Contemporary Drama Fiction

“It’s 7:51,” Jim says to Dr. Kief.

Checking his watch, Dr. Kief nods, “Yes, we can begin in a moment. The nurses are on their way.”

Anxiously shoving his hands in his pockets just for the sake of having a place for them, Jim says, “I hope this works, Doc.”

“Me, too. I have high hopes for your wife tonight. She made it through dinner just fine. Would it make you feel more comfortable if I began?”

His gaze elsewhere, Jim shakes his head, “No, no. I’ll do it. If I was crazy and didn’t know it, I’d want her to tell me.”

A hard knock comes from the door. “I’ll get that,” Dr. Kief says, heading down the hall.

“I guess that’s my cue,” Jim mutters to himself. He catches Dr. Kief’s arm and says, “Do me a favor, Doc, and make them wait outside. If we have any chance of success, it’d be better if Helen didn’t see any—,” he uses two hands to make quotation marks with his fingers, “strangers.”

“Of course,” the Doc nods.

Jim heads in the opposite direction down the hall. “Helen, honey, can you come here please?”

Helen, still wearing her work blouse and pleated black pants, is fighting to get the backing of her earring off when she reaches Jim. She looks a little confused by the doctor’s absence. “Did Ron leave already? He didn’t even say goodbye.”

“No, I’m right here,” says Dr. Kief. “I just stepped out to answer a phone call. Gracie is wondering when I’ll be home.” He smiles innocently.

Nodding understandingly, Helen says, “Oh, well, of course, Gracie is welcome to join us if you’d like to stay. Is someone here? I heard knocking.”

Dr. Kief and Jim exchange an elusive glance. Jim fights the urge to swipe the sweat off his forehead. “Must have been me, darling. Knockin’ away at the countertops. You know me,” he chuckles.

Helen smiles sweetly at her husband, and runs a hand down his arm. “Oh, well, do you guys need anything? How about some dessert?”

“Oh, that isn’t necessary, Helen, thank you. We’re all right.” Dr. Kief answers.

“Yeah, we’re OK, thanks, honey. Actually, I wanted to talk to you about your patient that you told us about earlier at dinner.”

A look of confusion crosses Helen’s face. “Bailey? What about her?”

“Dr. – Ron and I were wondering if there was anything strange about her, maybe, something you didn’t tell us?”

Helen considers a moment and says, “No, I told you about her weird dream, but other than that, there wasn’t anything weird about her. And you know I can’t discuss anything else about her with you, confidentiality and all that.” She shrugs her shoulders.

Jim nods, circling a hand out towards her in a gesture that urges her to continue. “Yeah, yeah, I know, but, I mean, are you sure you met her today?”

Ever so slightly Helen retracts her head, more confused than before. “Well, yes, of course, why would you ask me that? Are you feeling all right, Jim?”

Jim visibly unwinds a bit, stroking a hand through his hair, he turns away from Helen and mutters under his breath, “Shit.”

Dr. Kief steps in. “Helen, have you noticed anything new or different about your…um…apartment?”

Crossing her arms across her chest, Helen is close to rolling her eyes, halfway between, This is ridiculous, and, What the hell is going on? She verbalizes, “Of course not. Jim and I have lived here for years. You know that, Ron.”

Composing himself, Jim takes a deep breath. From behind, he places his hands on Helen’s shoulders and begins massaging them. “Helen, sweetie, his name isn’t Ron.”

Dr. Kief sees Helen’s face shimmer through confusion, anger, and fear, while Jim gets the physical shrug away from him. “What are you talking about?” She’s looking at him like he’s a stranger now, like he’s dangerous.

His forearms reaching out for her cautiously, Jim says, “Baby, come on. You know this isn’t Ron. You’ve met him a dozen times in the past year. This is Dr. Mason Kief. You remember Dr. Kief.”

Looking from Jim to Dr. Kief, Helen is growing increasingly frightened. “Stop it, Jim. It’s not funny. What’s going on?”

Jim exhales his arms to his sides, surrendering his gaze to the floor. “I know it’s not, honey. Believe me, I know.”

