The Subject


The Subject: Female. Caucasian. 19 years old. Reasonable physical health. No known history of mental illness.
     Duration of research: Seventy-two days.
     The cursor winked.
      Abby crash-stumbled through the door. I glanced up from my psych paper. She teetered and thumped against the wall, her hair a mess of confused tendrils, black mascara bleeding from her eyes. Not again.
     “I’m show drunk.” She slumped forward, slurping air, then crashed to her knees, clawing her way to the bathroom. “Totally gonna puke.” She heaved over the toilet—I hoped.
     I wiped fog from the window above my desk and peered down at the gardens below. Teardrop street lamps lit Rutger Hall Commons. Long shadows stretched behind a few students—returning late from study group or the campus pub—their heads down, collars up to fend off the brisk air threading its way through the city.
     Abby heaved again. A moment later she emerged and fell face down on her bed. “Remind me never to do that again.” She curled her arms under her chest and sank into the pillow. A moment later she breathed slow and even, exhaling beer and cigarettes.
     I picked up the blanket crumpled on the floor and covered her, put in my ear buds and stared at the computer screen.
The subject is high energy. Easily distracted. High speed language. Bounces from subject to subject. Exhibits childlike behaviour.
     My first day at Rutger Hall I walked into my dorm room and found the girl sitting cross-legged on the bed—inside a burgundy suitcase, a rainbow belt stretched across her thighs—reading a dog-eared copy of War and Peace.
     I dropped my bags in the doorway and compared the room number to the scrap paper clutched in my hand.
     The girl snapped the book closed and smiled then unstrapped the belt and bounded from the suitcase. “I’m Abby. Looks like just you and me, Roomie.”
     Abby—unblemished skin, tiny, too close together eyes and a pinched nose, wearing leopard print leggings and an orange shirt that fell past her bum.
     “Corrina. Corrine. Corri.” Kind of like she was sampling cheese. “I like it.”
     She tugged my bags into the room and heaved them onto the empty bed. “This is yours.” She plopped onto the naked mattress.
     Harsh light flooded the room drowning the two beds and side by side desks.
     “Is this all your stuff?” Abby looked from me to the bags.
     I nodded.
     “Doesn’t seem like much.” She started to unzip the first bulging bag.
     “Don’t.” I lurched forward.
     She pulled back her hands in surrender. “No need to get snippy. Sheesh.”
     I shook my head. “It’s fine.”
     Abby ejected from the bed as if I never said a word. “That’s your dresser. That’s mine. You can have this side of the closet, since it’s closer to your bed. Right. Left. Ying. Yang.” Her head darted back and forth. “Where you from? I’m from Golden. You know where that is? Probably not. No one knows the small places. Are you uber stoked about school? I am.” She grabbed my hand and pulled me into the bathroom. “It’s not much but has the usual stuff. Cold water. Hot water. Sink. Tub. Toilet.” Abby made a point of touching each item as she spoke. She opened a small cupboard over the toilet. “You can have this shelf. I’ll take the top one since I’m taller. I already got butt paper. You can pay me half whenever.” She waved her hand in the air as if swatting an annoying fly then scrambled from the bathroom.
     “What’re you doing, pokey poke?” Abby reappeared in the doorway. She folded her arms and leaned against the frame. “You never said where you’re from?”
     Her mouth formed an O but no sound came out. “Yikies. That’s clear across the country.”
     I smiled a hopelessly fake smile.
     I flipped through my journals. Note after note. Events. Episodes. Not exactly what I planned but innocent enough in concept. On the flight from Halifax to Calgary, anxious about being away from home for the first time, I decided to journal. Every experience, no matter how trivial would be neatly documented.
     Abby rolled over in her sleep. Under the dull glow of my desk lamp I noticed the dark stain on the pillow where drool leached into the fabric. She breathed a half-snore.
The subject has not slept in 72 hours. She scribbles excessively in a notebook muttering about big plans to save the world. The end of days. Mid grade irritation if she is not taken seriously.
     I woke to the violent screech of my alarm. In that groggy state between wake and sleep, I rolled over, slapping the clock mute.
