by Luke Sprunger

After I resumed seeing clients in person, I worked to meet with the ones who had struggled the most during the pandemic. Lara didn’t return my calls at first, texting me a week later that something had changed. She didn’t feel like talking about it.

Another week went by, and she told me she wanted to meet at the park by her house. Lara was twenty minutes late, clutching a notepad and pen tightly in her left hand. She set the notepad on the picnic table and sat facing me. Her blonde hair was past her shoulders now and unkempt. Her right hand covered her right eye.

She was nervous, really nervous, but most of my other clients with social and generalized anxiety had struggled over the last two years. I asked about her right eye. She looked down. Her left hand scribbled something on the pad of paper.

“I started seeing him about a month ago.”

“Who?” my mind began to run through the protocol for instances of domestic abuse.

“The man with long teeth. He started appearing as a speck, on the periphery of my vision. He’d come into clearer focus just as I’d be drifting off to sleep. He has a long face that he hides his long teeth in. My left hand would start writing things down. I’m right-handed. At first they were just abstract scratches, but later full sentences.”

“Can you show me your eye?”

“Not today.”

“Lara, I need to make sure someone didn’t hit you.”

She raised her hand, but kept her eye firmly closed. No bruising, nothing. “Happy?” she snapped, covering her eye again.

I changed the subject, and we talked for a while longer. She continued to write, not pausing her speech as she wrote. She could concentrate on both simultaneously.

Her left hand stopped, frantically jotted one more line down, and then stopped again. She looked at it and winced.

“Can I read what’s on your notepad?”


Lara turned to look at crows on a telephone wire. I glanced at the paper. The letters on the page were freewheeling but jagged. I couldn’t make out the words. I looked up quickly and saw the bottom of her right hand raised, as if she was trying to steal a glimpse of me from her eye. She put her palm back in place.

The train home cut through warm groves of autumn-orange maples and then heavy concrete blocks of housing developments. Lara had never shown symptoms of distorted reality before. I pondered how best to help her. The image of her scribbling furiously on the pad stuck in my mind even while I met with other clients that week. More leaves turned red. Some fell.

I was leaving my apartment building when a heavy wind kicked up. A big oak leaf hit me in the face. I winced. The stem must have grazed my eye. My vision was watery. Two days passed and my eye still hurt. I’d wake up and see little floating spots, like when I got a concussion playing soccer in high school. After work I got on the train and collapsed into a seat. My eye ached. I started rubbing it. A tap on the shoulder. In the seat next to me was a man with a very long face. He pulled his lips apart and smiled.

My muscles tensed up and I looked out the window. When I turned back he was gone. My heart was racing when I stepped off the train. I tried calling Lara. No answer.

A few days passed. I thought I saw him on a crowded sidewalk, but when I turned my head I was looking at a tall woman.

I was reading over some client notes in bed late one evening when I felt a shooting pain between my shoulder blades. The muscles in my left shoulder and arm cramped. The left hand had grabbed the pen I’d dropped onto the bed. It scribbled all over my white sheets. I clutched my forearm with my right hand, squeezing. The hand wouldn’t stop. The pain in my arm was getting worse. I grabbed my notepad and dropped it near the hand. It stopped, picked up the pen, and began to draw much more calmly on the notepad. The pain eased. An outline of a long oval became a face. Teeth like table knives. Once his likeness was drawn, the hand wrote in first person as he described himself. When the writing stopped my houseplants had turned yellow and red like the October leaves. An early frost had settled on my bones.

I don’t leave the apartment. I keep the notepad at my left side. I try not to read what’s in it. The hand will write when I’m asleep, when I’m reading a book, when I’m sobbing uncontrollably. It feels cold when I touch it with my right hand. He’s with me forever. He’s with me only until I let him slide into someone else’s right eye.

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