“Come in,” a voice calls. I push open the door, expecting someone older, more motherly and plain. Dr. Elgin is not plain. She is exotic in her beauty. Someone you see, and then quickly spin your head around to see again—a portico of otherworldliness.
“Hello,” she says. She does not extend her hand to me, but rather motions to the seat she wants me to occupy. Her voice is deep and warm; it rattles in her throat before it pours out like a smooth cognac. She’s different from the others. I realize this almost at once. She looks at me as if I’m a person she’s deeply interested in, rather than a file assigned to her by the state. If she looks at everyone like this, it’s no wonder they call her Doctor Queen. Papchi told me that she does not work at the institution full-time, but that she gives fifteen hours a week here and the rest of the time she spends at her private practice.
I wonder what compels Doctor Queen to donate her time with the truly sick people, instead of the depressed housewives and cheating husbands who no doubt visit her office. It’s probably just that, I think, smiling at her. She wants to feel like she’s actually fixing something broken.
“Hello, Dr. Elgin.”
She is unmoved by my politeness. Perhaps I can move her with my story, and, if she’s as good as they say, she can help me get out of here. I put my reservations high up on a shelf and prepare myself to like her.
“Tell me, Margo, all about yourself.”
She leans back in her chair, and I am reminded of Destiny when she stretched out, readying herself to watch a movie. I think about where to start. When I arrived here? Why I arrived here? The Bone? Judah?
“My mother was a prostitute…” I begin. I am surprised by my willingness to talk. The ease at which I verbally claim the ugliness of my life. Perhaps this is the first time someone has asked me about myself so openly. Or perhaps I have no choice but to speak, locked in this sterile place, filled with people who don’t belong in the regular world.
I tell her about the eating house, and about the men—my father, in particular, with his chunky Rolex. Then our time is up, and we both look disappointed. My confessions have made me breathless. I feel alive; my fingertips are tingling. It’s empowering, I think. To allow a stranger to know you.
“The state requires you to have four sessions a week, Margo,” she says. “I have little room for new patients, but I will move things around for you, yes?”
“Yes,” I say. “I would like that very much.”
Dr. Elgin sees me on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday each week. Tuesdays are her day off, as she even sees patients on the weekend, she tells me. I look forward to our time together. She wants to know about Judah; she is more interested in him than she is in my mother. I ask her about her life, but she is hesitant, always switching back to me, which is expected, and also why we are both here.
But one day she tells me that she used to be married. He died, widowing her before they had the chance to have children. I don’t ask her how he died, or how she feels about it. I don’t want to think that Dr. Elgin is as messed up and sad as I am. It’s better to believe that she became this purring, beautiful person, so beloved by the criminally insane that they announced her Queen of Doctors. I imagine her deceased husband being ridiculously handsome—dark, foreign skin and hazel eyes. He was tall, and he was her first love. It is why she is still single, because no one can compare to the man she had vowed to love for all her moral life. So she wears her beautiful clothes, and eats at fancy restaurants with colleagues who wear black-rimmed glasses and discuss the theories of Gestalt and Freud.
I make up stories like these for the nurses and orderlies at the hospital too. None quite as glamorous as Dr. Elgin’s, and, if you piss me off, I’ll give you a terribly lonely life with a tray table and Cup o’ Noodles.
I did all of this to survive, my soul a beaten and trembling dog. My mind a million compartments filled with holes and questions and drug-induced thoughts that were furry around the edges. Caterpillar thoughts, as Dr. Elgin would later call them. She changes my medication so that I no longer feel so thick and moody, and she brings me a little potted cactus that I keep on the windowsill of my room. I am wholly hers, intent on proving myself, fixing myself. And I should feel manipulated, because that’s what she’s doing, but I don’t care. I kind of like it here.
DR. ELGIN TELLS ME LATER, that in the letter the police found in my car, I outlined the psychotic episodes I’d been having, begging whoever found me—if they found me in time—to put me somewhere I could get help.
“So you see,” she says, “you are here of your own accord. This is something you wanted.” I nod, though I have no memory of writing the letter. I wonder if Leroy somehow coerced me into it, or if he wrote it himself. Either way, none of it is true. What I was going to do to Leroy was just. Something he deserved.
I grow suddenly depressed while contained in my new prison. One that is clumsier than the eating house and far less experienced at torture. Its white walls and the ever-present smell of bleach make me miss the brown stains and moldy character of my former prison. I speak to Dr. Elgin about my depression, hoping she can help me understand.
“Some people,” begins Dr. Elgin, “believe that it’s people like you and me who are the problem.” She pauses long enough to allow me to wonder after her words. I picture her without the many adornments on her arms and fingers, without her thick, black eyeliner and deep red lipstick, and see her imprisoned in her own eating house. Depression is a deep, black wave—so powerful, building from a swell and rising … rising. Could Dr. Elgin personally know its force?
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