Facing Dr. Kief, Helen says, “Ron, tell him to stop this nonsense. Please. It’s starting to freak me out a bit.”

Stoic and professional, Dr. Kief says, “Helen, your husband isn’t joking. My name isn’t Ron. I’m Dr. Mason Kief, and you’ve been my patient here at Herald Hills Hospital for Mental Health for about a year now. Do you remember me?”

“Hospital?! For mental health? What are you talking about? Why would I be in a mental institution? I’m a therapist!”

Jim is watching his wife carefully, clearly concerned by her reaction, but not surprised. He approaches her, and cautiously reaches out for her hand. Helen is too stunned to reject the gesture. “Sweetheart, my love, please tell me that you remember some of this. Please. I love you so much, you have to remember.” He desperately searches her eyes for a hint of recognition. “We’ve done all of this before,” he whispers, a secret he’s begging her to take. He takes her other hand, and squeezes; tears threaten his eyes, urging him to continue his plea. “You have to remember who you really are. If you just tell me that you remember, we can leave this place and go back home. Please, Helen, please remember.”

There’s a moment of silence as Helen searches his eyes. She is trying to ask him a million questions through her gaze, but the only one she manages is, “What is going on, Jim?”

Jim drops his head in defeat.

Dr. Kief steps towards the couple, still holding hands. “Helen, for the past year, I’m afraid you’ve been suffering from some sort of delusional disorder. We haven’t been able to specify it, or even identify the cause of it. It was very random, and it has never resolved. Today, your husband and I are attempting to bring you back to the realization that your patient, Bailey, does not exist and that you did not meet her today, or at all, for that matter.”

Helen thrusts her husband’s hands down, and throws her words at the doctor. “No! You’re wrong! I did meet her. Why is that so crazy believe?!”

Jim reaches for her arm again, grasping it lightly. “Helen, about a year ago, you came home telling me about this patient, Bailey. You told me the same dream you told Mason and I tonight, word for word. It was interesting and all, but then you told me that you saw Bailey on the news, and that she was dead. You believed that you had had a session with a dead person. But, baby, there was no news about it. No record of Bailey anywhere. The next day, you came home, and told me the same thing. You had no recollection of already telling me the night before. After about a week of this, I went into your office and found that you had no file of this girl. There was nothing. I checked, sweetheart. I asked some of the other therapists in your office, and they told me you hadn’t been in for weeks. To this day, I don’t know where you’d been going! But, you’ve been doing this every night ever since. I moved here with you, to this hospital, about nine months ago. You haven’t been working at your practice, you’ve been here. Everyday. You’ve seen five different doctors; you’ve taken medicine. Nothing is working. Only you can fix this. Just, please, tell me you understand. Tell me you’re okay, now. Tell me the woman I fell in love with twenty years ago is still in there somewhere? Please. I love you so much, Helen.”

Jim’s monologue brought tears to everyone’s eyes. While Jim and Dr. Kief had tried this intervention before, Jim had never laid it all out there like that, with so much raw emotion. Hope gleaming like a white cloud in a drought, the men wait for Helen’s response.

Helen wipes a tear from her eyes. “I love you, too, and I want to be normal for you, Jim. But I feel normal. I don’t know how to change when I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong. I remember meeting Bailey. Clear as day, I met her. She was in my office.”

While the husband and wife plead with one another through their gaze, Dr. Kief interjects, “Jim, it’s 8:06.”

Jim snaps his head towards the doctor, eyes no longer teary, but wide with panic. “Helen, please, please, I’m begging you. This is our last opportunity to be together. Please tell me you’re you again!” Jim kisses Helen passionately, forking his fingers through her curls, bending her backwards slightly, only to catch her in his other hand.

“8:07, Jim,” says Dr. Kief.

Gasping for air, Jim releases Helen. “Please, Helen,” he begs, squeezing his wife’s waist a little tighter beneath his grip.

She stares blankly at her husband. “Jim?”

