The door was a leather-wrapped cripple with a colony of miscellaneous bells sprawling from its edge to the wall. I double-checked the address and pressed a random button. Shortly after it warbled inside, the door flung open and a rumpled woman in greasy flower prints gaped at me.
“Doctor Nehms,” I introduced myself, trying to shield my nose from an acrid smell coming out of the apartment.
“Oh yes.” She nodded and forced a crooked smile. “Come in.”
She beckoned me to follow her down an endless gloomy hall, heavily laden with ancient wardrobes, broken chairs, rusty bicycles, bundles of rags and all sorts of clutter placed in a random pattern. I hit my elbow on the edge of an antique chest of drawers; it rattled, and something scurried from beneath my feet. I suppressed a scream.
“Don’t worry, it’s only mice,” the woman said.
I gulped and immediately regretted coming here.
She waited for me and whispered, “He’s been there for two days, doctor, walking and walking and walking… And he’s got to work, you know. Money doesn’t earn itself.” She mumbled a couple of colorful profanities.
“Ok.” I made a note of the symptom in my mind. “Does he pause to eat or sleep?”
“No, he refuses to take anything. Doctor, is it rabies?”
Before I could answer, she pushed the door on the right, and I froze for a moment to adjust my eyes to the pale yellow light, dense with swirling particles of dust. The room was in continuous movement, though I could not make out who or what was moving. The woman nudged me gently inside and told somebody in there: “Dotty, here is the doctor. Talk to him, will you?”
“Uh-uh,” came the fat bass from the middle of the room.
The door behind me slammed. I spied a chair in the middle of the floor, perched myself upon it and took a better look at my patient. A scruffy young man, unshaven, hardly over twenty-five, dressed in shabby jeans and a gaudy T-shirt, he was moving along a peculiar trajectory: he kept spinning around and advanced along a smooth curve towards my end of the room. Watching him made me feel dizzy; no wonder he hadn’t eaten.
When the man reached me, he grunted, “You’re sitting on the Sun. Better find another chair unless you want to roast yourself.”
I scanned Dotty’s humble abode. A surprisingly large shaft of light penetrated through the murky window and fell on a modest bed with rags thrown over it. In between the rags I spotted a fluffy grey back of a sleeping cat. It must have felt quite peaceful in there, far from mice. The bed ended with a semblance of a table buried under a pile of papers. To my right, a dark lacquered wardrobe took up the whole wall. The lacquer had chipped off on the corners, and one door hung loose and winked at me with a splinter of the mirror. My examination concluded with a strange wooden construction on the farthest side of the room that could equally be an unfinished set of shelves or an art object.
“There’s no other chair,” I reported as Dotty approached me on his way back from the shelves.
He skirted my seat and headed towards the bed with the sleeping cat, still rotating. “The worse for you, doctor.”
I shrugged, opened my case and took out a tiny notebook, taking a moment to admire how impressive it looked. A black leather Moleskine with an exorbitantly expensive pen I bought a month ago to mark the start of my career in psychiatry.
“So Dotty,” I said, watching him pirouette towards me. He cringed at the sound of his name, which strangely pleased me. “Tell me exactly what’s happening here.”
He scoffed at my naiveté. “I’m preserving the universal status quo.”
“Meaning?” I eyed him over my glasses.
He sighed, with the resignation of a person who has to survive in the world of idiots. “The Earth is orbiting the Sun while rotating around its axis. If the Earth stopped, so would the day-night cycle and the change of seasons, which would bring about global calamities.”
“And what does it have to do with you?”
Dotty paused for a moment and stared at me. He noticed the halt and continued to move, sending me suspicious looks.
“I am the Earth, doctor.”
I scribbled a quick note in my Moleskine to escape his gaze. His orbiting my chair disconcerted me.
“But tell me, Dotty,” it was a pleasure to torture him with his name now. “Earth has been revolving around the Sun for a long, long time. And you have been walking like that for just two days. How is that possible that the Earth did not collapse before you… took charge?”
His face lit up. Sure, he had an answer to this question. I started to doubt my own sanity.
“I accepted this duty on Wednesday,” he confessed, raising his eyes to the ceiling. “I woke, and I knew it was up to me now, to save the Earth.”
