The Lunatic

Introduction: This is a love story. It was written over the course of a few months at the end of 2012 and the start of 2013.  It was my first real attempt at a piece of fiction, inspired by the flawed genius character arch-type most commonly exemplified by Sherlock Holmes. My hopes are to one day have enough time, energy and confidence to go back and punch it up a little bit, but until then it shall rest here.

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Dearest Melanie,

As your father, it has always been my primary duty to protect and ensure your prosperity and continued happiness. This charge has set upon me certain decisions, made in the past that I, at the time, felt were for your greatest good. Now however, as I lay in reflection upon my life, I feel as though I may have wronged you in my handling of an incident that took place nearly eight years ago, when your brother Todd fell ill. Before I die, I wish to relate the circumstances surrounding that event, and beg your forgiveness for omitting the truth for all these years.

I have never doubted for a moment, that you would succeed in life as a surgeon, and nor have I ever questioned whether or not a suitable man would one day ask me for your hand in marriage. While both of these have transpired, and eroded, you must understand that being a father, on a biological level, creates an insatiable need to interfere with the lives of one’s children. Every parent does it on one level or another. What drives us to sign up a child for ballet, piano, swimming, or hockey, and why one over the other eludes me. I only know that the child themselves usually offers no indication over what their future self may benefit from most.

Who would have guessed that the stuffed football your mother and I originally bought for young Todd would be such an inspiration and driving factor for Arthur? Who would have thought that this five dollar gift, purchased because its color contrast matched the baby blue of his blanket would become so dear to baby Arthur – never letting it leave the crook of his arm. These coincidences in life have never had much of a place for serious discussion in our family I grant you, and perhaps it is my old age talking, but the harmony of these events have struck so deeply with me that I can no longer honor the promise I made to take this tale to the grave.

I only tell you this now, because I worry about you my dearest Melanie. Your recent days have been littered with misfortunes. While I cannot linger on this Earth for much longer, I cannot lay here without trying to help you find your way again.

I overheard your conversation with your mother during your visit to the hospital last week. I know you have given a notice of indefinite leave with your medical practice. I know the fragile state of your marriage has weighed heavily on you, and while I appreciate and understand the brave face you put on in my presence, you must know that, as your father, your pain reverberates deep within me on a level you cannot hide with smiles and malted chocolates.

In this medicated haze, I didn’t not hear but fragments of what was said between the two of you, but what stuck out in my mind was you saying, “Love isn’t real.”

For much of my life, I would have agreed with you. As you know, your mother and I are hardly honeymooners at this stage in our lives. She seems to have taken the news of my imminent passing with such a collected stride that to the untrained eye, it may seem as if it hadn’t effected her. But love does exist, and it as easy to believe in as the warmth of day coming from the sun. I cannot tell you how many times, once you and your brothers have left, and she believes me to be asleep, where I hear her weep quietly to herself and place her trembling hand on my arm so as not to disturb me, but in the tension in her quivers, I can feel her burning desire to throw herself on me and sob. My life a anthropologist has also given me much reason to doubt the notion of life as being more than an evolutionary response to care for a collective community, but in having felt the power and density from my own experience, I do now believe there is something deeper.

You will have to excuse my old memory Melanie. The conversations that follow, you may notice, are paraphrased in my own language. I am no writer, so you will have to pardon the fact that I do not know how to replicate the speaking tone of individuals whose conversations occurred years ago.

But the events began as such:

It was December, nearly eight years ago, and I was in my office in the north wing of the Amherst building. The window facing west allowed in the last lights day as I finished annotating some notes on a paper set to publish. I could not focus on my work however, as you know, several weeks prior to Christmas, Todd’s health had rapidly deteriorated. He had been vomiting for days on end. He could not eat, or bring himself to stay awake for longer than a few hours at a time, and his skin had grown a very stale yellow pallor. On a very primal level, the threat of your eldest son’s health dominates one’s mind, such that the completion of accurate bibliographic notation seems arbitrary at best. I kept reading the same reference line again and again – opening new tabs on my computer, only to realize I had two existing ones with the necessary information already available. The massive oak desk – which was suppose to be able to fit a full sized computer, an encyclopedia and two note pads on its surface with room to spare – seemed to have shrunk down, and the sweat of my own hands, chilled cold by the winter air, slowed my progress even more.

The graduate students and their distracting questions had gone away for the holiday, so I was left alone with my thoughts to fester and compound on one another. Thinking I was the only one in the building, I allowed myself to unravel slightly. The bottle of brandy that had stayed on my shelf as a decoration for three years, was opened, sampled, and promptly put away. My jacket removed, and suspenders left to dangle off the sides of my chair, opened my perception to the draft that was flowing from the west facing window to the door on the east. I closed my eyes, to hear the soft churning of wind, when my ears detected a second sound – the heavy clacking of men’s dress shoes drawing near. The university had shut down for the holiday days ago, and the night janitor wasn’t scheduled to come by for another four hours. Naturally, the academic in me sought the need to know the unknown. Suspenders and jacket in their proper place, and a stick of gum to quell the scent of alcohol – I have never wished to be part of the stereotype of a professor with brandy on his breath – I went out into the hall to meet the approaching steps.

He rounded the corner with the determined step of someone who knew where he was going, but his eyes wandered in such a way to suggest that he didn’t quite know where that place was. Through fogged glasses, he squinted at door names until his eyes detected myself, standing in a doorway about ten yards from him. He looked about thirty, the first few gray hairs beginning to show through jet black hair, roughly two inches long. Standing at just under two meters, his posture was slightly bent at the neck, most likely from years of leaning down to hear conversations. His frame was jaunt, and he looked borderline unhealthy in his weight. But despite this, coupled with the fact that he had clearly missed several days of shaving, he was dressed appropriately for being at a University – A gray suit, clearly older than he was, shoes that looked big, even on him, and a black sweater vest and pale red tie.

When he saw me, his face lit with recognition. I was taken aback by a simultaneous feeling of having met this young man before, and apprehension of someone I knew to be a complete stranger. It was as if he was one of those people you sat next to on the bus for years, but never said hello to, or more commonly in my case – and what I assumed his presence accounted for – a student on campus whose schedule had coincidentally overlapped with mine.

But he was here with cause, as I could tell when he smiled and began walking towards me. He did not limp, but had a peculiar gait – as if he were perpetually falling forwards only to be caught by a dead leg at each step. He seemed to have to heave his weight to advance, yet it did not seem unnatural or inefficient for him to walk in such a way. As we came into proximity he held out his hand, and recognizing by my expression that I had no idea who he was (although I should have) he said, “Dr. Thatcher, you don’t remember me, but I am a friend of your daughter’s and I would like to impose a moment of your time.”

His smile and the timbre of his tenor voice was full of the hope of a much younger man. Despite this, his childlike grin gave way to the features of his aging. Crowning at his eyes, crows feet were in the seeding phase around his grin. Upon closer inspection, there were more than a few graying hairs on his head – nothing like the salt and pepper you would expect on a man of fifty or so, but on him, who couldn’t have been older than thirty, was quite distinct. His eyes had the gloss and shine of youth, but under the brown spheres lay dark rings all too familiar to someone who spends his days with doctorate students. The man’s jaw was  distinguished or he was malnourished, but his cheekbones rested rather high on his face. His clothes swayed loosely on him, billowing ever so slightly in the draft from my door.

I escorted him into my office, and he closed the door behind him. By cutting off the draft, I noticed how he had brought in with him the smell of the weather: dead leaves, wet smoke, and from his own person, several cups of coffee. He introduced himself as follows, pausing for long intervals at peculiar times and staring into a void. His word choice seeming more critical to his mind than the bizarre nature in which he presented himself to me. He ambled around the room as he spoke, contemplating whether or not to sit down. The man clearly wanted to play with some of the trinkets I had laying around the office, an old sailing compass, a rubix cube, a pen with a toy troll stuck on the end left behind by a student, yet as I saw him begin to reach for something he would immediately retract his hand in a much more violent manner than the initial action merited.

Here are his words as I recall them:

“Doctor, my name is Quinn Farstride.”

I knew the name from somewhere. He continued.

“It was recently brought to my attention that your elder son Todd has fallen to renal failure.”

“You learned this from Leda I presume? ” I interjected. There was something about Quinn’s face that had caught my attention. Being in the finishing stages of my own work on the subject, and having just read a student thesis on the theory, I could not but help to notice the range and intensity of Mr. Farstride’s micro-expressions.

His face was in constant flux – never allowing for one demeanor settle in. When he smiled, it seeped sadness from the corners of his mouth. He would from time to time bring his hand to his forehead to quell, what I assumed was a caffeine headache, and while his eyes reacted with winces of pain, he would smile widely. One side of his face emoted much more than the other, and while this is common, I had never seen it switch back and forth between the left and right sides of a face.

When I spoke, he first looked quite confused. I watched as he quickly retreated into his mind for a moment – the gears of thought whirling around like a dreidel – he looked at himself for a second in the glass of my bookcase and chuckled:

“Ah good Doctor, I understand I have aged horribly this past year or so, but I came by this information by my best friend, and your youngest daughter, Melanie.”

Then it struck me. I hadn’t passed by this young man in the gardens on campus, he had been a rarely seen, but well known presence in my home many ago, when you, my daughter were still a teenager. But having known you two were the same age, it hardly seemed credible to my eyes that the man who stood before me was only twenty-three and some months.

He was the boy who lived down the road from us for some years, and your dear friend. Perhaps if in the past I had been introduced to more than the back of his head I would have made the connection myself, but up until that point we had only met once or twice on a rushed hello. I did however, recall all the hours  you and he would spend aimlessly walking around the neighborhood. Growing up, you had always been relatively quiet, especially around me in those days, so it always puzzled me as to what you two could be talking about day in and day out.

I remember talking to your mother about him, trying to discern if he was interested you, or if you two had started dating, but she was of complete confidence that nothing was to come of it – and I was inclined to believe her. The boy who walked around the neighborhood, and the man who stood before me, did not seem like a suitable choice for anyone, let alone my youngest daughter. The other wives and mothers thought him very strange – outside of his walkabouts with you, his only perceived company was an old golden spaniel. Standing in his presence now, I could understand what those old ladies were referring to. He possessed an intensity of mind that filled the room. It wasn’t entirely pleasant. But the density of his mental process, the time it took him to form thoughts, and the thoughts that ended up being produced and spoken aloud, generated a contrast and cacophony that left one wondering with what rough drafted idea he had begun, and why he found it so unsuitable as to pause and stare at an antique inkwell for eleven seconds.

He continued, “I do not know how well you know me, or the nature of my friendship to Melanie, but I will first present my proposal to you, and then argue my case and hopefully answer any outlying questions you may have.”

At this point I came under the brief assumption that he was trying to obtain my blessing for marriage, but the circumstances were too unordinary, and why would he lead off in reference to Todd’s sickness? The sun had finally set and the air turned colder. Quinn walked to the window and made a motion to it, silently asking permission to shut the window. I made a motion of approval. He used two hands and the weight of his bare frame to shut the heavy window, thick and cracking with layers of white paint. Much like his walk, the motion seemed to take up his whole being, yet it did not appear to cause him any strain. I thought to myself: How could he have visibly changed so much in this past year? He was always an active and healthy looking child, despite his squirrelish nature- constantly tromping through the woods around the neighborhood.

Quinn’s supposed outstanding fortitude had been a topic of discussion amongst the family after the last time he had stopped by the Thatcher home, roughly a year or two ago. Melanie, you probably recall this, but you had come home distraught after receiving a phone call that while traveling across the state, Quinn had been in a terrible train accident. His carriage rolled off the tracks, and despite many fatalities amongst the passengers and crew he had walked away with nothing more than a few glass cuts and a stiff shoulder. He even had the fortitude to stop by the house that same night to deliver a book to you Melanie, a copy of Flush by Virginia Woolf.

But what a transformation that young man had undergone – there was a noticeable loss of muscle mass and overall weight. Standing at just over six feet, his old weight of about one hundred and sixty pounds seemed thin on him before, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if standing before me, he clocked in closer to one hundred and forty. Despite the loss in mass, his presence stood taller than it did in years past. When I knew him as the boy you would walk around town with, he always presented himself in a crumpled up manner – as if he were trying to seem as small as possible. His neck would hunch over like a small child; shoulders cupped forward; perpetually staring at the ground. Now, his gaze sought out mine. He stood tall, and found himself very comfortable in my office, leaning every now and then on desks, shelves and sills.

He reached into his breast pocket and presented me with a small stack of papers, folded into fourths – it had been printed recently, but smelled of light tobacco. They were medical in nature, test results of some sort, dated two days prior. At the middle of the page was a highlighted line which read – Organ donor compatibility: Todd Thatcher against Quincey Eldridge Farstride – four out of six.

I flipped through each page, trying to make sense of any of the graphs, numbers or plots of data that lay before me. “It makes no earthly sense to me either Dr. Thatcher,” Quinn said, finally finding the courage to play with the hair of the troll doll – twirling it opposite of the pen, winding it tightly between his forefingers. “What I do understand is that my match is only one degree less compatible than the best possible match, your younger son Arthur, who is probably also a four, but could not be any higher than a five out of six, and unless Todd has a twin I am unaware of, a six out of six is already out of the question.”

“How could you have possibly done all this work? I only told Melanie of Todd’s condition but yesterday. These tests were completed two days ago.”
I had grown uncomfortable in this man’s presence. He seemed to be more involved in my family than I could have ever realized, an in that moment it was I who felt like the outsider, the stranger. He smiled warmly at me:

“Melanie is studying to become a doctor. Of course as soon as her own brother demonstrated signs of illness she began her own investigation. We spoke on the phone two weeks ago, and I instantly knew something was amiss. Although admittedly, I originally thought that Melanie’s cat Charles had fallen ill, after some probing, she relinquished what she knew.  Todd had been bed ridden for several days, only getting up to vomit, and that the whites of his eyes and discharge had been brown, and his skin had yellowed.

I myself, have a limited and basic knowledge of medicine, but it doesn’t take too much medical knowledge to know that the symptoms indicated either the failure of the kidneys or the liver. Knowing that a transplant may be in order, I had myself tested for donor compatibility on both systems the day after I spoke with Melanie and then simply waited for Todd’s test to present itself at the hospital. The means in which I was able to monitor hospital records were unscrupulous to say the least, but the results I think will be so beneficial to everyone involved that I find a small bribe to an underpaid clerk, and a sizable donation to a hospital administrator around Christmas morally excusable. ”

At this point his face stopped its kaleidoscopic expressioning – he put the troll pen back down and he sat in the chair across from me – hunching over, he became again, that shy, wandering boy I recognized. The cracks of Mr. Farstride’s smile ran deep in his loose fitting skin, and despite it being one of the most human and genuine smiles I’ve ever seen, it was so laced with pain and sadness.

“Dr. Thatcher, I want you to take my kidney.”

I was so taken aback by now, I found myself at a loss for words. What possible motivation could this young man have had to go to such elaborate lengths for the benefit of a family that was not his own? At this point in time, my dear Melanie, you two hadn’t even seen each other since the train accident. From what I had heard in passing, the young man who sat before me lived halfway across the state, had a management position in an office, and was preparing to become engaged! I fumbled out my reply, “Surely Quinn, this is all premature. The doctors have not even confirmed that a transplant will be necessary.”

“But Dr. Thatcher, it may soon become required. Kidneys don’t just fail. There is an underlying cause that I haven’t been able to induce, and from the ring on your desk, and the drop falling down the brandy bottle behind you, I would have to guess that the doctors have not found said cause?”

“Well I say, should I expect a limping war surgeon behind you? Perhaps some violin music and cocaine?” We both laughed – mine full of nervousness and air, his short but hearty. The light in the office had faded into dusk shadows. Quinn went for the light switch, and I offered to reopen the brandy, to which he accepted with gratitude and eagerness. Over the first glass I explained to Quinn how the doctor had called an hour before his arrival, relaying that they were still searching for the cause of Todd’s sickness, finally asking for permission to perform dialysis.

I found myself pouring out to this young man in a way that I still don’t do with my closest friends. Perhaps it was the fact that he was at the same time, a complete stranger, a void and escape outside my own life, but at the same time, knew intimate details about my personal life and children, and so didn’t need a great deal of explanations to understand an abbreviated tale. Whatever the cause, we drank on.  I even broke my tobacco-less run of five years around the third dram. The night had settled in and the shadows rested, casting long beams across the room like sunflower petals from the central lamp. I hadn’t stayed on campus this late in quite some time. There was something about the dim lighting that, to my eye, made the office feel very much like home. The white radiator in the west corner under the window, yellowed by incandescent light, creaked from expansion as the room warmed. At some point, I think it was around drink three, the blinds on the north wall were opened, displaying the half-moon and the field of wet, stomped grass that lay just beyond the university grounds. We were in and out of each chair, I hovered around the antique wing-back on the south eastern corner that I had found too pretentious to keep behind my desk. Quinn found my office chair, “well worn” and despite his previous apprehension with handling trinkets – I suspect the alcohol had killed this inhibition – he began freely fidgeting with the items on my desk; even opening a pen drawer, for which he immediately realized could be seen as rude by someone with something to hide and apologized profusely.

