“When is the doctor going to be here?” Joan felt like she spent the majority of her time tapping on the nursing station desk. In the many hours she stood there, she had memorized the various views and staring points. The clock across the room. The lockers where the nurse’s kept their purses. The back of the transcriptionist’s head as she click-clacked away on her computer.
Once she had tired of the view, she had studied the scratches and dents in the polymer of the desk. There were faint outlines of inscriptions and signatures carved into the frosted plastic. The original depth had been buffed away, but the outlines remained. She thought about all the other patients that had stood where she stood, tapping their fingers and waiting to be heard. It just made her angrier.
“He’ll probably be in around lunchtime.” That was always the answer and it was never true. He was typically in right before 3, which was “nap-time,” or, as Joan called it, “involuntary nap-time” because she swore she was never tired at 3, but the minute she laid down on the bed, she fell asleep. They had to be pumping something into the rooms. She wanted to ask, but she had become very cognizant of how her statements would be interpreted. If she was too curious, they would ask her if she felt people were plotting against her, which a trained chimp could tell was an attempt to test her level of paranoia. If she were too indifferent, they asked her why she didn’t care about what was happening to her. There was really no happy medium, other than silence and the occasional pleasantry.
“Why don’t you go watch TV and we’ll tell you when the doctor comes in.” It wasn’t a suggestion, so Joan begrudgingly complied. As she walked away, she heard the staff talking about plans for the weekend. Her baseline scowl deepened.
She hadn’t sat for more than ten minutes when a nurse came rushing into the TV room.
“Joan? Joan, the doctor wants to see you immediately.”
Finally. Joan hurried into the office, pressing her hospital-issued shirt against her stomach in a futile attempt to get rid of the wrinkles and look presentable.
The nurse followed her in. The doctor was seated at his desk, writing on his usually yellow pad of paper. Joan couldn’t see what it said and she didn’t want to get caught looking.
“Well, Joan,” he began, “I see you have decided to admit what happened. I’m proud of you.”
“Um, yeah, I totally get it now. I was just really stressed and—I mean, yeah. I guess I was tired.” There was nothing convincing about her explanation, but he seemed eager to believe her for a change.
“Doctor, I have some concerns—“ the nurse began, but he didn’t let her finish.
“I understand that, but I feel it would be best to let Joan determine what happens next.”
Both the nurse and Joan shared a look of confusion, but refrained from looking at each other.
“So, that will be all. Joan, if you could stay so we can discuss your plans.” Joan didn’t look at the nurse, but she could hear the door slide shut. The doctor kept writing on his paper. She thought the pen strokes looked strange, overly expressive and wide. She strained to see what he was writing, but he shifted the angle of the pages.
“Well, I guess we don’t have much to talk about. I assume your plan is to go home?”
“And go back to work?”
“Good. I can give you a note of course. Wouldn’t want you to get in trouble with that boss of yours.”
Joan’s eyes narrowed. She had never spoken about her boss in her sessions with the doctor. In fact, to the best of her recollection, hazy as it may be, she had never mentioned her job. She stood up and walked towards him. He looked at her. His face widened into an eerie smile. Wider, wider, until it was no longer human, but a grotesque, putty-like mask. She lifted her hand and jabbed into his shoulder. Her finger went clear through him and jammed on the chair. He laughed.
“You!” She exclaimed. “What are you doing here?!”
Need to play catch up? Read the rest.
Need to play catch up? Read the rest.