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Dr McCulloch

“I don't love you for anything but who you are.”

Emily's distant words I will now more than ever hold dear. However, during these difficult times they aren't as reassuring as they might be, mainly because I have never been sure what exactly it is that made me me.

My name is Albert McCulloch, I am the Executive Director to the Institute's Scotland Central Division. Edinburgh born and educated. Top of the University of Edinburgh's Institute training program 2063 and later the youngest practitioner in the then-newly-formed Institute. Now a household name for my pioneering of the Institute's values. “It is the Institute’s aim that all men should be perfect men” –paragraph 1, preamble.

One can only try.

I awoke this morning with a start, a cold sweat resting on my brow, a chiselling in my head. The autumn sun had finally risen over Arthur's Seat and pale shards of light illuminated the dust-filled air of the living room, throwing faint shadows that stretched to the far wall. The chill outside infiltrated the window panes; the few embers still glowing in the fireplace were the only distant reminder of warmth.

I lifted myself up in the armchair, taking a moment to straighten the crick in my neck and recall myself. I remember vividly it was a few minutes before the pounding in my head eventually gave way to an avalanche of thoughts. I had not yet become accustomed to life as a widower: it had been only three weeks ago that I received news of the accident.

I have realised lately that I can no longer lie to myself: the pain runs deep. The perpetual torment of thoughts of Emily is taking its toll on me. Furthermore, inside me, this...dare I say it...heartache, is inextricably linked to a disgust–a disgust of myself for feeling this way. I find myself eternally locked in a vicious cycle between sorrow and sickness.

Mourning; a wholly unnatural feeling. No place for it in the modern world, “…for in no way can freedom be extended to the individual when it is also permitted to the psyche” –paragraph 3, chapter 2.

I will be glad to see the back of these feelings.

I pried myself out of the chair and stumbled to the bathroom to dress. In the mirror, my sleep-deprived eyes showed the years that the past few weeks had added. While washing, my mind inadvertently wandered to a beach scene–our first holiday. I quickly snatched the nearest thing to me- a comb. Enough to divert my attention, at least for a short time.

I hurried and exited the house at 11 o'clock onto the streets of Edinburgh, unfamiliarly busy at that hour. The cool air inside the house seemed comparatively tropical once I got out of the building. I quickly got into the car and took the well-worn route to work.

The central building of the Institute in Scotland is a commanding presence on the Edinburgh skyline.

Today, I hesitated unexpectedly once reaching my destination. I had never noticed before how cruel and unforgiving the outer walls could look. I disregarded this surprise aversion and moments later arrived inside the foyer. In front of me lay the patient’s entrance. Through it was a large, well-lit room, a reception desk and a small crowd of patients and secretaries with all the hustle and bustle one would expect. At this sight I hesitated for a second time.

During a momentary lapse, I reflected on how much stronger I would feel now if Emily were by my side. The thought only spurred me on though–to think I have been reduced to this.

A hushed silence preceded my entrance to the previously bustling room. I was distinctly conscious of entering for the first time not as a senior of the people but as their equal. I attempted to disguise this, but, as a brood of piercing eyes gawped at me, I felt my teeth clench. I marched defiantly forward–the essence of a general stripped of his title–chin up, eyes ahead, feigning a lack of embarrassment. The common troops stared on.

The blood rushed to my cheeks as I approached the front desk.

“Executive Director McCulloch” announced the secretary, and in a scarcely sarcastic tone, “here for your treatment?”.

The National Institute was set up 24 years ago in response to the government-backed Hawson report addressing how best to combat the problem of civil disobedience. Governmental efforts were mobilised in an attempt to combat the problem. Those efforts were not in vain. Targeted emotional disconnection, a.k.a. the McGrath procedure, the pinnacle of the Institute’s achievements, was finally mastered seven years ago. With the correct combination of neurostimulators, hypnotherapy and targeted magnetic stimulation, the McGrath procedure allows us to pluck, from the minds of individuals, the vital link between specific memories and specific emotions. Patients leave stable and emotionally capable. The memories concerned remain intact; they are simply no longer able to evoke the emotive response they once did. Future generations will remember this time as a milestone in history, when the scourge of all society, the unruly citizens, was finally suppressed.

After numerous edits and updates the Hawson report has become a manifesto of the Institute. The wisdom it espouses guides both us at the Institute and the patients we treat. All in the name of peace; “...Peace in mind, peace in society...” –paragraph 2, chapter 7.

So it came to be that the doctor needed a dose of his own medicine; I would rather choose forever the mercy of my own needles than the torment of my tainted thoughts. I lie nervously on a sliding table. A small army of doctors and nurses scuttle around; a copy of my documentation, including detailed analyses of the problem, is circulated.

“Ready?” The reassuring face of Doctor Smith appears above me.

With a deep breath I nod. Soon I will remember, remember but not miss her. Doctor Smith pushes a mask to my face. Mechanisms begin to purr. The room goes dark...

I came to some time ago, though the drugs had not yet worn off completely. I struggled without success to comprehend my surroundings. It hurt to lift my head, but it hurt my eyeballs at least as much to turn my eyes. The sharp white light above me, at first almost painful eventually seemed less so; typical post-procedure reactions.

Two hours have passed since then. I have been transferred to a recovery room that the doctors left some time ago. My memory has finally returned to me.

I take a moment to reflect on my mental state: I recall now why I did this, I recall the accident, I recall Emily. However, the incident three weeks ago now seems like a fleeting childhood memory; distant, though nonetheless vivid. The same pain and heartache that I remember had a hold over me a few hours ago are now completely absent. “…and intact memories will be disconnected from impure emotions, such that the individual will not be distressed about that which he cannot” –paragraph 2, chapter 6. Yes, it is hard even now to comprehend being concerned by this.

The treatment was a success.

I lean back, contented. Upon reflection, given the mundanity of the problem, even the minor inconvenience of the procedure now seems positively excessive. Strange, I suppose I must have felt very strongly about her–Emily.

I realise the absurdity of my thoughts: not strange of course. After all she was my wife.

I can now, thankfully, recall her vividly without a tear nor grimace: her hair, her eyes. Although worryingly, while I can picture every contour of her face, I no longer recognise her as I once did. An aesthetically perfect recollection–sight, sound, touch, taste–but a recollection robbed of humanity. Then do I truly still remember her?

This I was not prepared for. I hastily consider other memories–the wedding, holidays, birthdays–but find myself a disinterested spectator in a theatre of my past life.

Memories flicker meaninglessly by.

I recoil in horror. A churning develops in my gut and my heart begins to race. I start to feel...not myself.

I immediately sit up, shake myself off and, in an attempt to distract myself, walk to the changing rooms. While passing through, my eyes catch a glimpse of something eerie. In front of me, stands a mirror, above a sink framed by striking white tiles. On the other side of this surreal window a familiar figure stares back. I approach cautiously, my eyes transfixed. Before me, draped in the same wrinkled leathery skin as me, clothed by the same garments that I put on in this morning, the figure–that I used to refer to as ‘I’–stares rigidly back.

Our gazes meet for a fleeting awkward second. The same eyes look back, staring into mine, taunting me. Realising our eyes have met I turn away, embarrassed. So does he.

The warm calmness that previously protected me vanishes. A shiver runs down my spine, and a new unfamiliar nausea takes its place. A cold emptiness.

I leave the building in a state. As I rush toward the exit a young trainee secretary calls “Dr McCulloch?” I halt abruptly, unsure of how to answer, unsure of whether I’m still him.

Tom Simmons


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