“Twitch” depicts a writer with a bizarre affliction – a constant twitch. By visiting a prominent psychiatrist and sorting out his emotional burden, he learns that his condition can be treated if he is willing to radically change the course of his artistic life. The story has a positive, uplifting message that any artist could draw inspiration from.
By David Boyle, art by E.T.
Dean Faller entered the spacious lobby. His right arm was twitching uncontrollably. Yet his right hand scribbled furiously on a pad. As the secretary rose from her desk she lowered her glasses. She closely observed Dean’s unorthodox behavior—his arm’s jerking like a tentacle. She put her hand on her chest. “Are you all right, Mr. Faller? Oh, Lord! Would you be better off admitting yourself to an emergency room?”
“No!” Dean ejaculated. “Just let me speak to Dr. Melville. He’s the best there is, right? If he can afford the fancy commercials then he must be doing something right. I’m gonna put that Yale degree of his to the test.”
“As you wish, sir. Please have a seat and wait for him to call you.”
“I’d rather stand. Can’t you see I’m trying to write? I can’t just turn this off. I’m on the edge here. A fine edge. This story is corrupting my mind, my life.”
The secretary sat down. Her eyes darted back and forth nervously as she gauged Dean’s erratic behavior. A middle-aged slender fellow with a beard and glasses sat across from Dean, his face in a copy of Smithsonian. He discreetly raised his eyes and observed Dean’s affliction. The lobby, quiet except for the sporadic ringing of the phone and the audible scraping of Dean’s pen across the pages of his large pad, accommodated only a few waiting patients. Among soothing paintings on the walls and a plastic model of the human brain on the table in the center of the room, various plaques and awards were displayed throughout the lobby, showcasing photos of Dr. Melville with famous people at professional events and banquets for psychiatrists.
No matter how hard he tried, Dean was unable to control his bizarre condition. His pen remained in motion on the pad but the rest of his limb refused to cease joggling; it had taken on a life of its own. Despite the hindrance his arm had become, writing was clearly effortless for Dean. The pen wouldn’t stop; the words gushed from his mind and covered the page like a printing press. The man across from him now lowered his magazine and gawked at Dean, his jaw misaligned in astonishment. He couldn’t believe the speed with which Dean Faller was filling the pages with ink. He listened to Dean mumbling the words as he wrote them: without a transplant, Florence would die, her family shared tears of pain in the waiting room. Every few minutes he’d lick his thumb and flip to an empty sheet.
After a short time, the secretary’s intercom chirped and she hit the button. “Yes, sir,” she replied into the speaker. She looked over at Dean and cleared her throat. “Ahem. Excuse me, Mr. Faller… Doctor Melville will see you now.”
Dean walked toward the doctor’s office. Uneasy and slightly shaken, Jane (Dean had noticed the nameplate on her desk) rolled her eyes as he passed. While on his way to the examination room, Dean ran out of paper and began writing on the palm of his hand, then on the back. He reached for the doorknob, twisted it, and entered the office. Jane got up and closed it behind him, huffing at Dean’s unmannerly failure to close the door on his own. Doctor Melville, a hefty man in his mid-forties with rectangular glasses and hair glazed in gel, was sitting demurely in his chair, studying Dean Faller’s body language. Face expressionless, the doctor had apparently seen behavior as abnormally peculiar as this before. Dean did not make eye contact with the doctor, yet Doctor Melville kept a keen, meticulous eye on his patient as Dean continued writing on his arm as if he were a human machine.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Faller? What is it that troubles you? My notes indicate a nervous twitch. Based on your appearance here, I think your condition is quite extraordinary.” The doctor paused, removed his glasses and, in deep thought, inserted the tip of an earpiece between his lips.
Dean was biting his lip and blinking constantly. “I can’t stop this, Doc. I do this all day. I pace back and forth, and write without end. I…I…I can’t sleep at night. When I do manage to nod off I am inevitably ripped from my sleep as thoughts inside my head pound for release. If I don’t listen to the voices I suffer painful headaches. Believe it or not, when I’m writing, the pain goes away.”
