Fiction Friday - String Theory
Been a long time since I posted any fiction on here, huh? I thought I should change that today. "String Theory" is a very, very rough draft of a short story I wrote for a project I was trying to pull together that unfortunately doesn't seem like it's going to work out. Still, no reason the story should just be saved in a folder and never read, right? It's a short little number, very rough as I said as it never his the revision phase (yet?) and it's central theme is how the beginning of love and the beginning of insanity and the beginning of recovery can all kind of dovetail together. Let me know what you think, if you're so inclined (and yes, Dr. Tennant is named after exactly who you probably think he's named after).
“If we’re starting at the beginning then we have to begin where it started because that’s where the beginning all began.
“And the beginning was that she was gone.”
Dr. Tennant looked up from his notepad, pausing in his writing mid-sentence as he tried to untangle that confusing statement. “I’m sorry, Shawn,” he finally said to his patient after a moment, a moment that seemed to pass by unnoticed by the young man laying prone on the couch across from where Dr. Tennant sat at his desk. “What exactly do you mean by ‘the beginning was that she was gone'? That sounds rather more like an ending to me,” he questioned, the phrasing and his accent making his British origins obvious.
“What’s a word mean, gone?” Shawn answered as he picked distractedly at a piece of string dangling from the sleeve of the gray cotton shirt the hospital had provided for him. “It’s just an ending, is ‘gone,’ and an ending is just a beginning that’s just begun. Endings and beginnings, like a circle.” He finally succeeded in pulling the string out of the shirt and looked at it forlornly. “Except when she left and the circle got all broken and now it’s just straight like a string.”
As he watched Shawn stare at the string, Dr. Tennant wondered if that particular statement was important. Part of him suspected it was so he noted it in his pad; the truth was this was only his third session with the troubled young man and he had yet to diagnose him. All he knew for sure was there was clearly something wrong with him. His parents had remanded him into the care of Willowbrook Hospital, a private hospital for those suffering from mental afflictions after he unsuccessfully tried to hang himself from the ceiling fan in his bedroom, a ceiling fan that wasn’t installed properly and so couldn’t support his weight.
While he was unsure if the string was relevant, he knew Shawn’s repeated mentioning of
“she” certainly was. He also knew from their previous sessions that the she in question was Sandy, a girl Shawn had been seeing. He wanted to get Shawn to focus on her; talking about his family and childhood in their first two sessions hadn’t really led to anything productive.
“Very well, Shawn,” he agreed supportively, “let us talk about that then. Tell me more about Sandy.”
“You want to know about Sandy?” Shawn twirled the piece of string around his finger as he spoke. “Sandy and Shawn. Shawn and Sandy. Shawndy. Two people. Two people but one person, like a string,” he went on, unwrapping the string and pulling it taut, “one person at each end. And then together, like a circle,” now touching the string’s ends together, “like a forever circle.”
Again, the string. And, Dr. Tennant made special note this time, the string connected to the idea of a circle. He rose from his desk and walked over to sit at the chair beside the couch. “When last we spoke, you told me you thought it was love at first sight for you when it came to Sandy. Is that right?”
“No no no,” Shawn answered vehemently, shaking his head vigorously, so vigorously he almost dropped the piece of string. He desperately tried to catch it but missed as the room’s air currents blew it in little circles until it landed on the rug. He snatched it up and clutched it to his chest, breathing for a moment before he continued. “I said I always loved her, but it wasn’t love at first sight.”
Dr. Tennant thought it over for a second before saying, “I’m sorry, Shawn, I’m not sure I understand what you mean.
Shawn sighed, as if to him he was being perfectly clear and Dr. Tennant was the one with mental problems. “I saw her before I knew I loved her, but I always loved her, I just didn’t know it when I first saw her.”
That didn’t make anything any clearer for the doctor, so he decided to try a different tack. “Why don’t you tell me about when you first met Sandy?”
“At the bar. She was working. I was working on drinking. She was working to drink, I think.”
“Do you drink a lot, Shawn?”
“Not for a fish,” he answered with a giggle. Dr. Tennant made a note of that, thinking that perhaps alcoholism played a part here, and was about to ask a follow-up question when Shawn unexpectedly continued, “but if I was a fish I’d have been a fish out of water for her.”
“Interesting, Shawn. Could you elaborate on that?”
Shawn shook his head. “I hate fish. I don’t want to talk about fish.”
“That’s alright,” Dr. Tennant said patiently. “Tell me more about what happened with Sandy.”
“Nothing. I wasn’t there for her. I was never there for her, not then. There were plenty of times we were both there but she was working and I was drinking and maybe we were talking and maybe not but I went to the bar for my friends, not for her. There was so circle, no string. Until it was time to sing!”
Dr. Tennant was having a hard time following the narrative thread of Shawn’s story, but he thought it would be best to try to go with the flow rather than interrupt for clarification. “When did you sing?”
“Karaoke!” Shawn practically shouted the answer in his excitement. “I went to karaoke with my friends and she was there too. I sang. She sang. It was fun.”
“Was it a coincidence that you were both there,” Dr. Tennant asked, “or did you know she was going to be there?” He noticed Shawn was beginning to become clearer in what he said so he wanted to prod him along, get him talking about Sandy more to see just how clear he would get.
Shawn looked confused, his mouth opened and closed rapidly a few times, as if he was gasping for the answer he wanted to give. Finally, he said, “Coincidence. I didn’t know she was going to be there. My friends like karaoke.”
Dr. Tennant nodded, nevertheless writing coincidence down in his notepad with a question mark after it. “You said you both sang. What did you sing, Sean?”
