Adriane and the Court-Appointed Psychiatrist
TRUE OR FALSE: I usually feel that life is worthwhile.
In fact, Adriane felt life was only occasionally
worthwhile, but that wasnt the question before her, and even though the doctor said
there were no right or wrong answers, clearly there was a right answer to this one. A
normal person would respond: True, I usually do, yes, I most certainly do feel that
life is worthwhile usually. Adriane wasnt going to let herself be pigeonholed as
"antilife." She didnt need that on her record! Determined to put forward
her most winning personality, she bore down on her number-two pencil and filled in the
little circle: true. She was gonna ace this fucker.
She sat at a small desk in a small roomprobably
a converted denand she could hear Dr. B. P. Harris shambling around the office
across the hallway. He didnt seem to have any other patients. When shed made
the appointment, his schedule was wide open.
TRUE OR FALSE: I have never been in trouble with the law.
Hmm, she wondered, how carefully did they cross-check
these things? "Trouble with the law," after all, had landed her here in the
first place. Shed found it merry enough at the time, three months ago, when she and
her new friend Shelley managed to get themselves arrested for impersonating streetwalkers.
What a lark! Still, when the judge offered to expunge her record on condition she see a
shrink, Adriane consented, even though she hardly belonged here, and coming represented a
small step backward in her recently hatched ambition to pursue a life of abandon.
But hell, she only had to come three timesunless
the doctor ordered morethe first session to be consumed by taking this test. She
filled in the little circle: true, no troubles with the law, nothing you folks need worry
your pretty little heads over.
TRUE OR FALSE: When people do me a wrong, I feel I should pay them back if I
can, just for the principle of the thing.
Well, of course she felt that! Who didnt? Still:
false. Why did these Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory people presume they were
entitled to the truth, her truth.
"Abandoneers "she coined the term
right then and thererejected that premise. Abandoneers revealed the
truthassuming there even existed such a mutually recognizable thingwhen it
suited them. Didnt one of those German philosophers have something to say about
this? Or was she thinking of Ayn Rand? Anyway, back to the test:
Only 574 questions to go.
The following week, she returned to Dr. Harriss north Baltimore
brownstone and pressed the doorbell below his mailbox, one of three gray rectangles lined
up like headstones. She waited until he buzzed her in, then climbed the two long flights
of stairs to the top floor. He came to the door, wearing the same tweed suit and loosely
knotted bow tie from the last time, and Adriane found herself wondering how such a frail
old man made it up and down all those stairs. Maybe he never left home.
He led her to the office and sat behind an oak desk,
in an oak swivel chairthe kind that were very retro, owing perhaps to pre-millennium
nostalgia, except she suspected his was originaland she sat across from him on a
ratty orange sofa and tried not to stare at the shrubs of gray hair that sprouted from his
nose and ears. She couldnt stop staring at those saucer-plate ears. How closely they
matched her erstwhile fantasy of God: Gentle Listener, shed called Him and liked to
imagine herself lying along the rim of this large, disembodied ear, the length of her
cushioned by a pillow of silver hairs, and she would whisper her innermost thoughts as the
ear hurtled through the cosmos. Shed concocted this fantasypart of an urgent
spiritual questshortly after her fathers death, but gave it up a few years ago
during a crisis of faith. Deep down, shed always known her "prayers" were
a kind of playacting. Which was not to say God didnt exist, but even if He did, He
probably didnt have time for individual sessions.
Dr. Harris clutched her test scores in his
liver-spotted hand. "Ms. Gelki, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory
contains diagnostic scales to indicate when someone manipulates her answers to manufacture
"Un-huh," said Adriane, crossing her legs,
then immediately uncrossing them, lest her body language give her away. Maybe, from a
strategic point of view, she should have owned up to a couple foibles.
"Your answers, Im afraid, have run afoul of
these diagnostics. And so what could have been a valuable tool for us both."
Here he began to cough, a racking convulsion that shook his entire body, but he insisted
on finishing his sentence: "has[cough]been[cough]squandered."
"Oh, dear." She sunk deeper into the couch.
A flea sprang from the armrest onto her jeans. "Could there be some mistake? Some
mix-up at the lab?"
The doctor shook his head, then unwrapped a lozenge
from the candy dish on his desk and put it in his mouth. He splayed his fingers across his
narrow chest, closed his eyes, and tilted back in his chair as though about to take a nap.
