Originally published in The Lifted Brow

“The weather’s really changeable today, isn’t it?”

“What?”

“The weather. It’s really changeable.”

I looked through the windshield. Huge clouds drifted overhead like a parade of albino elephants.

“I dunno,” I said. “You can’t really change the weather, you know? It’s like, above us.”

“Yeah. It just feels really changeable.”

“Does it?”

“Don’t say it like that—does it? You all think you’re so… but you’re not.”

“Okay… so what are we then?”

“Drones, mate. You’re like the clouds.”

It was my first day alone on the job with Gregory. He had attempted to rape a young nurse a year earlier, during one of his episodes, and now had to return to the Robina Hospital for weekly check-ins.

We were driving in my van, on the way there.

“You’re American, aren’t you Keith?”

“I am,” I answered. “But my name’s not Keith.”

“What’s it like there…” He was struggling for my name. I allowed him to. “Are there babes there? In America? Do you know Pamela Anderson?”

He had already asked me these questions on the day we had met.

“She’s my mom,” I kidded. “It’s difficult, you know? All my friends want her. But growing up in California one has to learn to deal with these difficulties. It comes with the culture, like rain comes with living in London.”

“Man, that is so cool.” He had adopted a surfer accent—an attempt to mimick how I must have sounded to him. “Can I come visit you in California, man?”

“Sorry,” I answered, regretting that I’d been sarcastic with him. “I’m not going back to California.”

“With an aching in your heart?”

“What?”

“Zeppelin, man? Come on. Going to California with an aching in my heart? You never heard that song?”

“Nah mate,” I answered, adopting his dialect. “I mean I’ve probably heard it, but I don’t remember the lyrics.”

“It’s a good song, man. You should download it on your internal drone computer.”

“Yeah? Can you play it on guitar for me?”

It was the wrong question—Gregory had pawned his guitar for a case of beer. I was the wrong caretaker for such a man—all my witticisms were ignored, my sarcasm defunct. ‘What will happen?’ I wondered. ‘What will happen to my brain after it has been surrounded by psychosis for who-knows-how-long?’

Gregory was staring out the van at a girl no older than twelve. “Man,” he said, addressing the window. “I’m dying for some good head.”

“You can’t say that to me, Greg. You’re on a court order. You can’t talk about touching little girls after the incident last year. It’s not cool, mate. You say things like that and I have to tell Paul. Paul has to tell the hospital. The hospital has to tell the judges. Then you’ll be locked up for good, mate.”

“Yeah… but I don’t want a little girl, man. I want a woman. I want someone who’ll like…like…”

“Love you?” I interjected, thinking of my girlfriend Rachel.

“Yeah,” he lied. “Like someone who’ll lick my balls.”

 

The rest of the ride was spent in silence. We stared through the dirt besmirched windows at the approaching buildings. ‘Almost there,’ I told myself. ‘Thirty seconds and this psychotic rapist will be out of my van. Then I can stop by Subway on my way to the next clients and still have enough to time to sneak a phone call to Rachel before the staff meeting. Perfect.’

“You’re such a fucking drone,” Gregory said, peeking at me from the canthus of his eye. We were at the hospital. I had stopped in front of the mental ward so he could get out. The clouds had drifted toward the mountains, where they were quickly dissipating into blue sky. “And don’t eat at Subway,” he said, stepping out of the van. “They lace their roast beef with a mind control substance.”

He closed the van door and stepped toward the office.

“Gregory!” I called through the window. “How did you know that I’m going to Subway?”

He turned around. “Because you said so, man. You said it out loud, a second ago.”

“Did I?”

“Don’t say it like that, like I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

He turned to go.

“Gregory!” I yelled. “Gregory, what else did I say? Gregory, tell me what else I said!”

But Gregory wasn’t listening, to me.

 

People Like You & Keith

Duck