The Dream

I had a weird dream last night. I dreamed that I had a skin problem. There were thick white hairs growing on my upper arms. I’m not even sure they were hairs. About half an inch long, thick and white. They were also soft and didn’t really feel like hairs. More like those short unplucked bits of feathers on some chickens at the store. Only softer.

I remember touching them and feeling how soft they are. But when I tried to pull one out—I wasn’t worried, not yet—it wouldn’t come out and it hurt like I had pinched myself. I started to get worried because they were growing fast, these things.

When I first saw them, they were a small patch near my shoulders. Then they spread down to my elbows. My left elbow was entirely covered with them. You know how time moves in dreams, so I don’t know how long it had taken them. But it felt like a few hours, which is why I started to get worried.

Luckily—and surprisingly but you know how things work in dreams—I had a dermatologist in the family, a father-in-law or something. I’m not actually married in real life but anyway. So, this dermatologist took a look at the things and said they were called a red rash.

He told me I could just peel it off and I tried to. The rash did peel off, like snakeskin, and it almost didn’t hurt. The skin underneath was a dark, dull, meaty red, rough and swollen. The father-in-law said I should put something on it, some ointment, but I don’t remember that part because I woke up.

I really hate dreaming of having any health problems and, let me tell you, I have had more than my fair share of teeth falling out, abdominal surgeries and god knows what else in my dreams. Sometimes I think my brain hates me, like you might hate a roommate you can’t get rid of because she’s the one who pays the rent and all you have to do is the shopping, cooking and all the rest of the chores.

 

Have you ever had any dreams come true? No? Good for you. Just this morning, while I was showering, I found a short white thing on my right arm, a bit below the shoulder. I’m not imagining it, I tried to pull it out. It hurt like hell, like I was trying to pluck out a very thick hair.

In a way, I guess it probably is a very thick hair but that thick? It’s as thick as those feather stubs I told you about but much softer. It’s about half an inch long and it sort of stands on end. I’m trying to describe it in more detail to avoid a panic attack and I’m failing. I mean, how often do you get to experience a dream in real life? Or maybe I’m hallucinating? Can a person hallucinate so thoroughly? I’ve no idea.

I made an appointment with a dermatologist for Friday, that’s two days from now. I’m scared but I’ trying to stay calm. I think I’m doing a good job. No one seems to have noticed there’s something wrong with me. Good thing it’s autumn, so I don’t have to wear short sleeves. The things, the feather stubs, have spread, though they’re not growing longer. I’m afraid to think how far they will spread by Friday.

 

It’s Thursday night and I don’t know what to think any more. On my way back from work I noticed something strange about my new “hair”. Hah, as if there’s anything that’s not strange about it. But anyway, it started itching while I was on the bus, just the growth on my right arm (Yes, there’s a patch of new hair on my left arm as well now).

It was a very irritating itch but I couldn’t really scratch it because the man sitting on the seat next to me was a bit fat and my arm was pressed to his. Oh, damn PC, he was extremely fat. I suddenly got the feeling that my new hair didn’t like that guy. Not because he was fat, no. Because of something else but I didn’t know what it was.

I just got that sense of hostility towards him radiating from my upper arms. Yes, I know that sounds completely nuts. I won’t be sharing this bit of information with the dermatologist. I just want him to tell me what’s wrong with me and fix it. I’m sure it’s fixable, it can’t not be, can it? Can it?

 

By the time of my appointment with the doctor the new hair had spread to my elbows. Both were covered in it now. Funnily, except that time on the bus, I don’t feel anything there, I mean, anything out of the ordinary. I don’t actually feel the hairs themselves until I try to pull them out.

Last night I braced myself, got my pincers and pulled one out. It hurt so much I cried. The hole bled a bit but now there’s just a tiny little red dot where the hair was. I threw away the hair and felt a bit hopeless. I won’t be able to stand having them pulled out one by one. But maybe they can be treated with laser?