Relief and joy flood Jim’s face; his body tingles with anticipation. “Yes, baby, yes, I’m right here.”

Helen grabs Jim by his forearms, digging her thumbs into the crease of his elbow. “My patient, Bailey, she’s dead! She died 3 weeks ago, in Modesto!”

The sight of Helen’s terror reveals the silent switch that has occurred somewhere within her brain: amnesia had slithered through once again, sliding reality right beneath Helen’s feet like a slick carpet. Helen is unaware, but Jim recognizes it.

Like Groundhog Day, his thoughts echo one of Helen’s former doctors who had compared his wife’s condition to an early 90’s Bill Murray comedy.

He sighs, heartbroken and defeated by a war long fought. Dr. Kief echoes back a surrendered exhale and exits the room.  

“How is this possible, Jim? I just met her today! But the news, it says she’s been dead for three weeks! They had a picture of her on TV! This is impossible!” Helen’s words are a distant recording in the background of Jim’s mind. Like the same commercial that plays between songs on a radio, Jim doesn’t need to listen to hear the message.

“I know, sweetie,” he says, gently pulling her hands into his again. He lifts them up to his lips, lingers a kiss on her knuckles. Swiping off the falling tears on Helen’s cheek, Jim speaks to his wife as if she were a child he was tucking in at night: “Listen, darling, I’m not going to be around for a while. I have to go on one of those business trips with Ron. You don’t mind staying here by yourself, do ya? You’ll keep it nice and clean for me, won’t you?”

For a second time tonight, confusion finds Helen’s face. “What? Jim, no! You can’t leave! Didn’t you just hear me? I just found out my patient has been dead! You have to help me figure out what this means! We have to investigate! How could you leave me at a time like this? What’s wrong with you?”

Dr. Kief returns with two nurses who are wheeling in a stretcher. One nurse is holding a large syringe. “Jim, why don’t you step outside for a moment.”

Having caught sight of the syringe, Jim nods slowly. He kisses Helen’s forehead, closing his eyes to avoid hers. She looks mortified, and he can’t face it anymore. He steps away, and approaches Dr. Kief, his hand outstretched. As he shakes the doctor’s hand, he whispers, “Don’t let them hurt her, Doc.”

Dr. Kief looks as somber as if Helen was his own wife. “Will you ever come back?”

“Jim, who are these women? What is going on? Ron, where is Jim going? Hey! Hey— don’t touch m—get your hands off—”

Jim grimaces at his wife’s voice. “I think it’s better if I don’t.”

The noises of a struggle erupt behind the two men. The nurses communicate with each other with various, “I have the patient’s arm,” and “I’ve located the vein,” before a final yelp indicates the syringe has been inserted.

Wincing, Jim covers his face, muffling his sobs. “Is it done?”

“It is,” replies Dr. Kief.

Jim digs his palms into his eye sockets, and audibly sucks back all the liquified sorrow stuffed in his nose. “Thank you for trying, Mason. You’ve been really helpful. I know Helen would…” He can’t finish his sentence.

Dr. Kief pats Jim’s shoulder. “I’m sorry it didn’t work, Jim. There’s still some hope. We’ll keep trying.”

Jim meets Dr. Kief’s eyes, and in them, a dark cloud gathers. “You know, I’m starting to think there never was.”

October 13, 2022 05:22

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Amanda Lieser
20:55 Nov 30, 2022

Hey Anne! Oh my gosh! This piece was heartbreaking. I love when writers create spaces where mental stability isn’t a given. I think it’s because my own mother is a therapist, so I know she’s dealt with some tough cases. The images you created are so heartbreaking and this piece is beautifully intriguing. I think a sequel focused on “Bailey” or the person your MC knows as Bailey would be brilliant. Nice job!


AnneMarie Miles
06:21 Dec 01, 2022

Hi Amanda! I'm glad you enjoyed this one. It's been in the works for about a decade, so it was fun to revisit and restructure. I always learn something new about this story and these characters. It's almost as if their stories shift; they are like a group of relatives lying to each other and adapting their stories based off one another's. My mother is an MFT! And I studied psychology heavily in college so I'm definitely curious about mental health. As always, thanks for your time!