The doctor remained unmoving. He carefully scrutinized Dean’s mannerisms, which perplexed him. By this time Dean was writing on his shirt: that was some time ago, when life had different meaning, less ambiguity, more charm. Dean then ran out of places to write so he continued his work on the wall closest to him. When his pen touched the expensively papered surface the doctor was ready to reprimand his patient or call security, but he knew that taking action would only bring unneeded tension to the session and complicate his diagnosis. Still, though, he seemed intrigued by his patient’s disorder, eager to render a treatment—a cure, perhaps. He reached into his desk and pulled out an empty pad. “Here you go, Dean. Please, not on the walls.”
“There’s nothing you can do, right, Melville? I’m stuck like this, aren’t I?”
“How long has this been going on, Mr. Faller?”
Dean’s gnawing on his lip had drawn blood. He licked some away. “Months. Crazy, huh? My wife walked out on me six weeks ago. She called me a ‘nut’ and hit the bricks.”
“Have you been to another doc—?”
Dean scoffed. “No friggin’ way will I go to a hospital! They’ll fill me with drugs, and you know it. I’ll end up in some crazy-house. You can’t deny that. So here I am, cutting out the middle-man.”
Doctor Melville stood, removed his jacket and draped it over his leather chair. Dean was now marking-up the pad the doctor had offered him. “I know I can help you, Mr. Faller.”
Dean chuckled. “If you can they oughta nominate you for the Nobel Prize.”
“That would be unnecessary, Mr. Faller. You see, what you’ve lost is pale in comparison to what you’ve gained. For instance, right here, below my picture of Sigmund Freud, you’ve written a short moving poem: the walls grow higher, like towering barricades. If I toil longer, stronger, I can climb them. I’ll do it alone, the only way I know. “It’s clear to me, young scrivener, that you possess intense focus. Your composition, as rapid and diligent as it is, remains legible and thought-provoking.”
“Where are you going with this, man?” Dean asked. “Do you have a prognosis, or what? I’m real close to chopping this arm off, but I’d hate to do that. Then when I hear those voices in my head again, which occurs frequently— without fail I tell you— I will not be able to carry out my duty. The pain will commence again. And I think this session’s costing me a few hundred…at least.”
“You love your ex-wife, Mr. Faller. You miss her. I know you do and you want her back, right?”
“Of course I do, you schmuck. But how would you know?”
The doctor smiled, pointed at the wall where Dean had written something else, and admired his exquisite penmanship: Crystal, you’re needed still, by me and those you’ve touched. Each day I grow emptier inside as my heart shrinks and hollows. “Because you wrote that here, next to my wall lamp.” The doc swallowed. “Do you not remember what you wrote just minutes ago?”
“Shit, no. I feel like my whole body’s hooked to a powerful car battery. My mind is wound up all day, all night. I wish I could turn it off but it’s futile.”
The doctor listened intently, stood facing Dean with his hands in his pockets.
Dean threw his pad on the floor in frustration, but his arm kept twitching and his hand continued working. His eyes watered. “Doc, every day of my life I feel like a college student studying for a major exam. They stare at a book and memorize pages and pages of data, forcing themselves to retain every morsel of information, or else they fail. Their life— their future— depends on it. When they think they have attained the required knowledge, they repeat the steps over and over again to be sure they’ve processed the data. Imagine living like that every second of your life. Never getting a moment to think for yourself…you must keep transcribing the steady fragments your brain is feeding you like a hot-wired robot. You rarely sleep. It’s near impossible to eat. Nobody wants to be in your company, and in my case, once this all started, it didn’t take long to lose my wife. So…just tell me, Melville…is this it? Just tell me it is and I’ll go down quietly. All I search for is the answer, so I can rest.”