He remained that way for several long minutes before
Adriane, seeking to fill the silence, asked: "Do you want me to re-take the
"No," he said, opening his eyes. "Why
did you seek to undermine your personality portrait, Ms. Gelki, do you know?"
She brushed another flea from her thigh. "I guess
I wanted a more flattering portrait."
"Granted, but why do you find the idea of an
accurate portrait intolerable?"
This had trick question written all over it, and
Adriane proceeded with caution. "Intolerable," she said, "is a strong
"So the prospect of wasting my time and flouting
the court is merely a matter of whimsy to you?"
She knew it had been a trick question!
"Not whimsy, Id"
He held up a palm to cut her off, then reached for a
legal pad. "Whats the date?"
"Today? Its the thirteenth," she said.
"Thursday, February Thirteenth, Nineteen and Nine
Seven," he muttered as he wrote. "Lets begin. Are you employed?"
Adriane told him she worked at city hall, in the
mayors Office of Neighborhood Enhancement, creating community-building events.
"Such as?" he asked.
" She mentioned the soft-shell
crab-eating fundraiser for the Dundalk Fire Department. The annual St. Patricks Day
Parade along Charles Street. Last months Painted Screen Door Slam, which might have
worked out okay if it'd been held inside, but the Convention Center space shed
reserved fell through due to a miscommunication, and the hastily arranged walking tour
wasnt as popular as shed hoped. Also, most people had switched their screens
for storm doors, it being the dead of winter. Adriane lowered her head. "Nothing all
that important, I guess."
"Why do you persist in a job you believe
"Why does anybody?" she countered
defensively. "Why do you?"
"My job is to help people. If theyll let
me," he said. "Husband?"
"Equivalent?" the doctor asked, peering over
the top of his legal pad. Upon seeing her puzzled expression, he added:
"No, thank you."
"And your parents?"
Adriane blinked. "None that I know of."
He raised an eyebrow. "Do you mean you were
adopted or your parents are no longer alive or." He leaned forward in his
chair. "What exactly do you mean?"
"Answer B. No longer alive." Adriane knew
more was expected of her, and she took a deep breath, tried to decide whether she was
willing or even up to this. She surveyed the office effects around her more closely: a
black rotary telephone; a brass-plated bankers lamp with a small chip in its green
glass shade; a framed, yellowing diploma from the University of Maryland School of
Medicine dated 1949. Adriane thought, GI Bill. Thought, This guy probably pines
for the old electroshock days.
"My father shot his face off," she allowed,
leaving out the details: that he was a gambler who owed a lot of money; that at the time
she thought mobsters killed him, because it seemed impossible he could desert her. That
she was fourteen.
"And your mother?" he asked, moving right
along. "How did she die?"
"Same," replied Adriane, surprised he
didnt pursue the father angle, which seemed to her a rich vein.
"Speak plainly, Miss Gelki. I beseech you."
"What part of same, dont you
understand?" asked Adriane. She flicked another bug from her leg. "Did you know
this couch is crawling with fleas?"
The doctor set aside his legal pad and pinched the
bridge of his nose.
"We have gotten off on the wrong foot, Miss
Gelki," he said. "Theres a credibility gap between us. Its up to you
to repair it. I dont have the energy."
"Gap?" she asked. "Its all true.
Okay, so my mother took pills, but it was the same hotel room, though ten years
"Get your act together, miss!" Dr. Harris
slammed his hands on the desktop and pitched forward in his chair, which made a startling
squeal. "And come back next week ready to work!"
Adriane checked her watch as a way of avoiding the
doctors intense stare. Theyd used only twenty of their fifty-minute session,
so shed gotten off easy in a way, and yet she worried about the gleeful emphasis
hed given the word work.
He did not escort her to the front door, which was
okay with Adriane. She passed through the fusty living room quickly, though not without
taking notice of a gaudy tasseled lampshade and a chintz sofa coverlet; perhaps these were
the trappings of a Mrs. Harris or maybe there was an "equivalent" in the old
doctors life. Adriane might turn the question back on him next time, if he put her
on the spot again.
It was dark by the time she arrived home, and she took
her dog for a brisk walk in the cold. Afterward, she gave him a smoked pigs ear, his
favorite treat, then poured herself a Manhattan from the pitcher she kept in her freezer.
