Dust motes in the sunlight create a narrow galaxy of stars between the window and floor.
A foot enters the light, breaking the spell. It squeaks as I follow it through the innards of Konradsberg Hospital. The sound dies before a door labelled, ‘Dr Magnusson’.
The year is 1946, and I have been here for eight years. My therapy has been two-fold. I was committed in 1938 by an uncle, after an incident at work triggered an onset of schizophrenia. The fact that I have no uncles and hysterically cited coercion did little to prove my sanity, but instead cemented the diagnosis for all white coats involved.
Following a prescription of Electroshock Therapy – a method of treatment introduced that very year by Italian doctors – I experienced amnesia for the first time. Since 1939, my therapy has been aimed at recalling that which was lost, in order to prove the Italian treatment effective, and that I am indeed healed.
To date, my progress has been slight. I am able to remember everything preceding the onset. Thereafter, my mind is a hollow cave; empty save the echoes of what was.
My name is Eva.
I was born and raised in Sweden, by parents who died shortly after I graduated from Lund University with a degree in physics, in 1928.
It was an exciting time in physics, particularly for a young woman who had come first in a class comprising only men.
I was a pioneer.
In 1929, everything changed. The Great Depression meant that expensive niche markets, like physics, no longer received international funding. However, towards the end of the next decade, science was a booming industry. I was on the verge of a momentous breakthrough before all this happened. If only I could remember – my notebooks and work are gone forever. The closest I have come to evoking these memories has not been through any form of therapy, but rather through a series of abstract dreams, which Dr. Magnusson has finally and resignedly agreed to work on.
Following every session, Dr. Magnusson sighs…
… and shakes his head in response to the raised eyebrows belonging to Nurse Agata, of the squeaky shoes.
Were he not so intent on proving the success of Electroshock Therapy, I believe he would have long ago ceased our sessions, and left my recovery to the multi-coloured pills handed to me each morning.
These same pills are slowly bloating the entrails of my pillow, where I hoard them, squirrel-like. The duration of my incarceration has led to less-than-interested syringes and squeaky shoes. I no longer warrant close examination; my presence is like a moth overhead, clicking into a bulb to demand notice, but inciting no response.
Besides, these pharmaceutical nuts make my brain hazy, thoughts stuttering. Knowing full-well that I am sane, and in an effort to thwart total brain rot, I decided to seek out my own cure.
While I am currently isolated for deviating realities, I was previously isolated for deviating beliefs.
It is a difficult task for a physical scientist to entertain a fascination with the non-physical. In doing so, I was scorned by my peers. While microscopes may have hovered over such beliefs, my research was scrutinised solely because it was making great strides; rumoured even to have piqued the interest of the Americans.
Particle physics, like most of society at the time, was male dominated. If I had been less arrogant, I would have drawn less attention to myself. While I do not recall the ‘uncle’ who committed me, I strongly suspect that the entire ordeal had something to do with my being a woman; a fact which many a colleague and critic found distasteful, and a blight on science. When I initially expressed as much to Dr. Magnusson, he nodded patronisingly and insisted on another shock treatment.
‘An additional advantage of this method,’ he drawled as he inserted a wooden bit into my mouth – to prevent me from swallowing my own tongue – ‘is its ability to cure hysteria.’
I don’t remember anything he may have said after the electric current passed.
After several such treatments, my brain began to morph into sheep’s wool, and my nerves to matchsticks. I was no longer sleeping and my speech slurred, as though unsure of itself. Eventually, I could no longer remember details preceding the incident. I struggled to recall aspects of my work which I had previously known as though instinct; they came to me as easily as breathing.
Despite my regression, the white coats and clipboards of Sweden and Italy were hesitant to stop the treatments, for fear of the discovery’s future stopping along with the electricity. In order to prove the success of the programme, my treatment was shifted to haphazard attempts at hurriedly piecing together the fragments of my mind and memories.
Dr. Magnusson’s therapy is based on Freud’s psychoanalysis; what it amounts to is hour after hour of tedious speeches, which herald his opinions masked as my diagnosis.
However, his egomania is not the only impediment to my progress. His vanity expressed that the incident was a natural reaction by my super-ego to the unnatural path I, as a woman, stubbornly followed; a path paved by and reserved for men.
Needless to say, I thought little of these methods and speeches. This led me to my own therapy, facilitated by the hours I spent trapped, with no company save my own splintered thoughts. My mind’s mist began to clear soon after I began to repurpose my medication for stuffing, providing a new yet refreshing nightly discomfort.
Thereafter, through intensive meditation and self-hypnosis, the broken shards of my porcelain thoughts began to take shape once again.
Fitful dreams and intense introspection restored all except the hollow grotto reserved for the disturbance which evaded me. For months, frustration welled within me, materialising as silver atop my head and crevices in my skin; the final resting place for bitter tears.
I am back in Dr. Magnusson’s office.
His voice drones before me, interrupting the silence of the room.
I imagine the musical notes of his speech, hard and flat, dropping to the floor and causing ripples in their highly polished reflections. He has been delivering this soliloquy for an age, seeming to have forgotten my presence, charmed only by his own voice.
He was initially spurred on by a dream I had had about my work. I believe that he is telling me that I ought to resign myself to the fact that I was never destined for science, as I obviously (present conditions considered) am unable to handle the strain of such an undertaking.
He is rattling off a list of admirable men who have made worthwhile contributions to the sciences without suffering a breakdown, citing Freud and Einstein, when something happens.
Dr. Magnusson’s rumble has been replaced by an insistent ringing in my ears.
The pitch and volume increase, and I cover my ears with my hands in frustration, failing to block out the sound from within. At this, the murmuring before me stops, the doctor’s brows arching enough to risk disappearing into his hairline. His mouth forms shapes I know represent my name, but I hear nothing.
I fall from my seat as he rises from his.
I see only his shoes, so close to my face that their polished surfaces reflect my bulging eyes. However, all of this is irrelevant. Dr. Magnusson, his hard floor, and this entire hospital mean nothing.
I know about Einstein’s achievements, for I have met him.
I know how greatly he contributed to science in the last decade, because I remember everything.
I met Einstein after the Americans heard of my work, when they approached me to partake in a project birthed in reaction to the influence of Nazi Germany. The progress I was making would greatly assist them in their endeavours to develop an atomic bomb, and end the Nazi threat. However, my failure to participate, while unexpected, did not stop a group of men from entering my office after hours, stealing my work and assaulting me, before having me committed to my current prison.
Less than a decade later, on 16 July 1945, the Trinity Bomb test was undertaken – made possible by my research. It concluded with J. Robert Oppenheimer’s famous exclamation, ‘I am become death, destroyer of worlds.’
I tried to tell Dr. Magnusson as much as I could, stumbling over the words in my excitement, my voice loud and quick. Before I could finish, the room began to darken and everything became slow and thick, including my own voice.
Then, everything stopped.
Standing over me, syringe in hand, Dr. Magnusson was speaking to Nurse Agata, who he had summoned during my episode.
‘She became hysterical and had a seizure; raving. She remembers, but it’s all nonsense.’
Agata’s expression of confusion prompted a soft response.
‘Best schedule another electroshock treatment, and call the Italians.’
Samantha Gibb studied theory of literature and creative writing in her undergrad degree, and moved on to do an honour’s degree in publishing studies. She is a bibliophile to the core, and keeps herself happy by writing and reviewing books.