Dr. Issei was meeting with the most challenging patient in his life. Her name: Yukino Nagawa. Age six. Born in Hiroshima, New Japan in the year 2991CE. Yukino was indeed one of the special cases: every attempt to diagnose her disorder had been met with failure.
In the village of the Black Paper people, the specters of twisting breathing fabric danced amongst the fog secreting lanterns, humming their songs as it vibrated through their beings. They twisted into soft circles and spiraled into sharp squares, squashing into high shapes and stretching into low ones. Most would have run away in horror or had at least become too dizzy to watch, but not the little girl, sitting on the edge of their little village, watching in fascination but too shy to come close.
As she watched, she felt something grab and shake her. She could not see the hand and she began to panic. Before she could scream, she was paralyzed by an unknown force. Struggling and grunting, she finally gave up when she realized what was happening.
She was waking up.
In an apartment, Ms. Nagawa shook her daughter awake.
"Yukino, it's time for the appointment," she said.
Japan...no, the world had made great bounds and leaps in the field of psychiatry: mapping the brain, decrypting chemical readouts, reading behaviors and above all, 'curing' them. Of course, even with today's medicine, not all mental ailments could be gotten rid of, but with disabilities such as autism, shyness and anxiety just a few pills away from total erasure, it would only be a matter of time before all mental deficiencies were gotten rid of.
Of course, there is a down to every upside: every human body is different, and as diagnosis became more refined, so did the medication needed for each patient. One milligram of a special medicine to treat depression could throw a person who needed only half a milligram out of whack in the skull, leading to symptoms from 'mild nausea' to 'total psychotic breakdown.' This was why the ShikoPlus was invented: a machine that could diagnose every known disorder and read what treatment was necessary to bring a person back to normalcy. The machine itself was just a portable helmet that had sensors lining the inside that read brain functions. Every nineteen patients out of twenty had been successfully diagnosed. It was usually Issei who was in charge of the last remaining patient.
Dr. Issei specialized in talk therapy, an old but necessary method to diagnose those who could not...or would not...use the ShikoPlus. Some patients' brains were not compatible with the helmet, and as a result produced no read out. It was then up to Issei to use trial and error to find the correct diagnosis and to let the patient's physicians take care of the prescriptions. The rest of the patients, however, just found it too embarrassing to use the helmet. Throughout history, the mentally impaired were ostracized, and these times were no different. Some patients found shame in wearing the helmet, or would be afraid that someone they knew would find out they used it. There was even a hushed, derogatory nickname for the ShikoPlus. The YanDome, which sometimes translated to Crazy Cap. Issei could get even the most stubborn of clients to eventually use the ShikoPlus after ensuring that there was no shame in using it nor would there be a violation of privacy, and that's why Yukino had been assigned to him: she would not wear the cap no matter what. Both the doctors and her mother had thought that its touch had caused immense discomfort, and that she seemed to be deathly afraid of it. Right off the bat Issei had thought 'Autism or Asperger's' when he read the report about her, but he was still legally bound to make absolutely sure that this was the problem with her, lest everyone involved face a malpractice lawsuit.
And so it was that Issei waited in his office for his new patient to arrive. His secretary's voice crackle on the intercom.
“Dr. Issei, your six o' clock is here.”
“Send her in, Miss Nosa,” Issei responded.
Ms. Nagawa glanced at the rearview mirror out of habit and saw nothing in the backseat.
That's right, she had Yukino sit in front this time around. She wanted to give her daughter comfort concerning this 'new development.'
Ms. Nagawa fidgeted in her seat as she thought carefully about what she would say to her daughter.
A few nights ago, she sat Yukino down at the dinner table and tried to discuss what was going to happen. She spoke about how mommy was worried for her, that she wanted Yukino to be happy and have friends and grow up to be a loving, caring person, and that she would not leave her alone with an adult that wasn't friendly. Yukino nodded her head to please her, but Nagawa knew that she didn't really understand the weight of the situation or what they were trying to do.