"What a day, Barry," she said. Together they
sprawled on the couch and looked though the newly arrived issue of Martha Stewart
Living. Adriane kept an eye out for good recipes and other usable tidbits of advice,
which Martha was always full of. If only last months issue had included a
piece on how to take the MMPI.
The phone rang, and Adriane, inveterate screener,
waited for her machine to pick up. It was her newfound partner in abandon. Except Shelley
hadnt made the mistake of asking an undercover cop for money, so the judge had
dismissed the charges against her.
"What up, ho?" she chirped in that sometimes
charming, sometimes annoying British accent of hers.
Adriane tossed her magazine on the piano, took a step
toward the phone, but hesitated. She really wasnt in the mood to divulge anymore
today, so she continued to screen the call. Undeterred, Shelley waded into a detailed
message describing her latest sexual exploit. You had to admire Shelleys
self-assurance, not just with men, but with answering machines; she had no problem
chattering into the void.
After sliding into their old booth, her boss Garrett asked for a vodka
martini, and Adriane ordered the same. Flexible about cocktails, she considered herself,
like H. L. Mencken, "ombibulous."
"You two havent been in here for a long,
long time," said their waitress, Calida, a wispily tall émigré from Madrid.
Actually, Adriane and her boss hadnt come to
happy hour in four years, not since their brief, ill-fated fling. She smiled wistfully as
Calida walked off, then whispered to him, "I cant believe she remembers
us!" It felt strangely gratifying, in a sentimental way, and Adriane found her eyes
"Look, as I said, I dont want to do
anything to upset, well, anything," Garrett began, "but youve been
seemingout of sorts. I thought you might need to talk."
She sighed. "Thats what my shrink
"Youre in therapy?" he asked, boyishly
wide-eyed. "Good for you!"
She flinched from his enthusiasm. "I dont
really belong there."
"Are you kidding?" he said. "After
everything youve been through? I should probably look into a little therapy
myself," he added, eyeing the tapas buffet.
"Yeah, well, unfortunately my therapist thinks
Im a pathological liar."
Garrett blinked. "Really?"
"I even told him, you know, about my parents, and
he wouldnt believe me."
Garrett was one of the very few people who did know
about her parents. "Hes supposed to believe you, Im pretty sure."
"Well, Id fudged a few answers on a
standardized test." She sighed again, morosely. "Hes way too dependent on
those test results."
"Why dont you find a better therapist? Shop
"Thats not an option."
She explained about the court order, which may not
have been a wise detail to share with ones boss, but her need to reveal herself to
him was a habit Adriane had never managed to break. It always felt good, in a painful,
"You flashed a cop?" he asked, his normally
lax facial muscles becoming taut with moral confusion. "Was thatreallynecessary?"
"It was fun," she insisted, clicking
the salt and pepper shakers together. "It was the most alive Ive felt
" She glanced at him with a trace of longing.
"Youre probably getting this therapy just
in time," he decided.
"Hey!" she snapped, stung by his remark.
"Whose side are you on?"
Calida silently delivered their drinks and disappeared
"Im on your side," he said. "Do
you want me to go with you next time, to corroborate your story?"
Adriane imagined showing up to psychotherapy with her
boss, the former object of her illicit seduction, as a way to impress Dr. Harris that she
was honorable. What an appalling thought! She began to laugh, so loudly that Garrett
squinted with concern.
"I really am on your side," he said.
She finally got her laughter under control and nodded
gratefully, because she knew in her heart it was true. She reached for her martini.
The week passed quickly, and on Wednesday evening
Adriane brooded over the next days appointment with Dr. Harris. She kept hearing her
bosss voice, offering to "corroborate" her story, and clenched her jaw.
Abandoneers never asked for corroboration!
She approached the tall bookcase in her living room
and crouched before the bottom shelves where she kept back issues of magazinesHarpers,
Football Digest, an erotic journal called Nippleodeon. Reaching for
the 1992 boxed set of Martha Stewart Living, she extracted the November issue:
"Ten Stuffings Worth Our Thanks." When the magazine had first arrived, on a gray
Saturday four-plus years ago, Adriane planned to make the recipe featuring apricots and
cashews, but events of the day intervened. She now flipped through the issue and found,
lodged in the magazines center, the document she would bring to therapy in order to
Barry ambled over and sniffed the yellowed piece of
Her mothers suicide note.
