Thoroughly exhausted, Miriam stumbled into the living room. She groped for the light switch, and all but ignored Max. The dog squealed with boundless joy; his tail wagged so furiously that it seemed his huge body might actually snap in half. In spite of the empty, drained feeling that weighed her down, Miriam found that she could not suppress the smile that was her usual response to Max’s enthusiastic welcomes. But she was too tired to give him the attention that he demanded.
“Get down, Max. Come on, get down!” she commanded as she pushed him away from her.
Not only was she tired, she didn’t feel well. Her head was spinning, her mouth felt like she had stuffed cotton into it. To make matters worse, the baby’s constant kicking seemed to sap her energy reserves faster than what she would have thought possible.
Over the objections of a few friends and neighbors, who had followed her to the hospital, she had insisted in coming home rather than stay at someone’s house. Now she was about to regret that decision; the house seemed so empty, she never had felt so alone.
As always, whenever she was troubled, Miriam tried to keep herself busy, but this time she couldn’t keep herself busy enough. Unbidden and unwanted scenes kept slipping into her mind. None of it made any sense, but after thinking about the series of events of the past few days, it seemed to her that someone was trying to kill them. The driver of the van had deliberately plowed into them, and although the entire idea seemed ridiculous, what other explanation was there? And yet neither one of them had any enemies; who would want to hurt J ustin with his warm and ready smile? His students all worshipped him; the entire faculty valued his ideas, opinions and friendship.
It had always been easy for Justin to make friends. As a matter of fact, everything was easy for him. Miriam smiled when she remembered the last Christmas party, and the nickname that Mr. Braun, the Latin teacher, had given Justin‑’Golden Boy’. Although Justin had objected, everyone, even the student body, affectionately and stubbornly used it. Who would want to hurt Justin? Kill him?
As for Miriam, she didn’t know anyone well enough to make an enemy. While she enjoyed socializing, it had always been difficult for her to make friends. And yet someone hated them enough to want to see them dead. Was there some logical explanation, or was the driver some psychopath, who had picked them out at random to be his victims? That last thought set her nerves on edge.
Miriam decided to check out the windows and the doors. She had a strange and compelling feeling that they should be shut and bolted securely. Even as she obeyed that compulsion, she couldn’t help but laugh at herself for her foolishness, and she kept telling herself that her imagination had run away with her. Nevertheless, for the first time since she and Justin had moved into the small house, she secured it. Miriam always did what her instinct insisted that she do.
Max repeatedly poked his head in the way of her hands and begged for attention. Preoccupied with her thoughts, and her task of bolting the latches and testing the locks on the windows, she pushed him away. Max whined nervously.
Everyday, for the next few days, Miriam kept herself as busy as she dared, but the moment came what she had to admit that she had to slow down. The many trips to the hospital, her music lessons and the painting of the nursery and its furniture had exhausted her completely. Reluctantly, she decided to cancel all of her lessons, and although her students were disappointed, it was more important to her to be able to sit next to J ustin in the hospital. When he came out of the coma, she wanted to be at his bedside smiling at him. Miriam wouldn’t even think about how she would manage with the loss of the income from the cancelled lessons. Things would work out, of that she was confident.
By the end of the first week, however, when Justin still had not come out of the coma, and the doctors seemed to avoid her questions, Miriam’s spirits began to sag badly. Suddenly, everything that she did became a serious drain on her energy; she felt light headed and dizzy most of the time. During her weekly checkup with the obstetrician, she discovered that her blood pressure was dangerously high.
“You’ll have to rest, Miriam, and I mean complete bed rest,” Dr. Kaplin said gravely as his fingers played with the gold pen on his desk. It was a nervous gesture that Miriam had come to recognize during her association with him. “You aren’t doing anyone a favor by becoming a medical emergency yourself. Either you rest every afternoon for three hours, or I’ll insist that you enter the hospital. I just won’t take the responsibility for your condition if you continue like this.”
Miriam had started to protest, but the doctor had cut her off with the threat that he would retire himself as her obstetrician if she refused to follow his instructions. Miriam knew by the way that he spoke, and by his constant tugging at his bow tie that he was deadly serious. Deep down inside she knew that the doctor was right; she had never felt so awful. Her feet, hands and face were puffy, moving about required more energy than she seemed to have, and to make matters worse, it was impossible to sleep at night.
Perhaps it was because she was so tired all of the time, or perhaps it was due to her worries about Justin’s condition, but shortly after her visit to Dr. Kaplin, Miriam started to see things. At first it merely puzzled her, later it annoyed her, and finally, it scared the hell out of her.
The things that she saw were not in themselves frightening things. On the contrary, they were common, ordinary things that people see everyday and not think twice about them. The problem was that in this case, Miriam knew that the things she saw were not really there. There was a graceful long‑legged spider crawling up a pale blue wall, a long‑haired marmelacle cat curled up on an orange rug that purred happily in the warm afternoon sun, and the small black and white spotted dog that ran joyfully through her front yard. It all seemed so real, and she could always describe each incident in complete detail. To make matters worse, the things that she saw always caught her by surprise. Their sudden appearances totally unnerved her. The tension, which had already exhausted her, intensified.
The hallucinations became so numerous that they threatened to overwhelm her; it was increasingly difficult to separate illusion from reality, and Miriam began to doubt her sanity. One morning, after another restless night, filled with elusive, disturbing dreams, Miriam discovered that awakening was no escape from the nightmares that had terrified her during the night.
