by Zoltan James
Jack Browning was an old man and today he felt older than ever. He didn’t like where he was, at all. He was cooling his heels in the waiting room of Dr. Sandra Goodman. Psychiatrist. Damn. I’d rather be at the dentist, he thought. Her couches were stiff leather and cold to the touch – like the swirling snow that fell outside the window. He felt chilled, which was odd since he really felt hot under the collar.
The dog-eared magazines, on the low glass coffee table in front of him, didn’t interest him at all. They were two months old and the kind only women would like. There was nothing to read concerning baseball, or golf, or auto racing. It occurred to him that he should have brought a book, but he was too damn mad when he left the house to think about it.
Across the way, a middle-aged woman wore no make-up, and covered her head with a blue paisley handkerchief—Amish-like. She busied herself mumbling nonsense to an imaginary friend. She stared ahead, wide-eyed, into some other universe as she spoke. Another goddamn reason why he didn’t belong here.
He studied the receptionist sitting behind the high desk. At least what he could see of her. From his vantage point, he could barely make out her thick black glasses framed by a head of salt and pepper hair pulled back into a severe bun. It matched her personality as he recalled her cool reception when he checked in. Good God. Get me outta here.
Then, the severe bun rose. “Mr. Browning, Dr. Goodman will see you now.” She didn’t smile or offer a hint of friendliness. She looked blankly at him through those thick black frames.
A door to another room opened. And, then he saw her. Dr. Goodman. She was blonde and beautiful. She wore a tan skirt with a light blue shirt. She smiled warmly. And, without speaking, gestured for him to enter.
Jack grumbled and rose slowly to his feet. He scowled at the receptionist, who ignored him, and he took a last wary glance back at the woman who was now scolding her “friend.” He shook his head and entered Dr. Goodman’s inner sanctum for the loony, the lost, and the confused souls of humanity. I don’t belong here, he thought to himself. In fact, he thought the whole exercise was insane and marveled at the irony of it all.
“Please sit down and make yourself comfortable,” she said.
He expected to see a couch, but there was none. So, Jack settled into the cushy beige chair with the big comfy arms. The small room was filled with healthy leafy plants in corners and along the window sill. The soft yellow walls were hung with diplomas in big, black frames, and pieces of modern art that he guessed he was supposed to figure out deep meanings from. It was too perky and it made him scowl.
“Coffee? Tea?” she offered like a friendly airline steward might.
“I’m good,” he grunted.
She sat in a modern executive chair and crossed her legs. A notepad was nearby. She studied him silently.
Jack didn’t speak and avoided her eyes. He noticed the tiny, smart clock on her desk. Another friggin’ 45-minutes to go. He looked back at her.
She sat motionless. Her eyes blinked softly.
Seconds ticked by. Finally, he spoke. “I’ve got nothing to say,” he growled.
“Tell me why you’re here, then?” she said matter-of-factly.
“I dunno. This was your cock-a-mamie idea, as I recall.”
“It’s been a while since we visited. I thought it might be good for us to catch up.” She reached for her notepad.
Jack crossed his arms. He wanted to cross his legs but knew it would hurt too much. So he sank deeper into his chair and deepened his scowl. “How long’s it been?”
“Three years, at least.”
“I thought I saw you last month,” he challenged.
She smiled. “You know that’s not true.”
“Well, seems like it.”
“Let’s cut to the chase shall we?” she said. Her smile disappeared. Her lips grew tight.
“Yeah. Let’s. I gotta bus to catch.” He locked eyes with hers. He was ready for a fight.
“Why are you so angry? What makes you think the world owes you anything?” She re-crossed her legs and her big brown eyes bore into his.
“You know exactly why, so why do you keep asking me stupid questions?” He leaned forward in his chair, hands on his knees, ready to stand and bolt.
“This is about you. Not me. Now. One more time. Why are you so angry?”
Jack studied his gnarly hands with the cracked nails and the big blue veins that looked like interstate highways criss-crossing across the backs. And, there was that ever present purple bruise that didn’t seem to want to heal.
