Here’s a piece that I wrote some time ago. No one else seemed to like it or ‘GET IT!’ But I still favor it; I get it. And so it seems to be a perfect piece for my blog. But don’t let me prejudice you…CM
Wrapped in a heavy canvas jacket, the woman with the predictably wild hairdo stumbled over the threshold. The orderly, a man with many years of experience on the psychiatric ward, quickly and deftly captured her under the armpits before the inevitable fall. Dr. Liam Nestly had seen the same scene played out a thousand times before—different patient, different day—but the same sedated trip, the same last minute save. He stifled a yawn, until his eyeballs grew moist with the effort.
The woman mumbled a tiny, automatic thank-you. The orderly grunted, in lieu of actual words. The odd couple slid across the floor, doing their funny Rumba, sans music, all the way to the doctor’s receiving chair. Nestly could not blame the orderly for taking the rear approach; quite often, vomit and drool covered the front of the patient’s canvas tuxedo. It was always better to guide them from behind; besides, the backside of a straightjacket sported a heavy belt, buckles and leather straps that were handy things to grab in an emergency.
Nevertheless, Dr. Nestly frowned. He always frowned at the straightjackets, pretending to disapprove. But his non-verbal condemnation was really just a bit of theatrics, for the patient’s sake, rather than any real difference of opinion with hospital procedures.
“Is the patient violent?” Nestly asked.
The orderly shook his head, already removing the keys from his pocket. “No doctor. Not since we gave her the sedatives.”
Nestly waited, exhibiting all the external body language of a tolerant man, while the orderly unbuckled, unlaced, and unwrapped the woman. Free of her restraints, but still off balance, the woman threw her arms out wide and carefully two-stepped the last three feet before falling into the chair. The orderly looked at his boss.
“You may go, Mr. Gunter,” Nestly said. He prided himself on knowing everyone’s name. “And close the door behind you, please.”
Nestly studied the patient. Middle aged, white female. The usual comic hair, mascara streaked across her cheeks, heavily lined lips—probably a smoker. His eyes skimmed the Admittance Report: panic, unknown paranoia, extreme stress, and suicidal tendency. Significant findings in the PE: extremely low B12, hypoglycemia, and elevated BP. Dr. Nestly tossed the file on his desk; it told him, basically, nothing.
Nestly patted his breast pocket and pulled out a pack of Camels. He didn’t smoke, but he always kept a pack of cigarettes on him—any brand that was on sale. Addictions could be very useful tools in psychoanalysis—the giving of said substances or the taking away of any particular drug that the patient was physically or mentally addicted to. Smokers were especially pliable. Amazing really, what a person would do or say for a couple of cancer sticks. True to form, the patient’s eyes nearly popped out of her head when she recognized what he had in his hand.
“Well, Mrs. Smith. We’ve had a rough night. Care for a smoke?”
“God yes,” she said, and he jiggled one white cylinder out of the pack. He lit her cigarette with a flourish and carefully slid the lighter and the pack back into his pocket. She inhaled deeply, closed her eyes and slowly cycled the nicotine through her lungs. Every voluntary muscle in her body sagged.
“Now, why don’t you tell the doctor what the trouble is?”
“They’re after me.”
Twenty-five percent of the time that was a patient’s first statement. “Who’s after you?” he asked and opened his eyes wide, as if her statement was the most astonishing declaration that he had ever heard.
Insufficient response. She was withholding. He rephrased the question. “Why are they after you?”
“Well, they’re not really after me. They’re after my money.”
Nestly nearly laughed out loud. How much money could she possibly have? This was a state hospital; people with money did not wind-up in the Sunnyway Sanitarium.
“Everywhere I go; they’re trying to take my money.” She hit the cigarette hard. Puckered lips drew in the smoke and held it, relished it. “I go to the store to buy bread and milk, and I have to circle around the whole damn building just to get to what I want. Bread and milk should only cost me about six bucks, but I can’t get out of the damn store for less than fifty. No. No. No. I can’t.” The patient began to rock in the chair; soon, she would wander off into some meaningless mantra. It was time to snap her out of it.
“Go on,” he said, letting his deep baritone voice boom. Her body jerked up, and he leaned forward, feigning interest.
“I take the children to the doctor. Just for shots, you know. The insurance should cover it. But no, no, no. The doctor always finds something wrong. Suzy needs a gastroenterologist. Billy needs to see an optometrist. Sara needs braces. Co-pays, patient-responsibilities, and medicine. Pretty damn funny for kids that ain’t sick.” She shook her head and the dollop of fried brown curls fanned over her eyes.
“I go to the dentist, and the hygienist is digging that metal pick into my teeth like she’s trying to start a hole. Like she wants me to get a cavity. I know it.”
