For a moment the young man looked at his host in disbelief, eyes wide open in shock. Whimpering he rolled over and vomited on the delicate Persian rug.
“It hurts,” he cried, “it hurts! It bloody hurts!”
“Focus! You need to focus!”
“I cannot focus you crazy maniac! You’re going too fast! What are you gonna do next, chop off my arm?”
“You’re yelling again, Burke. You need to stay calm. Your mind is slipping, you cannot let that happen. You’re behaving like an angry little boy who just lost a football match and blames the game for going too fast. Each game has a set of rules, my friend, which you cannot change. 90 minutes, one half-time. You either prove yourself in that period or you don’t. If you lose you just play again. Persistence, dear Burke, will eventually turn into success. That is pure math. And now take a deep breath.”
The young man closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“Now hold your breath,” the doctor instructed. “Hold it. Five, four, three, two, one – exhale.”
The young man exhaled. They repeated the process until his chest heaved in a slow and regular rhythm. He opened his eyes. Blood was gashing out of his hand and left a dark stain on the floor.
“Very good, Burke, you’re doing just fine, I’m delighted. Now, my friend, sit up. You’re in control.” The doctor got up and went to the bar to get the bottle of Bourbon. “I do feel, however, that we have just crossed a very important line in our work, which I did not intend to do so quickly but which was inevitably going to happen at some point. The lines tend to blur, our pain is never separated cleanly. We rarely ever encounter only one kind of pain at a time, it’s usually a blend of different experiences – some are physical, some are emotional. So I suppose the sooner we get to it the better.”
“I’m not sure I understand exactly what you mean, Norton. The pain in my hand is…was…is…quite dominant. I don’t think I perceive any other kind of pain – any other kind of feeling in fact – at the moment.”
“That’s because you still do not listen to your feelings – be it corporal or mental. First listen and perceive, then control. The moment I stabbed you and you looked me in the eyes, what did you feel? What did you think?”
“I…I thought…well. I was surprised, you caught me off guard!”
“Surprised? You mean surprised as you would have been surprised by a person you hadn’t seen in a decade ringing your doorbell unannounced?”
“Maybe surprised is not the right word. I don’t know exactly.”
“Would shocked describe it?”
“Shocked, yes, I was shocked!”
“And what exactly were you thinking?”
“I was thinking ‘this man is crazy and insane!’”
“Very good, very good! Don’t hold back, my friend, what else?”
“I thought ‘this man is a maniac and I have to get away from here as quickly as possible before he kills me!’” The young man started to raise his voice again.
“Yes, Burke, very good! And I hear you’re raising your voice again. Why, if I may ask, do you feel the need to yell?”
“Why do I feel the need to yell? Because I am in pain, Norton, and because I am angry and surprised, no shocked!”
“See, Burke, this is exactly what I mean. Right now your physical pain is starting to mix with emotional discomfort, such as shock and anger and possibly even a sense of insecurity.”
“Yes, very well analyzed, Doctor,” he replied sarcastically. He paused for a moment. “But I see what you mean. It makes sense, now that you are pointing it out.” He took another deep breath to calm himself down. “I apologize for yelling at you. I should not be angry with you; I suppose that was just an initial, uncontrolled outbreak. The frustration should really be directed towards myself, and my inability to be in control.”
“Apology accepted,” the doctor grinned. “Your reaction is completely understandable. But I am thrilled to see that you have the capacity to comprehend where it is coming from, very good. Everything else will fall into place soon as well. But now, dear Burke, I have to ask you: Do you enjoy our little experiment? Do you feel safe?”
The young man reached for the bottle and took a large swallow. He looked at the throbbing wound in his palm and poured the remaining third of the bottle over his hand. “Do I enjoy it? That is hard to say, Norton. But man is not always driven by pleasure, but more often by curiosity. I do not believe that mankind’s greatest achievements were based on enjoyment. We are driven by a thirst for knowledge, not for joy. We all would choose the apple over grapes. We all spend a good while of our lives in a lulled state of contentment. But when we wake up our heads hurt and we start looking for a cure. Curiosity has helped mankind find it. As for your second question: No, dear friend, I do not feel safe at all. But does that matter in the end? I do not think so.”
“No, Burke, of course it does not! Are we ever safe? No, we are not! What we have to learn is to control our insecurity. I am elated, we are making great progress, and it is a joy to see you understand so quickly. You cannot control anything – You cannot control me, I cannot control you, we cannot control what is happening around us. But we can control our reaction towards it; we can control our feeling towards it.”
The doctor got up to fetch a new bottle, rummaged around in the cupboard and returned with an unopened bottle of liquor and two fresh glasses. He handed one to his guest and generously poured him of the amber colored beverage. A pungent smell began to rise from the Persian, at which he sneered. “Despite all, no need to turn into Barbarians,” he smiled, toasted to the young man, and raised his glass to his blood covered face.
The young man held the glass in his still intact hand, smelled the rich scent of his drink. “How very right you are,” he replied almost absently, took a small sip and enjoyed the affluent taste on his palate before slowly swallowing the liquid. He calmly put down his glass, picked up the empty bottle and smashed its bottom on the little mahogany side table. He was completely composed as he looked at the doctor, got up on his feet and raised the shattered bottle above his head.
“What are you doing, Burke?”
“I am taking control.”