“Next!” he called out. An old woman entered, closed the door and shuffled into his office, unsteady on her feet. Her old-fashioned flower print dress hung loose over her emaciated body as she swayed forward. She halted hesitant in front of his desk. “Take a seat,” he said. She was a new patient. Must be new to the area. He’d never seen her around town before. If he had, he would immediately have recognised those sunken, haunted eyes, wide open as if she were terrified. “What can I do for you?” he asked, once she’d settled opposite him. She laid her hands slowly in her lap, linking her gnarled, bony fingers in a cradle and looked up at him, her eyes full of sorrow. “I can’t go on,” she said, her voice cracking and tears formed in her eyes. “How old are you?” he asked. “Eighteen,” she replied. He must have misheard. “Sorry?” “Eighteen,” she repeated. “You like to joke, I see,” he said, smiling. “It is no joke, doctor. I was eighteen three days ago!” He’d heard of cases of premature ageing, but nothing like this. “When did this begin?” he asked, leaning forward in his seat as if something compelled him to get closer to her. “On my last birthday,” she told him. “What happened?” he asked. Maybe she’d been ill. Or maybe it was in her family. “At first I didn’t notice anything strange,” she began. “I just felt tired and my muscles ached.” She ran her hand over her eyes in a nervous gesture. “Then I saw the wrinkles. I thought I had caught some illness. I felt washed out. I had no strength left.” She was tense, as if every muscle was straining to hold on. He had the impression she was struggling with all her force against something that was not visible to him. “It’s time,” she whispered. “It’s not running right.” Her words startled him. He couldn’t rule out the possibility she was crazy. That the story about being eighteen was just an invention, nostalgia for long-lost youth. “You don’t believe me,” she said, hopelessness in her voice. “Nobody believes me.” He was reminded of a silly story about two psychiatrists trying to convince each other that it was the other one that was crazy. If what she was saying was true, no one would believe her. “Tell me,” he said, hoping he sounded reassuring as he leaned further across his desk and laid his hand on her bare arm. Her skin was icy cold. She didn’t reply immediately. “Every time I blink,” she said, “time flashes by. Minutes, hours, days. It’s not the ageing that is the worst,” she said after a short pause. “It’s that I miss so much. My life is full of gaping holes. It takes an enormous effort to have even a short conversation like we’re having now, doctor.” All of a sudden he understood why she was so tense and seemed to be fighting an unending battle. She was trying to stay with him the length of a conversation. “Where do you go during the holes?” he asked, aware that he had to hurry. “Nowhere. It’s as if I didn’t exist. That’s why I didn’t notice what was happening at first.” He sat back in his chair, oppressed by the thought of her condition. What a nightmare! And how was he supposed to help her. He hadn’t the slightest idea what to do. He looked up, about to ask another question, when he saw that the chair opposite him was empty. She’d gone, blinked out of existence.