I was right on time for my appointment with the doctor—a solid guy, fiftyish and almost completely bald. I was feeling a bit anxious. You know that feeling when there’s something wrong with you? When you’re almost certain it’s something rare and would shock the doctor and he wouldn’t know what to do?

I had a bad case of it in the waiting room, I was sure my condition was truly, frighteningly unique. Deep down, though, I hoped that I’m totally wrong and it will turn out to be some benign cyst or something that would disappear without a fight.

The doctor was very nice. He said it’s not the first time we see each other and I was embarrassed because I didn’t remember his face at all. Then he looked embarrassed when I asked him where we’d met and he said it was at the Christmas party at my office last year.

I work for a company that sells medical equipment, so it sounded plausible but I wasn’t sure if he wasn’t lying. There was something in his eyes, you know, some… reluctance. Like he wasn’t sure if he should answer my question.

I took off my coat and my jacket. Under it I had a short-sleeved top. I lifted my arm and turned it to him elbow-first. My stomach had turned into a leaden ball, a hot one. I admit I actually expected him to take a step back, wide-eyed, in horror. But he didn’t and I took this as a good sign.

Yeah, I know they train doctors not to show when they’re shocked but still, they can’t always hide their shock, they’re not actors or psychiatrists, or whatever. Well, actually psychiatrists are doctors too but they’re a special kind. Anyway.

So, this doctor looked at my arm carefully, took my elbow between his thumb and forefinger and moved it up and down to see underneath. Then he said the strangest thing: he asked me if I was seeing someone. I couldn’t hide my shock. I’m no doctor, after all. I felt my eyes pop out and I gaped. I asked him what the hell he was talking about.

I didn’t let him answer, though, I asked him about my new hair instead. What was it? Was it curable? He looked embarrassed again. He let go of my arm and said that yes, it was curable. It was something like a wart and nothing to worry about. I said this was a huge relief, which it was, and asked him about his first question.

It bugged me because I’m fully aware I’m not the most attractive woman in the world and nobody has ever asked me if I was seeing anyone. The added shock came from the fact I didn’t think doctors can be so blunt with patients.

He said he meant another doctor. What other doctor? You know, a therapist, he said. Then he hurriedly told me that at this party last year we’d had a long chat and I’d said I was in therapy. I couldn’t believe not remembering a conversation like this and I said so. He smiled a forced smile and said that perhaps I’d had a bit more vodka than usual. I said I don’t drink vodka and I saw him make a face as if he was getting a bit impatient.

I said I was sorry to take up so much of his time. I tried to squeeze as much irony as I could from my exhausted but newly relieved brain. He started apologizing. He knew he’d made a face and I’d seen it. Anyway, he wrote me a prescription for an ointment and said I should rub it in twice a day for two weeks.

I’m a bit suspicious about this doctor. It’s true that last Christmas party I was in therapy, I had some anxiety problems, but I refused to believe I would discuss this with a stranger and then not remember a word from the conversation. And I really don’t drink vodka, just wine, sometimes. Not a lot. Oh, well, at least he gave me what I went there to get.

 

It’s Monday morning and I don’t see any change in the upper arm situation, despite all the rubbing with the foul-smelling ointment the doctor gave me. But there is a change in the forearm situation. The new hair has spread further down.

I’m starting to look like some ridiculous Bigfoot caricature, with arms covered in thick white hair that doesn’t even look very much like hair. I guess by the end of the week it will have reached my wrists and then… I don’t know. If it spreads to my hands I won’t be able to go out, it will be too embarrassing and everyone will be staring. I hate people staring at me.

I’m rubbing the ointment like mad, not two but three times a day, but there is no change. I cried myself to sleep last night.

 

Thursday and probably my last day at work. It’s getting harder and harder to conceal the hairs that are now very close to my wrists. I managed to find a sweater with extra-long sleeves and I wore that yesterday and today. I thought about calling the dermatologist again to tell him that his medicine wasn’t working but then decided not to.