“A leak starts. I call the toilet man. Ten minutes of work and he says: That’ll be one hundred and fifty dollars, ma’am.”
“I turn on the TV to relax. But no. Its one commercial after another. Tempting, seductive. Buy this bed, wear this perfume, hydrate your hair. Get these exercise CDs, and some dude will fall in love with your tight, new ass.” She fireboxed the smoke and dumped the ashes in her left hand. “Course, I know its all bullshit, but the kids don’t. And then its: Momma, buy me this. Momma, buy me that.”
She puffed the non-filtered cigarette down until the embers had to be burning her lips. Nestly walked around the desk, caring a tin ashtray that he had snitched from a motel in Portland. He offered her another smoke. Of course, she took it, gratefully, hungrily, eyes locked on the white and red pack.
“And when I do buy something, what happens?” the patient continued, without any prompting this time.
“What?” the doctor asked.
“As soon as the warranty wears out, it goes to hell, that’s what.”
“Really?” Nestly said. If he had been talking to a sane person, he might have agreed, but it was time to dig her out of this hole.
“The kids don’t love me. I’m just a paycheck.”
Inside his head: a big aha. He tried to jot down some notes in her file, but the pen skipped over the paper, producing nothing but some squiggly dents. Nothing legible.
“The school calls. PTA wants cookies and cakes. ASPCA wants donations, and the animals are so pitiful. People in Africa are starving. Well…, if they’re starving, why do they have so many kids that they can’t feed?” She blinked repeatedly, and a tic started in her right eye. “Why did I have so many kids? Oh…, maybe, I can feed my kids, but I can’t give them every single thing they want.”
“Even the church wants their tithes. God needs my money, too. Only it isn’t God that needs my money, is it?”
“Fuel went higher, so I drove less. Electricity went up, so I spent my days tracking the kids around the house, turning off lights, unplugging shit, screaming at them in the shower. But it didn’t do any good; the bills just went up and up.”
“So yesterday, I went to the grocery store with my husband’s shot gun and laid it on the counter.” She stubbed the cigarette out and looked at the crumbled wad. “First they get me hooked and then they jack the price up. Not too different from the local drug dealer, hey? Did you know that a pack of smokes only cost about 65 cents? The rest is sin-tax. Sin-tax, my granny’s ass. Those rich company bastards should be paying a sin-tax.”
The patient was digressing. “What happened at the store?”
“Oh, they freaked, of course. They thought I was trying to rob the place. But no. I wasn’t after their money; I only wanted to keep my money. I wanted them to bring the milk and bread up to the front of the store, so that I wouldn’t circle the aisles picking up this and that.”
“Perhaps, you could have found a different way to deal with things, Mrs. Smith.”
“Yes, I suppose,” she agreed, reluctantly. “Am I crazy?”
“No, not crazy. Just, well…. Let’s say, you had an inappropriate reaction.”
Dr. Nestly sat back down in his chair. His argyle sock slipped down into his shoe. Thirty-five dollars a pair and he was still pulling his socks up like a poor school boy. What a rip-off.
“So, what’s going to happen to me now?” she asked. Her eyes were locked on his breast pocket and the square lump of smokes.
“Well, thirty days of observation, Joan. May I call you Joan?.” Her head bobbed again. “Let’s not worry beyond that. This is just your initial interview. Tomorrow we will talk some more.” He wasn’t going to offer her another cigarette. “Let’s concentrate on how we respond to outside stimuli, shall we? Tonight, I want you to think about this: True, there are many temptations, but a merchant can not sell what the buyer will not buy.”
He smiled at her, pleased with his spontaneous attempt at poetry.
Dr. Nestly propped his feet on the desk and sat back in his chair. His eyes scanned the room, the empty chair, the full bookcase, the framed portrait of his brand new wife inside the brand new picture frame, but he did not see any of it. The soft, gray wool of his right sock drooped over his shoe, obscuring the nice diamond pattern and looking totally nerdy.
His fingers battered the expensive, non-functional pen against his appointment book, tapping out a non-rhythmic beat. On the second stanza of his drumming, the cap broke off. Black ink oozed out over his hand, between the thumb and forefinger. The pen sold for $98.95 and was guaranteed to last a lifetime—a 10k hunk-a-junk.
He lifted the receiver on his phone and dialed his real estate agent, while blotting his hand all over the new and, as yet, unsigned insurance policy.
“Carl? This is Nestly,” he said into the phone. “I’ve decided against buying the new house. There’s nothing wrong with the old one, and I live so close to the hospital that it seems silly to move so far away. My thinking now is that I wouldn’t enjoy the long commute.”
He listened for a while and wedged the receiver between his ear and his left shoulder. “Don’t worry about my wife. I’ll take care of her. Sometimes I think… Well, never mind what I think, just cancel the deal.”