After Wilde knocked Dr. Koch's glasses off Dr Koch tried to
explore with his patient the symbolism of mirrors.
Wilde gave a very natural laugh. "Look, Doctor," he said, "my
time's short, and your Freud's long. I'm incurable. It's a question of fact,
"Fantasy is a fact," explained Dr Koch. "I deal daily with such
facts. A little patience, a little co-operation, a little time - "
"A little time I Look, Doctor, you think you
understand fantasies. I know I don't understand time. But what I do understand
is that it's possible to move in space-time quicker or slower than time moves,
because we don't need to measure time always from the same point or with the
same clock. Do you know that?"
"I understand that there are theories of time and theories of
relativity. More important to me are your own experiences."
"If I tell you my experiences you won't understand what I'm
talking about because as a psychiatrist you're conditioned to refuse facts and
to work on theories. You'll insist on asking sideways questions until you get a
sideways answer. My whole case is painfully straightforward - and of course
"You did knock my glasses off," Dr Koch said. "You did smash
shop windows before you were brought here. You did struggle with the nurses. If
you weren't ill I shouldn't have concerned myself with you. These are
"Yes. Here are some more. Ten years ago I met
Dr Koch gave a faint movement of displeasure.
"That proves I'm mad, of course," agreed Wilde. "But it can't be
helped. To put it as simply as possible: I was standing at a bus-stop and saw
myself getting off the bus. It was a No.15 bus if that helps. I saw myself as
clearly as I see you and far more clearly than you see me. The man I saw
getting off the bus was me, ten years older. He was therefore the age I am now
because ten years have passed. You follow me?"
"Go on," said Dr Koch.
"Significant as a symptom, no doubt. Well the
incident did give me a nasty shock. A psychological shock. Everything wavered.
He seemed to waver. I seemed to waver. Everything floated away
from its moorings. Enough to send anyone crazy. Don't you think so? I even
became obsessed. I asked myself, if that was myself going back, could I have
saved myself by going forward? And of course, every day I looked in the mirror
I grew closer to the man who had stared at me as he climbed down from the bus -
and so each day I grew closer to the moment when I would be the man going back
to stare at myself coming forward. If the concepts 'back' and 'forward' have
any meaning. Because I spent ten years - these ten years - finding out how it
would be possible to go back. It had to be possible because it had been
"Of course you know. Doctor, that if I took off in a rocket at a
defined speed and stayed away for twenty years the world would be several
thousand years older when I got back? There are folk-tales about it. But this
is what they call going forward.
Do you understand the mathematics of going
back? No, of course you don't. Psychiatrists aren't mathematicians. You don't
have to go back to the dawn of childhood and invent sexual fantasies to see why
I've got a phobia about mirrors."
He looked so jumpy and intent that Dr Koch fumbled to remove his
glasses. But Wilde wasn't interested in knocking off any more pairs of glasses.
He was on his feet staring out of the window.
"The point is. Doctor, that any day now, any day, the ten years
will be up. And then what happens?"
Dr Koch opened his mouth to point out that Wilde had not in fact
met himself but had experienced the delusion that he had met himself when Wilde
rushed on: "Whatever it is, I don't care, so long as it gets me out of this
bloody place. What really troubles me, what really makes me feel that I'm going
barmy so you'll soon have an excuse for keeping me here forever is that
although it's time to go back again, all I've got is an equation. I just can't
get away from here. I'm not at a bus stop, am I, even you can see that, I'm
bloody well here!"
Thomas Wilde stumbled into the forgotten, familiar house. Mrs
Thomas was standing in the hall with a duster. She put one plump hand to her
heart and her face took on a strange, outraged, appealing expression as if she
were going to ask him something, to denounce him, or faint where she stood.
Then she moved in a shuffling hurry to the door of her room, muttering
something like: "Foolish! Oh no, that's just foolish."
Wilde climbed the stairs and fell into the armchair which he
knew as well as himself and had lost entirely from his mind. The swaying of his
thoughts wouldn't let him rest. How could he be sure of the exact time, the
exact situation? Perhaps he was already too late. Perhaps she had already come
and gone! If he was off target even by an hour, then ten years of loss and
anguish would lie before him to add to the ten wasted years his stupidity and
blindness had already cost him. Step by step in loneliness back to the nowhere
from which he had come. Was even the day right? How could he know? That young
lost image of himself staring in wide-eyed idiocy from the bus stop, how much
did that mean?