It would speak for itself.
After work the next day, Adriane stopped at home to walk and feed Barry,
then dutifully drove to her session. She rang the doorbell to Dr. Harriss apartment,
and he buzzed her in. As he had the previous two weeks, he waited for her at the top of
the stairs, wearing a different but equally frayed tweed jacket. His ears appeared to have
grown even larger.
"Are we ready to be more forthcoming?" he
asked, leading her through the living room. Adriane took it as a rhetorical question and
kept mum, distracted in any case by a framed sepia wedding portrait standing on an end
table. From her distance, she couldnt tell if the photo was of the doctor and his
bride or possibly his father and mother or someone else altogether. And now, already in
the office area, he motioned her toward the orange couch as he shuffled to his post behind
the large oak desk. His swivel chair squeaked as he sat down.
"About last week," she said. "Ive
He raised a shrubby eyebrow as Adriane reached into
her purse for the note. She smoothed it across the lap of her jeans, then looked up at
him. "Maybe this is too abrupt," she said. "How are you?"
"How am I?" he asked. "Im
fine, thank you. Please, proceed."
She stood and brought the note to him. "It has to
do with my mothers suicide."
"I see," said Dr. Harris, taking the page
from her. He cleared his throat, as though planning to read aloud, which in fact he began
To Adriane, Only Daughter of Mine:
Today has been a near-perfect day.
After you left for work, I awoke and ate a grapefruit.
Then I practiced my Schubertthe B-flat sonata that always gave you so much trouble.
Practiced with no earthly goal in mind, no impending recital, recording, or master class,
simply practicedsending notes into the air as though freeing birds from their
cages. You always seemed to think of music, or at least practice, or perhaps following in
my footsteps, as the cagethough I suppose all that is my fault, too.
Well, anyhow, I played through the piece twice. Then,
for old times sake, walked over to Louies and savored one of their mocha
ice-cream rum drinks. I sat at the bar by myself, the conversations echoing around me.
Ive always liked Louies, but the acoustics, as you know, are not optimal.
Someone had left behind a sports page, and I glanced
at headlines recording one pointless conflict after another. With so much conflict in the
worldreal and often unavoidablewhy should people contrive yet more and call it
sports? Why should they waste their time, money, and feeling on the outcome? In your
fathers case, I believe he had difficulty making distinctions between actual life
and its simulacra. A terrible influence you were on each others adolescent natures.
I always found your closeness untoward and, I might add, hurtful. I know Ive
intimated as much over the years, but saying it plainly, at last, seems more truthful, and
it is only through the truth that one can be forgiven. You yourself seem not to need
forgiveness, as was made clear on that otherwise lovely day at Pimlico, so I wont
burden you with mine. Perhaps you might someday grant me the favor of yours, but I am not,
as it were, holding my breath.
I am soon to rejoin my husband and will have put such
niggling, peripheral concerns behind me. Youll find the deed for the adjoining plot
in my safe-deposit box. Everythings paid for and taken care of, your father assured
me, so there should be no problems. I would have picked a swanker hotel in which to wind
things down, but this was the hotel your father chose, after all.
Good luck, kiddoyoull need it!
Deirdre de Havilland Gelki
P.S. Thank you, that was a pleasant afternoon
at the track. Well always have Pimlico!
P.P.S. Please keep the piano in tune, even if you
rarely play it. You can trust Mr. Hemmerdinger on all maintenance issues. I believe
youre due for a complete re-felting.
Dr. Harris unwrapped a lozenge from the candy dish. Adriane watched him expectantly. He
approached and handed her a blank sheet of paper and a pen.
"Please write the following words quickly and
without thinking." He returned to his desk, picked up her mothers note, and
dictated: "Today has been a near-perfect day."
Adriane shook her head in amazement. Would he
carbon-date the paper next? Resignedly, she copied down the sentence.
Dr. Harris then collected her handwriting sample and
compared it to the original. Studied them for a good minute. Eventually, he looked up. At
some point tears had found their way into his eyes.
"Monstrous," he seemed to murmur.
"Simply monstrous." And then louder: "Why would you keep such a caustic
Adriane shrugged. Actually, hearing them read out
loud, the words sounded less indicting than shed remembered them.
"It seems significant that youve held on to
this." He continued to clutch the original note. Using his free hand, he now patted
his brow and cheeks with the handkerchief from his breast pocket. "Please excuse me
for having doubted you."