You must understand that the specifics and details of the conversation between Quinn and myself became hazier at this point, but I will do my best to summarize the general context of the discussion, focusing on the matter at hand: the health of your brother, and Quinn’s desire to donate his kidney.

After we had briefed each other on what we knew, could infer about the circumstances, he presented his argument in this manner:

“Dr. Thatcher, the dialysis is but a temporary solution, and a further indicator that a transplant in the near future will be necessary. I know that at your age, the risk of surgical complications is much higher, and being old fashioned as I am, I know that you would not want your wife, or daughters to go under the blade for this situation, which is why I believe you were thinking that in the worse case scenario, your youngest son Arthur would be the perfect candidate.”

“You seem to know my thoughts as I have them Quinn. Yes, I was just earlier this afternoon contemplating how to breach the subject to him, as he is set to arrive into town tomorrow morning.” I replied.

“I understand that he has been drafted by the university football team. That is quite an accomplishment. Their team has made it to the national championships twice in the past four years.”

“Yes, he is set to start training this coming summer.”

“Do you believe that he could possibly recover from a major surgery in time for training?” Quinn asked.

I could not answer. It was a question I hadn’t wanted to ask myself. Quinn sensed the darkness that welled in my heart and continued on:

“Do you believe that there is a strong possibility, that if Arthur were to comply with the surgery – which we both know he would; he loves you both very much. But that if he were to go under the knife, would it not forever compromise whatever athletic career he may be capable of? I had heard through the neighborhood grapevine that he had even been tentatively approached by the recruiter for the professionals. He is quite the rising star, Arthur.”

Empty words of rebuttal choked in my throat as he spoke.

“Now, Dr. Thatcher, I understand that a man of your good nature would find it incredibly difficult, if not impossible to accept a favor as the one I am offering you, but let me inform you of my own recent past, and hopefully by the end, you will see things my way and accept the terms I propose to you.

I am twenty-four now, and perhaps you are aware of this, but this is the age in which many serious mental disorders present themselves. Although I can safely say, there is no defining moment at which one’s mind is lost, there are situations and circumstances which can accelerate the process. I first began to suspect that the tethers of my mind had loosened at the age of sixteen when I was staring at the road on the way to school, and before my very eyes I perceived that the road, in fact the whole Earth, began to breathe – pulsing and rolling like an intelligent ocean, inhaling through the leaves of the trees and gusting outwards from the sound and vibrations of the ether of the air. The inanimate seeming so much more vibrant and alive than the stagnate life – if you could call it life – huddled in a temperate cafe, playing the same radio songs from forty minutes ago, drinking the same style of coffee from the same location made by the same passionless person behind the bar. The contrast! How one single leaf, twitching in the wind showed more appreciation for it’s time here than half of humanity. How… (he paused for a great deal of time here, reflecting, casting and reeling his thoughts again and again)  I have, for several years now, kept this to myself. Melanie has had her suspicions, but I have confirmed nothing. It wasn’t until last year, in a bout of major depression, that I began to seek the care of a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with disorganized type schizophrenia.

Let me assure you, Dr. Thatcher, that this proposal is in no way associated with any delusions of grandeur. I do not believe myself to be on a mission from God, or any higher order, I merely wish to use the last remnants of my cognitive mind to create a positive impact in the world.

You see doctor, there is a difference between myself and your family. Take Arthur for instance: Here we have a promising young man, with a bright future ahead of him. He is good-natured, and pure of heart. His success in athletics will provide him with a comfortable living at which point he can forward the goodness and charity to others, much as you have with your fortunes. He is an individual, and your family is a group of people, whose greatest goods will come as positive contributions to a society.

By contrast, we must examine myself: My future is a bleak one, full of self-monitoring. I will fill my days with strictly-oriented schedules and routines to present myself, to the best of my abilities, as a functional member of society. I can optimistically hope for a job at some menial task, or clerical work. I will most likely require professional supervision, and perhaps a facility will be in order, if my condition should prove to be unmanageable by myself. The greatest good I can hope to achieve in the coming years is to mitigate and minimize the hardships my condition is bound to cause for those around me.

So really, Dr. Thatcher, I am asking you for a favor. I would like my last sane act to be a noble one. I would like myself, as I can perceive now, to be immortalized in this deed, so that in the future, when I am lost, I have a definite idea of the man I truly am; the man who I will try to uphold against my own illness.

Remove the risk of surgery from Arthur. Eliminate the possibility of compromising his future, and let me bear it. Give the risk to someone who can afford to take it. I have consulted my psychiatrist and she has agreed to omit my condition to the surgeons. I have essentially been declared fit for the procedure.  The chance of organ rejection is only slightly higher for Todd, but it will keep Arthur from harm’s way.

He paused, and folded his hands together in conclusion. His grip was tight, and I could see the whites of his knuckles. Quinn’s knee oscillated like the drive of a train, causing his whole body to fluctuate. Smiles popped and crackled through his face – he looked exhausted, but full of life.

Something didn’t seem right about his body language. I felt as though he were omitting something, or that he was perhaps trying to deceive me in some way, although who could know what possible motivation a person could have in manipulating a father into accepting a second lease on life for his son? It was in the way he leaned towards me from my own office chair; it was the same way a salesperson concludes a pitch. It was too good to be true. My inebriated bravado came forward:

“What aren’t you telling me Quinn? Why are you coming to me? Why have you not asked Melanie first? Does she even know?”

He laughed again; short and hearty, trailing off and raising slightly in pitch.

“She musn’t know because she would never allow it. If she were to say no, I would obey. You, Dr. Thatcher, I can at least try to persuade and argue. With Melanie, her word is my law.”

He rose from my office chair and perused the book shelves.  He went on, running his finger across the line of encyclopedias:

“Have you read ‘A Tale of Two Cities?'”

“No, Quinn, I can’t say I have.”

“It’s a wonderful story. One of my absolute favorites outside of Virginia Woolf’s works – who I see a disturbing lack of representation on your shelves – but since you haven’t read it, I will just speak the honest truth. I love Melanie sir. I love her more dearly than words can say. She is a wonderful young woman who deserves nothing but the best the world has to offer. I am not of the best the world can offer. I have long accepted that my future would be nothing but a detriment on her life. She deserves prosperity. I can only provide pain and misery. If, in being a creature of misfortune, I can somehow absorb and take on the pending hardships of your family, I beg you for your permission to do so. It would be a great honor to me, if I could have the privilege, many years from now, to look back and know that I had made this sacrifice for the continued happiness of one I loved. That I may give up a part of myself so that one she loves can continue on in her life.”

Quinn’s pauses became longer and longer, but his mind seemed to race faster and faster. I could see the tension mounting in him. His hands began to tremble slightly, and he squeezed them into tight balls and quickly released them, trying to quell whatever it was that was boiling within him.

“The thought of tragedy befalling her, or anyone she loves is unbearable to me.  The idea of her weeping or grieving is unacceptable if preventable. Although we have grown apart, and although I am no longer a part of her daily life, I still love her with an intensity I cannot describe. All I can say, is that even when stimulated with reminders of her presence; a song, a smell, a moment; I am overwhelmed with physical reactions. Reactions sometimes so intense, that colleagues, my own bride to be, have mistakenly thought I was having an episode of some sort and called for medical assistance.”

“Quinn, I…”

“Sir, pardon my utter rudeness and lack of tact, but I know you and your wife lost your first child. His ashes remain in an urn above your fireplace. I know that for the first ten years of their lives, it was kept secret from your children. That must have been a terrible time, and I’m sure you of all people – one who experienced the loss of an intimate family member too soon – surely you would not want your daughter, your wife, your other children to experience such pain and pain again.”

An expression of horror came over Quinn as he realized what he had said. His voice left him, and he silently begged forgiveness as he made for the door in haste. The door was meant to be pushed open, but he pulled the knob several times before an episode of panic seemed to overtake him. He ran his hands through his hair, taking several strands with him. The tension in his whole body was clearly visible in the veins that now stood prevalent in his forearms, neck and temple. He began breathing at a rapid rate, and kept turning back and forth, trying to decide whether to stay or run away. His eyes were wide with fear and self-loathing, and his jaw clenched shut so tightly, I could see the muscles in his jaw pulsate. Although initially stunned by his outburst and revelation of knowledge of my firstborn, I was suddenly overtaken by pity for this creature. He was clearly battling some terrifying beast within him. I realized that he was not trying to deceive me, but trying to hide himself from me. His facades had failed him, and here he stood before me, a wild animal, trapped in a snare of its own cognition.

Quinn removed from his breast pocket a tin cigarette case, and without asking permission, put one to his lip, lit it with one hand, and offered me the case with the other. I took it from him, and opened the case. They were hand rolled, thin and twirled at the end, like he had done to the troll’s hair. I removed what I perceived to be the smallest of the lot and took his lighter from him.

We sat in silence for some time. I simply listened to him calm his breathing, wondering if I should go for help; if he needed psychiatric intervention of some sort; if perhaps I were even in some sort of danger in the company of this proclaimed schizophrenic. Without speaking, Quinn labored himself to the window and pried it open with both arms, cigarette dangling from his lips and small flakes of ash catching in the wisps of wind and landing on his jacket sleeve. He apologized for his behavior, for which I readily pardoned him. The tone of his voice had changed, as well as his body language. Before, when Quinn apologized for opening the desk drawer, his eyes were wide with worry, his hands fully involved in the motion as he begged forgiveness for a minor inconsequential slight; he was animated, full of life; his face crackling with emotion. Now, he seemed almost catatonic. His facial contortions ceased. Aside from the slight tremor in his hands, he made no motion as he stood by the window. The only indicator I had that he was still breathing was the fluctuating orange glow of the cigarette still hanging dryly between his lips.

Quinn finished his cigarette before he moved again, this time much more slowly than before. The fit had taken a tremendous toll on him. The brightness of his eyes had faded, and the bags the rested beneath them became more prevalent – the dominating feature on his face.  Quinn snuffed the cigarette out with his fingers and tossed it out the window. He walked to the radiator and tried to warm himself. I was at a complete loss. I wanted to run, as I had no idea what could possibly come next. The events had been so erratic that his actual proposal was not on the forefront of my mind. I too, extinguished my half-smoked cigarette, and with no idea what to do at this point, poured us both more brandy.

The squeaking wheels of the night janitor’s cart made their way into the Amherst building. It seemed to bring Quinn back to reality. He took a sharp breath in through his nose, brushed the ash from his jacket, and straightened his tie. Taking in his surroundings, Quinn’s eye found the freshly poured brandy and sheepishly took it. Formalities and facades aside, he did not bother to politely sip at the glass, but downed the whole amount.

“I promise you doctor, while my lungs and liver have probably seen better days, my kidneys are in excellent health.” His smile crept in, one muscle at a time. It dawned on me, watching him piece himself back together the way old paint chips and forms piles on the floor of a home long abandoned, that Quinn existed in a perpetual state of anguish.

As the night janitor opened the door, the remnants of Quinn’s facade snapped into place. At once, he was the man who had strolled through the hallway a few hours earlier. He turned to the janitor, beaming with nods of gratitude and appreciation for the hard work carried out at a late hour on a cold night. Quinn offered him a cigarette, and I the last of the brandy. The janitor and I had had several encounters this past week. Todd being sick, while dominant in my mind, made me uneasy at home. I spoke with the janitor about menial things as Quinn paced around the room, his eyes dissecting every pen, book and folder in the office; even going so far as to organize my papers in a perfectly neat stack. I did not observe him do it, but at some point he scribbled down something on a pad of blue post-it notes, and without interrupting the conversation with the janitor and myself, silently bowed out. I could not hear his footsteps as I had at his arrival.

The night janitor excused himself to continue onto his duties, and I slumped back down into my office chair, unsure of what to make of the nights events. It had all gone by so quickly, that when I looked at the clock and saw that it was nearly midnight. I seriously doubted my abilities to make it home safely after the amount of alcohol we had consumed and so called on the services of a cab man with an attitude that matched his odor.

I did not return to the office for another three days; staying with your mother and doing all that I could – which was not much – to help take care of Todd. He looked so helpless, sleeping next to the dialysis machine that hissed, hummed and whined hour after hour. The only thing that seemed more difficult to watch than the deterioration of your brother was that of your mother; becoming jubilant with hope at him stirring and waking for a few moments, and lapsing into a deeper and darker depression when he fell back into slumber. The house filled itself with activity, but every task was carried out with a sombre slowness. The snow in the driveway had mounted and was shoveled. Pipes were frozen and thawed. Meals were cooked in a bland and kidney conscious manner. Everything carried out with the deliberation, fortitude and drive of a strong family at their wits end.

When I did return to the office, it was only to retrieve the antique sailing compass that I kept on my desk. As a boy, Todd had always been fond of it. On days when I took him with me to the campus, I would be there, typing away at some idea or another, and he would be off in his head, compass in hand, navigating the oceans of his imagination. As I hastily put the compass in my coat pocket, I noticed on top of the perfectly stacked pages of the annotated bibliography I had been working on, a single blue post-it, left by none other than Quinn Farstride. I walked around the desk  and examined the note. I have it enclosed in this packet for you, Melanie.

Dr. Thatcher,

Please forgive my odd behavior, and do consider my proposition.
If the time should come where you can find it within yourself to
accept my proposal, I can be reached at this number –
682-0909
Please do not mention anything to Melanie. Thank you, Q F.

With other things dominating my mind space at the moment, I haphazardly crumpled the note and put it in my pocket with the compass. Enough time had passed to the point where I just found the encounter bizarre. I had not mentioned it to your mother, although when I had arrived home the night of the incident she could tell something was amiss. As soon as I stepped through the front door, she was fully aware that I had been drinking (“Why else would you have taken a cab home?”) and when she embraced me, (“Oh James, I worry about Todd too, but you mustn’t try to bear this weight on your own. We are a family after all.”) she then discerned that I had smoked as well. Between arriving home at late hour, the drinking, and having to run for her purse to pay the cab, it was this last offense that she took to the greatest. As you know, when your mother is truly offended, she says nothing, but instead creates a cloud of coldness around her, that is contrasted only by her unwavering half-smile.

In light of the events at home, I hadn’t quite found a means of acknowledging my fault and reconciling it with her. That is the tricky thing about your sweet mother. You always know when you’ve done something wrong, but she will never tell you what specifically (that, you must know on your own) and she will never tell you how to make up for it.

As you know, the distance between the campus and our home is walkable, only about two miles. While on the night of the incident with your childhood friend, it had been too cold for a man of my years to attempt, now in the crisp December morning it seemed like a wonderful way to clear my head. The cafe’s and book shops lining the road were showing their first sign of life. Opening the shops was mostly ceremonial during this time of year. With no students around, the employees seemed to open up, just for the experience of a lazy day. I stopped to look in the window display of Mrs. White’s used book store. The sun worn covers curled in the cold. Tattered volumes of Shakespeare, Proust and even a hard cover volume of the Harry Potter series lined the window front.

Mrs. White came out to greet me, and inquired about the family. She seemed to have shrunk down even further since I had last seen her. The rosy round face glowed happily, and her rotund frame (which I was shocked could still make it through the aisles of the store without utter calamity) bounced with each step.  I made no indicator that anything was wrong, and quickly switched the subject to her. We talked about her family for some time and she walked with me up and down the aisles of her tiny shop with only perhaps three feet in-between each shelf, so that I had to walk at a slight angle to maintain a conversation with her. As I walked, the tail of my coat rocked back and forth, occasionally bumping into the shelves with a slight thump from the compass. To prevent any dings or scratches on the case, I steadied my jacket with my hand. Perhaps by some inner impulse, or the soft crinkle of the blue note next to the compass, I was reminded of my conversation with Quinn. No longer paying full attention to the story about the family of queer looking cardinals that had made house in her basement, I interjected and asked her if she had a copy of “A Tale of Two Cities.” It was a mandatory read for most of the English majors, so she had many copies. In her infinite politeness, she insisted I take it free of charge. It was a copy that had been read far too many times. Notes from multiple hands had been scribbled in, and half of the back cover was missing, which is why I suspect Mrs. White had no qualms about gifting it to me. I then told her that I needed to find some sort of gift for my wife to make up for a minor tiff, and asked what recommendations the good Mrs. White could offer from the works of Virginia Woolf. She lit up at this, and clapped her hands; Ms. Woolf was one of her favorite authors, and she always kept a good stock. Mrs. White span around, her festive sweater of a snowy mountain brushed the two aisles she had been meandering through and disappeared out of sight behind a box of biology textbooks, and the old wooden sliding ladder that didn’t seem capable of bearing her weight. As I leafed through the pages of “A Tale of Two Cities” I could hear her muttering to herself about which book would make the best gift. “Mrs. Dalloway would be the obvious choice and would give that real Woolf experience, but oh Jacob’s Room can’t be ignored… She could always start the cannon from the beginning with The Voyage Out, but it is so tragic. Who wants to read a tragedy around Christmas? Well my, aren’t most of her novels tragic anyway? There must be something just perfect… Oh but of course!