The antsy mother tried not to shake her leg while driving. Her mother had always told her not to do that, or people would stare at her.
Right now, Yukino was just staying quiet and staring off into space, ignoring her new surroundings. The change in scenery and routine did nothing to phase her or pique her interest. She wasn't even looking out the window for the new buildings. Ms. Nagawa put her eyes back on the road, trying not to look like she was judging her own kid. A lot of children her age should be looking at the buildings and landmarks as they passed by on a trip so that they could judge how far they were from home on the way back, but not once had Ms. Nagawa seen Yukino do anything like that.
Kids did that right? Adults did it too, so Yukino should be following suit.
“What do you want to listen to on the radio?” she asked.
Yukino turned. “I don't know.”
“Well, what kind of music do you listen to?”
“I don't listen to any kind of music.” She looked down a little, almost on the verge of spacing out back into her own little world.
“Mom's just going to put on some jazz.”
“Okay.” Yukino looked to have barely registered her mother's statement.
Soothing piano music permeated the front of the car shortly thereafter.
“How was school yesterday?”
“The same,” she responded. It was always the same, both Yukino's school day and this conversation.
Nagawa pressed the subject anyway. Maybe this time she'll get something out of her daughter other than 'nothing special' or 'the same.'
“Really? What happened?”
“I dunno'. It was just the same.” Yukino also never told what
the same meant.
Fine, then Nagawa will just have to take the lead.
“Well, what did the teacher teach?”
“Math,” she replied timidly. Her arms were laying on her lap.
“Oh. That's good. What did you do then?”
“We had a test. I got a 10.”
Nagawa's eyebrows raised for a fraction of a second. Was her kid also...
“A ten? How many questions were there?”
There was a prolonged silence in the car as Nagawa managed to blank out every possible subject for school that could have been talked about.
“I'm very proud of you honey!” Nagawa mustered up the most enthusiasm she ever felt for being able to count numbers. Yukino looked at the car door. Ms. Nagawa raised a mental white flag and drove the rest of the way in silence. If there was one thing she knew, it was that talking about Yukino was off-limits for Yukino.
When they arrived, their destination was a clean, white building that was two stories tall. They entered through the front and spoke with the secretary.
“Oh hi, Ms. Nagawa! And how are you today?”
She didn't answer the question. No way she could say 'fine' after having just pondered whether the love of her life was stupid or not on top of worrying about her mental condition.
“I'm just here to sign in my daughter,” she said and smiled politely.
“Okay, sure. Let me just buzz you in.”
She pressed the button on the intercom. “Dr. Issei, your 6 o'clock is here.”
“Send her in Miss Nosa,” Issei's voice crackled from the other side. The secretary buzzed the door into the main offices open.
Dr. Issei had always left his door open so that he was visible to the patients as they came in. The security door buzzed and Ms. Nagawa walked her daughter into the office. A small thing, less than 4 feet high, Yukino was dressed in blue slacks and a white shirt. Her hair was cut short and she was remarkably pale. The meaning of Yukino's name was 'Snowy Field.' She certainly lived up to that description.
Ms. Nagawa leaned down and met her daughter in the eye.
“Okay, sweety, I'll be right outside if you need anything.” Yukino gave her mom a small hug.
“I love you,” she said, like she was saying good-bye forever. That was okay. The young ones usually don't get used to strangers too quickly, but Issei could usually loosen them up after a few sessions. What Issei's observant mind immediately noticed was that Yukino barely spoke above a whisper, a totally withdrawn voice and lifestyle. The file on her had mentioned that she was often 'gloomy and vapid.'
Ms. Nagawa gave a quick wave and smile to the good doctor and headed out. Yukino stood in the middle of the room, unsure of what she should be doing.
“Hello there. How are you?” Dr. Issei leaned forward and smiled, but made sure not to get into her face with his friendliness. He wanted her welcomed, not smothered.
“I'm okay.” She avoided eye contact and looked at the floor.