I don’t exactly know why, I just had that very strong feeling that he won’t be able to help me. The new hairs seemed to agree with me—they remained calm, didn’t bristle as they did that day on the bus.

Then I thought that he’d known from the start he wouldn’t be able to help me but hadn’t admitted it as it would have compromised his reputation or something. Doctors! I’ve already decided to call in sick tomorrow morning and then think of something serious enough to stay away from the office next week too. After that… I really don’t know, I can’t just quit. Or maybe I can?

 

Something horrible happened on the bus home from work on Thursday. It was almost full when I got on, so I couldn’t find a seat. That’s probably why it happened. I’ve been feeling really exhausted these last few days and no wonder. So, I stood there, thinking about my new hair and suddenly it bristled.

I felt like I was surrounded by the most evil people in the world, like there was not one single decent human being on this bus. No, I didn’t start hallucinating monsters or anything I just had this very, very strong feeling everyone around me was bad to the bone.

I felt so sick I, apparently, passed out. When I came to, the bus had stopped and there were people looking down at me. I was sprawled on a seat and they were talking about an ambulance. I yelled I didn’t want any ambulances. The people pulled back. They looked scared. And they were staring at me. I really, really hate people staring at me. I got off the bus and took a taxi home.

 

So, it’s Saturday and I’ve decided to take care of the new hair myself. Remember what I said about the dream? That I peeled it off like snakeskin. That’s what I’m going to do, only I’ll need to use a knife, I suppose, because I tried peeling it off like I did in the dream and it wouldn’t come off. I’ll just first have to go out and get some painkillers. I’m not an idiot, I know it will hurt.

I got something with paracetamol and codeine, that’s what the pharmacist said when I asked her for a painkiller. I lied, of course, when she asked what I needed it for. I said I’d broken my ankle recently and it still hurt from time to time. She gave me a funny look but didn’t say anything. I felt my new hair bristling again but only a little bit, thank God. It didn’t like the pharmacist either.

I think the carving knife’s my best bet, it’s the sharpest one I have and since I don’t really invite guests very often to eat whole huge pieces of meat that need carving it hasn’t been used very much. I don’t want to get an infection from some bacteria stuck between the handle and the blade, after all. OK, here we go.

 

Doctor Sandler stared at the screen of his laptop. He’d just read a story on a local news website. After a while he closed the laptop, shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Then he opened his eyes, reached for his phone and dialed a number.

“Hi Mike,” came a voice, a calm, cool voice.

“Hi Steve,” Sandler said and was quiet for a moment.

“Can I help you with something?”

“Remember that patient of yours? Heston? Um, Sonya Heston?”

“Doesn’t ring a bell,” the man addressed as Mike said.

“You sent her to me as part of your no-drugs program last year, told me she thinks she’s growing wings but you were sure she was faking it and she was just an attention whore? You said you suspected she’s not fit for your program but that she was desperate.”

“Oh, yeah, now I remember,” Mike said. “What’s up with her, growing wings again?”

“No,” Sandler said and again went silent.

“Well, what is it, then?” Mike now started to sound a little bit annoyed.

Steve Sandler sighed and closed his eyes again,

“She came to see me last Monday, said she’s growing something on her arms. There was nothing, of course, but I did as you told me that other time and prescribed an ointment. I thought I should call you because, Mike, she sounded like she really believed it.”

“Steve, you’re not a psychiatrist.”

“And neither are you,” said Sandler.

“I never said I was, I’m a therapist. Is there a point to this conversation, Steve? I have a patient coming in ten minutes.”

“I wanted to tell you that Sonya Heston apparently bled to death trying to skin herself this Sunday. The arms, more precisely. Just read it in the local news.”

There was silence at the other end.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Mike said eventually. “I’ll put it in my notes on the program. Thank you.”

“You might want to reconsider this program,” Sandler said. “What if—“

“Goodbye, Steve,” Mike said and ended the conversation. Doctor Sandler stared at his phone screen for a few seconds. He then blinked, put the phone in his pocket and went to work.

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