He dared not admit to himself that he was waiting. What if he
had deceived himself all these years? What if she had never returned to his
room, after all? Perhaps he was really mad and had invented the whole thing?
What if he wasn't waiting? What if no one came? Who in the world was there he
could speak to? There was no one alive who could listen. Loneliness was like an
acid eating his bones, increasing in intensity with every minute that passed.
Waiting for a ghost lost ten years ago by the idiocy of that bewildered youth
now riding the top of a No 15 bus trying in vain to escape his own image. .
Clare would be married now, with children. But what was 'now'?
Clare wasn't married then. What was 'then'?
To breathe needed all his concentration. His nose was blocked.
He had a cold ache in his eyes and forehead. His organs seemed to have lost
their ability to function unconsciously. They needed supervision, his heart to
be pumped, his diaphragm to be raised and lowered, his thoughts to be forced
into motion. Everything required an act of will if it was to work, and he no
longer had any power of willing. All the will power he had ever possessed had
been used up in his effort to get here. He had got here; he was lost.
Worst of all, he could not remember Clare. He had concentrated
so much on her for so long that she had grown stiff and unreal in his
imagination, moving round and round on the fixed wheel of his obsession. She
had no living eyes and mouth, but only a pervading presence which he couldn't
What did he know of Clare except that he had suffered intensely
because of her and that the suffering had made him - what? A mad scientist? A
man ten years his own junior, sitting in a room that, if it existed, he could
not exist in it, because they came from different and incompatible times which
could not meet.
No one would come. Of course no one would come. Nothing would
happen. His life and work had all been a delusion. He drifted into a vague
lethargy of despair. After infinite lapse of finite time he heard Mrs Thomas
laboriously climbing the stairs. Of course, she would want to know why he was
back. After all, hadn't he left for good that morning? How could he talk to
her? What could he say?
Her knock was tentative. No doubt she was afraid. She had looked
afraid in the hall. But curiosity would conquer fear.
He tried to call out but couldn't find a voice. What did it
The door opened. She stood there. She. No other. Familiar as
sunlight. Clare. Her eyes, dark and deep. Those eyes. They could not be
anything but what they were. The movement like a fading caress with which she
raised her hand. Exact, inevitable. He knew now that he had seen her every
night in his dreams for ten years.
And then a blur of images like an exploded dream seemed to
tumble over him in a rushing flood.
He tried to speak to Clare, to say words like 'love' and 'hope'
but he was streaming away in a confusion of silence.
"Tom?" she said. She was very pale. There was no one
"Of course," Thomas Wilde said irritably, "I know you can't
believe it's possible for a man to meet himself, I wouldn't believe it. Perhaps
neither of us was real. Naturally it isn't possible to go back in time. If time
had forwards and backwards it wouldn't be possible. Look, here's an equation.
I'll show you how this curve relates to consciousness. Damn it, is it your
bloody theories you're interested in, or is it the nature of things as they
Wilde began scribbling with a pencil on the wall.
"Stop!" called Dr Koch.
Nurse Collins came in with a message and Dr Koch turned towards
her. He seemed to hear a faint sound like a sigh and when he turned back Wilde
was nowhere to be seen. Then Koch saw him lying on the bed, pale, moving his
legs and arms, gabbling something about love and hope.
Koch went over to the bed. He took off his spectacles. Surely
there was something wrong with his eyes. One moment Wilde had not been there
and the next - but how had he moved from the wall to the bed? Koch felt rather
faint. Nurse Collins had to offer him a glass of water.
A month later Thorns Wilde left the hospital. Koch asked him
with brisk authority, "Well, now that we have managed to restore you to health,
Mr Wilde - "
"You mean, now that I no longer have fantasies about meeting
Koch smiled and waved a hand. "Well, what do you propose to do
now, Mr Wilde? What are your plans?"
"Oh don't worry about me," Wilde said. "I have work to do."
A year afterwards Koch received a letter from a man he had
'Facts are not registered anywhere. A return in time is merely
an appearance anywhere and cannot reverse procedures. My own appearance was
part of the event that occurred. It is therefore possible for two ghosts to
meet. It is also possible to swing away into imaginary space. If any patient is
willing to talk to you of these matters, listen carefully. Differences are a
form of light.
It was just as well he gave no address, or Dr Koch would have
felt some responsibility to suggest further treatment. All the same that phrase
'an appearance anywhere' disturbed him and he felt a growing concern with the
irrational fancy that at any time in any place he might have a vision of Thomas
Wilde just as 'real' as the patient he least wished to encounter.