There was a ruffle and I heard her move from one side of the aisle to the other. There was a cry of triumph and the dear Mrs. White came bounding back to me with a small paperback. She explained while it wasn’t a part of her literary cannon, the book Moments of Being was a posthumous publication of some of her essays, and thought it would be a perfect gift. I thanked her for her help, and insisted I pay for both books as I had also invited her services. She smiled warmly at me and accepted. We parted ways with my pockets full.

The remainder of the walk went unnoticed to me, as I fell into my childhood habit of reading furiously as I walked. It was a trait that all of my children, with the exception of Arthur – who always stood tall, knowing exactly where he was going – had picked up on. It had been ages since I had read anything but dissertations and case studies of anthropological data, so the novel engrossed me. Without realizing it, I had walked past the road that turns towards our house, and kept walking towards the center of town. By the time I had realized I had walked a half-mile out of my way, the chill of winter made the idea of a cup of coffee irresistible. Lost in the narrative, I don’t recall where I ended up going, if I sat inside or out, or how many cups of coffee I ended up drinking, but when I checked my wristwatch after completing a good third of the novel it was already a quarter after noon. One particular line had jolted me from my hypnosis in the page, and it was the line I think that Quinn had in mind when he had concocted his little scheme.

“…think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!”

The line stayed with me for the journey home. Could Quinn have been so inspired by this novel? Was he so detached from the comforts of reality that he could so readily put himself in harm’s way to make a literary homage? If he had indeed lost his mind (which had begun to seem more and more likely), was I in any position to seek out help for the young man?

As I opened the front door, your mother was walking from the kitchen to greet me. Knowing that repeating the same minor offense from several nights prior was probably more irksome than smoking, I entered book in hand.

I greeted her and kissed her on the top of the head. After presenting my gift
to her, she looked it over and mused without missing a single beat,  “She’s the one who walked into the river with rocks in her pockets, yes?”   You know     your mother’s sense of humor as well as I do, and in hearing this, I felt              relieved that she could joke dryly about my attempts at cordial husbandry.

Dr. Thatcher’s Letter To Melanie: Part 2Your mother returned to the kitchen where Leda and she had been baking some sort of swee confection. I made my way through the living room towards the staircase. You were there, Melanie, with your brother Arthur, running circles around him in a game of chess. Engrossed in the game, neither of you looked up or noticed me walk past. As I passed by, the collection of family photos that lined the window sill behind the two of you watched me – various moments from skiing trips, Leda’s wedding photos, the arrangement of all of you kids’ kindergarten photos, and the ever fading two by two wallet photo of your grandmother and grandfather in New York harbor, glowing with the glare from the gas fireplace. As I started to make my way up the stairs, Arthur caught a glimpse of me, and called out to me. He knocked over his king, and congratulated you on another victory, then came after me.Arthur had been taller than me for some time, but adding in the fact that I had begun to perceive the shrinking associated with old age, I felt a need to stay one step ahead of Arthur at all times. The mornings walk had been tiring, so I took my time, appreciating the photos that lined the stairwell. Your mother liked to change these ones out with the season – mostly various holiday photos of ourselves, and the extended family. I noticed that as we walked, Arthur kept his hand hovering around my lower back. I knew I had been getting older, it had been a few years since I had played football with him, but the gesture was a painful reminder of how my youngest child, now almost an adult, saw me.

“Is your brother sleeping?” I asked.

“Yes, he woke up to say hi to Leda and Melanie, but fell back asleep when they went to make him something to eat. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that he threw up and went back to sleep when they went downstairs.” Arthur responded. We reached the top of the stairs, and I turned to my son, wanting to talk to him a little more before I went in to see Todd.

“Don’t you think we should take him to the hospital dad?”

“Yes, but your mother wanted him around for the holidays. The doctors were kind enough to let us put a dialysis machine in his room for the time being, but we are to monitor him. All we can do is wait for the next round of tests to come back, and your mother is far too paranoid to put his health at risk for the sake of family tradition.”

I could tell Arthur did not find this answer completely satisfactory. He scratched at the back of his head hard enough for me to hear the grinding of his short nails on his scalp. A few flakes of dandruff fell from his wavy palm-lengthen hair onto his shirt collar.

“You could probably use a haircut son.”

“I know, I’ve been meaning to get one, but I’ve had exams and this whole thing has been distracting.” He averted my gaze for a moment, his eyes flittering around the upstairs hallway. Arthur lowered his voice and ducked his head down, the way he did as a child when he saw Todd break a rule, and took on the guilt of his action, as if by seeing his brother take a cookie, Arthur had been the one to eat it. “Mom thinks he’s going to need surgery.”

“Well I wouldn’t concern yourself with it quite yet, it’s still too early to tell if…”

“You should take me in to be tested for organ compatibility.” He had the look of determination in his eyes. Arthur has always been strong willed. And maybe it was the weight of the compass in my pocket, or how that similar look of determination had crossed my path days prior, but without giving it much thought, I blurted out that if it came to that, the proper arrangements for a donor had already been made.

I continued on my way towards Todd’s room. A coldness entered my veins as I realized that it wasn’t too long ago that I would walk through this very hallway, tiptoeing over toys and worn out socks; remembering the pain of stepping on a Lego; the last time one of you kids had a nightmare. Arthur and I entered the room. Curtains drawn, the lighting was dim, and the stuffy atmosphere created by sleep and machinery washed over us as we made our way to Todd’s bedside. How anyone could look so exhausted while sleeping, I’ll never know, but the sight of his brother seemed to impact Arthur very deeply. Although he was youngest, he always liked to put on a brave show for your mother, and you girls, but around Todd and I, he tended more towards the role of younger brother and youngest son. He leaned his dense frame against me, and I had to reset my footing to bear his weight. I put my hands in my pockets and the both of us just watched Todd for a time. I held the compass firmly in my hand, running my thumb across the case’s wooden texture.

“Do you remember this?” I said to Arthur, taking the trinket out of my pocket. “You boys would always pretend to search for buried treasure in my office with it.”

Arthur’s face lit up and he made an utterance of joy, laced with sorrow and nostalgia. The pitch of his voice raised as he made a mumbling acknowledgment of recognition.

“I thought it would be nice to bring it here. I don’t know why.”

Arthur was in a great deal of tension, and needing to do something, went over to the window, flipped the curtains open and with one hand opened the window with much more force than required.

“He’ll — we’ll be okay, right dad?” Arthur asked over his shoulder.

Melanie, never lie. Lying is one sin that seems so easy to justify. It seems so convenient, and gives you the illusion that you can spare people pain. It gives you a brief instance of control over reality, the power to distort and make a mindset in someone that you feel fit. Lying always seems at its noblest against those who deserve the truth the most – your family and loved ones. I have maintained for a great deal of my life, that if you are forced to lie, or you see a necessary need to lie, lie using one truth to cover up another. But this kind of deception, manipulation and justification mean nothing, but the flares of a desperate mind. Melanie, I was desperate. Perhaps one day, when you have children of your own you will be able to sympathize with me, but I pray that you do not have to empathize with me. Never lie Melanie. It is a stay and amplification of pain at the high price of trust and virtue. I let out a deep sigh and placed my hand on Arthur’s shoulder.

“I don’t know.”

***

It was the simplest and easiest phone conversation I’ve ever had. It probably lasted less than ten seconds, and before the year ended, Todd had been to the operating table. I never heard from Quinn after the phone call. He simply said that he would take care of everything, and that we simply had to take Todd into the hospital when the doctors called.

The surgery came and went without incident. The havoc of the holidays, ushering in the new semester and year, making sure your grandparents didn’t have an episode after finding out about Todd’s condition, making sure Todd didn’t have an episode from your grandparents’ episode, in concurrence with the time eating demands of everyday life, swept the thought of Quincey Eldridge Farstride fro my mind. There were times when the silhouette of his odd little walk would dance through my dreams, and I would make a half-earnest attempt at finding a way to locate him without tipping you off, Melanie.

But it wasn’t until the summer of the next year, after stumbling upon that old copy of “A Tale of Two Cities,” when I made it a mission to give him my thanks. It was really a thing of convenience actually. As you know, I like to take a solitary trip up north every summer, which I wasn’t able to do last year in light of Arthur going off for training, and your mother and I had been left with the task of moving his belongings to Oregon while he embarked on his athletic career.  The only thing I had to go off of was the disconnected phone number he had left me on that day, and the address of a property owned by a “Q. Farstride.” Farstride seemed like an uncommon enough last name, and “Q” an uncommon enough initial to assume that it was him.

I arrived at the home in the later part of July. It was well past seven in the evening, and the sun was making its way through the valley of hills in the west. My allergies and the long train ride north had severely compromised my ability to appear in a civilized and presentable manner. I scuttled up the hand-laid rock walk way, tissues in hand, and birding binoculars bouncing off the zipper on my vest. The yard was alive with weeds, dandelions and crabgrass. The quaint, one story, pastel blue house couldn’t have had more than two bedrooms. The clay tiled roof wore remnants of dark moss, and while all the windows were open, the blinds remained drawn. Having grown up in a small neighborhood, where everyone knew everyone, a scene like this might merit just poking one’s head in and shouting hello, but being a stranger to this town, and looking like a dribbling mess, I opted for the traditional knock on the door.   I could hear through the open windows, soft steps on thick carpet approaching, and a weary voice asking for just a moment.

Melanie, trust me when I say that I am not a man easily surprised, but your friend Quinn has been responsible for two of the biggest shocks of my life, for when the door opened, the woman who stood before me looked nearly identical to you. Outside of the fact that she had freckles, and a very short hair-cut of deep red hair, she might as well have been your twin. She looked more like you than Leda or your mother. The same round facial structure and full lips, petite frame, even standing slightly bow-legged. I stood there slightly dumb-struck and dribbling from the nose, probably looking like quite the fool. The young woman, looked very concerned, and asked if there was anything she could help me with, keeping the door very close to her frame in apprehension of her strange house guest.

“Pardon my intrusion,” I said, “But I am looking for a young man, and a friend of mine named Quinn Farstride. Does he live here?”

Immediately her countenance shifted. Her eyebrows, once elevated in fear, cracked in sorrow, and her mouth began swimming as she tried to control her appearance. When she spoke again, it was as if she had just woken up, having to clear her throat a number of times.

“He does, but he has been missing, I suppose, for over a year and a half.”
She looked up at me with a beam of hope, “You haven’t heard from him recently have you? Is he okay?”

We stood in each other’s silence for a moment. Not knowing how to proceed, she invited me inside for coffee. Her name was Beth Morrison, Quinn’s bride to be. She met Quincey in college, and fell in love with him instantly. They started seeing each other, and six months later, became engaged and moved in together. Beth explained how since the day she met him, he would never disclose how he financed his tuition or how he paid for the house in a single payment, but that he would routinely disappear for a week at a time, at least four times a year, but as many as twelve. His studies never seemed to suffer, and his employers never questioned why he needed so much time off. I had been under the impression that a person of Quinn’s intelligence would have had a very respectable position, but Beth informed me that he would bounce around between multiple menial positions, never earning much more than a living wage. Then, a year and a half ago, (seemingly right after my encounter with him) Quinn disappeared, or rather, he never came back. Beth knew that he was alive, somewhere, as money was being wired to her bank account every month. Imagine my surprise when she told me that the money was being sent from the hospital in which Todd had his surgery performed. She had tried numerous times to get the hospital administrator to disclose Quinn’s location, or least that he was still alive, but she met a dead end. The hospital administrator, Beth suspected, knew exactly where Quinn was, but for some reason was adamant about not disclosing anything. The administrator, a Dr. Hannah Paysinger, had thrown a litany of privacy laws and legal implications in front of Beth’s progress, stating that because they weren’t actually married yet, it would be a violation of certain medical disclosure practices.

I was faced with a dilemma. This poor creature looked at me with a desperation for whatever information I could bring, but in the back of my mind, I knew I could offer her nothing helpful, but only details that might make her sorrow deeper. In needing a moment, I excused myself to the bathroom.

As I walked through the short corridor to the restroom, I looked at the pictures that lined the wall. Although Quinn and Beth hadn’t been together for very long, it was clear that he had become a dominant part of her life. The walls were lined with photos of the two together in their few years together. It was strange, seeing Quinn in various stages of physical decay, that became very apparent when looking at two photos side by side. One pair stuck out in my mind. On the left was a photo, most likely right after Beth decided to cut her hair short, with the two of them watching the sunset. Quinn’s face was full, but his neck stooped over slightly; Beth burying her wide smile into the crook of his neck. On the right, they stood side by side, Beth’s hair about an inch longer; Quinn was noticeably lighter, but stood tall, the way he presented himself to me.

In the bathroom, I just stood there and contemplated how much I should disclose to Beth. I washed my hands, patted down my face, and examined the dry skin crackling around my nose from allergies. The bathroom was filled with vestiges of Quinn’s presence. Modernist literature, mostly Virginia Woolf, lined the window sill. I chuckled to myself. I had come to expect the youth of today to fill their bathroom’s with shallow magazines and comic books, but here was a young man who’s bathroom contained more intellectual prowess than most of my peers. I defy you, Melanie, to find another human being who keeps an biography on Proust on top of his toilet. But to think of this poor girl, to live in the unknown; holding on to this idea; this mystery to me and those who seemed closest to him. In the light of the single dangling incandescent bulb above the mirror, I decided to inform Beth of everything I knew, save the detail about how Quinn had claimed to love you, my daughter. Part of me regrets this decision today, wanting Beth to be able to move on with her life, but that glimmer of hope you see in a young person’s eye is usually enough to compromise even the strongest of moral reserves.

I returned to Beth, who gripped and massaged the handle of her coffee mug with fervent nervousness. We reengaged in conversation, and I told her everything I knew, focusing on the fact that Quinn felt he was losing his mind as his reason for offering himself. When I finished my side of the story, I asked Beth if she knew which psychiatrist Quinn had been using, and if there was any way of contacting him or her so that the two of us could find some kind of closure to the bizarre events.

But she looked at me with the purest form of confusion I had ever seen. She had never had any indication that Quinn was undergoing psychiatric care. She vehemently denied that he had ever had any kind of “episode” that resulted in hospitalization; that other than losing weight, he had never had a health problem, not so much as a cold, in her time knowing him. The hour was late at this point, and she asked if I had a place to stay, which I didn’t. I had intended on stopping by, giving a quick thanks, and continuing north on the night train. When I checked the clock, I saw that it had already left, but the new information had taken over my mind. We resolved that I would spend the night, and in the morning, we would call all the mental health professionals in the area that Quinn might have used to settle the matter. Beth made a quick meal of soft sourdough bread, a delicious sharp cheddar, and salted fish; I opened the bottle of red wine I had brought as a gift for Quinn and we talked for quite some time. Midnight was soon upon us, and Beth excused herself for the night. I was set up on the slightly too short couch with a home-knit black and white blanket.

I have never been able to sleep soundly in an unfamiliar environment, and tonight was no exception. Staring up I could see the white ceiling, heavily textured and interlaced with specks of some kind of sparkling material. It was something I hadn’t seen since visiting some older architecture in cities like San Francisco. The open windows brought in a warm breeze woven with the scents of forming dew and the fleeting clicks of crickets’ chirps. At times like these, I would typically take a walk, but I did not want to disturb Beth by wandering in and out of her home at this hour. Instead, I occupied my buzzing mind with observations of Quinn’s former home. It was very nicely furnished, although I suspect that was mostly Beth’s doing. The couch had a pristine clean light green lining. The texture was soft, but the cushion firm. If it were only four inches longer, it would have been an ideal sleeping spot. The nearly black, oak coffee table that now held my wallet, keys, and various other trinkets still had a clean varnish. The only item in the living room that seemed out of place and out of date was the television. It was a fairly small set that someone of my generation was more likely to have: antennae, a mono speaker system of dusty plastics, and an actual channel dial. The television’s presence was eclipsed by the staggering volumes of books that created a mini library in the living room. The windows must have been left open at all times because some of the books, even in the dark of night, showed hallmark signs of weather exposure, like corner cracking, page rippling and cover color fading. Weariness came over me, and I fell asleep reflecting on the life story of the hostess, and her relationship to the young man who had inspired my stay in the quaint, pastel blue home.

