You wait until the sound of his footsteps fade from earshot and you slump into your chair, putting two fingers to your forehead. You pull the trigger.
You have ten minutes to decompress, get back to yourself, maybe put your inner child in a playful headlock, kick her in the shins, yank her pigtails.
And yet you still don’t know how to deal with your patient’s lingering impression. It’s like digesting a stale boiled egg. His cat litter funk still remains so you pull out an air freshener from your handbag – pomegranate and basil – and spray the room like you’re a shaman casting out voodoo spirits. You gag on the chemicals, blinking as the droplets of perfume settle on the bed and your trusted leather armchair (the things it’s seen.) You’d like to take a lie down, but sinking into the patient’s warm indentation fills you with dread.
You hear muttering out of the window on the patio several flights below and you lean out and catch a snippet of conversation – watching as a haze of smoke blooms from a couple of chain-smoking clinicians.
“The last one was really nuts,” says Mrs Chester, the psychiatrist from across the hall (you hate psychiatrists, as all good Freudians do). She’s talking to another therapist who you’ve seen around the building but don’t know much about, except he’s a Jungian with bulbous ear lobes (you have serious doubts about Jungians, too.)
“She could talk fluently about UFOs,” Mrs Chester says, “the anti-Christ, chemtrails, yogic breathing, flat earth theory, kinesiology, freemasons, angels in this world and the next, all without taking a breath. And then she wouldn’t stop crying. Saving Private Ryan was more serene. I said to her, ‘Quite honestly lady, you are mad and you need drugs.’
You lean on the windowsill, gather saliva in your mouth and gob it out. You hear a yelp from below and then you rush across the hall to Mrs Chester’s door. You pop an obscene amount of double mint gum into your mouth (relaxing, relaxing, chewing gum.)
You gently close the door behind you and sneak into the room – gum stuck in your hair and stretching out to the door handle. (Shit)
You ransack Mrs Chester’s desk and you find red and blue pills in a tangerine bottle. What are these beauties? Experimental tranquillisers only the elite have access to? The ticket to dreamland, that’s what they are. You know it goes against everything you stand for, but nobodies looking and it’s what you need (and gum isn’t enough.)
You shovel half a handful into your mouth and immediately a fuzz penetrates the periphery of your vision.
Tea. You need tea and biscuits.
Gum is left in tangled lines across the room like trip wires and you clamber through the assault course, trying not to get caught up in the sticky strands.
You’re in the communal area, sipping tea from a mug on the countertop without using your hands. The liquid is burning your lips and dripping down your chin onto the floor.
“Wu lava bum on ya wheeze.”
“Whut?” you say, turning to face the voice that is playing racket ball with your brain.
“You have gum on your knees,” says Mrs Chester, as the Jungian leers over her shoulder, surrounded by what you believe is a posse of analysts all in black, brandishing scythes.
Pointing with a cream bourbon, you say, “I don’t like you people and I’m going to tell you as for why.”
(Why do you hate them all so much?)
The analysts stare at you like you’re a rabbit in a hutch, and then you realise, in a moment of clarity, these doctors hold the expectations of so many people in their hands, and you figure, because you’ve done the training, read the literature and taken enough of Mrs Chester’s pills, no matter how well-meaning these professionals are, they’re all full of shit. Everything’s just theory, jumped up ideas and you’re not having it anymore.
You try to tell them this but you’re busy gargling scalding tea and anyway the reality is you’re a therapist yourself and your next patient arrives in one minute (what happened to your life, how did you get here, maybe you should enrol in that mime course you’ve always dreamed of and perform outside the Pompidou Centre in Paris?)
Back in your chair, in your room, you place your elbow on the armrest and your chin on two fingers, ready to interpret. Everything is at angles. Your head begins to slide as your patient knocks and enters. He lies down and starts to talk about his dog. He doesn’t notice you’re far gone, and neither do you.
Tim Frank’s short stories have been published in Bourbon Penn, Eunoia Review, Maudlin House and elsewhere. He is the associate fiction editor for Able Muse Literary Journal.