Monday, January 13, 2014

The Popcorn Girl, Chapter 21: Cadmium Red

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If you try that again, I will kill you. God has a plan for you. It’s not wise to fight God. Or me.


“Are you keeping your impulse log?”

“Yes. But I’m a little confused. Sometimes I think about my therapy, and that creates an image, and the image gives me an impulse. But is that a real impulse?”

Molly re-crosses her legs. She does that a lot. It must be hard, sitting all day, listening to people.

“I would rather you overwrite than under. This may surprise you, but entering into therapy can actually increase the danger of incidents. In the long run, of course, it’s the right thing to do, but in the first few months it has the effect of ‘stirring the pot.’”

I settle against the headrest. I have grown comfortable with the couch cliché. But just to be ironic, I tent my fingers. Evil genius. “Why do you tell me things like that? Isn’t that a secret?”

Molly re-crosses her legs. “Jasmina, you are much more intelligent than my average patient. Therefore, I refuse to bullshit you.”

“So you bullshit others?”

“I do not necessarily give them as much information as I give to you. So tell me – any impulses from outside forces?”

“Yes. One.”

“Any idea of the cause?”

“Babies. Crying babies.”


“Once a week, we have a special screening for mothers of newborns. Baby starts crying, mother brings it into the lobby so we can listen to it.”

“How did you deal with the impulse?”

“I started with feedback. I listened to my heartbeat, my breathing. I tried to ride my mood, like a horse, like you said. The pot coming to a boil. And I quieted my limbs, fought the need for physical action. Then I asked for a break and wrote about it in my log.”

Molly smiles. “You did well. During the course of this coping, did you ever feel you were in any actual danger of giving in?”

“No. The contract – that’s my brick wall. So… do you think I should ask for Baby Day off?”

“Once a week, you say?”

“Thursdays at noon. Like to come by and experience it for yourself?”

“Oh hell no.” She tents her fingers. Evil genius. “I think you should insist on working every Baby Day from now on.”

“Ooh. You’re good.”

The charmed smile. “Yes. I am.”


Your photo reminds me of those al-Qaeda videos sent out to prove that bin Laden was still alive. Nonetheless, it is good to see my beautiful Jasmina. Lord, I miss that girl. So. Ask me some questions.

Thank you, Sass. She has been a wonderful surprise, as well as a rollercoaster. The reason I sought you out is that she is suffering from some kind of memory loss, accompanied by bouts of self-injury.

I remember that. The stairsteps down the arm.

She does remember you, and your attack. Only, in her version of the story, you did not survive your injuries.

That’s a little upsetting – but not necessarily surprising. We had a big falling-out. Jasmina was so helpful when I was in the hospital. She visited every day, brought me flowers, ran errands. But soon after, when I found God and began my volunteer work, she seemed to take it as a betrayal. She was so angry! That’s when she disappeared on me.

After your attack, did she, too, give up prostitution?

Oh dear! Jasmina was never a prostitute. I refused to let her anywhere near it. She was my project, that girl. In a sense, that’s when I discovered the good that I could do for other people. She was the gateway to what I’m doing now.

Could you tell me how you met?

The high-class girls worked the airport; I worked the Greyhound station. This beautiful thing, that exotic hair – she sat on a bench, looking completely lost. And I thought I had better grab her before someone else did.

I bought her some breakfast to win her trust. She came from a little town in Montana, name of a President. Johnson? Nixon? Carter! Carter, Montana. Her story was terribly sad. She lost her parents in a bombing in Sarajevo, when she was four. She came to live with her aunt, and her aunt’s boyfriend molested her. Typically, the aunt chose to believe her boyfriend. What women will do for love. Jasmina hitchhiked to Great Falls, went to the bus station and picked a city. She chose Minneapolis because she liked the name.

I was lucky enough to have my own place, and I talked her into staying with me. We even managed to get her into school. You should have seen the looks we got on parent-teacher night. I just told them her hair was mine and her skin was her father’s. I loved that girl. I hope she will forgive me for whatever I did and come see me.

I hope so, too. But it’s tricky. This all began when I found a missing person flyer with Jasmina’s picture. Apparently, her real name is Kelly Copper. I was gone one day, and I left the flyer out. When Jasmina got a look at it, she cut up her other arm pretty bad, and she can’t remember why she did it. I have to let her psychologist decide what parts of her past she’ll be able to tolerate.