Beth Morrison grew up in foster care; moving from family to family until the age of twelve, when she was adopted by an elderly Japanese woman, who she called Mom. Her mother died of a sudden stroke shortly after Beth graduated from high school, with honors and a scholarship. Devastated, Beth considered not going to college, and spent the summer after her mother’s death hitchhiking up and down the state. She slept with whoever would offer her a roof, drank heavily and often, dropped to an unhealthy weight and funded her chain-smoking habits by selling marijuana and speed. Beth went to college simply because her room and board was paid for by merit of the scholarship. She showed up with nothing but the clothes on her back and half a pound of marijuana.

On the day that Quinn and Beth met, she was sitting alone on the beach, indulging in dark thoughts. She claimed that he walked up to her knowing exactly what was on her mind, and spoke to her as if they had been friends for a very long time. She described the way she was in mid-sentence, talking about her mother, and he simply took her in his arms and held her for an hour, saying nothing, gripping the back of her neck in a way that put her at ease. She fell asleep in his arms, and when she awoke, she was in her dorm room. Three new pairs of clothes were neatly folded at her feet, and her cupboards had been stocked with food. In the weeks that followed, he would simply appear in her life. Beth never planned to meet him at any given time or place, but when she needed him, Quinn would show up. Eventually, roughly six months after the school year had begun, Beth’s stash of marijuana was uncovered by the campus personnel, and she was asked to leave. It was then that Quinn purchased the pastel blue house from an elderly woman who was in the process of being sent to an assisted living facility by her family. Mrs. Olemacher was one of the gentlest and caring creatures that Beth had ever encountered, and together, she and Quinn made an arrangement with the Olemacher children to not only purchase the house, but to allow Mrs. Olemacher to live out her final days there, with Beth and Quinn (primarily the former) acting as caretakers. The miniature German woman had developed an old age habit of repeating herself, both verbally and in her daily actions. Mrs. Olemacher would make tea, excuse herself to the bathroom, and come back with another tray of tea and sandwiches while pardoning herself for she had to use the restroom. Beth explained how the arrangement was impactful enough to drive her to pursue a career in assisted living for the elderly.

Beth described Quinn as being nearly impossible to get a hold of. I could see in the brief winces of her eyes how she absolutely hated how he would disappear for days, sometimes even weeks at a time. He would always leave contact information, but could never be contacted. When I asked her about his fluctuating weight, she smiled and replied that she could never get to the bottom of it either, but it was always a concern of hers. When asked, Quinn would always reply, “it was just something my body has done since I was a boy,” and that no doctor could find any health problem associated with the fluctuation. He always ate heartily, and was no stranger to beer or cakes, but could never put on weight beyond what I had seen in the photographs.

Dawn came, and I had only just drifted off when the sounds of a shower head awoke me from my half-sleep. The grass pollen accosted my senses so much that when I went to inhale a deep long breath I nearly choked from my sinuses being completely clogged. After reassembling my belongings to their respective vest pockets, I made my way through the immaculate kitchenette to find a paper tower or tissue. A stack of hand-made violet dishes gleamed in the morning sun. The glare brought my attention to the well used coffee press, which I took the liberty of preparing. The well-worn, manual coffee grinder choked and sputtered through rotations. I started to suspect that a good portion of the possessions in the home were old belongings of the former owner. It did seem like an aged aesthetic for a young woman’s dwelling, although to be fair she have the presence of an older soul, quite like you, Melanie. Seeing no toaster, I made buttered toast in a skillet, the way I did in my days as a student.

Beth joined me shortly after the coffee had been made. Her short hair was still quite wet, and dripped on the blue and gray dress that she wore with an old pair of jeans. In pleasant unspoken understanding, we forewent smalltalk and began contacting psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and councilors over coffee and toast. The awkwardness of the first few conversations was amusing to us both, as we tried to succinctly explain the situation and circumstances of our inquiries. Breakfast became lunch; lunch became tea. By the time of late day when the sky holds blue, red, purple and yellow – when even the local hospitals and clinics had been tried – we were exhausted. No one had any record of treating, let alone seeing Quincey Eldridge Farstride.

Disheartened, the two of us took a walk around the surrounding field. Beth had grown quiet, and not knowing how to comfort this essential stranger, I made arbitrary conversational pleasantries, overlapping talking points we had been over the day before. When we returned to the pastel blue house, the sun had set. Having spent far longer than I had expected to stay, I told Beth that I would have to continue on my trip north. I had intended to make my way back to the train station that night, but Beth insisted that I stay one more night, citing the poor accommodations for sleeping on a train as a silly way to spend a vacation. Together, we cooked a supper of chicken and long-grain rice stew over a bottle of white wine. We parted ways, having exchanged correspondence information, and the resolution that as the hospital administrator lived near myself, I would make an attempt to contact her.

As vexing as my investigation had become, the demands and trials of day to day normalcy kept me from diving headfirst into the search for Quinn upon my return. Students had to be met for the new year, the house had to be maintained, quality time with your mother set aside, and the mystery of Quincey Farstride slipped my mind for some time. To be fair, I did try to call the hospital administrator upon my return, but was told that she was on a leave of absence. The string of dead-ends and disappointments made the promise of finding Quinn seem bleak to impossible. It wasn’t until nearly a year later, when I received a letter at my office from Beth Morrison. (I had given her my office address, not wanting to explain to your mother why I was receiving mail from a young lady upstate, and why I had stayed in her home for two nights) It was mostly just to say hello, although she did conclude the half-page, handwritten note with the question of whether or not the administrator had been helpful. Not wanting to send a letter of disappointment to Beth Morrison, I quickly contacted the hospital where Todd had been seen, and where Beth continued to receive checks from.

An appointment was set with Dr. Hannah Paysinger for the third week of April. It was a particularly hot spring, and when I arrived it seemed the facilities air conditioning was under maintenance. Every window of the massive four story complex I encountered was opened, and from the corners of each hallway, the electric buzz of a cavalcade of rotating fans could be heard. The nurse who led me to Dr. Paysinger’s office had her patience worn thin by the humidity and looming stench of industrial cleaning products. She directed me to the door and told me to wait inside; Dr. Paysinger would be but a few minutes. The nurse hobbled off, leaving me alone in the administrator’s office. It was the only room who’s windows weren’t opened. The walls were lined with bookcases, stacked tightly with medical journals and encyclopedias. Directly across from the door was a massive desk of reddish wood. An old computer tower fan whirred with wisps of dust, creating a tight atmosphere that wasn’t stagnant, but vibrated with dead energy.

After a few moments, I couldn’t bear being trapped in the stagnant air of the fourth story office. After opening the window, I turned around and observed Dr. Hannah’s desk. There was a framed wallet sized photo on the right side of her computer monitor. It was a shot of, who I assumed was the doctor, and her daughter sitting on a picnic cloth. The girl, a gangly little thing, looked to be about seven in the photo, and by the looks of the proportions between the pair, Dr. Paysinger was a very small woman, who looked about forty. They both had long, perfectly straight, blonde hair that went well past the navel, and bright green eyes. The eyes were enchanting. They were the eyes that didn’t look at a camera, but through it, into the beholder.

I looked up from the photo only to gaze into the real life incarnations of the eyes that had captivated me. Whereas in the photo, the steely green eyes beamed up so brightly, the all too real ones that faced me now bore into me with an intense suspicion that I was not at all prepared for. Her gaze remained connected to the base of my skull as I haphazardly came around the desk and extended my hand out in greeting.

“Dr. Paysinger, please forgive me, I have an appointment with you and the heat of the room was getting to me. I hope you don’t mind that I opened the window.”

She had a firm handshake – one pump and a decisive release.

“Yes, you must be James Thatcher.” She replied flatly. Dr. Paysinger took to her rolling leather desk chair, which I imagined was quite warm from the sun, but she made no indication of being bothered. I sat in the armchair across from her. There was a brief silence, and I could tell that she would not be convinced to commence the discussion. Initially, I had intended to make my case on behalf of both myself and Beth Morrison, but in seeing the strong countenance of Hannah Paysinger, something deep within me pulled my mind down into my throat, and I revised my plan to exclude Beth. I cannot explain the sensation, nor can I describe it, but that it came out of a purest of instincts. I felt as though any kind of exposition beyond the simplest truth would not get me far with this individual of obvious and apparent strength. I cleared my throat and began:

“Dr. Paysinger, several years ago my eldest son Todd underwent an operation in this facility. It was a kidney transplant, and it went perfectly. My family was told, and they continue to believe that the transplant was the result of an anonymous donor, but I happen to be privy to the truth of those events, and I have strong reason to believe that you also, know that truth.”

She made no response, but kept her eyes on me, as if she knew I had more to reveal; as if she knew I had a request; as if she had resolved from the moment she saw me, that she would give no quarter unless forced into a corner. Melanie, I tell you I have never been so intimidated by another individual. I went on:

“The name of the donor is Quincey Eldridge Farstride. He is a long time friend of one of my other children. Since the operation, we have not heard from him. I was never able to give him my deepest thanks and gratitude, and I was hoping that you could assist me in locating him, or contacting him.”

I sat there sweating; half from the heat, half from nervousness as Dr. Paysinger’s green eyes read my expression with a gaze fixed as stone in stone. After a three second silence she replied, “Well, I hate to have wasted your time Mr. Thatcher, but I have no idea who Mr. Farstride is, and I’m not entirely sure how or why you thought I would be able to help you. Anonymous donations are by definition anonymous.”

I knew now what Beth meant by the stone wall that she was met by. The answer was almost too cold, too rehearsed, too much like an error message on an old computer screen. A second heat welled in my stomach. If she wanted to play this game, then I would certainly engage her. My previous resolution to not involve Beth was undone. To  break through to this woman, I had to come out full throttle. The words came tumbling out of me, “If you know nothing of Mr. Farstride or his affairs, then how did it come about that your hospital would make monthly deposits in the joint accounts of Quinn Farstride and Beth Morrison? Surely if you are the hospital administrator, you would notice a continuous stream of cash flowing out of your facility for over a year. Surely if you had no idea that such deposits were being made, and that they were being made through some sort of freak accident, that you would have put a stop to them after one of the many times Miss Morrison has tried to contact you in regards to those payments.”

My heart raced. My hands trembled. My legs felt cold. The only break I observed in Dr. Paysinger was a momentary flash of white in her knuckles as her grip tightened, and a slow, controlled blink of both eyes. Not wanting to end on such a confrontational note, I continued:

“Dr. Paysinger, you are also a parent. If a stranger had made such a sacrifice for your child, would you not also want to pay him a debt of gratitude? If he were to disappear, would you not want to know that he was okay? If you could find some way of giving back to the individual who kept your family intact, would you not do everything you could?”

From the break in her facade I saw the ripples of emotion seep through. If but only for a fraction of a second, her eyes left me and lay upon the photo on her desk. The corners of her mouth curled and waned. It was not the simplest sympathy one might expect from a medical professional, but the understanding of empathy, wrought with anguish.

“My brief interactions with Quinn have been laced with secrets and deception.” I said. The green eyes that once shot into me, now began to connect to my own as I went on:

“In exchange for his good deeds towards my family, he asked that I not reveal his underlying intentions to my family, in particular, my daughter and his dear friend. He first claimed that he was losing his mind, and later amended that reason to include the fact that he was very much in love with my daughter. I have learned in this past year, that his initial reason for volunteering himself was most likely a complete fabrication, and in meeting the kind hearted Beth Morrison, and learning that he continues to support her, I now doubt the second reason.

But if my wild suspicions are true, and both reasons were lies, I cannot fathom any logical reason a person would go through such elaborate lengths to be altruistic. It would lead me to believe that his first reason given, him slipping into a type of madness, would be the most likely answer, but at the same time, it is the answer that demonstrates the least amount of evidence towards proof.

I can see in your eyes Dr. Paysinger, that you know more than you let on. I see that you understand, on a very personal level, the confusion and gratitude I have towards this strange individual. Perhaps your hands are tied by privacy laws, but I am more inclined to believe that your silence regarding this young man is bound by a similar circumstance to my own. That for some unknown reason, he asked you to arrange things as they stand today.”

She did not reply until every brick of her demeanor had been put back in its proper place, which didn’t take but a second, but a lock of blonde bangs had fallen from her bun, and despite repeatedly folding it behind her left ear, it continually came undone. I could see that my outburst had taken a toll on this woman. I apologized for the strength of my convictions, and offered to retrieve some water for the both of us. She accepted, and when I returned with two coffee mugs of marsh cold water, she was composed, but had done away with the stone wall that she had greeted me with. We did away with formalities, and began addressing each other by given name. The doctor stated that while I was correct in my assertions regarding our similar circumstances, she would tell me all she could without violating the conditions of her agreement with Quinn. Hannah began with sharing the picnic photograph she kept on her desk:

This is my daughter Emily. She is fourteen and in perfect health now, but when she was born we almost lost her several times to leukemia. Complicating matters was the fact that her blood type is O negative. This is the blood type of the universal donor, used in emergency situations when no health records exist and patients need blood transfusions. As you know James, we live in a very small college community, and college students, having just left the nest where most things were done for them, tend to be ignorant of their own health needs. Another generalization about that particular demographic is that they tend to be indulgent in risky alcohol related behaviors and by extension, are quite accident prone. Our facility is in constant, pressing need for O negative blood. Emily was not stable enough to receive a bone marrow transplant, and had been reacting very poorly to chemotherapy treatments, so she received frequent blood transfusions.

There was an incident in which a young woman had fallen down a flight of stairs and severed an artery after landing on a letter opener in her purse. With no existing health records, the ER doctor found themselves trapped, as on that particular day, there was no O negative blood in the hospital’s blood bank. Several lab technicians were called in to perform an emergency blood test, but when the test came back it was revealed that the patient’s blood type was O negative. The only person in the facility with that blood type was Emily, who was deemed ineligible to donate. A courier from another county’s hospital was beckoned, but before they could arrive the patient died.

An ethics committee approached me shortly after and pointed out that while we had been in an uncharacteristic shortage of blood in general, Emily had exhausted nearly half of the O negative reserve. While they understood my circumstances, the committee questioned my willingness to begin the process of looking for a bone marrow donor as well as whether or not my position would give Emily priority over others in future events.

I began hosting blood drive after blood drive, offering whatever incentives I could think of – meals, health exams – I even unsuccessfully tried to get the university to offer credit to students who frequently gave blood. It was during one of these drives that I met Quinn. He was still a teenager at the time, and when he came in to be tested for donor eligibility, I was almost certain from his frail appearance that he would not be eligible. Standing at six feet tall, and only weighing in at one hundred and thirty pounds, I told him that while he technically met the requirements for blood donor-shi, his body ratios made it such that I would be uncomfortable taking blood from him. Even in making his way onto the examination table, Quinn seemed to struggle slightly.

I will never forget the moment I told him I wasn’t able to take his blood. His face continued the same smile that he wore when he greeted me, but something in his eyes shifted. He was not looking at me, but rather into me. He looked at me the way a parent looks at their adolescent child when they’ve said or admitted to doing  something incredibly stupid. (Melanie, I will say that the irony of this woman telling me about the intensity of another’s gaze jostled my inner voice into wanting to make some slightly snide observational comment, but I withheld.)

As if he knew my predicament, Quinn explained that he knew from his last medical exam that his blood type was O negative, and that it was a doctor from my very own hospital that explained to him how it was a fairly rare blood type that was in constant demand for its universal acceptance. He explained how he had noticed the increase in blood drives around the county in general, which could only mean that there was some kind of a shortage, and that if I couldn’t take the full bags worth, I should at the very least accept what he could give. He finished his plea with a touch of guilt induction; how he had set the afternoon aside for this, and that the walk through cold weather was a fairly unpleasant affair. His smile widened, causing me to laugh at the abrasive generosity this lanky boy offered.

We agreed that half the normal amount would be taken, and that I would drive him home afterward. His veins were prominent, and he seemed to be able to dilate them at will, not by squeezing his fists or slapping the crutch of his elbow, but by simply staring at his arm and spreading his fingers apart. As simple of an action as it was, I had never seen anything like it.

The bag filled slowly, and Quinn began making conversation. He skipped all the typical pleasantries you would expect from a stranger, and asked instead, incredibly personal questions. While I normally would have been put off by this kind of behavior, the innocent boldness in which he asked – the way a young child asks inappropriate questions – made it not only humorous, but easy to answer. Before long, we were on the subject of Emily, and the events that had led to the increase in blood drives. I was so engrossed in finally being able to vent the impossibilities of my position between being a mother and an administrator that when I checked the bag, it had filled way past the agreed amount, and was almost a full donation. When I looked back at Quinn, he was still fully engaged in the conversation, but I could see that he had probably given too much. His eyes lost focus from time to time, and that slight fatigue he had walked in with had become much more exaggerated. As he watched me scramble to undo his IV and fetch him some orange juice and a pastry, he chuckled to himself and muttered, “I got you!” By the time I returned to him with the confections, he had fallen asleep.