He smiled and looked at the string in his hand. He lifted his hand and released the string, letting it fall onto his stomach. “My friends and I all sang ‘No Strings Attached,’ an old boy band song.”
“I see,” the doctor replied thoughtfully. “And what about Sandy, what did she sing?”
“A Disney song. She really liked Disney. Disney songs, Disney movies, Disney characters. She liked them all.”
“What Disney song did she sing, Shawn,” Dr. Tennant pressed gently.
“From The Lion King, ‘Circle of Life.’” Shawn frowned, and again made the string into a circle with his fingers, resting the circle on his stomach where he could see it. “I always thought ‘Hakuna Matata’ was better.” Then he pulled the string into a straight line again.
Intending to make it a point to listen to the songs later for any hints they might possess, Dr. Tennant quickly jotted the names down. As he looked at his handwriting on the notepad, the connection jumped out at him.
No Strings Attached.
Circle of Life.
Strings and circles again.
Shawn, meanwhile, had broken out into a mostly whispered rendition of ‘Hakuna Matata.’ He had made it through the first verse and the chorus but stopped abruptly when he reached the part about how “it means no worries for the rest of your days.” “The rest of your days,” he repeated after an anguished sigh. “Too many days, too many days. All the days were fine in a circle but there are too many days in a string from end to end… like the days before I knew I loved her. Just too many.”
Caught completely off-guard by this tangent, what Dr. Tennant wanted to say was, “What the bloody hell are you on about, mate?”
His British always came out when he was particularly confused.
What he said instead was, “Shawn, I don’t at all follow. What do you mean, there were too many days before you loved her?”
“All the days I saw her before I knew I loved her,” Shawn answered with an exasperated tone, as if this was the easiest thing in the world to see. “It was the circle of life that moves us all. Through despair and hope, through faith and love. And it moved me to know I loved her the way I always loved her.”
Dr. Tennant thought maybe he was beginning to catch on. “Are you saying you realized you fell in love with her when you saw her sing?”
Shawn nodded and said, “No. I always loved her. Seeing her sing just made me realize what I always knew. She looked so happy and pretty having fun up there singing and sounding pretty, and it was so cute the way she swayed back and forth and twirled the microphone cord around her fingers.” As he spoke, Shawn twirled the gray string around his fingers. He noticed what he was doing and looked at the string and then looked up at Dr. Tennant with a very serious look on his face. “You know, a cord is just like a string, only thicker.”
Nodding as if he understood perfectly, the doctor asked, “Why was it too many days, Shawn?”
“All that time on the string of our life wasted because I didn’t know. Too many days of not being a circle together, just being too separate strings. Wasted.”
Now he really did think he was beginning to see, but he wanted to her Shawn explain it himself. “And after you saw her sing and you knew you loved her, is that when your strings became a circle.”
Shawn’s head bobbed up and down excitedly, clearly happy to be understood, even if only a bit. “Yes!” We were together then. I asked and she said yes and we were together, always together, our strings making a circle of togetherness together. But we weren’t a perfect circle because I never told her what I didn’t know I always felt, and that’s something two people together in a circle should tell each other if they want stay a circle and be a perfect circle.”
Dr. Tennant was confused again. He blinked a few times, hoping Shawn would choose to elaborate, but Shawn had gone back to making his string into a circle and back to a line again. Suddenly the doctor tilted his head and smiled slightly. “Do you mean you never told her that you loved her?”
As if playing a game of charades, Shawn touched his finger to his nose.
After unsuccessfully waiting for an elaboration, Dr. Tennant doggedly pressed on. “Why not?”
Shawn shrugged. “Strings and circles are fragile. Pull too hard on a string and it frays. Press on a circle too hard and it becomes an oval and one side gets more than the other and if you keep pressing… pop! goes the circle like a bubble.”
Dr. Tennant thought he was beginning to understand. Shawn had never told Sandy how he felt because he was afraid of ruining what they had.
For his part, Shawn was still talking. “But the bubble popped anyway because I didn’t realize that for a circle to be perfect it needs to grow and to grow it needs more string. And if our circle was made up of my string and her string together, I didn’t give enough of my string so the circle broke and now my string is just dangling there and she’s in a perfect circle with someone else and she don’t, she don’t, she don’t see me.”
Shawn had sang the last part of his little rant, leading Dr. Tennant to rush to scribble it down in his notes along with all the other song references his patient had made. As he listened, though, a picture formed in his mind, an image of a string connected to a circle and what that resembled.
After singing, Shawn had grown quiet, leading Dr. Tennant to once again try to prompt him, but instead of trying to draw him out by talking about Sandy, he decided to use Shawn’s own language. “So Sandy joined her string to someone else’s and made a circle. What happened to your string after that, Shawn?”
“I saw the light,” Shawn answered solemnly. “I saw a way to make my string into a circle all by itself,” he added, and as he spoke he held the string up in the air, taking the bottom end and looping it up to the middle of the string so it looked like a lowercase “b.”
Or, as it matched the image in Dr. Tennant’s brain, a noose.
Shawn wasn’t the only one who saw the light, as much of a theory about Shawn’s case began to become clear in the doctor’s experienced, professional mind. After losing Sandy, a pain too great for Shawn to bear, his mind disjointed and became obsessed with this idea of strings and circles, and that is what led him to try to commit suicide by hanging. Of course, he still didn’t know why the obsession with circles and strings, so it wasn’t a perfect theory.
But Dr. Tennant smiled to himself as he checked his watch and saw that their session was just about over for the day. It might not have been a perfect theory, but it might just start him and Shawn on the road to recovery together.
After all, even an imperfect theory can be a good beginning.