Murray Steele sat alone in the cool, dimly lit room. The walls were standard Comity tan, the furniture nondescript. What light there was came from flickering tubes lining the upper lengths of the walls. The desk, empty but for a single file folder, sat at a distance from his chair.
As is usually the case, Murray had no idea why he was sitting in this room. The officials of The Comity found exposition superfluous, making that clear every time they were asked for any explanation. As a result, Murray was left with little more than his thoughts and a vague concern regarding his visit.
The door behind him opened. “Mr. Steele,” said the woman as she passed his seat on her way to the desk,”We are here to discuss your childhood.”
She was dressed in a white laboratory jacket. On her lapel were the words “Dr. Prudence.” She sat behind the desk with an officious air, opening the folder before her.
“You were born in the years before The Comity, were you not?” asked Dr. Prudence.
“Yes, I was,” Murray responded, considering the question superfluous but reluctant to mention as much.
“You were raised by your parents,” she stated.
“That was the normal method of the time,” answered Murray.
“Mr. Steele, I am well aware of the methods employed in child rearing,” she said, her eyes trained on the documents before her, “I am a doctor of psychology and, as such, am expected to be fully versed in the barbarism of the past as well as the proven techniques today employed within The Comity.”
Accustomed to being so dismissed, Murray sat silent in response.
Dr. Prudence snapped the folder closed and looked at Murray. “I find records kept in this manner tedious and unhelpful, a pure reflection of those days when parents raised their children, Mr. Steele. We are here to discuss your trauma.”
Murray hadn’t expected that. Of all the possible reasons to be summoned to a psychologist, this topic hadn’t made his list. His mind raced through the possible symptoms he might have exhibited to betray such a trauma, had he experienced one.
“I’m not aware of any trauma, Dr. Prudence,” he said.
“Mr. Steele, as a psychologist, I am thoroughly schooled in the recognition of psychological trauma,” she responded, her eyes trained on his, “The fact that you don’t recall any trauma offers me the most obvious indication that you have experienced one or many in your lifetime, most of which would have occurred during childhood.”
“Most of which?” responded Murray, his eyes widening in surprise.
“Explique,” commanded Dr. Prudence, “How many patients have I treated for childhood trauma?”
“You have treated seven hundred and thirty three patients for childhood trauma,” responded her Explique.
“And what is the patient number of Mr. Steele?” asked the doctor.
“Mr. Murray Steele is your seven hundred and thirty fifth patient,” came the response.
“Of my previous seven hundred and thirty four patients, all but one experienced some sort of childhood trauma requiring treatment,” said Dr. Prudence, her eyes still trained on Murray’s, “Based on those numbers, Mr. Steele, should I calculate the likelihood that you did not experience childhood trauma?”
Murray didn’t know how to respond.
“Suffice it to say, the likelihood is slim at best,” she said, “Now that we have dispensed with your incredulity, shall we commence treatment?”
Murray held her gaze, more out of fear than anything; should he respond, he expected a similar outburst of condescension. As he tried to formulate a response, what little patience she seemed to have visibly evaporated.
“I have limited time on this earth, Mr. Steele,” she prodded, “Both The Comity and I wish for it to be spent helping poor, damaged people like yourself.”
“I don’t feel damaged,” answered Murray.
“Of course you don’t,” she responded, “Psychological trauma is, by its very nature, elusive to those who have experienced it. Only trained professionals can diagnose and treat the damage humans inflict upon one another.”
“Can we really discuss treatment when we don’t yet know what the trauma is?” asked Murray, his mind feverishly working out what his problems might be.
“Have you played billiards, Mr. Steele?” asked Dr. Prudence.
“Many, many years ago, I think,” he responded, uncertain of the relevance, “I haven’t seen a pool table in that long.”
“Of course you haven’t. The Comity found such diversions unproductive and outlawed them for the good of the people,” she answered, “I referenced the triviality to make a point. When playing billiards, it was the goal to direct one white ball toward another ball, usually colored and numbered. Upon contact, the second ball would be directed toward a pocket for capture.”
Murray nodded understanding.
“This is metaphorical,” she continued, “The white ball, directed by the player representing your parents, is trauma striking at the other balls. Without it, these other balls would live their lives quietly, motionless, painless, in comity.”
“The colored balls represent me?” asked Murray.
“They represent the people,” she answered, “We are all of different shades, each identified by a number. When hit with trauma, our lives become misdirected. We are no longer in comity.”
“Are the colored balls different sizes?” asked Murray, trying to remember.
“Of course not. They are equal in every way other than their number and color,” responded Dr. Prudence.
“So everyone behaves precisely the same way when struck by the white ball?” asked Murray.
Dr. Prudence paused, uncertain of Murray’s intention. “You understand what a metaphor is, do you not Mr. Steele?”
“I believe so.”
“People are not struck by white balls. In the game, the white ball strikes the colored balls. In life, trauma imposed by other people does the striking,” she continued, “People behave like the balls, directed when struck.”
“I apologize,” answered Murray, “That’s what I meant. The balls all behave the same way when struck and you are saying that people all behave the same way after trauma.”
“Precisely,” she said, a smile straining to emerge on her face.
Having pleased her, Murray bought himself a few moments to reflect. While he was no closer to recognizing these mysterious traumas of his, he at least grasped the simplicity of human beings. If only he could have the clarity of thought Dr. Prudence possessed.
“You see, Mr. Steele,” the doctor began, “It’s all a matter of mathematics. In billiards, we are talking about geometry and physics, direction and force. The same applies to human beings. When I diagnose trauma in a person, I draw on the algebraic calculation associated with that trauma to direct treatment. It’s really quite simple.”
While he saw no correlation between human beings and mathematics, Murray nodded in agreement anyway.
“As I mentioned earlier, your denial of any trauma is proof of its existence. Denial becomes one of the variables used in the calculation,” she continued.
“And if I hadn’t denied it?” asked Murray.
“Surely you’ve heard that acceptance is the first step toward treatment,” she answered.
Raising her left arm toward her face, she spoke into her Explique, “Prescribe anti-depressants for Mr. Steele.”