Adriane felt her throat tighten at the sight of the
doctors tears. It caught her by surprise, how badly she must have wanted him to
believe her. "Okay," she said.
"Ive been doing this for so many
years," he conceded, "and your test scores"
"Dont worry about it."
"How have yousurvived this long
Adriane blushed and lowered her eyes.
"You should consider coming beyond our brief
stint." He glanced again at her mothers note, which trembled in his grasp.
"I can reduce the fee, if need be."
Adriane nodded tentatively. She was still getting used
to being believed. She watched him hold her documentationher Certificate of
Damagethen turned her gaze toward the doctors own diploma hanging on the wall.
"What do your initials stand for?" she
asked, as though this were a relevant consideration in choosing a therapist.
"Beryl. Phillip." The doctor smiled, almost
dopilythe first smile she had seen on his face. His teeth were dingy and crooked;
maybe thats why he didnt do it more often.
"You have a nice smile," she said, trying to
make him feel better about it, but maybe, she feared, the lie was too obvious. The last
thing she wanted was to reopen their credibility gap. His face reddened, and he swiveled
in his chair away from her, still clutching the suicide note, and seemed to gaze out the
window, waiting for her to speak.
So, it was going to be that kind of therapy.
The Woody Allen kind. Adriane pushed off her shoes, raised her legs onto the couch, and
closed her eyes. Still pleased to have won him over, she hoped to keep that good feeling
going, and if it meant coughing up a few more truths, she could probably see her way clear
to doing that.
Scrunching deeper along the couch, she lay her ankles
across the far armrest. She felt awkward about reclining, but this seemed the standard
posture in movies, and she wantedas long as she was striving for Dr. Harriss
approvalto get it right. Her hand came across a small rent in the couchs nubby
fabric and she could feel the cushioning within. Someone, possibly a mouse, had gouged out
a small chunk of foam. She poked her finger inside.
"I was a prude all through high school," she
began. "I wouldnt give my mother the satisfaction of criticizing me on that
score. And Im still barely experienced, if you want to know. I hear you people care
about that kind of thing. But she does have a pointabout me and my dad being maybe
too close. Not physicallywere not talking movie-of-the-week, but the feeling.
I mean, he did love me more than he loved her."
Which I liked, thought Adriane. And then, she
considered: Perhaps the insight only counted if she said it out loud. Therapy seemed in
this way like confession, or so she imagined. Self-awareness was not enough; you were
supposed to own up to your problems and have them witnessed.
"I liked it," she said, "that he loved
me more than he loved her." She glanced over at the doctor to detect a response, any
sort of response at all, and he seemed to offer a subtle, nonjudgmental nod.
Maybe, Adriane thought, this wont be
so bad. Shed already found herself sharing more classified information than
shed ever shared with her boss, though not as much as shed confided to her
Gentle Listener. But there was something more satisfying, she decided now, about divulging
herself to a physical person, a professionaleven if doing so kind of put her
abandoneering experiments on hold. Adriane settled deeper into the couch, pinched a bit of
foam, and wondered how much Dr. H. would be willing to come down on his hourly rate.
"I liked that my father loved me more than
he loved her," she repeated. "So the more she resented me, the more it meant he
had, right? Maybe thats why I never moved out. You know, to keep that feeling
alive." She wondered if the doctor appreciated such wry self-analysis. "I mean I
really liked that feeling," she said once again for good measure. "From
when I was ten, he and I would watch football on TV, and we had this whole Sunday
She described the hours upon hours spent watching NFL
football. Later, in the spring, her father would pick her up from school early and
theyd go to the track. Also the many, many poker games; Adriane would just watch,
but that was more than her mother was allowed.
"That thing in her note, about thanking me for
Pimlico? A few months before she died, she wanted to go to the track. Shed never
been, and I really didnt want to take her; it stood to ruin some very pleasant
memories for me. But she insisted: Lets go to Pimlico! Call in sick. Lets
go. This was the first time shed suggested we do anything together in I
dont know how long. It was suspicious. I reminded her that people gambled at
Pimlicoshe was dead set against betting of any kindbut she shrugged it off
this time and dressed up like it was Easter. She even put on a pair of white gloves. I
mean this wasnt even the Preakness. This was some weekday afternoon. We were in the
grandstand surrounded by drunks and washouts. She didnt seem to care. She kept
asking things like, Is this where you and your father liked to watch?"