I jotted down ‘superhero syndrome’. “And now, for how long are you going to spin like that?”
“Until the duty is called off me,” he straightened his shoulders and rose his chin, eyeing me with condescension.
“And what about eating, or sleeping? Or working? You mother said…”
“Don’t listen to my mother,” he spat. “And my name isn’t Dotty, but it all doesn’t matter now.”
“What matters is your orbit,” I concluded.
“Here’s what still puzzles me. It usually takes a year for the Earth to circle the Sun. In ten minutes you’ve made several loops around my chair. Have we been talking for a decade?”
“Oh, that. I am creating the impulse that builds up the Earth’s momentum.”
He chortled. “Looks like physics is not your cup of tea, eh, doctor?”
I rose, irritated. “Well, it was great to get to know you, Dotty,” I couldn’t help repeating this name. “I will come back tomorrow to check on you.”
He nodded and continued his trajectory.
In the hall, I was seized by Dotty’s mother. “What do you say, doctor?” she wondered, clinging to my hand. “Is Dotty better now? Is it rabies?”
“Definitely not rabies. I’ll come back tomorrow. Meanwhile, you feed something to him that he can munch on the go.”
“Won’t you give him a sedative, so he could sleep?”
“Don’t worry, when he is exhausted, common sense will take over and he’ll stop.”
I couldn’t bear the smell in the hall anymore, so I said goodbye and sprang out to the staircase.
At home, I took a bath to wash off the visit. As I wiggled my toes in the soapy water, I wondered what scene I would witness there tomorrow. Dotty had to stop; his body wouldn’t bear such a strain. At least I hoped so. And if it would? Jeez! Then my first case was a disaster, my career crumpled and thrown into a dustbin, together with my fancy pen and Moleskine.
I could not get the spinning man out of my head. Neither Dotty, nor his mother had a phone, and the only way to check on them was to go there. That would mean taking another bath afterward, but the anxiety wouldn’t leave me.
So there I stood, in the same smelly hall, Dotty’s mother muttering that not long after I had left, Dotty collapsed on the floor in a peaceful sleep. He woke up recently and demanded a bowl of soup. He was eating now in his bed, the grey cat asleep at his feet.
“Hello Dotty,” I greeted him. “Feeling better?”
“Hi, doctor! The duty is finally off,” he declared between the spoonfuls.
“Great! So, now somebody else is orbiting the chair in his room, isn’t he?”
He gawked at me and nodded, his mouth full.
The mother could not thank me enough; she went to another room, brought money wrapped in greasy newspaper and pressed it in my hand. I pulled the wrap away a little and counted the banknotes with one finger, as she fluttered about the apartment, bringing more food to her darling son.
I eyed beaming Dotty who devoured one dish after another. Occasionally he stroked the cat, this unshakeable temple of peace that could withstand any cosmic catastrophe. I pulled out two banknotes and returned the rest, leaving the mother dumbfounded. Then I fled, worried that she’d make me sample her cuisine, and congratulated myself on the successful resolution of the case.
It was still dark when I woke up the next day. I fetched the phone from under my bed: eleven o’clock in the morning. Dotty’s successor must be an irresponsible slouch, I thought as I sauntered to the kitchen. I pressed the button on the coffee machine, trying to shake off the slumber, and scrolled through the news.
“Day-Night Cycle Halted, Western Hemisphere Plunged into Darkness…”
“International Space Station crashed to Earth over the North Pacific…”
“Extreme Frosts on the Dark Side; Mass Evacuation Started…”
I scratched my head and peered outside – indeed, eerie darkness at eleven a.m. Sirens wailed down the street. In my mind, I also saw the waves buffeting the shores of the Earth, and packs of wolves invading the cities under the cover of eternal night, gulping down every living thing.
Then I went to my room. I took the chair and placed it in the center of the floor. I tried a few pas before I figured out how to move along the elliptical trajectory while twirling. How long can I endure before I collapse? It did not matter. I have accepted the duty.
In a couple of hours I saw the sunrise.
Alya Demina scribbles strange speculative scripts. A former game producer and linguist, she is passionate about what-if stories and otherworldly languages. Find her on her website alyademina.com.