So many images crowded in on her, when she awoke that morning, that she hurriedly closed her eyes in defense. The images persisted, intensified and dominated her mind so that it didn’t matter if her eyes were open, or closed. Suddenly, the images arranged themselves into logical sequence, like a movie unfolding on a screen. Curiosity slowly overcame her fear, and she yielded to the vision.
She saw hundreds of people, who looked remarkably like herself, except that their skin and hair glowed like highly polished metal. The people were the most beautiful that she had ever seen. She watched them stroll through incredibly beautiful gardens; they talked and laughed as they walked, and the sounds that they made were like music. Miriam felt a sudden surge of recognition, as if she had known the people, and suddenly she wanted to be a part of them, she wanted to join them. She rushed towards them, led forward by a feeling of intense joy and peace. just as she was almost close enough to touch one of them, she stopped, panic‑stricken. The people were unaware of her, but somehow she knew that if she were to touch one of them that something terrible would happen. Miriam turned to run, but she found that she could not take more than a few steps without feeling intense pain. She felt herself being drawn back to the group of happy, beautiful people against her will; she struggled, but it seemed that she would lose. Miriam heard the scream, and she was unaware that it was her’s. She reached out for the strength to resist whatever force it was that dragged her back.
As she reached out, she felt Max’s warm, moist nose brush against her cheek, and felt him lick the side of her face. Miriam was back, safe. Max stood by the side of her bed with a worried expression on his face. Miriam smiled at the dog as she scratched him behind his ears; up until that moment she hadn’t realized the range of expression that the animal was capable of. Or perhaps she was just seeing things again, but no matter, it made her feel less alone. Max sank down on the rug next to the bed, and Miriam puffed up her pillows and stretched out to rest. She was very tired, and for the first time in a long, long while, she rested; the only images that filled her mind were those she herself invoked. She thought about Justin and Max, and how grateful she was that she had lost the one and only argument that she and Justin had ever had the previous year.
Miriam remembered how she had protested the introduction of the animal into her immaculate home; she had never been too fond of animals.
“A dog will only make a mess in the house,” she had argued.
“We’ll keep him in the yard,” Justin had said as the puppy wriggled in his arms to better lick his face.
“He’ll make a mess of the yard, too!” Miriam knew that she lost the argument when the puppy let out a high pitched bark, and Justin had laughed happily.
“Oh, he’ll be Ok. We’ll train him. They say that German Shepherds are highly intelligent, and besides if two teachers can’t train one little puppy then we are both in trouble. Anyhow, he loves you already,” he said as he held the puppy close to Miriam, but she had stalked out of the room angrily.
At first, she had taken care of the puppy’s needs only to please Justin, but after a very short while Justin was complaining that perhaps they should get another dog, one for him. It was clear that Max was a one‑woman dog, and Justin was tolerated merely because he was part of the household.
Miriam smiled as she remembered; it had been a happier, quieter time. Suppressing a yawn, she looked at the clock on the nightstand. It was already nine‑thirty and there was a lot to do before she left for the hospital to visit Justin. Max followed at her heels so closely that she almost tripped over him twice, and she made him retire to his corner, from where he watched her every move.
Dr. Kaplin had ordered her not to drive during her last seven weeks of pregnancy, but because she felt well that morning, she decided to save the cab fare and drive to the hospital herself. After she had fed Max and given him fresh water, she locked the doors carefully.
“Stay in the yard, Max,” she said. Her voice was as stern as she could make it, but she couldn’t suppress the smile, which was always her response to Max’s pleading look.
“You can’t go with me, you big dummy, they don’t allow dogs in the hospital.”
Max hung his head sadly, his ears folded neatly against his handsome head.
It was a beautiful morning, unusually warm for the middle of March. Most of the trees were still bare, but the willows were definitely yellowish along the branches. The early blooming bulbs were just beginning to poke up through the cold ground with yellow and blue flowers that seemed to light up the gardens in which they were planted. Miriam promised herself that she would buy some of those bulbs so that she could enjoy them in her garden the following spring.
The light breeze had a definite feel of humidity in it, and the ground was beginning to release the scent of a thawing earth. Miriam loved it; she drove with the car windows open.
Suddenly Miriam saw herself, in her own car, driving at herself! She blinked her eyes rapidly and slammed her foot on the brakes. The driver of the car in back of her honked the horn and screamed obscenities. She knew that she was experiencing another of her hallucinations, and that it would be better to pull over quickly because she had no way of knowing what would happen next. The image faded immediately after she had swerved out of the lane of traffic, and had pulled up on the grass shoulder. In place of the mirror image of herself, Miriam saw the gray van that had run Justin down, but she was unsure whether it was real, or just another hallucination. She held her breath.
The impatient driver in back of her, who had been honking his horn furiously, must not have seen the van. With Miriam’s car off of the pavement, he stepped on the gas and sped into the path of the van. Miriam wanted to stop the blue Volkswagen bug, but there was no way to attract the determined driver’s attention. By the time that the two drivers saw each other, it was too late to avoid an impact.
It happened so fast. The Blue Volks, hit on the passenger’s side, spun around several times before plowing into a large, old willow on the side of the road. Miraculously, it had missed her car, she was safe. The driver of the Volks, blood covered, and holding onto his head, stumbled out of his car. Instantly, there were people everywhere.
Miriam looked for the gray van; it had disappeared.