Adriane remembered one of the races coming to a
finishthat exhilarating burst of dust, leather, and sweat as the horses passed. Theyre
so beautiful, her mother said, and Adriane rejoined, jealously: Yes, they are.
"Lets bet on something," her
mother suggested. "How do you decide which horse to bet on?"
Adriane buried her face in the racing form and mulled
over their options. Her father had always liked exactas and tried to pair a favorite with
some medium long shot that grabbed his imagination. Adriane tried explaining some of the
math to her mother but soon felt embarrassed, as though she were describing a sex act.
She picked a front-runner, a four-year-old named Dandy
Long Legs, and paired him with Homemade, whod posted very fast practice times on
turf. Ten minutes later, shed turned her mothers ten-dollar bet into a little
over three hundred bucks.
"She was stunned. She thought it was alchemy. A
couple races later, I picked a second exacta, and then there was no shutting her up. Now
I understand the whole appeal, she kept saying, in a way that sounded, you know, a
little patronizing. But when she started referring to my handicapping as a
"talent," thats when I started to get pissed off and said we should leave.
I mean, come on, I know what is and isnt a talent.
"In the car, she asked me why I thought my father
lost so much money. Not in the harping, judgmental way she used to ask him. She just
really wanted to know, which confused me no end, but I told her he was an addict, because
that was the truth. She said she hoped I could avoid that in my own life, and I was trying
to figure out how I should take that when she added something that seemed so over the top,
so eff-ed up, I totally lost it, Doc. Wed just turned off the freeway, and she said
shed been giving the tension between us a lot of thought, and then she said, We
all make mistakes, Adrianeshe never called me by my name, and she saidI
want to forgive you.
"When you think about it, thats kind of a
strange way to put it, you know? Like there was a but coming. As in: But I
cant. Anyway, thats not what I was angry about. And, believe me, I was
spastic angry. I swear to you, Doc, I almost rear-ended the car in front of us. I told her
I had no idea what she was talking about; there was nothing for her to forgive. I may have
been screaming. Dont you dare forgive me, and so on. She just stared straight
ahead at the road, and we dropped the subject completely.
"After that, for the next few months, we
quarreled a lot less, and she made an effort to be pleasant, but in that way
the way people can put themselves out when they know it only has to be temporary."
Adriane looked down at her stomach and saw a small
pile of foam crumbs, which shed plucked from the couchs wound. Except for the
throaty moan of a hot water pipe, buried in the walls somewhere, the room remained quiet.
"Doctor Harris?" she asked after a long
pause. "Ive always kind of wondered. Do you think that time we went to the
do you think she was deciding right around then
was that the
day she decided?" Adriane glanced at him. "To settle her accounts or something?
Put her affairs in order? What do you think, Doc?" He continued to face the window,
still holding her mothers note, but he seemed to have nodded off, his chin resting
against his chest.
I put him to sleep? She felt suddenly idiotic. Pouring
my guts out?
"Hey!" She clapped her hands.
"Sigmund Freud! Nap on your own time."
She strode toward him, leaned across his desk, and
tried to draw the note from his grasp. But he wouldnt let go, and the force of her
pulling spun him in his swivel chair, and when he stopped in front of her he pitched
forward, his head hitting the desktop with a solid knock.
Adriane looked at the pale scalp glowing through his
bald spot and felt the blood drain from her own face as well. His wrist felt cool and
papery. She reached for the telephone, stuck her finger in the rotary dial. It took a
moment for her body to remember how to use it. She called 911.
"Nature of your emergency?" asked the tinny
voice of a switchboard operator.
"I dont know," whispered Adriane.
Shed seen only one dead body: her mothers,
lying across a hotel bed, her suicide notethe very note that Dr. Harris now
heldon the bedside table next to an array of empty miniatures. The investigating
officer had asked Adriane to identify the body, its skin a waxy yellow, which the
doctors here lacked, but maybe that was coming.
Adriane could hear the scrabbling of computer keys
over the phone. "Medics are on the way," said the operator. "Im
transferring you to a nurse; dont hang up."
A moment later a young-sounding man came on the line
and asked Adriane to describe what happened.
"Nothing happened!" she said suddenly
defensive. "Dr. Harris just keeled over!"
