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That night when Sadie and Oliver lay in bed, she reading, and he going over papers from work, Sadie brought up the topic of Sebastion’s drawing. She told Oliver about Sebastion’s insistence that his name be spelled with a Z instead of an S. “He doesn’t like the S,” she said. “And he got especially picky about it.” She showed the drawing to Oliver who removed his reading glasses quickly and said, strikingly, “Is he dumb?”
“No he’s not dumb,” she snapped back at him. “My sister did the same thing when she was little. She insisted to mom that her name wasn’t Sicily, that the colors weren’t right. She went on an on about it, and would never say her name...she would get upset about it to the point of tears, actually. Mom let it go for the longest time, but it got worse and worse. I think it started to scare her, so she took Sissy to specialists and they had a little trouble telling her what it was. But she most certainly was not dumb.”
Almost an inaudible mumble, under his breath and directed at no one, Oliver said, “Why are women always so goddamned unreasonable?”—and then a little louder, directly at his wife—“Specialists? For God’s sake, Sadie, how much is this going to cost?”
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Sebastion heard his dad call him Seb once. Just once.
Goodnight Seb, Oliver had said one night as he switched off the light in his boy’s back corner bedroom. Sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite. And though he would not remember, not for years, not ever, it had actually been Oliver who christened his son with that little nick name. But Sadie caught the silent heat for it. She had been there when it came to real fruition, and it had been her sister who had the same weird affliction with her given name. Soon after scribbling his new moniker on the writing tablet at the kitchen table, Sebastion grabbed hold of it and started saying it all the time. What seemed to irk Oliver the most was that when Sebastion repeated it, he pronounced it Zeb, not Seb. His mom would ask him to put a toy away—“Seb, clean up for dinner”—and he would insist, “I’m Zeb. Mommy, I’m Zeb.”
Oliver, still quietly bothered by the name they had chosen for their son anyway, tried to assume this would be one of those toddler things easily left behind in later childhood—like a comfort blanket or a sucked thumb.
Sadie, as with everything, felt a cruel knob of worry in the back of her throat whenever that zed sound buzzed from her little boy’s mouth. She didn’t know if her son had a hearing problem or a speech impediment, but she wondered why it always came out like that, Zeb, and not Seb. Granted, it rolled off the tongue easier than Seb and, besides that, she supposed that a new mother, especially a young mother—she was only twenty-one when Sebastion had been born—would tend to over-analyze and worry about things with her first-born. He had all his little fingers and toes, and he was starting to say his alphabet now, so she decided she was lucky; all the big things were fine. It was time to relax a little. And as they made preparations to have their son looked at by psych experts at three colleges across the continent, the nick name even caught on. Though Oliver never did, not once, Sadie called him Zeb more and more often. And soon she just let it go entirely.
The condition which Zeb would eventually be diagnosed with was uncommon. Research into it was sparse but the psychology community was beginning to gain some foothold of familiarity, to find some common language with which to speak about it. And when doctors at various institutes got wind of little Sebastion Redfield and his curious symptoms, especially at such an early age, they quickly offered free flights and hotel accommodations if he would come out and be tested by their teams.
Oliver made one appointment in Boston, one at UC Berkley in California, and one at home at the York Institute, deciding the need for three such visits was excruciatingly adequate. He believed in a thorough approach to all things, but more than three appointments would be a waste of time. He didn’t attend either of the two studies out of town because of work, but sent his son and his wife alone on a plane to spend a few weeks in each place.
In Boston, Sebastion’s recollections are sparse. At Berkley he remembers even less. But what he does remember from one of those trips, which trip specifically he still can’t recall, has stayed with him in such detail that he can still close his eyes and see every inch of it.
There were nice men all dressed in light green, head to toe. They even had green caps over their hair and each of them was doing something different, pushing buttons or moving a piece of equipment around the big white room with windows to other big white rooms. Green was one of his favorite colors and the green men were nice to him so he smiled a little even though they were all strangers. But the other men, the ones in the long white coats, they weren’t so nice; they made Sebastion lie down on a cold metal tray and then they slid him into a large gray tunnel, a gigantic humming machine, after they strapped his head down with what looked and felt like a big white fluffy mitten. He wanted to reach up and feel the mitten because sometimes soft things made him see blue, and blue was always his favorite. But his hands were strapped down with fuzzy things too so he couldn’t move at all. It was a terrible feeling, what those men in the white coats had done, and he squirmed and cried until he heard his mother’s voice above the humming of the tunnel.
