Lithium

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It starts with knowing everything. No, not knowing everything, but knowing that everyting is possible. Or that anything is probable.

Like I know you will see me. Because it is an emergency, or a favour for a friend, or a mercy mission, or just because your interest is piqued. The reason doesn’t matter.

In the end, it is because you are a friend of the family. So that is the route I take.

“Come in then. How can I help you?”

Your office is lovely. Wainscoting. A comfortable, non-leather chair for me. A desk and a more supportive chair for you. A de rigeur couch. It is warm. It is comfortable.

“I think I may be having hallucinations.”

I feel safe here. An office is an office. The variations are subtle enough not to hurt, not to occupy too much mental real estate. A chair is a chair.

You die in that chair. Carbon monoxide poisoning, of all things.
You don’t die here.

“Are you currently on any medication,” you say after we sit.

Straight to the nucleus of the issue.

I laugh at your first question.
I don’t find your first question funny. Shouldn’t you know this already?

“Yes,” I giggle. “Lithium.”

You make a note.

“What is so funny about lithium,” you say. Not in an accusatory tone. More like you need a laugh too and you want to share in the joke with a friend.

We are not friends.
We are friends.

“I am taking non-quadripolar lithium. For my non-bipolar disorder.”

“I’m afraid I’m not familiar with the term quadripolar,” you say.

You are not my doctor.
You are my doctor.

I shake my head. Mistake.
“I am taking something else now.”

“Oh, really? What are you taking?”

“A more relaxed form of lithium. Less spinny.”

“Who gave you this form of lithium?”

“A colleague, here at the university.”

“A psychiatrist? A doctor?”

“A physicist.”

You take the call about your first grandchild here. It is a little girl, Jocelyn. Her picture is on your desk, next to those of your husband and son.
There are only two pictures on your desk.

“I’m not sure it’s wise for you to be taking drugs prescribed by anyone other than a doctor.”

“Everyone knows that Coca-Cola used to contain cocaine, but did you know that 7UP used to contain lithium citrate?”

“I’m sorry, I’m not sure…”

“What if I am not bipolar? What would lithium do? To my brain, I mean.”

You cry here when you get back from the hospital after Erwin is diagnosed.
You telephone your son to tell him his dad got the all-clear.

“Well, it is quite toxic. It would depend on the dose and I would have to look up the specific effects. I haven’t prescribed it in years. But it could damage your kidneys, cognition, there can be heart complications.”

You pause.

“Tell me about these hallucinations. Are they visual? Auditory?”

“It is not like a vision. It feels more like a reflex action, automatic, like mental arithmetic. It feels like a lock tumbler falling into place. It feels ‘correct’.”

You like how the last ‘t’ in ‘correct’ reverberates around the room. Rooms.

“So you do not see anything? Or hear anything?”

“No. I described it to Kurt as like when I was a boy, my dog was run over and I was so upset. And I woke up the next morning and my mind was for a moment perfectly balanced between him being alive and dead. And then the memory kicks in and you face the reality. But now my memory never kicks in. The balance never tips.”

“Lithium can affect the memory. Who is Kurt?”

You open the acceptance letter for your book in this office.
You open the rejection letter for your book here.

“Kurt? He is the colleague, the physicist.”

You lean forward now. Worried, it looks like.

“And what did he give you? This is important.”

You explain all this to my mother in this room. She is crying.
You sit here smoking a cigarette, staring out the window at the campus.

“He said it was a new form of lithium. He wanted to test its efficacy.”

“And you are sure he was a physicist? Not a pharmacologist, or a chemist?”

“Yes. We met in the physics building, at least.”

You turn to the laptop on the desk. You tap on the keyboard. It doesn’t take long until I see Kurt’s face on your screen. I cannot read the text from here, but I can see the crest and colours of the university website. You start tapping again.

If I sit absolutely still, the multiplicity seems to shrink by the most fractional amount. Or perhaps the proportion of eventualities that show this room empty expand, floating to the surface of my mind, pushing the rest over the edge of a pool. Not gone, but deeper. It is a form of peace.

Eventually, you stop tapping.

“Was it lithium 6? Was that it? There is something here about a discrepancy in the efficacy of salts made using different isotopes.”

Kurt had been honest with me that it was something more exotic, mildly radioactive. But the options are winnowing, you are on the right track.

“It was not lithium 6. It was something he made. I also took a lot of phosphorous supplements.”

More tapping. I can see I am not really a patient. That is OK. It is the mystery I want you to be concerned with, not my welfare. It’s too late for that.

Before you scroll down the screen to the paper about biological qbits, the telephone rings. You answer.

You listen. You talk. You stop listening. You hang up.

“Did you kill him?”

“Kurt?”

“Yes, Kurt.”

I don’t know how to explain it to you. What he planned, or possibly planned. Probably planned. You grow impatient.

“There are only two possibilities: yes or no.”

“Well, that is not strictly true.”

About the Author: 
Finbarr O'Reilly is an Irish writer living in Lincolnshire. He has been published in Clarkesworld magazine and has a story in the forthcoming edition of Gardner Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction 35.