo chamber. Then, all was silent.
Two attendants got a firm hold on him and deposited Peter in one of the holding rooms. One produced a needle and forced it into Peter's arm, while the other held him down. Both had blank, emotionless stares. They had seen too much. Nothing was shocking anymore.
"I heard you. YOU!" he barked.
Peter turned towards the voice and saw a gruff looking man whose face was taut and weathered. His skin clung to his bones for dear life and his sparse white hair seemed to emanate, rather than grow, from his small head.
"It's Gus." he said quietly, "I heard you when they brought you. And I know."
"When was that?" Peter asked groggily.
"I think - two nights ago. You're up and about. Be good and they'll let you stay out here. And I can teach you. First, the frame."
Peter looked cautiously into the stranger's eyes.
"I found my first one long, long ago," Gus continued, "and my life changed you know." I know how it really is and you know now too. It gave me truth and knowledge and fear and things changed and it's so much responsibility and I have a lovely, lovely wife you know...her name is Joan. But, she can't come with me. She has her own, you know and mine is invisible to her."
Peter feared the words would pour out forever, but Gus had to take a breath. He was red with exhilaration.
"Fear?" Peter asked.
"Well," Gus began again, "Fear...no one believes you. You know it's there and you have to decide when to pass through because the balance must be there, you know. You have to pick it and make it work right. After all, you can't spend forever on the fluffy side and pretend the other side just ain't there." He paused. "It can't work that way, you know. You pick it. And you can't go around telling everybody." He wagged his finger sternly. "Just take your medicine, or pretend and go on." A deep sense of loneliness set in. And the heavy weight of responsibility dropped onto Peter's shoulders from an unfriendly sky.
"Did I tell you I've got a nice wife?" Gus asked with a far away glaze in his eyes. "She's a saint." And he wandered away.
Dr.Adolfus stood at the door of the patient's lounge with Dr. Young. Dr. Young spoke. "It's incredible! That new patient, that well-scrubbed exec, has been sitting there talking to Gus for a half hour. Yet, Gus only babbles. He says nothing coherent! Do you think they actually understand each other?"
"Only they can answer that, I suppose." said Adolfus as he strode away towards his office. He entered to the sound of his ringing phone and picked up the receiver. "Yes, this is he." he stated.
"Well, Dr.Adolfus. Let me be the first to congratulate you. It seems your research into deinstitutionalization has been very successful! The government has decided to begin the project early next year," said the enthusiastic voice in the void.
"Alright...and thank you", Dr. Adolfus replied calmly and hung up.
He picked up his coat and hat, exited the building, and got into his car. "Miserable, miserable rain", he thought. Approaching the corner, he became very excited at the thought of passing into the other side again. Where only goodness would prevail.
Peter lay on his bed and tried to absorb what had happened. As Gus took his final breath in the world, Peter made a mental list of questions to ask his strange, new mentor. But, they would have to wait until tomorrow.
He dozed off thinking of the possible answer to why Gus was here at all now, after all of these years.
Tomorrow would be Thursday. Shock treatment day. Soon Peter would forget everything. At least for a while.
That was 1962.