“Why don't you have a seat and get comfy?” Issei offered, directing to the couch. Yukino climbed on and plopped onto where the cushions sink down, looking like she'd fall into the couch at any moment now.
“Tell me a little about yourself Yukino.” Always proactive, never apprehensive or disinterested. That was how Issei would always handle his cases.
She stared. She couldn't think of anything to say. No worries, just lead her on and she'll get more comfortable.
“Say, how old are you?”
“Oh, so you're getting on in years.”
That stare again. Over her head. Poor choice in a joke.
“What's it like being six?”
“I'm smarter, I guess.”
“Really? How smart are you?”
She fidgeted a little and broke eye contact. “I got a perfect score on my test.”
The report on her also said that she was having trouble in school, partially from having trouble getting up in the morning and partially from being bullied by other kids. Personally, Dr. Issei had also laid blame at Ms. Nagawa's feet for not disciplining her daughter enough. He had heard she was being raised in a 'study-free' environment.
“How good for you! What was it about?”
“Numbers. I can write up to ten.”
Dr. Issei pulled out a sheet of paper and some pencils.
“Why don't you draw them for me?”
“Am I going to be tested again?”
“No, not if you don't want to.”
Yukino took the items anyway and wrote on the end table beside the couch. After a few moments, she finished and gave it back to the doctor. He looked it over.
She can count. Well, that's one thing she can fell confident about.
“That's very good of you.”
“I knew I could do it.” She spoke as though she had done nothing of importance. That's interesting. Usually praise rubbed kids in the right way.
“Yukino, what makes you happy?”
She raised her eyebrows a little, then thought about the question. For three minutes.
“How about this Yukino: What makes you feel good?”
She pondered for another minute.
“I don't know the right answer,” she finally replied.
“You're not being tested. Any answer you give is okay.”
“I know, but I think I don't like lying.”
This one had the strangest answers. Not especially worrisome yet, but strange. Perhaps this one had delusions of grandeur? A self-inflicted burden of being perfect and always right?
“You think you don't like lying?”
“I thought about it a little.”
“Why don't you like lying?”
“Because it will make me feel bad.”
“I see. Why would that happen?”
“I dunno'. That's just what would happen.”
A slight pause as Dr. Issei tried to think of the next topic.
“Can I build a house?” Yukino asked.
“Oh. Sure.” Issei pointed to some blocks scattered in a basket on the game shelf. Instead, Yukino began gathering all the pillows she could from the couches and placed them around herself. It only covered up to her waist. She added on the cushions as well, and propped up the cushions so that one was at her back and two at her sides, like a tent, then stacked the pillows within the v-shaped area of the cushions to make a kind of wall. Only her eyes were visible through the opening.
“I've never seen anyone play house like that before.” Issei was genuinely a little perplexed and amused. Most parents nowadays had discouraged their kids to doing this by now.
“I do it all the time at my house. I use blankets and pillows though. I also like to do it in a closet sometimes.”
“Why do you go into the closet Yukino?” Issei wanted to make sure she wasn't hiding from her mother.
“I just like it in there. It's dark and I'm all comfy.” That last sentence is accompanied by her smiling a little and hugging herself. So she did have a comfort zone.
“My mom doesn't like it though. One time she came home at night and I fell asleep in there. When she opened the door she screamed and thought I was an animal or something. Then she told me I couldn't do it anymore because she said sleeping in dark and small places were for rabbits. I would've told her I was in there if I was awake, but I messed up.”
“Yukino, you don't need to blame yourself. I'm sure your mother isn't even bothered by it.”
“But I was supposed to know.”
Yukino was a zealous type A. If it continued to be focused on self-blame, this was not good for her well being. Issei made a mental note to steer that personality type to something more constructive.
“Yukino, it's okay that sometimes bad things happen and make mistakes. It's how we learn.”
Yukino looked confused.
“Okay,” she finally commented. Another conversation over her head. She'll learn when she's older anyway. Let's change the subject to...