I attached a glucose drip and let him rest; contemplating the bizarre way in which he had tried to distract me from monitoring his donation by engaging me in one of the most earnest conversations I could remember having. It was at the same time, such an honest display of humanity, and yet dishonest in his benevolent intentions. I noticed an irregularity in his unconscious breathing; short even bursts of inhalation, two to four beats, followed by a long deep exhale and an eerie pause. Although not identical, it evoked in my mind the way a child breathes after a long fit of crying, but Quinn’s sleeping face seemed so pleased and content; I had to stop him once from rolling onto his side and IV.  He awoke after twenty minutes, silent, but full of spirit. Immediately after opening his eyes, he saw the chocolate croissant I had laid out for him and tore a good half of it off in one massive bite. After drinking the glass of juice in one draw, and as if the conversation had never left off, his first words to me upon waking were to not document his donation; that I should take it for myself and my daughter. I stammered a half-reply, not knowing what to say, but he cut me off. At once, he became quite stern with me. Quinn stated, and I fully believed him in his conviction, that if I did not take the donation for my daughter, he would immediately contact the hospital ethics board and inform them that I had taken O negative blood from an ineligible donor. As quickly as that sternness came on, it melted away, and his warm smile replaced it. Quinn leaned off the exam table toward me, touched my elbow, much in the same way doctors are instructed to do in quelling patient’s fears and said, “Finding you in this impossible position; let me aid you.”

The whole affair had been shocking. Before me sat an essential child, basically threatening me into allowing him to help me.  He hopped off of the table, and nearly collapsed upon his weight hitting the ground. I managed to catch him as his knees buckled and sat him back down. Quinn looked up at me and said something along the lines of, “Do you see how you instinctually came to my aid, despite however much pride or mentally constructed integrity of mine you had to overcome? The action of communal assistance is overwhelming in power by many magnitudes to the thought of personal pride and independence. I know you want to stand alone as a mother, and as a leader, but the tasks and demands of these two positions necessitate now, that you accept my help.” With his arm around my shoulder, I walked him to my old minivan while he explained his freshly hatched plan.

He proposed that on a private basis, he would come to my home as often as his body could allow to donate blood directly to Emily. Quinn explained, that while he was leaving for school soon, he was more than willing to make trips back as needed. Once Emily was prepared enough for a bone marrow transplant, he would volunteer himself. When I asked him what he wanted in return for such generosity, he stared off into space, thinking for some time what he could want in return, but smiled back at me and said that there was nothing he wanted in life, but that if the opportunity came up in which I could aid him in the future, he was sure that I would not hesitate in repaying the favor. He spoke from the idealistic maxims that stem from youth, how the presence of generosity in the world began from within each individual. Quinn tried to argue, without success in convincing me, that his actions and intentions were mostly selfish in nature; how he wanted to advance his own philosophies about the world by personally injecting them into reality. The phrasing was so unique, that it stuck out in my mind after several years. As we drew nearer to his home, the fatigue began to set back in, and he began to ramble slightly. Quinn kept saying, “We are all one and the same, with no true evil intentions amongst us, but a confused sense of what is real, what matters, and what moves us forward.” He fell back asleep talking about some great inner conflict that we all struggle with, and comparing humanity as a collective to a variety of things: the individual, ants, light, and a horse drawn carriage.

***

At this point I had to interject. I asked Dr. Paysinger if she at any point questioned Quinn’s mental state. She confirmed that it was always a looming question, but that while he was clearly of a different mindset than most individuals, he demonstrated such a clear understanding of the realities of others, such a strong sense of empathy, that she never thought his peculiarities definite enough to merit some kind of psychiatric intervention. He never seemed like a dangerous individual, although she did sometimes wonder if the act of donating blood and bone marrow in light of his physical stature were a danger to himself. This question was always overwhelmed of course, by the parental instinct and desire to keep one’s children safe above all else.

I was at odds against myself. Here I had come, with near full confidence that for some unorthodox reason, Quinn had feigned mental illness. However, before me sat a medical professional, and respectable individual who had encountered and relayed the same peculiar behavior without prompt by my experience. How could one individual be so in tune with the subtleties and fluctuations of a stranger’s moods and dispositions, yet be so near the verge of derangement? If he was insane, how could he have so easily and rationally negotiated with a medical doctor, and a professor of anthropology without setting off any mental alarms in either of us? In meeting Dr. Paysinger now; in being subject to the full brunt of her piercing gaze; it is hard to imagine that a person of compromised mental capacities could ever outwit, and convince her of perfect his sanity. That being said, we both had our suspicions, and in my interactions with Quinn, he had himself posed an informal, half-admission. I thought to myself, even the act of lying about insanity is probably an indicator of a personality disorder of some kind.

At this point in the conversation, the heat of the day had become absolutely unbearable. Hannah suggested we take a walk around the perimeter of the facility to which I eagerly agreed. As we made our way outside from the humid confines of the hospital  into the arid afternoon sun, Hannah continued her story of Quinn’s semi-regular visits to her home, and the bond he formed with Emily. The descending sun cast an orange gleam across the surrounding pavement scene. Dying light morphed the hue of deep green leaves and grass to a bloody brown. Adolescent birds, I even spotted a stray waxwing, fluttered and settled in the branches of sapling trees. We walked along a car park, where a pair of EMTs smoked cigarettes outside of an ambulance. The two middle aged men, who in their attire looked very much like the air conditioning repairmen at the university – unshaven, well-worked, and haggard – waved at Hannah. She knew them by name and bid them a pleasant evening. We made our way into a long paved walkway that bisected the hospital. With lush pruned grass on either side and benches facing inward, it was the perfect shaded spot to continue our discussion. Hannah went on:

***
As I was saying, for four or five years, Quinn was a frequent guest at my home. Emily took to him instantly, and he was very good with her.

Our home has a nook upstairs that overlooks the front yard. Since she was a child, Emily loved the panoramic view granted by the curved half-circle mirror. Rarely would she play with her dolls in her own room; always at the window, I like to think that she wanted to see my car pull in the driveway. When she was very young, we would play hide and seek. Without fail I could always count on her to empty out the blankets and hide in the storage bench. On the day that Quinn first visited, we found her hiding there with a few stuffed animals.

When I opened the padded top of the bench, Emily looked up silently, the way she normally does, waiting for me to say hello. Most of my friends and family are very talkative with Emily. They like to engage her, introduce themselves, ask her what she is doing, how her day has been and the kinds of questions you can expect a small child to answer well. She looked at our house guest with meek, curious silence. He reflected that same intrigue right back at her. For a moment, I was terrified I had made a grave mistake in letting this boy into my home. They just stared at each other for a few seconds, before finally Quinn smiled. In silence, he reached into his coat pocket and revealed a small tube of blowing bubbles. Quinn unscrewed the top, dipped the wand and blew a stream of iridescent globes at Emily who lit up with delight. He handed her the tube of soap, and they both looked up at me smiling for approval. I broke the silence and told Emily to have fun with Quinn while I went downstairs for a while. It wasn’t until I had turned to leave and begun to descend the staircase that I heard Quinn formally introduce himself to Emily, who was already very receptive to her new gift-bearing friend.

I made my way into the kitchen and began preparing the instruments necessary for the transfusion. As I re-sterilize the materials for the third time that day, I heard the two of them bound down the stairs. Emily was full of excitement and laughter. It was the only time I saw, or rather heard, Quinn move at a rapid rate. The patter faded for a moment, and was interrupted by an abrupt of music from the piano in the living room. It wasn’t anything I had heard before, but my music knowledge is limited at best. Happy melodies and rhythmic chords glided out of the mostly unused piano, and from time to time Quinn’s voice would hum along. I could hear the passing murmurs of conversation, as Quinn tried to explain what and how he was playing. The music stopped for a brief moment, and after a short time, a second player could be heard. Emily struck one note at a time, creating a random stream of notes that ascended the scale. There was some more pauses and unheard conversations, but by the time I had finished prepping all the equipment, the two of them were engaged in a set of Rhythm and Blues.

Quinn was set up on the living room couch with an IV in one arm, and the other around Emily, who read him a children’s book. I left the two together while I when back to the kitchen to cook dinner. On the same counter surface that I had wiped down needles half an hour before, I was now chopping up potatoes, onion, broccoli and chunks of sharp cheddar cheese. Emily is probably the pickiest eater I have ever met. Even today, the pan fried concoction, lathered in barbecue sauce, is one of the only things she will consider eating – outside of breakfast cereals, carrots with light ranch dressing, or red velvet cake –  and is made on a daily basis. Two timers went off simultaneously. I turned off the stove, letting the cheesy mass of vegetable sit and slightly char at the bottom, and quickly made my way to the living room to undo Quinn’s IV. As I entered the room I noticed that he had used his coat to cover up the bag of blood, as to not let my daughter see. The children’s book was gone and the two of them were doodling on a legal pad with a pair of very nice, black fountain pens. Quinn looked up when he noticed my approach, and without missing a beat, he asked Emily if she could get him a glass of water. She galloped off, and Quinn removed his jacket from the engorged bag of blood, for some reason seeing the need to apologize for the gesture. As I removed the needle from his arm, and placed a cotton ball over the bead of blood, I thanked Quinn again and complimented him on his affinity with children. He smiled and responded, “I wouldn’t say I was good with kids, so much as I am bad with adults.”

We went to the kitchen to intercept Emily, who could be heard fiddling with ice trays, and picking fallen cubes up off the floor. Walking with Quinn, I noticed the density of his weight. Given his appearance, the gravity of his body stood out to me as we slowly walked to the kitchen table. I sat him down at the round table, and Emily handed him the glass of water, which like the orange juice from the blood drive, he drank quickly.

Dinner came and went. Despite my suggestion that I drive, Quinn insisted that he walk home. The night was warm, and the moon lent plenty of light. Emily and I watched as his figure faded into the still evening air. We went back inside, and I got Emily ready for bed.

As I finished her bedtime story, she asked me what I knew about string theory. Taken aback, I asked her why she wanted to know about the subject. She told me that Quinn had been explaining parts of it to her, but that I had interrupted them before Quinn got to finish what he was saying.  I told her we could look it up in the morning and waited for her to fall asleep.

He would impart many unorthodox lessons on Emily as the years went by. The next time Quinn came by, Emily had me read “Flatland” as her bedtime story. Having never heard of it myself, I obliged, but when I reached a part of the narrative concerning political overthrows and the strange misogynistic overtones I put an end to it. When I confronted Quinn about bringing the book for Emily, he was sincerely apologetic and explained to the best of his ability that he thought it would be a good way of explaining “extra-dimensional spaces” to a child. I found it incredibly inappropriate, but Quinn was so genuinely naive and I could sense that he cared about Emily in earnest. And despite those moments of unease about his mental state, I only had to step back one degree to realize that the grace of his actions wholly compensated for the unique way in which he tried to teach my daughter about physics.

As Emily grew older, I began to notice that she had picked up a little of Quinn’s peculiar curiosity. By peaking her interest in science, Quinn also encouraged her to create little experiments for any sort of task.  One thing I remember vividly was when Emily added a dish to the list of acceptable foods she would eat. Over the years, I began to trust Quinn with caring for Emily. There were certain times when I would have to attend a conference and leave for a few days, or even a week at a time. Normally, my own mother would come and take care of Emily, but as she had become too old to care for the ever growing handful that was Emily, Quinn stepped up to the challenge. After a weekend excursion, I came home to the kitchen in complete disarray. Apparently, Quinn had become determined to find a dessert that Emily liked. The final product was more of a process than a product. They would put crumbled chunks of store bought cookies in a bowl with several large scoops of peanut butter and microwave it until the peanut butter became soft and almost liquid hot. They would then fix a bowl of vanilla ice cream, take a spoonful and dip it into the peanut butter and cookie mix. When I found them, they were siting on the floor, enjoying their creation and playing chess. While I still find that particular example rather endearing, many others were anything but.

When Emily was in the fifth grade, I received a call from her teacher regarding a school report that Emily had turned in. The original assignment – the first of the year – was supposed to be a one page paper about the student’s life and personality. The seven page paper Emily wrote was titled, “Isaac Newton’s Theories of Alchemy and Their Implications in Modern Psychology.” The teacher had called to ask if Emily had Asperger’s syndrome, and if she needed special assistance.

In her first year of middle school, she got into a fight with several eighth grade girls. I was called into the principal’s office after receiving word that while Emily was fine, she had broken one girl’s pinky finger, poked another in the eye with her thumb, and thrown a third to the ground. When I arrived, I was met with six screaming parents, and Emily in a tirade about the “tyranny of a democracy of the uninformed.”

By this age, Emily was still small for her age, but had become incredibly articulate, and quite the rhetorician. I constantly found myself being persuaded by her way with words; to let her stay up a half an hour extra; why a used car would be a better buy than a new car; why I shouldn’t use red ink at work. When I brought her home and asked her what happened, she got excited and instead of relating the events that led up to the fight, detailed the moves that she used to disable her assailants. As soon as she began her descriptions, I knew instantly that it was one of Quinn’s teachings.

He came by the next week, and when I told him what happened, he first laughed, and then apologized. Quinn tried to explain that he had begun to show her martial arts techniques as a “real-life” implementation of the laws of physics, but that as she started to grow up, Quinn felt that it wouldn’t hurt Emily to know how to defend herself. Emily, who was hiding and listening in the hallway burst in and argued that if the other girls hadn’t been hurt, it would have been her instead, and that as a parent, I should be able to appreciate the fact that “my offspring has developed into an independent, confident, self-sufficient individual.” It was the first time I had ever heard a person refer to themselves as “offspring.” Quinn was biting the inside of his lip the entire time, repressing an embarrassed smile.

While this may seem like an extreme thing to shrug off, I assure you James, that at this point I had become somewhat desensitized to the oddities of personality that had been developing. Emily was always eccentric as a child, as her eating habits may have indicated to you. I think on some level her friendship with Quinn didn’t create, but rather facilitated and nurtured the eccentricities that were always there.

Perhaps it was the fight incident that prompted me to bring up the original arrangement with Quinn, or the fact that Emily had become a brave, relatively healthy child, but when Quinn came by to talk about Emily’s fight at school, I asked him about his willingness to donate bone marrow. In all honesty, it was something I had been putting off for far too long as it was. If Emily hadn’t worshiped Quinn, if she didn’t look forward to his next visit with the ecstatic brilliance of youth, if I wasn’t so absolutely confident that if those visits were to stop forever she would be absolutely crushed, I would have surmised that she was fit for the procedure long ago. Part of me tried to rationalize that her friendship with Quinn was one of the primary reasons that she seemed so healthy, despite the fact that her condition had more or less stayed the same.

When I finished asking, there was a long pause. Quinn was as attached to Emily as she was to him. Looking down at his arm, I felt like I could see small dots from the years of repeated donations. He sighed, smiled and said, “Of course. You have but to name the day.” There was a hollow quality to his smile, and the corners of his mouth dipped for a moment. Telling Emily was hard for the both of us. Despite her being intelligent and mature for her age, Emily was still an adolescent girl. She instantly broke into tears. Emily readily deduced that a transplant would mean that she would no longer require blood transfusions, and that there would be no mandatory reason for Quinn to visit. She cried how she didn’t want to have the procedure done if it meant losing her friend. Quinn tried to comfort her and assure her that he would still come by, and to my utter shock she slapped him in the face and yelled at him for using such a cliched response. She went off on her suspicion that the visits would become farther apart for shorter periods of time; how the eventual drifting would be inevitable. Quinn held her and jokingly apologized to the both of us for teaching Emily how narrative templates worked; how he had taught Emily how to predict with reasonable accuracy how a story would end.

***

The blistering heat of the afternoon had finally worn off, and by the sound of the coarseness that had entered Dr. Paysinger’s voice, I was prompted to check the time. It was well into the afternoon, and I asked her if she had any appointments that I was keeping her from. She too had lost track of time. Hannah apologized, but she had to return to her work. Clearly there was more to the story than time had allowed, so I asked her if we could continue the discussion at her earliest convenience. With her life’s duties flowing back into her mind, she half-absently agreed to call me in the evening to arrange a second meeting. Hannah handed me two of her business cards and instructed me to write my information on one, and to keep the other in case contacting me were to slip her mind. I could tell I had kept her far longer than she had anticipated, so I quickly scribbled my phone number on the card and bid her a good afternoon.

I watched her walk rapidly down the pathway towards the parking lot, checking her phone as she went; she almost walked off the pathway in her distracted state. She had a confident walk, that was led by her knees and despite the speed and general vigor of her pace, made hardly any sound at all in the echoing concrete valley.