He wondered what had happened to the virile young man he used to be. He was fast at one time. Now he felt like he moved through a world of molasses. At one time, not all that long ago, he was handsome, with hair. Now, he hardly recognized himself in the mirror. He was the best electrician the university ever employed. He knew all the profs and they all knew him. He used to be somebody. Somebody they could rely on, dammit. Now, nobody needed him. He retired ten years ago. He hated retirement. It was boring. His house was paid for. His car was paid for. He owed nothing to nobody. He could go and come as he pleased, but he really had nowhere to go. And, he certainly didn’t owe this whippersnapper psyche-doctor the time of day.
He looked up and watched her for a moment. She hadn’t moved.
“You’re married aren’t you?” he asked.
“Yes. You know that,” she said softly.
He looked around the room, counted the four corners on the ceiling, and cleared his throat. “Well, you tell me. You’re the psychologist – ”
“I’m a psychiatrist,” she corrected.
“Yeah. Whatever. You all deal with the nuts of humankind.”
She stifled a smile.
“So, you wanna know why I’m angry? Maybe, you can tell me, doc.”
She didn’t answer.
“How’d you feel if the only person in the world you ever loved, up and died one day, eh, doc? Massive stroke.” He snapped his fingers to emphasize the point. “Dropped her like a tree. Just up and died when you’re supposed to both slip easy into the retirement years.”
She looked down at her notes.
He leaned forward and his voice grew, “And, you tell me, what if all your best friends were dead. You think you’d be out dancing a jig and tellin’ jokes all freakin’ day long? I don’t think so, doc!”
She looked up at him but didn’t speak. She let the silence tug at him like the moon tugs at the ocean, pulling its release to shore. And, then, she saw it. A tiny tear formed in the corner of his left eye. The top lip belied a tiny quiver. His neck and cheeks grew red. His hands fidgeted. She figured he wanted to strike out. But, she knew that he wouldn’t. He was still a gentleman.
“It’s okay. I understand,” she said softly.
“The hell you do!” he shot back. Spittle splayed across the room. Both eyes teared now. He stood and paced the room. He dabbed at his eyes with a sleeve.
She watched him for awhile and then stood next to him. She reached out a hand to touch his arm. “Dad? It’s okay. I understand.”
He flicked her hand away and turned to face her full on. “Okay? You think it’s okay? I have to make a friggin’ appointment to see my only daughter because she’s too damn busy helping crazy people? Okay? You’re the one who’s nuts!” Tears flowed freely down his face and he didn’t bother to wipe them.
A tear formed in the eye of Dr. Sandra Goodman. She turned away and sat heavily into her chair.
“Please sit down.”
He didn’t answer as he tugged an old handkerchief from his back pocket. He patted his eyes and blew his nose. “I think I’m finished. I have nothing else to say.”
She made a note on her pad. “We should continue this. I think it could be helpful.” She pulled one-two, then three tissues from a box on her desk and blew her nose.
“Continue? I might be dead in three years,” he said. “Hell. I might be dead in three days. Who knows?”
She blew her nose again and seemed to be lost in a thought. Then, she looked up at him and rose from her chair. She walked to him and kissed him softly on the cheek.
He shrank back, surprised.
“Truth is, dad. I think this would be more helpful to me. Maybe you can enlighten me…you know…tell me more about mom. . .and you. I’m…sorry I haven’t been there…for you. It’s just that work…” She gazed into his eyes hoping for a response.
Jack reached out his arms and hugged his daughter. It was the first time he had held her in years and the first time, in many years, he had felt someone hold him. A wave of hurt and then love engulfed his mind. His whole body trembled and he let loose a mournful cry so primal he couldn’t hold it back.
And, Dr. Sandra Goodman held on tight. She wanted to feel his pain with all her might and soul — as full as she could. She trembled with him. She smelled the musk of his neck and laid her head on his shoulder. She closed her eyes and recalled the feeling from days gone by. She remembered happier times when her father’s strong caress made her feel like the happiest girl in the world. A time, long ago, when she was just little Sandy.
The tiny clock on her desk chimed indicating that time was up for this appointment. But the old man and the psychiatrist never heard it. For to them, in that moment, anger melted like snow on a sunny sidewalk.
# # #
Make every hour your happy hour.