Some psychiatrists may be worse off than their patients! Enter Dr. Harriet Ellis, et al.
|Doctor Harriet Ellis stood wringing her hands together, trying to get them warm and at the same time, hoping the cold clammy sweat that drenched her palms would somehow disappear.
God it's cold in here, she thought. Why does he have to keep this place so damn cold? It can't be more than sixty degrees-too cold for anyone.
This was becoming a habit: each Wednesday he'd keep her waiting. Was it part of the therapy? To raise the patient's level of anxiety so high that later on during the session he could make himself look better by alleviating the tension that he himself had caused? If that was his motive, it was a cheap, feckless trick. And she objected to it. Strongly. He's doing it on purpose now. I know it. She had told him a dozen times over the past year that the one thing she absolutely could not stand was to be kept waiting. She'd mention it to him again-one last time.
"Doctor Breslow will see you now," said the receptionist in her condescending voice, sliding the glass window open only slightly from within her tiny cubbyhole.
Harriet snatched her purse from the chrome and glass table where Cosmopolitan, The New Yorker, Architectural Digest-all back issues-lay splayed out like a fan. "About time," she huffed under her breath as she passed the sterile cubicle.
Inside Doctor Aaron Breslow's office it seemed a little warmer, but that was probably just an illusion. "Sorry about the delay . . . again," he said apologetically. He was standing behind his desk, hands in pockets. Like always.
Harriet said nothing, but her expression blazed with contempt. She sat on the over-stuffed couch that looked and felt like it had been purchased from some shabby furniture store at their second or third going-out-of-business sale. Nothing in the office matched. There was no attempt at symmetry. Color coordination? Not even a consideration. "Whoever picked out your furnishings-your motif-you'd better tell them that their taste is all in their mouth," she said.
"You've mentioned that before," replied Doctor Breslow calmly, taking his seat, his hands still stuck in his pockets. "So tell me, how are things going?"
"Jeffrey's come back home again. He's almost always there. I can feel him."
"Oh, how so?" asked the psychiatrist, looking at the open case file on his desk. Inside his pockets he began to feel his hands twitching.
"He's at home most of the time now."
"We've talked about this, at length, many times before, Harriet. Jeffrey is dead. We've established that fact. We both agreed on it. Remember?"
"It doesn't make any difference what we agreed on. Things have changed. The truth's the truth."
Breslow could see that his patient was becoming acutely distressed.
"He wants to punish me. And now he's told others. They're coming for me. I know it."
"What others?" Breslow asked. He knew about her dead son's frequent imagined appearances. They were what prompted her to seek help. But this was the first time she had mentioned any other disturbances.
Harriet took a tissue from a box on the desk and wiped her eyes. She felt uncomfortable discussing the matter. Doctor Breslow always looked so unconcerned, far away. Maybe even apathetic. Now that her eyes were dry, she noticed how strange he looked sitting behind the desk. The thin rays of light shining through the vertical blinds painted long, dark shadows down his face and onto his chest. He looked like he was sitting behind bars-prison bars. The very same ones she would soon be behind. Or maybe he was in a cage, like an animal in a zoo, looking out, gawking at the foolish people who paid good money just to see him.
"Tell me about these others. Who are they?"
"The police. Sheriff's deputies. The F.B.I.! Hell, I don't know who they are. But somehow Jeffrey's gotten to them-and they're coming for me."
"And why should anyone come for you? You haven't done anything wrong. Harriet, Jeffrey hanged himself. It was a suicide. Tragic, yes. But he died by his own hands, and you cannot keep punishing yourself for something over which you had no control. You had no idea he was so disturbed." There. That was a loaded enough statement. She'd have plenty to talk about now. If he was lucky, he wouldn't have to say another word for the rest of the session. He could just sit there and nod his head occasionally, as if he were carefully analyzing everything she said. He had perfected the technique; he used it now with all his patients. It had become a matter of self-preservation. Those strange, stifling, perverse feelings were now a life-threatening reality. It was as if someone had poured molten lead into the veins and arteries of his hands, neck, and chest. Plugging up every passage so his blood could not flow. Depriving his brain of oxygen. Death being only moments away.
"Yes, go on," he managed. He could feel his heart pounding, working at overload capacity, trying frantically to move the congealed blood through passages which had grown too narrow. The pressure in his ears thumped against his brain like someone banging an anvil covered with cotton wadding. He felt the blood slowing to a standstill. He knew it was no longer circulating-his heart needed assistance. Thank God, he had found a way. His hands! His hands would have to carry some of the burden, externally, for what his failing heart could not manage, internally.
Carefully he removed his frantically pulsating hands from his pockets. She must not see what he was doing. He moved closer to the desk. Behind the cover of its mahogany barrier, he could place his right hand crosswise over the left and cup them, forming a pump, and then, by squeezing them together-miraculously-they functioned as an external artificial heart!
". . . Peter wanted the divorce. There was no changing his mind. . . ." She droned on, oblivious to Doctor Breslow's throbbing hands.
"Yes, yes, please continue. I'm listening." His hands were now safely concealed under the desk, doing their work. Harder and harder he squeezed. Pumping the blood through his body, working harder than a cyclist pedaling up a sixty-degree incline.
". . . and when Jeffrey sensed what his father and I were going through-he was a sensitive young man-he only wanted to help. He would have done anything for his father. But Peter wouldn't listen."
The same old story. Good, thought Breslow. In just a short while, I'll be fine. A couple more gallons to pump and then I'll be able to stand when the session's over. She'll never even realize that a miracle had taken place.
"He was all purple and bloated-looking when I went into the garage. I don't know how long he'd been hanging there, but his eyes were all pushed out, foamy saliva running from his mouth, and his head was cocked grotesquely-laying on his shoulder. I immediately snipped the rope with the hedge cutters. His body fell with an awful 'thump' and he. . . ." She was crying again and reached for another tissue.
"Yes. I see." Breslow was feeling better now. Once again his beating hands had saved his life. His blood was coursing more regularly now. Even his vision was improved. His eyes weren't so fogged over with that viscous veil that made everything look surrealistic.
Ding . . . Ding . . . Ding. The small clock on his desk signaled the time for the session had expired.
Breslow stood up and swiftly slipped his hands back into his pockets. "Are you taking your medication?"
"Generally. But I'm running late now. Can we schedule an hour earlier next week? On time?"
"I'll check with Susan, and if there's any conflict, we'll call."
Harriet Ellis left the office without saying another word.
Downstairs, in the lobby, a bank of pay phones lined an entire wall. She stopped and fumbled through her purse, looking for a quarter, then punched in the number she wanted.
On the other side of Manhattan, on Eighth Avenue, Eugene Peer stood in a comfortably cool waiting area. He didn't hear the phone ring; he was too absorbed in the picture he was studying: a reverse silhouette, white relief against dark maroon. It was an Oriental work depicting a man and woman, each wearing a coolie hat, standing on a small bridge overlooking a pond. In the background a great pagoda stood, delicately surrounded by cherry trees.
"Excuse me, Doctor Peer," said the receptionist, emerging slightly from her glassed-in office. "Doctor Ellis just called. She's running a little late for your session. She asked if you wouldn't mind a short wait."
"Not at all," said Eugene Peer, never taking his eyes off the picture. "I could stand and watch these swimming goldfish for hours."