For some time, beyond the sunset, I sat at the bench and pondered over the new information I had received. Thinking about the motivations behind this young man’s actions, and rather my own motivations for finding him had mutated and eroded, evolved, blossomed and wilted again. I felt as though I would never find him, and that at this point, that it wouldn’t even matter. I had begun this search as a means of giving a simple thank you; a common social grace that any normal person might expect. Quinn was clearly not normal. He didn’t want to be thanked. He didn’t want to be found by any indication. I asked myself, what I would even do if I found him at this point. What would I ask? As I had learned of his actions, and the air of mystery he manufactured about himself, I first suspected that there was some sort of grand design that he was implementing, but now it felt as though there might be no underlying reason for what he did. Perhaps it was just a defect in his character. Perhaps he was just a person who was put in the right place at the right time, and acted as any good natured person would. Perhaps he was just a normal individual with normal reasons and I had chosen to focus on a few outlying moments of generosity in his life.

I was overwhelmed. The heat of the day and the smell of hospital – even from outdoors – was not agreeable to me. I had not gotten closer to an answer for any of my own questions, and I hadn’t even considered the questions on behalf of Beth Morrison. Frustration mounted within me.  It would have been so easy to just end my search there. It would have been easy to say that Quinn was just a generous eccentric, and leave it at that. I wanted to write Beth and tell her that the search was fruitless and that we should both just move on with our lives and accept the events as an odd tangent in existence.
My irritation with the situation even spilled over to my impression of Dr. Paysinger. Who else on Earth could ramble on for so long without getting to the point? In catching my own hasty judgments I resolved to go home and rest.

I walked briskly in the deep blue evening. The parking lot had emptied out considerably; the only indication of life being a private security officer sitting on a bench by the hospital entrance half-asleep, listening to static laced sports broadcasts on a portable radio. As I walked, the irritation of irresolution began to fade, and the lurking curiosity that drove me to investigate the young man resurfaced. At the very least, I had learned that the demeanor of his actions was quite consistent, and that all the accounts I had collected painted a similar picture. He may be full of quirks, but he was not erratic or volatile. It was so tempting to call on you, Melanie, and ask you for your impressions on the young man. At the very least, I might be able to shed light on the one question as to why he was so insistent that you not know of the affair that spurred these events. However it would be in violation of my own word.

Trustworthiness, being a character trait of such high regard should always be maintained. My opinion of Quinn was that he still was to my mind, a completely trustworthy individual, but at the same time I knew that he was not fully honest with me, or any party that I had learned of his interactions with. Both Beth and the Paysingers knew him for so long, yet they clearly had their questions about him.As it tends to happen when one is absorbed in their thoughts, I wandered the roads for at least an hour; taking side-streets, pausing at various corner-shops, finding a slight detour that took me over a bridge and creek. I knew the general direction my home was, and was content with letting my mind exhaust itself before coming home to your mother. The last flittering streams of purple and blue faded into the blackness of night. With no street lamps on these infrequently walked roads, the stars pierced through the dark skyline. My eye instinctively finds the constellation Orion, and in on this particularly clear evening his hoisted shield came through.I found myself near the university, standing right outside Mrs. White’s used book shop. With all the lights out, and a rolling cart of paperbacks blocking the door, the tiny shop appeared even more cluttered. In the two years and some number of months since I had last paid patronage to her little store, the poor old woman had fallen victim to the assaults of age. On the door was a flier, or rather a piece of printer paper, which read “Celebrating 30 Years of Providing Knowledge and Service to the Community. Thank You So Much For All The Love.” Below was a picture of Mrs. White, now bound to a wheelchair, and her new helper, a young Spanish woman. It was related to me second hand that the poor woman had a nasty fall off of the rickety old ladder she had always insisted was perfectly fine. In the confines of the chair she had aged considerably, although perhaps it was the low quality of the photo, or the stress of life changes. Regardless, I decided to make a note to send flowers, or have your mother buy a dozen or so books for the summer. Searching my pockets, the only thing I could turn up to write on was the card that Hannah had given me. Once again, the tide of curiosity swelled in my mind. Standing outside Mrs. White’s shop, I realized the depth of my research could not end because of a heat induced loss of patience. Even if no thanks could be given, and no answers to Quinn’s motivations revealed, it would be a crime not to garner all the information I could. At the very least, I could relate to Beth what I had learned from Dr. Paysinger, and perhaps in finishing my conversation with Hannah, it could provide me with another lead to follow up on during my next personal holiday.

Still, it would have been nice if stories like these could end with a ribbon of finality. Something about the way Quinn impressed upon my mind in that old detective aesthetic that made me expect some sort of grand reveal. Rarely however, is it the case that every loose end gets tied. Rarely does chaos collide with coincidence without a trace of collateral unknowns. We can know only so much, and infer only so much further from something like a fossil, or a relic left behind, but even in that case there are certain facts that can be pinned down. Yet I find that in the examples of living, thinking, scheming beings, it is even harder, if not impossible to know something with certainty. Your mother is still a complete mystery to me.

It had grown quite dark, and in my aging eyes, the street signs had become obscured. Knowing exactly where I was, it didn’t make much of a difference. I carried on home by the instinct of pattern. Normally at this hour, most of the lights would have been off. Your mother would have been in her study, sitting in her office chair, reading in near darkness with a cup of tea and a blanket wrapped around her legs. With all you kids out of the house and carrying on with life, she had become fully immersed in books; even reading the entirety of Virginia Woolf’s anthology. Although she found most of it irritating and unreadable, I think she derived some pleasure in airing her frustration with the text to me, much in the same way she enjoys picking apart poorly done films.

When I approached our home however, I found that many of the downstairs lights were on. Initially I had suspected that one of you children had stopped by for dinner, but as I drew nearer, the motion detecting light in the driveway revealed an old road bike haphazardly spilled in front of the garage. It was surprisingly well maintained for something that was clearly manufactured in my youth. The black paint had chipped away revealing a chrome color for most of the frame. Attached to the handlebar was a basket that couldn’t have been more than a few months old, as it still had some stickers on it from whatever store it was purchased at. Activating the motion detector must have clued your mother to my arrival. Just before I could insert my keys into the deadbolt lock, she opened the door to greet me. Your mother said hello with her eye’s open and alert, brows raised high, smiling with a closed mouth.

“You have a visitor,” She said with a short sigh.  With her hand on my lower back, your mother gently led me into the kitchen.

“James, this is Emily Paysinger.”

Before me, sitting at my kitchen table with a mug of chocolate milk, was a young lady who was barely recognizable from the photo I had seen of her on her mother’s desk. At age seven, Emily had been all skin, bones and long blonde hair. The young woman who sat before me was not by any means overweight, but thick with athleticism. Her hair was pulled back in a short ponytail, which accentuated the triangular shape of her face. Like her mother, and perhaps something she picked up partially from Quinn, her eyes pierced into me as soon as we came in sight of one another. The effect was magnified by the lenses of her blue glasses, that blew up the size of her eyes ever so slightly.  When I entered the kitchen, she stood up, brushed off her pants although there was nothing on them, pushed up the bridge of her oval, wire rimmed glasses, and came towards me with her hand outstretched. She had a surprisingly powerful grip, and in a moment of perplexed pride, I felt the need to clamp down a little harder to meet her grasp. Judging by how cold her hands were, she couldn’t have arrived much earlier than me. When we broke free, she pulled the sleeves of her bright yellow hooded sweatshirt over her hands and retreated back to the mug of milk. I was so engrossed in the similarities of her and her mother’s gaze, that I had overlooked a reasonably thick manilla folder that was sitting beside her on the table. I introduced myself briefly and then pulled your mother aside. She informed me that Emily had arrived only five to ten minutes before I had, but that her presence was anticipated.

Preceding the arrival of Emily, the phone had rang with a frantic Hannah Paysinger, asking to speak with me. When the doctor was told I wasn’t home, Hannah informed your mother of the situation at hand. She was several hours late in picking up Emily from school, and in explaining the reason for her tardiness, Dr. Paysinger had mentioned my name. The effect of hearing my name had for some reason had a deep effect on Emily. While they normally talk very openly, the new information made Emily inexplicably silent. Upon arriving at their home, she immediately went to her room, and while Hannah prepared dinner, Emily slipped out of the house. Your mother informed me that Hannah was already on her way over and that we should be expecting her shortly. While your poor mother was clearly exacerbated by the situation, there was a tinge of excitement in her voice, although I was fairly certain I would get a full debriefing on the whole affair once the company had cleared.

We returned to the kitchen where we were met by Emily’s magnified eyes, scanning our faces. They darted back and forth in a subtle manner that probably would not have been given away if not for the blue spectacles that drooped down the bridge of her thin nose. Your mother excused herself and headed into the living room with a book in one hand, and a cup of tea in the other. I poured myself a glass of water and sat down across from Emily. She ran her hand over the folder, went to open it, but paused.

“I didn’t think it would take you this long to try to contact him, Dr. Thatcher.” She said. Her face portrayed no perceivable emotion, which I found quite unsettling. If I could describe it at all it would be a countenance of unwavering determination.

“Actually, I have been looking into the matter on and off for several years now.” I replied. “May I ask why you came here, Miss Paysinger? It’s quite late, and probably not the safest time for a young person like you to be out. Your mother is on her way. She’s undoubtedly very worried about you. But you look like you are here with purpose. You look like one with conviction.”

“Have you heard the story of stone soup?” She asked, pulling a worn children’s book from the folder. The cover had a pair of pigs dressed as chefs hovering over a massive black cauldron. The two pigs stirred the pot of soup with a host of happy and hungry looking anthropomorphic animals encircling them.

“No, I can’t say I have.” I replied, thoroughly confused. I could see what the girl’s mother meant when she mused that Quinn had rubbed off on Emily. There was something about the combination of directness and mystery that she addressed me with that reminded me of my initial encounter with her mentor. With this in mind, I felt as though I needn’t ask her to elaborate, as she, like Quinn, would go on with her point unprompted. She began leafing through the pages, showing me the pictures as she summarized the story.

“Quinn gave me this book for my ninth birthday. Although I felt like I was a little old for children’s books, it was a gift from Quinn, and I was surprised by how much I fell in love with the work. In essence, it is a story about two brothers who arrive in a small town where everyone keeps their windows and doors locked, they don’t talk to their neighbors, and keeping to yourself is par for the course. The two brothers go to the town square on a busy day and announce that they can use magic to make the most amazing soup that the world has ever known out of nothing but stones, and that they wish to demonstrate this magic to the townspeople.  A towns-person, in this book it’s a goat, says ‘You can’t make a town’s worth of soup without a cauldron! I have the largest one in the village. Let me go get it for you.’ Then another says, ‘No soup can be complete without the freshest vegetables, and my garden has the best in the county. I’ll fetch you some.’ One by one, the townspeople boast their own trades as essential to the perfect soup. Here you see a butcher retrieving some sausages, and on this page a hen brings out her spice collection. Before you know it, each individual in the whole town has pitched in the best ingredients they can offer. The brother’s then combine all the offerings, throw a rock in it and feed the town.”

Emily looked up from the book with a hopeful smile, as if this were to make complete sense to me. Her smile faded almost instantly, as she gazed upon my frozen confusion. She tried to elaborate.

“Are you familiar with the concepts of alchemy, Dr. Thatcher?” She asked. I opened my mouth, but no words came. Emily continued.

“The phrase you will most commonly hear about alchemy is that it’s all about turning lead into gold. Have you heard that concept before?” Her eyes bled with hope.

“Yes I have heard that before.” I said.

“Good. Well there are certain theories that suggest that while certain individuals did actually try to turn lead into gold, others suggest that the saying is more of a metaphor. In more modern terms, let me put it to you this way:

Coal and diamonds are essentially just different arrangements of the element carbon, correct? Alchemy is not the practice of trying to turn one thing into a completely different thing, it is instead a practice of trying to rearrange what is already there into a more perfect orientation. In the example of stone soup, the components for the soup already existed in the town. It just took the impetus of the pig brothers to unite the town to create that perfect soup.

In a different manifestation, certain branches of psychology look at alchemic principles as symbolic for self-actualization. Instead of realigning a community, the psychologist’s approach is to realign and unite the individual’s psyche. Does this all make sense to you?” Emily blinked her wide eyes at me, the tips of her long lashes batted away a fleck of dust from her lens.

“Yes I suppose,” I replied, “but I’m not entirely sure as to why you found it so urgent as to explain it at this hour.”

Emily seemed slightly hurt by this. She was clearly expecting a different reaction from me. I quickly backtracked.

“Now that being said, I do find this all quite intriguing. Would I be wrong in supposing this has something to do with our mutual friend Quincey Farstride?” When I said this, Emily’s face, her whole body lit up. She sat up straight, and pulled her chair in slightly. The worn manilla folder was flung open and it’s contents revealed. Emily spread a collection of letters before me, four in total. One had been torn open and bound back by a rubber band. The young woman took this opened letter and slipped the band off. As she removed the letter from the envelope I noticed Quinn’s handwriting on the letterhead, addressed to Emily. With the letter in hand she smiled at me and began again.

“Quinn taught me all the useful things I know today. He brought on my curiosity in the obscure and archaic dimensions of science.  I don’t know how much you know about my own circumstances, but I do know that shortly after Quinn donated his bone marrow to me, he donated a kidney to your son. It wasn’t until I went to visit him in recovery that I realized that he had been… grooming me for some sort of purpose. When I went to see him, he was almost incomprehensible. While he normally was highly communicative and articulate, however strange the idea he was trying to relate, when I went to see him he was so immensely distracted that he could not finish a thought. He kept repeating names I had never heard, titles and phrases from books we had read together, in addition to some disturbing things that I cannot repeat. My mother told me that it was just a part of the recovery process, but I suspected that something had gone wrong during one of the procedures, or that the shock and stress of undergoing two major donations had a profound effect on Quinn’s ability to function. I went back to the hospital one week later, only to find that he had disappeared. After a brief inspection of the room, I discovered that the room wasn’t even registered under his name. It was listed as John Smith.  I hounded my mother for answers, but she was silent. To say the least, I was devastated. For days, I cried. His disappearance was so abrupt, and he had promised to continue visiting me before he underwent his first donation. I felt deceived by those closest to me.

Then, after a few weeks had passed, I received a packet in the mail. It was this stack of letters that I have here now, addressed to names I’d never heard, excluding my own. There was no return address, but instead a handwritten ‘QF.’  Instantly I tore open the letter addressed to me. In it was a seven page letter from Quinn, telling me how much he cared about me, how much my friendship meant to him, how he wanted so much to see me grow as an adult, but that his absence was necessary. Halfway through the letter he began to explain the reasoning behind exposing me to things like Flatland and Stone Soup. He called me ‘his little catalyst for change.’ He wrote that I was to finish the ‘projects’ that he no longer could, and wrote me a list of instructions on how to complete each ‘equation.’ Quinn called the list a sort of training manual for what I was suppose to do and become. Here he writes, (she showed me a page of the letter that had clearly been handled constantly over the years) ‘It is my wish that you become a paragon of goodness. I see within you the potential to become something greater than the caliber of individuals that fill our world. You, my little angel, can be a creator and perpetuator of goodness and light. I see it already, like a seed from within yourself, blossoming outwards into the hearts of others. This is not a charge, or a demand I set upon you, but an acknowledgment, from one friend to another, of the perfection I know you to be capable of, and a design, a path, a way to that unified state. You posses the purity of heart and the intelligence necessary. All you need now is to practice perfect goodness; to fill your being with that ingrained habit until nothing but an instinctual reflex to cultivate goodness remains. ‘

The first item on the list of instructions was Beth Morrison. (The mentioning of the name made my ears stand on edge) I was to volunteer at my mother’s hospital as much as I could, until I graduated from high school and went off to college. The second instruction was that if Beth were ever to visit the hospital, I was to deliver this letter to her. (She showed me a small envelope, much thinner than the one that Emily had received; at most two or three pages.) I had no idea what this meant until I began doing clerical work in the hospital’s billing department, which was roughly three months after I had received the letters. While checking invoices and pay stubs, I noticed that Quincey Eldridge Farstride was listed as an employee of the hospital. Immediately, I took this information, stormed my mother’s office and demanded an explanation.

Cornered, my mother explained that there had indeed been a complication during Quinn’s kidney donation to your son. The result was that Quinn developed Addison’s Disease.  One of the unfortunate effects of Quinn’s new disease was that in addition to being in constant pain, he continued to lose weight and strength. It became clear to both he and my mother that he would probably never be able to work. Sitting for too long caused him agony, and he could hardly drag a folding chair across the floor. Gentle-hearted Quinn had no intention of filing suit against my mother’s hospital, and in knowing that she was already under the watchful eye of an ethics board, the two came to an arrangement. Instead of providing him with the normal compensation that would be dispensed for such a complication, my mother listed him as an ‘executive assistant’ in the hospital records and would send him checks until a certain amount had been reached. This is where I came in. I learned that the supposed volunteer work I had been doing at the hospital was in fact the work that Quinn’s position would have fulfilled.”