"Is he breathing?" The nurse asked, his
voice nearly cracking with puberty. "Place your finger under his nose."
Adriane did as she was told, wedging her finger in the
narrow space between the doctors upper lip and his desk, but couldnt
distinguish any possible flow of breath from the tickle of his mustache. "I
dont know," she said. "Hes so frail." She withdrew her finger
and noticed a smear of blood on it. Good God, she thought, my yammering killed
"Do you know CPR, maam?"
"Actually, no!" The phone felt slippery in
her hand, and she felt irrationally afraid of dropping it. Maam? she thought.
"Are you alone?"
Adriane swallowed. "Yes."
"Thats okay, maam. Ill talk you
through this situation. I want you to lay him down on his side. Are you strong enough to
"Lay Dr. Harris on the floor?" Adriane put
down the phone and pulled the slight man from his chair, spread him out under the window,
and arranged him on his side as gently as possible. She could see now that he had suffered
a nosebleedwhen hed hit his head? Blood had collected in his once gray
mustache, rejuvenating it with color.
"Now what?" she said into the phone.
"Open his mouth and make sure his tongue or
anything isnt creating blockage."
She got down on her knees, pried apart his chapped
lips, then his discolored rows of teeth. She looked inside. His tongue, small and pale,
lay curled asleep. She plucked a half-dissolved cough lozenge from the cave of his cheek.
"Nothings blocking his throat, but I still
cant tell if hes breathing!" she said, the phone tightly cradled under
"Can you feel a neck pulse? Just like at aerobics
Adriane had never taken an aerobics class. She began
pressing her fingertips against the sides of his slack, cool neck, then hurriedly loosened
his bow tie. Tried the neck again. "I cant tell," she lamented. "I
dont know what Im doing."
"Are you okay with trying some
mouth-to-mouth?" the nurse asked.
"I have a choice?" she said, steeling
As instructed, she shifted the doctor onto his back,
pinched his nose and pressed her mouth over histhe kiss of life, wasnt that
what they called it? But when Adriane heard the rattle of her breath in his windpipe, all
she could think of was the whoosh of a crematory burner igniting. She would sometimes hear
this sound in her dreams or even when closing her shower curtain. It haunted her at the
most unexpected moments. Her mouth trembled around the word monstrous.
"Monstrous," she croaked, barely above a whisper.
She hovered over the doctors dry lips and tried
pushing another breath down his throat. The phone medic was saying something tinny and
distant from the floor, so she picked up the receiver. "When is the ambulance
coming?" Adriane cried with anger and wiped the doctors blood from her cheek.
"Theyre almost there. Lets try some
chest compression," he said. "Put both hands over his sternum and press down,
like almost two inches, rapidly."
Adriane did as she was told, and immediately on the
first thrust she heard a sickening crack that sounded like a snapped branch. "I think
I broke a rib!"
"Thats okay. Keep going. Then give him
another two breaths."
Adriane heard a second crack and then a third. The
doctors chest became more and more sunken. Was she thrusting too hard? Angry at the
doctor for abandoning her? If only she could ask him! A fourth crack. Before she could
administer another set of breaths, however, she turned her head, reached for the waste
paper basket, and threw up. Tears leaking out of her face, she wiped her sleeve across her
mouth, pressed it against the doctors once more, and tried to stop crying long
enough to transmit another pair of breaths.
The entrance buzzer jolted her, and she sprang to her
feet and ran to the front hallway, pressed a button to open the street door, and shouted:
"All the way up!"
She saw the heads of two young men bounding up the
stairwell, and she waited for them in Dr. Harriss living room, pointing mutely
toward the back office. They raced past her, carrying a folded stretcher, equipment
jangling from their vests like sleigh bells. They positioned the stretcher in the middle
of the office and sprang open its legs. Adriane tried to keep out of their way, stumbled
back against the orange couch.
The taller of the two men dropped to the floor.
"Shallow, but hes breathing," he said and turned to Adriane. "You
break these ribs?"
"Yes," she said timidly. "They said it
On the count of three, the two medics hoisted Dr.
Harris onto the stretcher then strapped him on. Within seconds, they were carrying him out
of the apartment. Adriane grabbed her coat, turned off the living room lights, and closed
the front door. Then followed them down the stairs. Outside, it was cold and dark already.