     “Jesus Christ.” I bolted up in bed.
     Abby crouched on my desk chair like a frog eyeing breakfast. Unblinking. She hopped off the chair. “Thought you might be dead.”
     I swung my legs around and wiped sleep crusts from my eyes.
     “I’m wrangling other students to build a boat for when the floods come. Check it.” She thrust a pink journal at me.
     I pushed her away.
     “What’s your problem?”
     Abby was gone by the time I got out of the shower. Even the room seemed relieved. I towel dried my hair and ran my fingers through it, shaking out the tangles. No makeup. No fuss.
     Crossing the gardens, I studied the campus map, even turned it upside down, but all the buildings looked the same.
The subject operates on a continuous loop. To paraphrase Newton, everything that goes up, will inevitably come down. Rapid cycling?
     I weaved my way through the crowded student hall to the Timmie’s coffee kiosk like a bloodhound seeking a downed quail. The air more caffeinated than me.
     Abby sat alone at a table, scribbling furiously in her pink notebook. She rocked back and forth, head down, tearing pages, erasing, and writing. What would it be this time?
     Clusters of students stood around her, talking in hushed whispers. Every now and again one would look her way then back to the group and laugh.
     At the next table a guy I recognized from my behavioural psych class waved me over.
     “Isn’t that your roommate?” He motioned to the seat beside him.
     I didn’t say anything.
     “Is she always like that?”
     I shook my head. Sometimes worse, I thought. Rarely better.
     “She’d make an interesting study for the term paper.”
     “I couldn’t possibly.”
     “Why not?”
     Campus Security appeared.
     Man one, “Come on, Abigail.” He offered his hand.
     Abby, “I drew schematics.” She showed them the open page in front of her.
     Man two. “You’ve been here all day. Time to go.”
     Abby’s eyes darkened. She stood, arms draped through theirs, hanging like a deflated balloon.
            After periods of erratic behaviour, obsessed thoughts and high volume drinking, the subject spirals into sadness and melancholy. Sleeps for days. Doesn’t leave the room. Suicidal threats. No actions observed.
     The next morning, Abby was still asleep when I grabbed my journal and headed outside. Snow whirling and twisted around me. But it wasn’t cold. I brushed a bench clear and sat down to write. Abby consumes my thoughts. Even in sleep. Endless sheets of rain. A faceless woman wrapped in a gray blanket, watching the fog roll in on Halifax Harbour. The sun drowning in thick mist. Her or me? Me or her? I glanced up at the dorm window—third from the right, four floors up. Something felt wrong.
     Back in the room, I saw darkness. Fiery pixels. Abby in front of my laptop. Sobbing.
     She turned slowly. Her eyes reflecting my stunned silence. “This.”
     I took a step forward. A series of interconnected neurons stinging me from the inside. No words.
     “Is me?” Her words, slow and even.
     Another step forward. “It’s not what you think.”
     “You’re writing about me? Is that what I am? A subject?”
     I slammed the laptop shut. “What are you doing looking at my stuff? It’s none of your business.” Bad. I knew it. Said it anyway.
     She stood. Put on a jacket but no shoes. “I thought you were my friend.” Her voice maintained peaceful resignation as she headed for the door.
     “Where are you going?”
     “You can’t go outside like that.”
     But she did.
     “Abby.” I grabbed my phone and ran after her. Abby didn’t go outside though. Instead, she took the stairs to the rooftop patio.
     “What are you doing?”
     “Giving you something to write about.” She leaned over the sandstone half wall. “It’s not that far.”
     “Come back from there.” I started to cry. “Please. I’m sorry.”
     She pulled a snow covered chair to the wall to boost herself onto the ledge.
     I looked at the phone clutched in my hand then back at Abby—Abby. Phone. Abby. Phone—and dialled.
Suicidal threats. No actions observed. Attempt made. Subject taken to hospital.
     The cursor winked. I dare you.



Robin’s short stories and book reviews have appeared in various publications including FreeFall Magazine, Routes, Alberta Views, Prairie Journal, Crack the Spine and other anthologies. She lives in Calgary, Alberta, where she eats, sleeps and breathes words.


Cover Photo: Audrey Knight (