Emily paused to take a long drink of chocolate milk. I was amazed. I told young Emily that Beth Morrison had in fact tried to contact the hospital, and had even spoken to her mother. She was only partially surprised to hear this. It seemed to Emily that Quinn had Dr. Paysinger under a strict vow of silence on all matters related to him, and in learning of the roundabout, secretive ways in which Dr. Paysinger and Quinn had formulated their arrangements, it didn’t entirely surprise me either that Hannah had no desire to reveal to anyone the deals she had struck with the creative mind of Quincey Farstride.

It occurred to me then, that if my conversation with Hannah hadn’t gone on as long as it did, she wouldn’t have been late in picking up her daughter. She wouldn’t have to explain what caused her tardiness, and this whole encounter may have never happened.

The vibrant youth finished off her mug of milk. I offered her another, which she graciously accepted, and feeling nippish from my walk, I took the liberty of preparing a platter of carrot sticks. Emily chuckled and mused that her mother had clearly detailed her particular eating habits.  I laughed, apologized for the lack of light ranch, and offered a blue cheese dressing instead. Emily removed her glasses and polished the lenses on her yellow sweater. She placed the blue frames on the table and examined the bottle, stretching her neck back and opening her eyes wide to focus on the label. Emily had a very fluid way of moving, with one action streaming seamlessly into the next. The bottle was set down in the same circular motion that brought her glasses back to her face, as though her hands were two planets in silent orbit with one another. She naturally took deep breaths, that resulted in her body expanding and contracting in a very visible way, but at the same time the long inhalations and exhalations were completely silent. While in many ways, she carried striking similarities to Quinn in regards to the intensity of their presence, they were complete opposites in a physical sense. As I stated at the beginning of this narrative, Quinn’s face crackled with hundreds of expressions and; jagged, even twitchy; he seemed to experience a myriad blend of multiple emotions at once. He moved with an unevenness, and seemed perpetually out of balance. His little apprentice was the epitome of perfect balance. Emily conducted herself with serene stillness, and if a motion were to be made, you could almost feel the gravity and inertia that flowed through the action. When she smiled, she smiled with her whole body. There was never any question about how she felt or what she was feeling. It emanated from her in a very pure and direct manner.

Light and shadows streamed through the wooden shutters and flooded over the kitchen table and floor. Emily turned around at the perception of this, and we both knew Dr. Paysinger had arrived. Your mother poked her head into the kitchen door, confirmed that Hannah had arrived, and went to answer the door. Emily took a particularly long breath that must have occurred over a fifteen second period as the distant chatter of Hannah and your mother. I noticed that the young woman had even closed her eyes as if she were preparing herself. The two voices drew nearer; your mother assuring Dr. Paysinger that there was no inconvenience in Emily’s arrival, and that we were happy to show her hospitality; Dr. Paysinger apologizing profusely on her daughter’s behalf. Just as when I had entered the kitchen, when the two appeared, Emily’s eyes honed straight in on her mother. I had experienced the power of each generations gaze, but when the two collided, the effect was truly electric. Each launched into their own clearly prepared arguments and defenses. They clearly had fights like this before. It reminded me very much of when Leda, and you Melanie, were her age – the young adult trying to assert her budding independence against the caring and controlling instincts of the elder. Emily pleaded with her mother to allow her to stay for just a little bit longer; that she was so close in finishing what she had to do; that as soon as she was done she would go where her mother pleased and do as she bid. Hannah objected that they had already taxed the kindness of your mother and myself, and they should go immediately. I foolishly interjected and said it was no bother having them; even going so far as to say that I would like to finish my conversation with both of them. Hannah shot me with a cold, quick stare. I apologized and backed down. In the midst of this, your mother had sat at the kitchen table and loudly ate carrots. I felt as though she was enjoying this whole scene a little too much.

Emily finally relented to her mother’s wishes. Her posture deflated. She at once became quite subdued. While her presence had been palpable upon meeting her, now it seemed to withdraw and drain inward. Hannah apologized again, and assured me that we would be in contact the following day. The doctor smiled at her distant daughter and asked her to gather up her things.  I sensed a glimmer of energy from the young girl. She suppressed the formations of a smile – at once I thought of Quinn – and proceeded to gather the letters into the manilla folder. Emily stacked them in a particular order, referencing the list she still had laid out on the table.

“Thatcher Family: Explain Stone Soup, deliver letters to father only, invite the family to tea and/or coffee one week following delivery.” She muttered to herself. “Dr. Thatcher,” She continued, this time audibly to the room, “would you and your family like to join us for tea next week?” Her smile rose like a zeppelin.

“Emily, that is enough.” Hannah said. She placed her hand on her daughter’s middle back, rubbing it slightly.  Emily turned back to her mother.

“Mom, I’m simply trying to make up for my intrusion. It’s the least we can do for putting out these kind people.”

“Tea would be lovely.” Your mother said through a mouth half-full of carrot.

“Then it is settled,” Emily said, back in full spirit, “Dr. Thatcher, I have two letters for you. One here is addressed to you, the other is meant for your daughter Melanie.”

She handed me two envelopes marked “J. Thatcher” and “M. Thatcher” respectively. The one addressed to me was a standard mailing envelope, packed quite thickly. The letter meant for you, was a much smaller postcard envelope that was very thin in comparison.

“Okay mother, let’s not linger. You wouldn’t want to take up any more of their time.” Emily led the confused and slightly irritated Dr. Paysinger out the door, leaving me and your mother to bask in their wake.

I stood in silence with the two letters in my hand. They were stiff, but crackling and worn with age. Twice in the same day had I come so close to an answer, and now I might have held in my hand the end of my search. As soon as the pair had left, I could feel the fatigue of the day sink in. I began to wish I had come home immediately instead of wandering around the neighborhood. I wished I had that extra five minutes of conversation with the young Emily that might have quelled my curiosity a little further. The envelopes each had a deep blue seal of some kind of waxy substance. My imagination delved into Quinn’s thought process. I could imagine that if I were Emily, I would have instantly opened each letter that was sent. Even now, before I had even opened my own letter, I was contemplating whether or not it would be horribly objectionable for me to open the one meant for you, Melanie.

My free-ended thoughts were disrupted by the loud snap of carrot. I rounded around, having almost forgotten that your mother was there, looking at me with an expression of curiosity, a hint of irritation, and an overwhelming sense that I was not leaving until I had explained every last detail of what had prompted this night’s visit. She made an elongated, overly-polite hand gesture signaling – or rather demanding – that I have a seat with her at the kitchen table. In the exact same way your mother would sit down one of you kids when she knew you had gotten into some sort of mischief, she did not outright confront me, but curled her lips inward into that little smile and let out a two second, “so,” that raised ever so slightly in pitch as she trailed off.

I related as much of the account as I could; beginning with the first encounter with Quinn, and finishing with my conversation with Dr. Paysinger that had occurred just hours earlier. As you could probably have guessed, your mother was able to fully interrogate me using only a few words and a staggering control over the lifting of her eyebrows, which to this day sends sweat down my neck, and ushers unfiltered truth from my lips.

When I finished my narrative to her satisfaction, I asked her what her impressions on Quinn were in the time she knew him. Since your mother was home during most of your and Quinn’s childhood,  I expected her keen eye had formed some idea of the young man. She said that she never minded Quinn, although some of the other wives in the neighborhood did find him peculiar. During one lunch your mother learned that Mrs. Flanders was under the assumption that he was autistic, had no friends, and was probably a “charity case,” whatever that meant. Another, Mrs. Arkwright, who apparently once tried to speak with Quinn, thought he was a family servant, or a European immigrant that spoke no English. Your mother mused however, that this was more of a reflection on the ignorance of the women as opposed to Quinn. She only remembered him as being very quiet, only speaking in response to whatever questions she asked him. Your mother – being somewhat reserved yourself – did not feel any ill will towards the boy. He was incredibly polite, well spoken when prompted, and got along so well with you, Melanie, that she didn’t see the need to investigate further. Your mother did mention off handedly that if she had any inclination to believe that the two of you had any romantic interest in each other, that she would have probably pursued the matter further. However, there was never any indication of any courtship.

I excused myself for only a moment for a reason I can no longer recall. I couldn’t have been gone for longer than one minute, but when I returned I found your mother had opened the letter addressed to you and was going over it’s contents. A wave of heat billowed from my spine, through my neck and out through the tips of my hair. Sensing my sheer shock, your mother, in perfect calm looked to me and said quite flatly, “You and a medical doctor suspect this man of mental illness, and he is sending paper letters to your daughter in the twenty-first century. Of course we’re going to open it. I haven’t broken a letter seal in twenty years… If it’s any consolation, I didn’t open yours.”

Melanie, I promise that I had every intention of delivering the letter to you upon your very next visit. I even had it in my breast pocket, waiting for you when you arrived. However, this was the visit you first introduced us to your new fiancé, and the shock and joy of hearing the news prevented me from presenting it to you. Over the past few years, I have waited for the right time to tell you about it. Unfortunately, it was lost at some time and I have not been able to locate it.

That being said, the actual contents of the letter I remember quite vividly. The first item was a Polaroid photograph of you and Quinn. You look to be about fifteen or so. It was taken along the bank of the river – I think I may know the spot – beneath, or off to the side, of the bridge that connects the university campus to downtown. It is late afternoon, and you are both soaking your feet in the water. Neither of you are looking at the camera, and your mother and I both questioned who the third party could have been, but it looked like an intentional candid shot. The focal point of the shot might not have intended to be the two of you at all, but your shoes instead. Centered are a pair of your sneakers placed on top of what I assumed were Quinn’s sandals. Your back, Melanie, is turned fully to the camera and you are sitting in the foreground, in front of Quinn. You are wearing that old sky blue and white sweater and a pair of khakis, and appear to be looking over Quinn’s head at the river’s vanishing point around a bend, or maybe even the sun. Quinn’s eyes are obscured by the glare of the sun reflecting off his horn-rimmed glasses, but his smile is obvious and wide. He is leaning back, jeans rolled up to the knee, propped up by his palms and he seems to be staring into the river. Perhaps this is my own mind placing significance where there may be none, and perhaps it is something that I wanted to see, but Quinn seems very lost in a highly enjoyable thought – casting and reeling every dimension and tangent possible. It brought to my mind a sensation of appreciation and nostalgia for my own encounter with the boy – how he would pause for ten seconds at a time, entertaining his own mind, looking for the right words.

The photograph had clearly been handled quite a lot. There was a clear fold in the middle. The wax on the corners was crinkled, and it bore the faded quality of sun, as though it had been carried around in a wallet and examined frequently. A small tac mark on the center-top also indicated that it had been hung on a wall for some time, perhaps in direct sunlight. The photograph came enclosed with a handwritten note from a 5×7 legal pad. Due to the short lines on the page, it was unclear to your mother and I as to whether the words were intended as some kind of a cryptic message that you would only understand, or maybe a little poem. Whatever the initial intention, the contents have stuck in my mind for all these years.

I would love to see you grow
in time blossom out
Eye to eye
our love for humanity
takes our time
from our own little
love for love
from me to you
to the universe
Float on little angel
before I chain you down

Your mother had a fairly negative reaction to the words, and suggested we get rid of it then and there. She seemed quite ready to accept Quinn’s first admission of insanity as truth, and the final line in the note did not sit well with her. I on the other hand, felt it was wrong enough for us to open and read the letter, and in a rare moment for me, insisted that it was not our business to censor and filter correspondence for our adult children.

There was a long pause as your mother waited for me to open my own letter. I could feel her eyes haunt me, but I wanted to read it alone. She eventually granted me privacy, kissing me on the head and going to sleep. Seeing as I read your letter, it would only seem fit that you should be able to read my own. It would seem as though, as Emily had pointed out, that Quinn had expected me to try to contact him sooner.  The handwriting was much more rushed than on the note he left for you, and the page was worn thin with erasure marks. I have it enclosed here:

***

Dr. Thatcher,

In reading this I can only assume that you have put a respectable amount of effort in finding my little friend Emily. I would hope that your desire to find me would be rooted in some sort of sense of gratitude towards me for the gift I have given your family. This is not necessary. Gratitude need only be dispensed as an intangible unit of exchange in the event of an altruistic donation, or a mundane social contractual agreement such as a birthday. I am afraid to inform  you that I did not act in a purely benevolent manner. There is something I would request of you.

First, I would like to explain myself. When I met with you several months ago, I told you that I had been diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia. This was untrue. While I will admit that there are aspects of my personality that might one day merit psychiatric intervention, I have never been evaluated by a mental health care professional. I am, however, by my own subjective experience of myself, a half-lunatic. My request that you not inform your daughter of my actions was based in part on the fact that Melanie has been aware for some time of my own apprehensions of insanity, and I feared that if she were to find out what I was doing, it might prompt her to stage some sort of intervention on my behalf.

The type of lunacy I am victim of is completely within my control, which is why I term it a kind of half-madness. The first and foremost manifestation of this madness is that I, by default, feel no regret or remorse when I sin, nor do I instinctively feel any sort of bliss or happiness from performing acts of kindness. Before meeting your daughter, I was an animalistic schemer, and as you know first hand, a prolific liar. I spent a good deal of my adolescence as a semi-professional thief – not with any monetary concerns in mind, I just found it to be one of the few activities in life that was entertaining. What started off as petty theft, eventually graduated into home invasions and at the pinnacle of my career, at age fifteen, I had amassed a small fortune of a quarter million dollars in hocked jewelry and electronics.  I had no desire for the actual materials I was stealing, and by extension, no real desire for the money that I received in selling them. In fact, selling the stolen goods online was more to keep the clutter out of my home and keeping my activities secret, as opposed to any desire for wealth.

In addition to testing the limits of the law on a personal level, I was coming to the age in which young people generally look at the state of the world, foreign affairs, political elections, actions of religious institutions, attitudes of law enforcement, and feel as though they have been, and continue to be, bombarded by an endless stream of hypocrisy, arbitrarity and meaninglessness. Being a brash, slightly unhinged youth, I looked at my country as one that espoused freedom, yet dispensed tyranny. I looked at my church as a place that promoted family values, and then condoned the molestation of the most innocent among them.  I came to look at the laws governing man as means for the truly powerful to propagate the stupid, ignorant, useless masses and stifle the minds and ideas of those with the capacity to think and dream, who might one day dethrone them.

An individual of this world view is one steeped in futility. They have thought their way into a cage in which to fester and facilitate dark thoughts. People who think this way have a tendency to no longer listen to the words of others, but instead listen to their tone and watch their eyes. The world becomes lonely. Its inhabitants become ignorant, awful, forever fallen things that deserve the misfortunes that befall them.

I was not alone in this view either. One does not simply learn to canvas homes for vacationing DINKS (married couples with no children, an acronym for Double Income, No Kids) to rob through trial and error. I had my community of like-wired individuals. However, my skills far exceeded my needs and means for survival. I had amassed an amount, that with my fondness for living on bare essentials, I could have theoretically retired on at the age of fifteen. At that point, I simply became an accomplice to my cohorts who for some reason were never satisfied. The act lost its novelty, and soon I had become quite bored with the profession. The people who I admired so much for being able to see the things I saw, who did things simply because they were capable, now to me seemed like petty ineffectual impostors of the same breed and make of the men who ruled the world. It became apparent to me that they did not steal in spite of those men, but that they really just wanted to be like them.

Not by some moral awakening, did I give up thievery, but by a combination of boredom and irritation with my colleagues. I took up walking as a hobby, and that is how I met Melanie. We were of course, students from the same school, but had never really interacted. After continually running into one another along the riverside, we eventually became friends.

What I found so shockingly different about Melanie wasn’t that she had an unshakable faith in humanity, but that she could argue it so convincingly. Melanie has told me two things that have stuck in my mind, and served as the point of change for my whole life’s trajectory. The first came up when I was foolishly trying to shake her of that incredibly faith in mankind. She, although not religious by any of my accounts with her or your family, quoted the Sermon on the Mount, “Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.”  As I launched into a tirade about the hypocrisy of the church and religious institutions, she smiled at me. She smiled as if she had heard this all before, as if she had been there, thought those things, and moved past them a long time ago. Melanie let me finish, turned to me and said, “If you do not believe, no matter how flawed your past, that you can be perfect from this point on – which is a belief, a completely hypothetical idea, a mental construct, a way of thinking, with no way of proving one way or the other – then you remove any possibility, no matter how small, of it being true or achievable.”