The doctor, she noticed, still clutched her mothers note, and it disappeared with
him into the ambulance.
"Mercy Hospital," the driver told her,
"if you want to follow."
She watched the ambulance drive off, its lights
flashing, and tried to remember now if the doctor ever mentioned anything about a Mrs.
Harris. Adriane had meant to ask. She returned to the vestibule of the old building and
regarded the gray rectangle mailbox, which read, inconclusively: Harris. Still, something
should be left. Just in case. She rustled through her purse for a scrap of paper and a
pen. Against the buildings brownstones, whose rough surface made her handwriting
look like that of a child, she composed a note, then squeezed it into the crack of the
As she sat in the ER admittance lounge, Adriane watched a large pair of
automated doors open with a whoosh whenever someone passed from the hospitals
periphery into its core. She resolved to enroll in a CPR class. Everyone, apparently,
ought to know CPR. And maybe she should look into aerobics as well. In the waiting area,
she had plenty of time to obsess over whether she could have done anything differently;
would Dr. Harris be okay if only shed noticed earlier? She began wondering when
exactly in their session hed lost consciousness and which parts of her story he had
heard. What about Adrianes football ritual with her father? Or that earlier part
about how shed taken such perverse pleasure in her mothers resentment? Had Dr.
Harris a professional opinion about those things? Her truth seemed afloat in some kind of
uncomfortable limbo. Trapped, maybe, in the orange nap of his office couch. She
hadnt even gotten to the part about having her mother cremated! That cemetery
deedthere had been problems with it, after all. Adriane sat mesmerized by the
automated doors, waiting for what, and for how long, she did not know.
There did, in fact, turn out to be a Mrs. Harris.
Later that night, a balding woman wearing a sad amount of rouge, entered the ER waiting
area with a whoosh and quickly managed to find Adriane.
"You were his five oclock?" the woman
asked, consulting her watch. Despite her stooped posture, she maintained an almost regal
Adriane needed a moment to recognize herself described
in terms of an appointment. Mrs. Harris continued to look at her wristwatch and said
shed been visiting with her husband the past few hours. "Hes had a
stroke," she explained.
"Will he be okay?" Jittery from soda and
vending machine candy, Adriane heard the smallness of her own voice.
"Yes, he will," said his wife, with a
familiar tinge of jealousy. "After some time."
Instantly Adriane made the imaginative leap of placing
herself back in his care. She dabbed a sleeve to her face and felt an embarrassing
light-headedness and an overall expansiveness of body and spirit. The benefit of
confession, she was starting to see, came from transferring part of ones burden to
another person. It didnt matter whether the doctor, in their next session, would try
to rationalize her behavior; she wasnt angling for that. He could say, "Yes,
what a monstrous thing you did, denying your mothers last wishes" or "What
a monstrous thing, sniping at your mothers compliment; are you unable to recognize a
simple kindness?" and that would be okay. Adriane had done those monstrous things and
more. He could even say: "Yes, you are a monster, Adriane Gelki. We certainly
have our work cut out for us." He would give her the tools. The support. They
would work on it together, long and hard. She would seek his forgiveness, and he would
find a way to grant it. This supplication, the self-flagellation involved, well, Adriane
could just imagine what derisive points her friend Shelley might have to make about the
process. But Shelley neednt know; she and Dr. Harris were never likely to cross
paths. The whole therapy procedure was cloaked in confidentiality, wasnt it?
Doctor-patient privilege. And it was indeed: A rare privilege had been conferred upon
Adriane. Feeling dizzy with relief, she found herself reaching for the elderly
womans shoulder, but Mrs. Harris flinched and withdrew.
"You have a little dried blood in the corner of
your mouth," she said and handed Adriane a tissue before adding, "I guess now
hell take my advice and finally retire."
"Oh," said Adriane, whiplashed anew.
He was so good though."
"Thank you for notifying me." Mrs. Harris
smiled tightly, then fished inside her purse and returned Adrianes message
andpaper clipped beneath, as though they were pieces of a related
correspondenceher mothers suicide note.
The elderly woman then hurried off, with a final whoosh,
and Adriane read over the words shed left for whoever might find them:
Dear Mrs. Harris (or equivalent),
Your husband collapsed during our time together. Hes on his way to Mercy Hospital,
where I am headed right now.
Im so sorry.
Im sorrier than youll ever know.
Adriane Gelki, patient