Title: Reis's Pieces: Love, Loss, and Schizophrenia
Author: Karen Winters Schwartz
Genre: Literary Fiction
Professor Reis Welling's life is idyllic. A respected professor of botany at Cornell, he's been granted early tenure, has received a grant to carry out field research in the Adirondack Forest, and has met Ellen, the love of his life. Everything is perfect―that is until the forest turns its back on him, department heads start spying on him, Ellen starts lying to him, and all start transmitting thoughts into his head. Herein lies Reis's slow and insidious descent into a vicious and damaging world of mental illness. Reis's Pieces uncompromisingly explores one man's struggle for his place in an altered world and two women's search for their place in his. Welcome to the life of Reis Welling and all his pieces, an engrossing and provocative world of love, loss, and schizophrenia.
The introductory botany class, which consisted mainly of freshmen students trying to fulfill their science requirements, was large, almost filling the two hundred and fifty seats of the lecture hall. Reis entered the room just as the class bell rang, knowing that his well-deserved reputation among the students was the reason that many of them had picked this particular class. As always, he smiled as he stepped up to the podium. He felt a surge of pleasant anticipation.
The students, who were not already seated, quickly sat down, and all eyes turned to the man who would determine their final grade. He flipped through his papers. A silence fell over the room. Reis looked up from his notes and began to scan the class, already trying to learn the faces that he would be seeing three times a week for the next four months. An eye, a nose, a soft, wet mouth. A puff of blonde hair. A flash of white teeth. A foot bouncing on the end of a leg. The unpleasant glare of the lights. The squeak of a chair. His notes slicing into his finger. He looked down and studied with great interest the red that pooled on his fingertip. A soft murmur broke his concentration, causing him to turn away from the fingertip and turn to the projector, where he wrote his name in large, sweeping letters on the transparency—a curious red smearing with the blue of the marker.
“I am, of course, Dr. Reis Welling,” he began. “My office hours are on the top of your class syllabus, which I’m sure Dr. Green gave you last week. I apologize for not being here, but it was unavoidable.”
He turned back toward the class with a slight smile, trying once again to scan the room. His smile dropped, and he began to scan his notes. “It’s my understanding that last Friday you began a discussion on photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, of course, being not just a chemical reaction whereby the sun’s energy is converted ultimately to water and glucose,” he wrote out photosynthesis on the transparency, “but the very basis on which life depends.” The students bent their heads and began taking notes.
Can you imagine a world without light? A world without photosynthesis? A world in which there was no sun? No. It cannot be imagined, because there would be no life. No light reaction. No dark reaction. No reason for chloroplasts or carotenoids. You would have no reason for taking this class.” The students laughed a bit nervously. Reis stopped and briefly checked his notes again before continuing.
There are two basic steps in photosynthesis: number one being the light reaction,” he wrote this on the page, “whereby the sun’s photons are absorbed, and number two being the dark reaction, where the energy that has been absorbed and stored as ATP and NADPH2 is used to reduce carbon dioxide to organic carbon. We’ll look at each of these steps in some detail over the next few days.”
The students’ pens scraped against their paper. A small cough, a slight sneeze, the rustling of paper, the soft murmur of discord. He turned away from the distractions and glanced up to the high windows of the auditorium. The sun was shining. Tiny particles floated haphazardly. “You might wonder, ‘What is a photon?’ Is it energy stolen from the sun? Without its energy, the sun would no longer be in power. The sun has, after all, ultimate power over whether we live or die.” He turned from the window and queried the room. “Is it any wonder many societies worship the sun as their god? We might be wise to consider this.” He paused a moment and paced gently, allowing each student the opportunity to ponder his words.
“Does all this come down to depending on the absorption of one small photon by a tiny fern struggling to survive next to an acid-filled stream?” he continued, turning back to the window. “The power of the solar system—this solar system—does it come down to depending on one little photon?” He turned back to the class and pointed at the sea of faces. “You may think the answer is no. After all, the sun is only a very small speck in the universe—a mere photon in the universe, so to speak.”
Reis stopped and smiled a bit. He had always known the importance of photosynthesis, but he had never fully understood its impact on the entire universe. It all seemed so clear. He didn’t know why he hadn’t seen it all before. It was very important that he make the students understand. “Be it not for that photon,” he went on, his voice rising in his enthusiasm, “wouldn’t the earth just spin out of control? A sun without power! And what, you wonder, would happen to Jupiter and Mars?” One by one, students stopped taking notes; the room grew deathly silent. It was only right that they give him their full attention. He smiled at their confused faces. He could—he must—make them understand. “The death of the sun,” he said, quietly, dramatically. “Surely the whole solar system would be lost…floating around, banging into other solar systems. And yet,” he smiled ironically, “we take the sun for granted by not recognizing the importance of one tiny photon.”
“Dr. Welling? Dr. Welling!”
Reis stopped his movement and saw the young man, midway back in the center of the sea, his arm held high above his head. “Yes?”
“That bit about Jupiter and Mars. Is that going to be on the test?” Several students laughed, while others sat up straight to listen for his answer.
Reis stared at him. “The test?” he finally said. “It is, I suppose, only natural for you to wonder about the test. But you know what they say about curiosity. You think right away of dead cats, and no matter how you picture a dead cat in your mind, it’s not the lovely yellow kitten you had as a child.”
Reis turned and checked his notes. “Now where was I? Oh, yes. Chloroplast, I believe.”
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What’s your favorite thing about the Fall season:
It used to be going to the local apple orchards and picking up apples. Honeycrisp and Macoun were my favorite! I loved eating them in the car, hearing that crunch that you can only get from a just-picked apple, juice running down my chin as I drove on home. Now that I’ve moved to Arizona, I’m guessing my favorite thing about the Fall season will be days where the temperature is below 100!
What inspired you to write this story:
When I was in my late thirties I woke up from a really intense dream. I thought, Wow. That was intense. I need to write that story! That dream eventually became, Reis’s Pieces: Love, Loss, and Schizophrenia, which is my second published novel, but the first novel I ever wrote.
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Runs September 1 – 30.
Drawing will be held on October 1.
Karen Winters Schwartz was born and raised in Mansfield Ohio. She wrote her first truly good story at age seven. Her second-grade teacher, Mrs. Schneider, publicly and falsely accused her of plagiarism. She did not write again for forty years.
Educated at The Ohio State University, both Karen and her husband have shared a career in optometry in Central New York's Finger Lakes while raising two daughters together. She now splits her time between Arizona, a small village in Belize, and traveling the earth in search of the many creatures with whom she has the honor of sharing this world.
Karen is the past president of NAMI Syracuse (National Alliance on Mental Illness), a strong advocate for mental illness awareness, and a sought-after speaker at health association events and conferences across the country.
Her widely praised novels on mental illness include Where Are the Cocoa Puffs?: A Family’s Journey Through Bipolar Disorder, Reis’s Pieces Reis’s Pieces: Love, Loss, and Schizophrenia, and The Chocolate Debacle (Goodman Beck Publishing). These are not only honest and engaging stories but advocacy and educational tools that are a comfort to those dealing directly and indirectly with mental illness. Her new novel, Legend of the Lost Ass, was released by Red Adept Publishing on July 21, 2020.
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