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Lindsay Flo
18:55 Oct 25, 2022

I could see this being developed a whole host of different ways...I wasn't seeing Jim as the bad guy until I read some of the others' comments and went back and reread. I was seeing Dr. Keif as the bad guy for some reason. The whole unanswered Bailey twist gives it a bunch of different possibilities. I think you should keep revisiting it and turn it into a longer work!


AnneMarie Miles
21:56 Oct 25, 2022

Oh yes, many different ways! A big psychological thriller is what I'm going for... There are so many angles. This piece is actually the story's third angle, so it was fun to play with. There may be more of this...Thank you for your feedback, I appreciate you taking the time!


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Francis Dagmar
16:11 Oct 21, 2022

This story made me very uncomfortable, in a perfectly awesome way. I had a creepy bad feeling right from the onset, similar to how the movie "Shutter Island" disturbed me. The storytelling is compelling and filled with well placed moments of uncertainty for the reader. This line: “Helen, still wearing her work blouse and pleated black pants …” kept coming back to me, haunting me, as I read the story. If she was in an institution she would be dressed as a patient … so I began to wonder if this wasn’t actually Jim’s delusion and her clothing w...


AnneMarie Miles
18:50 Oct 21, 2022

Hi Francis, wow thank you for your thorough comments! I'm glad this appealed to you in the appropriate ways. Shutter Island-esque is a wonderful compliment. Considering your investment in this story, I think you deserve to know. These characters have mulled over in my head for a decade or so and the original story actually points to Jim murdering Bailey 👀🙊 so it's great that you caught onto that even though this particular story is written from quite a different perspective. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. Thanks again!


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Seán McNicholl
07:55 Oct 19, 2022

Wow Anne Marie, loved this! So heartbreaking, you had me totally invested in the story and the characters! I think this is brilliant! Well done!


AnneMarie Miles
13:25 Oct 19, 2022

Thank you kindly! 😊


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Michał Przywara
20:49 Oct 13, 2022

Wow, what a fun story! I'm left wondering what's actually going on, and whether Bailey is real or not. Sure, there's the obvious possibility that Helen's suffering from some sort of delusion. But there's just enough here that makes me wonder if some of it might be true. Particularly if she hadn't been to work "in weeks", and learned that Bailey "died three weeks ago", I wonder if she really did meet her, and then weeks later she died, and these are actual events she's remembering. Or a supernatural possibility occurred to me too - ghosts n...


AnneMarie Miles
21:11 Oct 13, 2022

"ghosts need therapists too, why not"! HA! Love it. This story had a mind of its own, and developed from a completely different angle than it originated. This is one story and set of characters that have tumbled in my mind for almost a decade, so it was fun to revisit them, but challenging to decide which parts of their story to include and which parts to leave out. Definitely a lot of speculating for all involved, characters, readers, me(!) - LOL! I always appreciate your insight and feedback. Thanks again, Michal.


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Aeris Walker
09:32 Oct 13, 2022

Hi Anne! This story was *super* interesting. It pulls you in right away, with enough mystery to keep you going and just the right pacing of revealing information. This feels like it could be a part of a longer work, and I would read more of these characters. You did such a good job showing us details of Jim and Helen’s long time, tender relationship through their body language and dialogue, and it all flowed so naturally. Well done!


AnneMarie Miles
14:17 Oct 13, 2022

Thank you Aeris! It actually is apart of a much larger work. It started with a story about the patient meeting Helen and describing her dream and later developed into a bit of a screenplay. I started it years ago but this prompt seemed like an appropriate opportunity to go back and tweak it a bit. I'm glad you found it interesting. Thanks for reading and commenting!


Aeris Walker
14:34 Oct 13, 2022

The vibe right minded me a little bit of the book “The Silent Patient” which I don’t know if you’ve read, but there were some similar themes to this short story :)


AnneMarie Miles
15:09 Oct 13, 2022

Oh! I have not heard of it but I shall check it out!


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