He had settled some during the ordeal—his mother had talked to him from the speaker the whole time—but afterwards, when the buzzing and clicking of the machine had finished and he came out again, he was still sniffling and there were tears welling in his eyes. That image of the gray tunnel and the white mitten never left him. Nor did the thought that he couldn’t reach up and touch it if he wanted. That, and the men in the long white coats talking quietly to each other, was the sort of thing he always associated with being different.
After a final series of long days, repetitive tests and questionnaires had ended, Sebastion was exhausted and finally taken home. Sadie and Oliver returned to the York Institute to see the lead doctor and were standing close together in the middle of a long stretch of sanitized hallway when he arrived. The corridor was brightly lit by overhead fluorescents that made the doctor, with his long white coat and pale skin, almost disappear against the walls and doorways around and behind him. The other two colleges had delivered the same news and this overconfident doctor, hauntingly blase in his look—except for a black shock of hair above his eyebrows—confirmed the same thing: Sebastion had something called Synaesthesia. Essentially there was no danger at all to Sebastion, to Zeb, as a result of his condition. No pills he had to take, no treatments to endure. He would not die earlier than his mom, and would never need to learn how to inject himself with a needle. “Many synaesthetes,” the doctor told mother and dad, “experience what some would call an involuntary joining of real information from one sense to a perception in another sense. In addition to being involuntary, this additional perception is regarded by the synaesthete as real, often outside the body, instead of imagined in the mind's eye. It also has some other interesting features that clearly separate it from artistic fancy—”
This particular White Coat, the zealot from York, found his throat-clearing and hallway-voice monologue cut short. What would have only become a self-indulgent and lengthy diatribe was flatly interrupted when Oliver raised his hand at the words, artistic fancy. Oliver had noted that the doctors, all of them, not just this one, seemed far more impressed with the condition itself than with its affects on his son.
“So... is he... stupid?” Oliver asked this lead White Coat.
“No, no, heavens, no,” said the doctor. “Quite the contrary. Actually, Sebastion has tested rather high on IQ measurements. If anything your son is the exact opposite of that. He is above the board in several respects. I believe that with all the other added information in his brain, he sometimes just takes a little longer to process things. But, in conjunction with that above-level intelligence is this—” and now a glare from Oliver— “...other thing...” Oliver heard the doctor’s tone as if it where unrefined sugar—simple, unaccountable nonchalance—and he wanted to treat such nonchalance with the same disdain as he might an underling at his firm. Maybe one who had just misappropriated a hundred and seventy thousand dollars of client money. He did what he always did with such an underling: he made him fear for his job, or if he was in a particularly foul mood, maybe for his personal safety. And he did so with only a glare and a tone.
“Go on,” said Oliver.
The doctor cleared his throat again and continued. “Synaesthesia. We don’t know everything about it yet. That is, uhm, as a community—in the whole of science and the study of all brain afflictions, that is. This one, synaesthesia, its reality and vividness are what make it so interesting in its —uh— violation of conventional perception.” Now Oliver was staring fixedly at the doctor, making him obviously nervous. “I-it’s truly extraordinary. It’s also fascinating because logically such an occurence should not be a product of the human brain, where the evolutionary trend has been for increasing separation of sensory function anatomically.”
Right. Okay. Oliver wanted to say this was all nonsense, but caught Sadie’s look and so he remained at least civil. “So what exactly does this mean to him? To us?”
“Well, nothing. Really. Uh, Sebastion will continue to see things in a different manner than most little boys. His brain combines the perceived information of several senses in a truly unique and special way. He might see one thing and interpret it completely different than you or I would, completely different than everyone else who looks at the exact same thing. Basically, one sensory perception will trigger a completely unrelated one. For example, what you’re seeing with his understanding of letters...His alphabet is largely different than yours. His exists in a set of colors. A is a shade of green, and B is a shade of mauve for him and when he sees these letters it will trigger in him the sight of these colors. Whether the letters themselves will be that color, or whether everything in his line of vision suddenly becomes that color is unclear. It’s a little different for every Synaesthete. It is possible that the color exists in his mind, as a flash, or a sheet overlaying something else entirely—a shape perhaps—a sound or even a tactile response... a tingle or a brush against his lower spine. But whatever the sensation, these colors, the sounds, all of it is extremely real to him. And you should make every attempt to not let him feel that it is wrong or different... or stupid... to see things this way.”
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For more SERIAL ACTION, read the previous installments of THALO BLUE!
Also check out Liberi by Rima Jean for some serial pirate adventure!