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“Good morning, Mr. McCord.”

            “Good morning Dr. Porter,” I say, inclining my head slightly in his direction.  His answering nod pays tribute to my quiet self-possession. I show him no hostility, but I do not pretend he is my friend. There will be no heartiness between us, no vulgar familiarity. In the course of our colloquy I will not smile too broadly, and above all, I will not laugh. Laughter is what frightens them the most.

            Dr. Porter ushers me to the table and takes a seat beside and a little behind me, so I can’t see his face unless I look over my shoulder. I expected he would put himself in this position. He doesn’t know it, but I’ve been able to do a little research about what’s in store for me today. I know, for example, that he will note down everything that happens: the way I look, the way I move, what I say and how. I’ve even had a look at the shapes. I did this on the computer in the secretary’s office; nobody knew.  I tried to memorize these shapes, but now I can recall only the most important ones.  The meds I have to take confuse me a little. Meds or no meds, however, I scored sky high on the IQ test, and I hear that the results of my personality inventory were quite remarkable. This confrontation with the shapes today will be my last evaluation, and when I’ve shown that I can handle it, they’ll let me out of here.

            Dr. Porter takes out the ten cards. He tells me to give him my first impression and not to think too much about it. I nod reassuringly at him.

            There it is: shape number one.  It’s obviously a bat, but I don’t say so. Bat shapes have negative connotations. I know a good deal about art—indeed, I’m an artist myself—and I know that in the western tradition bats are akin to demons, who are shown in paintings with clawed and leathery wings.

            “Butterfly,” I say.

            Shapes two and three are much alike. They are two humans. No, wait—either two humans or one bear. There are also red spots on the card, but I omit any mention of blood.

            Shape four—I remember this one well. The ‘father’ card. A huge, horned figure looms over the viewer like a breaking wave. One of the worst things I can do is to show fear or hatred of the father--I know that. “A robot,” I say calmly, then bite my lip. I’ve just called the father a machine. Well, that’s better than calling him a devil.

            Five is another bat, which I identify as a moth. I permit myself to glance back at Dr. Porter and remark upon the perfect bilateral symmetry of all the shapes. No harm in reminding him of my IQ. I fear, however, that he is not as smart as I am, and that he is unqualified to interpret my responses to this test.

            Card six is placed before me. Red alert! I know this is the ‘sex card.’ The center of the shape suggests female genitalia—anyone would say so. I think quickly.  Is it better to give the standard response? Perhaps, but the whole area of sex is terribly dangerous for me. “The calyx of a flower,” I say, knowing that Dr. Porter will equate that with female genitalia as well. Still, I believe that this response is safe. “Not quite pentamerous,” I add, smiling a little. Dr. Porter blinks rapidly as he returns my look, but he says nothing. 

            Card seven clearly shows the bones of the pelvis, seen from above. I tell Dr. Porter so, and then remember that number seven is supposed to be the ‘mother card.’  Did I show a lack of feeling here? Well, never mind. Pelvis, uterus, mother—they all go together. And by this time Dr. Porter has surely realized that I think most often in analogies and symbols.

            Eight is a bear rug. Nine is nothing at all, but I call it a person.

            And here is number 10:  the ‘complexity card.’ When faced with it, most test-takers show anxiety. They feel assailed by contradictory stimuli, and cannot process them. But complexity is my domain, and I am quite at home there. 

            “The top of the shape is the Crab Nebula,” I tell Dr. Porter. “You can see the unmistakable signs of galactic disturbance on the right hand side. Below are the forms of two advancing supernovas that will overwhelm the Crab. Hopeless cosmic dissonance. But,” I say loudly, holding up a hand, “you’ve got to realize that the destructive potential of the supernovas is less than it appears. They’re bifurcated, you see. Bifurcated!”

            I’m breathing a little too hard. I sit back in my chair and flick card number ten away so that it slides off the table onto the floor. Enough. I’ve done it. I’ve shown them. I knew that I would.

* *  *

            I was planning to be out of here by Christmas, but things did not turn out that way.  As I feared, Dr. Porter is not smart enough to understand me. But perhaps that isn’t fair. As a mere psychologist, he has a narrow background, and he has probably not given much thought to the makeup of the universe. He says I will have another evaluation in the spring. That gives me time to teach him something. With this in mind, I’ve gone on with my artwork. I’ve drawn the Crab Nebula on the wall over my bed and supernovas in the bathroom. Below the mirror there I’ve written: ‘BIFURCATION.’  Dr. Porter sees this every day, so I imagine I’ll be out of here by next summer at the latest. The doctor may be closed-minded and naïve, but he’s a decent person. He’ll learn.

END

 Author bio.—Virginia Revel comes from Los Angeles but has lived in Europe for some time. She works for an international organization, and when not writing diplomatic correspondence, she reads and writes fiction.

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