The doctor approached Dean and hugged him. “There’s actually nothing wrong with you, Mr. Faller. You need to accept that, regardless of how irrational my opinion may seem.”
“You’re out of your mind, Melville. Have you taken a good look at me? At this shell of myself?”
“Yes I have indeed, Mr. Faller. I must be honest with you…I wanted to meet you face to face.”
“What the heck are you talking about, shrink?”
“What ails you is symptomatic of a common addiction. You just haven’t learned to control, should I say, command your burden. You carry it with you everywhere, allowing it to jeopardize your daily life. I can easily prove there’s value in what you do, but if I accomplish such a feat, you’ll be required to alter your habits on your own. Drugs are of no use, and you certainly will not be required to consult with me again after today. Are you prepared to deal with that?”
Dean’s arm and hand were still quavering. He picked up the pad and started writing again. The doctor walked to a closet across the room, opened the door. Of the hundreds of books stacked neatly on the shelf, about half had the popular mainstream author’s name on the spine: Dean Faller.
“See…” the doctor said. “I’m your biggest fan. I’ve read every single one of them, couldn’t put them down. But your work always lacked something, if you don’t mind my saying so? A minor detail, if you will?”
The doctor took a deep breath. Dean’s eyes opened wide, afraid of what the doc was about to disclose.
“Dean, the truth is: You always wrote what others expected of you. You gave them stories you thought would set the world on fire, and believe me, I enjoyed the majority of them. So did many of your fans. However, since following your career I’ve become aware that an essential element is missing. It may be the source of your troubles.”
The doctor placed his hand on Dean’s chest, above his heart. “You never wrote from here.” Then he pointed out the window. “You were on a quest to please them, and you practically sold your soul to do it. I think the movement of your arm is something you do to yourself— it’s psychosomatic. In order to begin healing, two things need to be restored: your mind and your heart. When they are healthy, you’re at your best.”
Dean’s arm slowed. The doctor smiled. “I met you years ago at a signing you had on Randall Avenue. Back then you had a long line, wrapped around the block for crying out loud. I waited two hours to get to you. You hardly smiled the whole time. Your wife sat in the corner, poker-faced and melancholy. Even though I enjoyed your books I kept thinking of your earliest work, those forgotten gems…those engaging articles about your travels to Alaska, Hawaii and foreign countries. Back then you planned to give us a few novels about those beautiful places. What happened to those dreams and ambitions? The earlier works showcased the real Dean Faller, not this medical drama stuff. But I guess there was no dough in the former, right?”
Dean Faller was speechless. Doctor Melville put his arm around him. “Go home and get some rest, think things over. I’m not charging you for today. I’d rather hear one of your stories about breathtaking places like Alaska and Hawaii, perhaps a few more places you’ve visited in the past…Oh, and next time, don’t lie to me about how your condition has been going on for only a few months. You’ve wrestled with this problem for years, and I know it. But I’m glad you found me, and vice-versa. Good luck to you, Dean.”
As Dean left the room he passed the man from the waiting area who was now on his way into Melville’s office. He extended a hand to Dean and smiled. Dean shook his hand.
The man spoke in a low voice. “I’m sorry to interrupt you, sir. I didn’t want to bother you before since you looked a little preoccupied. Now I can’t help myself. Anyway, I read your latest novel, Deadly Pathogen. When’s the next book coming out?”
Dean released himself from the handshake. “That’s the last of them. I’m going back to my roots with my next release. Think I’ve got a novel about the Caymans in me.”
“What a shame,” the man said. “I’ll miss those intricate medical stories. You really pumped them out.”
“Not anymore,” Dean said. “In fact, I may be working on a second book, too, one that deals with a lost soul trying to win back his wife after beating a life-long addiction.”
“That sounds moving, Mr. Faller. I’ll keep my eyes open for that one! So long, it was a pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Dean replied.
As Dean went through the door Jane called out to him. “I hope you feel better, Mr. Faller.”
Dean turned and faced her. “I already do.”