“The Clinic,” Theodore Sturgeon, 1953 – The narrator, Nemo, appears to be an amnesiac who has lost his memory of language. Dr. De la Torre and a lonely patient, Elena, attempt to reach him, while the Sergeant keeps a close eye. De la Torre admits that, despite the deceptive simplicity of his speech, Nemo is highly intelligent, and that he can’t grasp Nemo’s thought process. Nemo explains that the doctor thinks word to word, while Nemo thinks in “sets.” Nemo’s manner of speaking makes him the target of mockery, even violence, but Elena enjoys their conversations and becomes quite attached to him. The Sergeant has observed this friendship; he tries to poison Nemo against Elena by telling him that Elena is a former drug addict, a “real twitch” and former prostitute who falls for every “looney” passing through. Nemo stands steadfast; “Every people hurt Elena. Some day Elena be happy, always. Sergeant hurt every people. Sergeant not be happy. Never.”
On the night Nemo decides to leave the clinic, Elena tells him the story of a former patient, George, with whom she had an intimate and fantastically imaginative connection. Before Nemo leaves, she asks him to tell George, should he encounter him, to tell him that she still loves him and that this love is killing her. The conclusion finds Nemo in the company of a group of “silent ones.” With them is another man who, like Nemo, uses words to communicate due to an “illness” that has deprived him of “telepathic” speech. The other man, later revealed to be George, has just returned from their home planet, where he found the “kindness” of the able intolerable. He advises Nemo to remain on Earth, where he is not disabled and where he has the possibility of finding his own Elena.
Comments: Reportedly, Sturgeon got the idea for the story after watching the deaf converse in ASL. Read in Star Science Fiction Stories No. 2. Like “A Saucer of Loneliness,” a story of loneliness, communication, and language in which people find and make communities, resist the restrictions of labels (here, “disabled”). For comparison, see John Varley’s “The Persistence of Vision” (1978).
Description at Smith Orbit: “‘The Clinic’, a wonderful story that begins as a strange case of amnesia related in the first person by a non-native speaker of English. The language of the piece is allusive and strange, revealing much about the character through words and pacing. It soon becomes clear that this is a story more about disability and difference than amnesia, a sensitive piece about beings displaced, finding a new home elsewhere.”
Author: Wikipedia: “Theodore Sturgeon (born Edward Hamilton Waldo; February 26, 1918 – May 8, 1985) was an American science fiction and horror author…In 1951, Sturgeon coined what is now known as Sturgeon’s Law: ‘Ninety percent of [science fiction] is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud.’…Sturgeon was a distant relative of Ralph Waldo Emerson.”