Day 3. Football
“Good afternoon, Simon.”
“My name is Roger. Roger Podgursky.” Is it? “I’m an aide to the President of the United States of America and you’re holding me against my will.” Am I? Are they?
“No. Your name is Simon Coswell, you’re a former file clerk and you’re a patient here at the Manhattan Psychiatric Center. You were admitted here five years ago after having a psychotic break.”
“It hasn’t been five years, it’s been… it’s been a few days. It’s been at least a few days.” Has it? His head was cloudy. It was the drugs. They’re for your own safety, they said. The lack of windows in his room combined with the drugs made it nearly impossible for him to keep track of time.
“Simon, you’ve been here for five years and two months. Your mind tends to reset every week or so. That’s why you think it’s only been five days.”
Reset? Could that be? Am I really a file clerk from Manhattan? It was so hard to think straight in this mental fog. His ribs hurt. They felt bruised. “My ribs… why do they hurt?”
“I’m so sorry about that, Simon. You were being difficult and an orderly had to restrain you. He didn’t intend to bruise your ribs.”
“The… the football. I had the football with me. I remember the football.” The room began spinning.
“Simon? Are you alright?”
“Roger!” He shook his head, trying to clear it.
“Alright, Roger. Tell me about this ‘football.'”
“I… I can’t. I’m not allowed to. It’s… classified.”
“Look, Simon, I’m here to help you. If you want to get better, you have to let me treat you. Now, you say your name is Roger. Fine. So tell me about yourself. You mentioned a ball. What is it? You need to talk this through. It’s your only chance at recovery. You do want to get out of here some day, don’t you?”
“So, Roger. Tell me about this ball. Were you playing a game with friends?”
“It’s not that kind of… I’m an aide to the president. It’s…” should he do this? Was he really delusional? Five years? Had it really been that long? Nothing was clear. A file clerk? Why couldn’t he remember anything about being a file clerk? “Why can’t I remember anything about being a file clerk, but I can remember being Roger?”
“We’ve been through this before, Simon,” she began in the calm, measured voice of a professional shrink. “What happened to you… what you did was very traumatic. Your brain locked that person out and created ‘Roger’ in order to cope. I’m trying to get you back in touch with who you really are, but in order to do that, I need you to realize that Roger isn’t real. In order to do that, I need you to talk to me about him. Now, you mentioned a ball. Tell me about it.”
He took a deep sigh, closed his eyes and tried to focus. “It’s not a real ball. We call it the football. It’s just what we call it.” His words came more slowly now as doubt began to seep in. “It’s a briefcase.”
“A briefcase? That’s an odd thing to call a football, don’t you think?”
“It’s… the, the President travels with a briefcase that contains what he needs to launch a nuclear attack. I was in charge of it.”
“I see,” she said in that I hear what you’re saying but I don’t believe a word of it tone shrinks are so adept at using. “Do you see how a file clerk might like to think of himself an important individual, close to the President, holding a source of immense power in his hand?”
Hesitation. “Well… maybe. I guess.”
“See, often times when the mind creates an alternate reality, it neglects to fill in the details. What I want to do is get you talking about Roger’s life so that you can see the gaps in your story. Tell me more about this football.”
“It contains a list of classified locations that the President is taken to in the event of an emergency.”
“I thought you said it was for launching a nuclear attack,” she said in that tone again. “You see, you aren’t even able to keep your story straight from minute to minute, Simon.”
“No… the football has… it keeps both those things.”
“Oh, does it? And I assume you’re the only one who can open it?”
“Yes. It’s my duty. It’s… it’s my job. If anyone tries to force their way in, the… the contents get destroyed. I’m the only one. I open it.”
“There’s… a code.”
“What’s the code?”
“I can’t tell you. It’s classified.”
“You see, Simon. This is exactly what I was telling you. The brain creates a reality but doesn’t fill in the gaps. Is it because there is no code for this soccer ball?”
“Football! And yes, there is a code. It’s five, five, seven!” His blood went cold. Even in his mental fog he suddenly realized he’d done something terribly wrong. A moment later there was a knock at the door.
“Thank you, Roger. You’ve been most helpf–“