“Yukino, what do you like to do?”
“Let me say that again: what is your favorite thing to do at school?”
She thought a little. “I like drawing time. I can be by myself and do my own thing.”
“I see. What kind of things do you draw in class?”
“I draw people and grass and animals, and sometimes,” she leaned forward and whispered “even monsters.
“Ooooh. What kind of monsters?”
“Scary ones. With lots of...lots of...,” she searched for the words, “Wiggly legs.”
“Yeah. And also black monsters that are like paper.”
A portrait from her psyche could help in his diagnosis. Issei got the paper and some crayons this time. “Could you draw them for me?”
“Okay.” She set them down on the table and really got into her work, taking six minutes to complete it all. She used up a good chunk of the black crayon. Black is actually the only color she used.
She gave the paper back to him.
On the page are what looked like squiggly, blobby patches of black. One was unidentifiable, another looked to be a scowling person with big, round ears, another a stack of laundry with small ears and the last shape slightly resembles a...
“Those wiggly legs are called tentacles. Squids and octopus have them.”
“Oh! Like the kind you eat.”
Issei chuckled. “Yes, like that.”
“Ew. I've been eating slimy things.”
Issei laughed at that. “Don't worry, the food makers make sure to clean it all up before they serve it to you. Do you like drawing these kind of things?”
“I think it's okay, although the teacher makes sure I don't draw anything scary again.”
“What did you draw that looked so scary?”
“What people really look like.”
That could be something of note.
“Could you draw me a picture of what we all really look like?”
“Will I get in trouble again?”
“I just want to see how you see things. There's no wrong way to do that.” And even if there was a wrong way, it could be easily remedied.
Yukino hesitated a little when given the drawing materials again, then spent two minutes scratching down on the desk and paper. When she was done, she handed it back.
The 'people' in the paper barely looked like people at all. They had arms and legs for sure, but...their eyes and faces were gaping red holes, and they had wheels on their feet. The backs of their heads were broken and out of those holes came wires, which led up and out of the page. The arms and legs even looked funny: they were square and blocky, like wood.
Dr. Issei looked over at Yukino.
“Is this what they look like all the time?”
Yukino shook her head. “Only sometimes, when they're showing how they really look.”
“Do I look like that right now?”
Yukino glanced to the side. “Only a little.”
She really didn't look comfortable with lying.
The session ended a little early, but only so that Dr. Issei can talk with Ms. Nagawa. Yukino was given a coloring book in the lobby while she waited.
“What's wrong with her? What will she need?” Ms. Nagawa was wringing her hands, waiting for an answer.”
“I don't quite know what it is,” Issei began, “but so far autism isn't such a stretch. However, I think she may be the youngest patient that has ever shown signs of schizophrenia.”
“Oh...” Now the mother looked worried.
“Don't get too discouraged. I'm an expert in solving problems like these, though they may take a while.”
Ms. Nagawa nodded her head, but she was still looking back at her daughter in worry. Perhaps some 'home remedies' would help ease this case along.
“I do have one suggestion to make things easier for everyone,” he proposed.
“What is it?”
“Spend time with her.”
“Doctor, I do spend time with her. I talk to her at the dinner table, but she won't pipe up much. Any morning time is spent trying to get her out of bed and you know how that works out.”
The report had said she had trouble sleeping so much she had missed days of school. The event that finally got her mother to get her diagnosed was a day where Yukino literally spent almost the whole day sleeping.
“What I mean is spend quality
time with her. She seems almost incapable of enjoying herself, and always worries about things beyond her control, even small ones like scaring you from the closet.”
“Oh, I remember that night. She startled me and I scolded her,” Ms. Nagawa looked guilty, “She looked like she'd committed a crime and I spent the night worrying I was too hard on her. How do you suggest I get her to open up?”
“You know her better than me. What would she like? Maybe set aside an hour that's all about her, even if it's just to distract.”
Nagawa thought for a moment.