The effect of her words was profound. Here was a girl, not yet eighteen, who demonstrated more wisdom than anyone I had ever encountered. Worked up – thinking she was some kind of guru, or saint –  I confessed my life’s work to her. I told her about the shortcomings of my mind, and the questionable actions that spurred from them. Again, she let me finish, not at all shocked or appalled by what I had told her. Melanie said, “Quinn, all you have demonstrated is that you are capable of enacting remarkable impact on the world around you. What you have left to consider is what kind of impact you choose to leave. I think, and have thought from the moment we became friends, that you are a wonderful person.”

It was the way she emphasized the word “wonderful,” that filled me with something I had never felt before. Today, I still have trouble putting words to the gravity I felt that day. Life at once felt simultaneously more serene, yet vibrant and alive. I began to see life from a perspective that I had no idea existed. I experienced and perceived everything in the exact same way, yet completely differently. Cliche sayings and phrases that I once scoffed at now nearly brought me to tears. Whereas once I would have been content with a few good meals in a nice diner, I now found complete satisfaction, ecstatic joy, in trivial inconveniences – feeling the sensation of hunger and shivering cold in moonlight, humidity on itchy grass, listening to old couples complain about the cushioning in movie theater seats.

I embarked on a quest – the one that led me to your office door – to become perfect. Through a deliberate, conscious effort and reasoning, I have learned to, or trained myself to act, think and behave morally. However, it is not something that is ingrained or instinctual – the way I see and feel it in certain individuals such as your daughter. It was in fact, your daughter Melanie that inspired me to aspire to a moral lifestyle, and it was Melanie that I used as an idealized model.

That being said, like recovering alcoholics, it is and has been a long fight full of missteps and backslides. I would like to take this time to acknowledge and apologize to you for, in a way, twisting your arm into accepting my help. In searching for a proper method of becoming the person I want to be, I enacted the philosophy of Aristotle and his theories on virtue based ethics. I wanted to create a habit of good works in myself, and quite amorally in your case, found ways of facilitating those good works, and creating other opportunities out of those works. I did not simply choose to help your family based on my friendship to Melanie. The fact that she was my dear friend, and that your son Todd needed a life saving favor was too much of a happy coincidence for me to not act.

As you have now met my little friend Emily, I would one day like you to ask her about my relationship to her and her mother. In short, I have been donating blood to her and her mother’s hospital for several years now. I saw it as a way of doing good in consistent intervals. However, as I grew older, it became apparent that if I wanted to continue my charge for perfection, I would need more than a simple blood donation. There were other things I wanted to do, and other people who I wanted to help. For a considerable amount of time, I tried to help multiple parties at once, but it was too taxing physically and emotionally.

Experiences from my friendship with Melanie, and another relationship in college, taught me that if I were to stay in one place, and bestow kindness upon the same individual for too long, eventually it would evolve into a relationship that I could not ever leave. In order to achieve progress, and prevent the seduction of sedentary domestic life, it seemed natural that I would have to keep moving from cause to cause.   However, it didn’t seem fit to simply abandon one cause for another. Instead, the obvious solution was to procure a replacement donor, or someone to carry on the work. I resolved to use the ideal of altruistic charity as a means of finding the right person to replace my role at Dr. Paysinger’s blood bank, which is what eventually led me to you, Dr. Thatcher.

I spent quite a lot of time looking for the right person. I told you during our first meeting that I had bribed a clerk to gain information regarding your son after having a conversation with Melanie – another lie I must apologize for. Melanie and I have not spoken in some time. A second component to my desire for your silence was that I did not want you to find out that Melanie hadn’t told me about Todd’s condition.  The bribe was to gain access to the hospital archives. My original goal was to find previous patients of the hospital who also had the desired O negative blood type. Stumbling across Todd’s records was a fortunate accident.  I saw that both your sons, yourself, your whole family, carried the same blood type as I, and it came to mind that you would be the perfect person. As I had been to your home by now, and met your dear wife, I assumed that Melanie’s propensity for kind-heartedness and benevolence was a trait her inherited from you, and that you would be the most likely person to accept the request I have.

In exchange for donating one of my kidneys to Todd, I would like you to take my place as a regular blood donor at Dr. Paysinger’s hospital.  This is by no means a demand, but a gift of opportunity – similar to the opportunity Melanie gave me – to become a more perfect person.

I promise you sir, that I have accounted for any and all deceptions I may have perpetrated. If you wish to find any more answers, the Paysinger family will be sure to provide them. You have a truly wonderful family, and I hold no human being higher in my mind than Melanie. If you, or any of your relations need my assistance, please contact Emily Paysinger.   Thank you — Quincey Eldridge Farstride.

***

I have read this letter dozens of times. I have believed at some point in time, every conceivable combination of motivations that would have caused Quinn to act in the way he did. He was sane in my mind one year, and a maniac the next. I thought he loved you whole-heartedly at certain points, but his continued absence indicates otherwise. My irritation at his present absence highlights the predominating emotion I felt when I first read this letter – frustration.

Frustration with the idea of a thief and self-proclaimed sociopath not only being in my home, not only being worryingly close to my daughter, but for exercising some sort of theoretical power play over the lives of myself, my loved ones and complete strangers, for the sake of his own ideas about what he was to become.  His explanations for his behavior seemed no more than mildly eloquent rehashings of the self-righteous undergraduate students – the only difference being, instead of organizing as a community and agreeing upon a path for betterment, he struck out on his own armed with nothing but freshman textbooks and a complete lack of conscience. He seemed to want to become a better person, yet revealed to me only his selfish intentions for self-improvement. I felt like myself, your brother, Beth Morrison, the Paysingers were simply instruments in this individual’s search for atonement.

Now he expected something of me, that was, and wasn’t a demand. His phrasing of “opportunity” did not sit well with me.  Why he couldn’t have proposed this to me during our first encounter still puzzles me to this day. No matter how noble he may have thought his intentions were, his means were incredibly dishonest. I am a proponent of charitable works, but it should be painfully obvious to all that charitable acts need not involve a cabal of lies and deceit.

It was incredibly late at this point in the night and I elected to join your mother in sleep. The following morning, she asked me about Quinn’s letter, but I didn’t feel like talking about it and gave a response of many words with no meaning. I was actually on the fence about arranging a meeting with Hannah and Emily, but your mother took the liberty of doing that while I was at the university. Upon hearing this, I did feel compelled to contact Beth Morrison. I sent her a very brief email pointing her towards Emily, who still had a letter for Beth. She responded almost instantly with so much gratitude and warm thanks that I almost felt guilty, for I anticipated that Beth would be equally if not more frustrated by whatever Quinn had to say to the poor thing.

I don’t remember much from having tea with the Paysingers. It was mostly pleasantries driven by your mother. In not wanting to reveal anything from Quinn’s letter, to Emily’s intense disappointment, I even had to excuse myself for some fresh air. The Paysingers had a lovely old home – two stories of brick splendor, with a deep purple tile roof, on a hill, obscured by heavy trees and wild flowers. Looking up, I could see the little window nook that the much younger Emily would sit by and indulge in the imagination. Each panel had the remnants of pink and white paint, in intricate patterns that my old eyes could not really make out.  Emily joined me outside shortly after I left. She could tell exactly what had happened, and what I had learned. Emily explained that her mother went through the same feelings of apprehension and violation towards Quinn when he told her the same truth following his procedures. As if our ages and maturities were temporarily reversed, she sipped her tea and explained, “There are so many worse things he could have easily become.”

Emily felt as though her life was made markedly better, not just by Quinn’s bone marrow donation, but by his presence in her life. She went on to say that of the letters and “projects” she had completed, all the individuals’ lives, no matter their reaction to discovering the letters, were made better. I do recall her telling me of an old Mexican couple who had an incredibly positive reaction to learning the truth. The two owned a struggling restaurant in town. Emily believed that this was the first project Quinn embarked on due to the relatively small scale of the deed’s intricacy. He arranged an agreement with the university to sell pre-made burritos at various points on campus. The success of this partnership not only resulted in the family business staying open, but the food came into such high demand that the father ended up becoming an employee of the university which allowed his two daughter’s to attend the school at a highly reduced tuition rate.

When presented with Quinn’s past, the couple were even more grateful and happy with Quinn. Emily related that they were deeply religious in nature. They believed that God had graced Quinn with the capacity for change, so that he could perform great works, and it seemed to Emily that Quinn’s actions further fueled their faith. Now, with their family business doing quite well, the couple host a charity event through their church on a bi-monthly basis in which they prepare their food for a local homeless shelter. In addition to this, for each food item purchased on the university, the family donates a small amount of money to charity.

The story did bring a smile to my face and a chuckle through my heart. I had eaten the family’s food quite often in between classes. Learning that Quinn had something to do with this as well helped ease my frustration with the letter.

In the years that followed, I did attend a handful of blood drives, although probably not at the frequency that Quinn might have hoped for. Like many well-intentioned persons, I began quite fastidiously, but after the third or fourth, the triviality of life started to pull me away. I remember the first one I missed was to see Arthur play his last game, and after that, I simply started to forget to check when the next drive was. I did eventually start up again, although infrequently. Once or twice, I even brought Arthur after he retired from the sports world.

Melanie, I feel as though, having not really held up my end of the bargain with your old friend, that I still owe him a debt of gratitude. I have not asked you whether or not you’ve seen him because I did not want to give you any indication that he and I have shared in the experience I have just related to you. If you are still in contact with the young man, thank him for me. Thank him for being so bold as to act out of a desire for goodness. Thank him for keeping our lives on track. To this day, I do not know whether or not to think of him as being insane. At this point, it matters very little to me. What I know, from the pit of my soul, is that what he did, he did out of love. Perhaps it was love for you that caused him to involve himself in our lives, but in hearing his impact on others, I have definite cause to believe that he acts out of a pure sense of love for this world and its inhabitants. I will tell you now, what you told Quinn all those years ago. Belief is a choice. Look at the actions and accounts of Quincey Farstride as simple facts:

You can choose to believe that this is just a faulty minded human being acting out of a sense of guilt; that he did not give up part of his body for your brother’s sake out of a sense of love for you, but because he wanted to feel better about himself; a person who only considered his own self-improvement, and the positive feelings that came with his perceived progress. This may make more sense to a psychologist, or a cynical analytic, but I do wonder what good it does any person to believe in such things… You can believe these things, and it all becomes another anecdote for a dinner party, a silly story, and in time, you will be left with nothing but a memory and perhaps a sense of pity for the boy.

Or you can believe, as I tend to these days, that inspired by you, my dear daughter, he is a man who against all odds, discovered a deep sense of love for humanity; a man who saw things, not as they were, but as they could be, and then insisted on the fruition of the ideal. A man so full of love for any and everyone around him, who so desired to help those he cared about, that he would go so far as to lie, deceive and manipulate others into allowing them to accept his help.

If you do not believe that love of this caliber exists, then you remove any possibility of being able to see it, feel it, be a part of it, when it looks you in the eye. If you do not open your heart to the everyday good-naturedness of people, even something so minor as a parent teaching their child to read, or the absent-minded tossing of change into a beggar’s cup, then the world of your mind will fill itself with the stories from the news of corruption, murder and treachery. I am blessed in having experienced a goodness so intense, that the stories of woe seem, if not removed, then at least balanced in the shadows and little alleyways of our own little neighborhood.

32 thoughts on “The Lunatic

  1. Thank you for visiting my blog and giving a Like. I’m bookmarking this so I can come back and read it all the way through. I love to write also and have two novels that need editing. I’ve left the characters in one of them in limbo until I quit procrastinating and finish the story. Again, thanks for visiting me. 🙂

  2. Thank you for liking my post. I came to view your blog and though I did view some of your posts, this page immediately caught my eye as I love to read. I was planning on starting your story and finishing it later as I do have an exam for school tomorrow but your work captured me. I have literally been sitting here for the past few hours reading this story. You completely hooked me from the beginnings and I just couldn’t stop reading. You made me fall in love with the characters in such a short story and I genuinely wanted to know Quinn’s story. Although I was devastated to hear what had happened to him, I am really happy I found this novella. It had a great plot and was the flashbacks (my favorite parts) were well written (so was the whole novella but those were my favorites to read).

  3. This piece left me in tears. I know this is a frequent comment to many things, but genuinely, I was sobbing after reading this on one setting. Quinn is so inarguably resemblant of a man who impacted me in a positive, albeit perplexing, way. The interaction between the characters – Dr. Thatcher, Melanie Thatcher, the Paysingers, the faltering brother and Quinn – in this piece you connect their exchanges so well.

    I know this wasn’t something explicitly stated in the work, but I saw some clear manifestations of schizoid personality disorder, if not sociopathy. I think this may have been the case with the person I was so inspired by. I’m usually so irritated when people are inaccurate in their characterizations of mental illness or even feigned mental illness, but you did so well in depicting the mannerisms, others’ perceptions, his actions, his thought processes. And the piece is so relatable to youth unrest today, especially with the comical mention of DINKs and the comparison to undergrads and their textbooks.

    I actually printed this out, as I intend to read it again. I did make some edits regarding minor typos. I can email you that if you wish. I do think you should submit this somewhere for publication. It could reach so many people profoundly as a source of comfort after interactions with unexplainable people and their unexplainable actions.

    Thank you so very much.

  4. If you do not mind, could I write a review of this story? I want more people to know more about it. I think they can relate.

  5. Pingback: Serendipity, Altruism, and Sociopathy – The Beauty in “This is a Book” | Crumpled Paper Cranes

  6. After taking some time to read through your blog, I feel so flattered that you ‘liked’ my blog. What a great writer you are. I’m just a beginner at blogging,… and hopefully will soon be publishing my first novel… but I can tell, that your writings are a great inspiration for me. https://write2campeuro.wordpress.com/

  7. I came by your blog today to simply say, “Thank you for the like,” and I came across this writing. I was hooked from the beginning and laid aside all of my housework and “mom stuff” just to finish it in one sitting, because I was so intrigued and couldn’t stop reading. I absolutely love your instrisic building of each character and how you never rushed for an ending, but rather methodically and intricately laid the foundation, built the walls and placed the roof perfectly to build a beautiful “house” in which to allow me to visit and “peruse through” for the day. It’s been a glorious visit, and I thank you for inviting me. I’d love to know what actually happened to Quinn and how Melanie responded to all of this knowledge in one letter from her ailing father; however, unlike many novellas, this one has left my heart full with the kindness Quinn bestowed on those around him and the continued effects his kindness had on even more as these continued on mentoring his actions… Thank you

  8. I too stopped by to appreciate you for the “like” and I found out that I am in “like” with your writing. It’s amazing how things evolve into things on a much grander scale that we originally intended. I think your writing will definitely GROW into something that you never expected. Continue to do what you do. You are definitely making a mark that can never be erased.

  9. Dear E.J. Wong,
    How to communicate my utmost respect for this piece? Logically, I wonder, “How is it done? Did it take years?” But if it was easy, I don’t want to know, because then it would simply emphasize the huge gap between levels of talent…
    It is a privilege to have read this. Please continue no matter what!

  10. Thank you for visiting my site and ‘liking’ my writing. I have started reading The Lunatic and will need some time to finish, but I like it very much. It is beautifully written and very moving. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the story!

  11. Dear E.I.
    I have finished reading your novel and, must admit, I found it difficult to put down. Not only is it written masterfully, the depth of it is quite stunning. I may or may not agree with Dr. Thatcher’s interpretation of Quinn’s motivations, but the question is more important to me than the answer. Definitely something to keep thinking about long after finishing the read. Questions of guilt, atonement, selfishness and selflessness, etc. are near and dear to my own writing process. Your piece reminded me of Dostoyevky’s Idiot, which I presume you have read (though I can’t remember the book well, only my general impression of it). At any rate, I am grateful for the opportunity to have read your work.
    Best regards,
    Alexander

  12. A great piece from a STALWART… Just wanted to seek permission to translate this into HINDI so that many INDIANS can too feel blessed to read this Story, the same way which I feel now…

  13. The psychologistic portrayal of human character reaches to an epic level of mammoth proportions; the story has rendered loose what it means to be human in a brutal, yet tender and lyrical manner. I identify this writing akin to the style of the O Henry. I can live this day with this fiction haunting me, terrifying me yet leaving me saturated with the guilt that I am not yet like it as a perfect human. Anand Bose

  14. Dear EI, I really enjoyed reading your short story. Captivating from beginning to end. The character Quinn, though a secondary character was riveting in his chameleon like personality that cajoled and manipulated three families into accepting his gifts that were eventually his downfall (rise to sainthood) if we could confirm his actual death, but you have left that open to speculation. So, I feel another Quinn story in the future explaining his early life or other families he influenced in his disappearances. Thank you for a lovely diversion from my life. Now I want to re-read all of Virginia Woolf’s books again. What a flashback to highschool. Have a great day.

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