And if she can bear seeing a reborn dead woman! Well, actually, I suppose I was reborn. Ha.

You’re a marvel, Sass. The work you’re doing is tremendous. And I will definitely keep you up-to-date on her progress.

Thank you, Paul. I know you can’t say anything, but I wonder if you will do me a favor? Some night when she is drifting off to sleep, kiss her on the forehead. That’s what I used to do.

Will do. Bye, Sass.

God bless.


I am walking Molly along the trail that I now think of as Jasmina’s. I suppose I thought it might offer some extra insight, but I may be overtaxing her stamina. By the time we reach the outcropping – the city of San Francisco cloaked by fog – she is out of breath and rubbing her legs.

“Note to self: get out of damn office more often.”

“I’m sorry. I should have picked something easier.”

“No, that’s all right. Besides, I’m pretty sure it’s all downhill from here.”

I laugh. “So what do we do about our reincarnated prostitute?”

Molly slaps a patch of dirt from her shorts. “Pretty much nothing. This notion that repressed memories must be dug up is largely a Hollywood fabrication. In the eighties, there was a group of psychologists who actually created false memories for their patients, in order to replace the bad memories from their childhoods. With excellent results. So this information I’m getting from you… Well, look at it like this: I will not be yanking memories out of Jasmina’s head like a farmer rooting out weeds. They must spring forth on their own. The primary job, still, is to help her know her own mind, and how to control these damaging impulses.”

“And how is she doing in that regard?”

“Very well, actually. Your girl has a powerful intellect.”

I pick up a chunk of quartz and roll it between my fingers. “So this detective work I’m doing… Am I just making trouble?”

“No, not at all. You’ll be helping me sort the false memories from the real. Besides, I don’t know about you, but I’m finding this all pretty entertaining.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that. Sometimes I feel like I’m using Jasmina as my personal mystery novel.”

Molly gives me the charmed smile, an expression that I’m growing increasingly fond of. “We are hunters of the intellect, Paul. Most of my income comes from rich Marin County bitches whose only real affliction is ennui. When I run into someone with real and complex troubles like Jasmina’s, I give myself permission to enjoy it as much as I can. It makes me a better psychologist.

“Speaking of, I rediscovered something the other day that I thought you might find interesting. In times of profound psychological distress, the body fortifies itself by releasing glucocorticoids. What they have discovered is that these same chemicals seem to damage the hippocampus, which is pivotal to the brain’s memory functions. Oh, hold on.”

Molly’s phone erupts with the Beatles’ “Help!” She answers while walking away from me. “Jasmina? Yes. Yes. Okay. Slow down now. Breathe. Okay. Stay on the line with me. I’m sending Paul to help you. But just stay on the line. Jasmina? Focus. Breathe. Okay? Okay.”

She paces back toward me and covers the phone. “She’s hurt herself. She’s at the bookstore. Run. Now. I’ll stay on the phone and talk her down. Go, go.”

I’m off. The hills fly past as I go with gravity, watching out for mud and loose gravel. The town appears – the hilltoppers, the steep roads into the village. When I finally hit bottom I’m soaked in sweat. I push through the door, but I don’t see anyone.


She’s in the stockroom. The shelves are pushed away, and the walls are covered in blood: wild swirls and smears, the word BREATHE. Jasmina lies in a lump at the basement door, her hands covered in red. I’m trying to stay calm, but the adrenaline is pushing me. When I kneel next to her she grabs me, her breath coming in chuffs.

“Paul! Thank you!”

I hold her by the shoulders, looking for her wounds. “Yaz, where are you hurt?”

She sees my expression, looks at the wall and bursts into laughter. She’s laughing so hard she can’t speak. I don’t know what this is – is this mania? A cell phone lies on the floor, calling out in Molly’s voice. “Jasmina? Is he there?”

“Yaz? Where did you hurt yourself?”

She holds out her thumb, wrapped in a small towel.

“That’s it? Where else?”

She covers her mouth, trying to calm the laughter, but succeeds only in getting blood on her face. She scrambles away, searches the base of the wall and returns with a plastic tube. It’s acrylic paint. Cadmium red.

Photo by MJV

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