“I guess I could read to her,” she said half-sure, “She can get pretty absorbed into a story, and that's usually when she can settle down a little.”
“Good. Let her choose a story she might like and you read together with her. Make it seem like you can understand her tastes.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“Wrong choice of words.”
“I can set aside Sunday for reading time. I'll see what she likes in a book. Thank you doctor.”
“No problem. Same time next week.”
Ms. Nagawa turned to the door.
“Oh, I'm sorry, but there's one more small matter.”
“Does your daughter like to play 'House' a lot?”
Ms. Nagawa gave an exasperated laugh. “Yes she does doctor. A lot.
“Whenever she gets...” she searched for the words, “overwhelmed, she hides in a really small space and covers herself. She really likes the feeling of being covered. She once described it as being like a turtle. It's just comfort thing, I guess.”
“How long and how often has she been doing this, Ms. Nagawa?”
“Technically for a few months now, but ever since she was—just before she was four, actually—she would always crawl away into hiding spots. Like under the cupboard or in a corner where furniture meets, like she wanted to be alone.”
Ms. Nagawa gave an exasperated yet amused sigh, “There's no talking that kid out of that habit no matter what. It's okay now though. I've told her where can and can't go, but recently she just took to wrapping herself.”
“Is there any way for you to coax her out of places?”
“What would happen normally is that I'd just take her out of wherever she was and she'd just crawl right back later. Now I can just call her for dinner or tell her that I'm going to the store and she'll come right out. She's a good girl.”
“I can believe that. But...”
“When you read to her, try doing it in a place where she's not so at ease.”
“What? Will she be able to handle that?” Ms. Nagawa glanced at her kid again. She was coloring the pages in black. 'More Black Paper People?' Issei wondered.
“Oh no, nowhere dangerous. Just the living room or outside. Just get her used to a new location. You can tell her you have an easier time reading there.”
“It's nothing but a small precaution. When she gets used to being around people, at the same time she'll be learning to explore outside her comfort zone. Not to be so apprehensive of new environments.”
“I'll do it, but is this really necessary doctor?”
“Oh, it's probably a phase, but...”
Neither of them needed to say it. 'She could grow to become a future shut-in.'
“....I would recommend disciplining her out of this stage of life as soon as possible.”
“I know. I should have done it when she was younger, but I wasn't strong enough.”
Ms. Nagawa teared up a little, but before Issei could offer reassuring words, she composed her self again.
Thank you Dr. Issei.”
“Oh, anytime,” he responded.
Nagawa exited out of the door into the lobby, but Issei kept his door open for his next appointment, who should arrive shortly. Through the lobby door, he heard the mother and child.
“Yukino, what kind of books do you like?”
“Um...a book about animals.”
“Any kind of animals? What's your favorite?”
“Why are you asking?”
“Because I just the best for my little daughter.”
Issei swears he could hear the smile in Ms. Nagawa's voice.
“Mom, you're squishing me in front of all the peoples.”
He heard the two leave, presumably to a bookstore.
The Brown Burrow. A place to be served drinks by beautiful, almost half naked women in animal suits. That is where he always went to unwind. First greeted out of courtesy, now as a regular. Dr. Issei did not think it a sin to enjoy himself with drink and beautiful women. Many who could find out would be shocked, but that's what made him so good at this job: he could do things both ways. As long as he kept his business and personal life separate, all the more power to him.
“Pass me another one!” he shouted, red faced and red nosed.
“Yes Master. Is there anything else you would like?” asked a dainty waitress in a kitten costume with a low cut neckline. He ogled her for a moment.
“Master, I'm afraid that there are other customers.”
“Oh, of course of course sweet potato.”
“Thank you Master,” she refilled his drink, the third one he had tonight, “Please enjoy yourself.”
As she walked away, he swore she deliberately sashayed like that just to get people coming back. All the girls did so, but with hips that wide she could really toss it out. He downed his drink and sat back, groggy and taking in the nice view of the scenery.