A serial comedy from Ryan Hussey
(the dude who brought you Donovan the Dinosaur’s ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’)
“Don’t do it, Mr. Garner. Trust me, things could be much worse.”
He looked at me as if I was the crazy one. Go figure. Then he replied, “What are you talking about? Don’t do what?”
“Don’t kill yourself, man. You have two little girls to worry about,” I said. This statement seemed to confuse him.
“What? No, I don’t. I’m forty-seven years old, divorced, and — ”
I cut him off. “Time’s up for today.” As I rushed out of the room, I said, “I’ll see you next week or something.” I didn’t know if I would actually see Mr. Garner next week or tomorrow. And I didn’t know whether or not he’d kill himself by then, or if I’d be on a plane to Mexico or in a 6’ x 8’ jail cell for impersonating an esteemed psychiatrist.
Mr. Garner was my first patient. I wish I could say he’d be my last, but something about this job intrigued me. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the fact that I had to listen to a bunch of psychos babble about themselves all day. I mainly stuck around for Melanie, the receptionist.
“You have another emergency appointment in twenty minutes, Dr. Jeremy,” she said to me, with that sexy yet subtle Spanish accent. “Another one of Dr. Nichols’ patients you’re taking while she’s on maternity leave. Her name is Mrs. Julia Waters and she says she heard her cat talk to her.”
I chose to ignore the reason for the appointment because I had bigger fish to fry. “Please, ‘Doctor’ Jeremy is way too formal for me. Call me Ben.”
“…But isn’t your first name Adam, Dr. Jeremy?”
Shit. “Yes. Yes, it is.” I brainstormed a quick fix for the situation. “Ben is my older brother. I always wanted to be him when I was younger, you know?” We shared a chuckle. “Call me Adam, Mel.” She nodded and said something back with a smile, but I wasn’t listening. I was just picturing us clearing off her desk and really getting to know each other for the next twenty minutes.
But the fantasy did not become a reality. It never could, unless I told Melanie the truth about who I was. Instead, I used my break to call my brother, Adam:
“Adam! How’s London?”
“Well, I’m still unpacking and stuff, but it’s great so far. Rainy but great. And yeah, sorry I forgot to tell you I changed my flight to today.”
“Yeah, I dropped by your office today to say hi and wish you a good trip. Your receptionist is very friendly, by the way.”
“Oh is she? That’s good to hear because I never got the chance to actually meet her. We did the interviews over the phone, but she seemed nice. Bubbly, even. How’s the job hunt going?”
“You’re actually never going to believe me…”
I paused and looked around my office. Well, his office.
“…I think I found one.”
“Oh yeah? What do we got this time?”
“I was thinking something in the field of psychiatry… Hello? You there?”
“Uh, yeah. Yeah, I’m here, Ben. You know you need to go to school for that, right? And considering you change careers as often as you change girls, psychiatry might not be the best thing for you. Trust me.”
“It’s not that hard.”
I glanced out of my office and saw an elderly woman in the waiting room. She was standing by Melanie’s desk.
“Ben, the only job you’ve held for more than six months was running the drive-thru window at McDonald’s.”
“What, are you afraid I can do your job better than you can? Or are you afraid I’m gonna take it?”
“No, no. That’s not it. I’m not afraid you’re going to take my job. You just — ”
“I gotta go. Another patient’s here.”
“Did you just say ‘patient’? What are you — ”
“No! No. I said, ‘I don’t have any patience for bad service during a phone call.’ You must not’ve heard me right.”
“Ben, what’s going on?”
“Crssshhh, I can’t hear you. Shhhhhresshchhshshh, you’re breaking up. Scrsssh I’m getting on the train. Shshhchh. Gottagotalktoyousoon, bye.”
I stepped out of my office and waved Mrs. Waters in from the waiting room. Her skin wrinkled like a shirt you don’t fold right and leave in the bottom of a drawer. If I were to chop her down and count her rings, they’d probably number somewhere around sixty-eight. She wore those large, typical old-person glasses, with her eyebrows drawn on just a centimeter too high. As she waddled into my office, I gave Mel the here we go look and closed the door behind her.
“You must be Mrs. Julia Waters. Welcome to Mc — ” Nope, that’s not it. “How can I, uh, help you today?”
“Dr. Jeremy, thank you for having me on such short notice.”
I was about to tell her I had nothing better to do anyway, but she started rambling: “I always TiVo Wheel of Fortune on Bingo Night because I love that show so much. I even named my cat Sajak. So I’m watching last night’s show this morning with Sajak, and I swear I heard him solve a puzzle.”
My first thought was Are you crazy, lady? But that would’ve been a dumb question. The best thing I could come up with was: “Was it a prize puzzle?”
“The round had just started and it was only C-blank-blank-blank-blank-blank-B-blank-R-blank-blank-R space blank-N space P-blank-R-blank-blank-blank-blank-blank space blank-O-blank-T.” Damn, this fossil loved to talk fast. “Sajak stood up in front of the television and said, ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise Lost,’ then ran into the other room.”
Slow down, grandma.
“He ended up being right!”
Again following my instincts, this is what came out of my mouth: “Wait, nobody had said ‘S’ yet or bought an ‘E’? I find that hard to believe, lady.” I mean, it’s one thing if she was crazy, but if she thought she was gonna come in here and lie straight to my face, I can’t respect that.
“It was a prize puzzle! A vacation to Brazil or somewhere in South America. I always knew Sajak was a brilliant cat. Ever since he beat me in Stratego the first week I got him. Oh, he was only a kitten back then...”
Was this old bat brain-dead? How do you lose in Stratego to a cat? How do you even play Stratego with a cat? Naturally, I responded, “Good, so I’m not the only one who’s ever been out-strategized by a pussy before.” Yes, I said that to an elderly woman.
“Oh, so you have a cat too?”
“No, I meant… Nevermind,” I chuckled to myself. She didn’t get the joke, and before I knew it, she wanted to know what kind of cat I had, what games it played, and whether or not it thought Bob Barker was a better Price is Right host than Drew Carey. I still don’t understand why people like that are allowed to walk the streets — not Drew Carey, the old woman.
So, I’d say my record with patients so far was 0 for 2.
I decided to take a break and go out for lunch, clear my head a little. I invited Mel to join me, but she said she was busy and had to get the appointment schedule for the rest of the week settled because I — well, my brother — was expected to be away. Great, more lunatics who talk to their cats and see dead people and take the stairs because they’re afraid of the elevator.
Two slices of buffalo chicken pizza almost made me forget the way the day had unfolded so far. Almost. I saw a cat in an alley on my walk back to the office, and I immediately thought of the prize-puzzle-solving Cat Sajak. I actually stopped and waited for the alley cat to say something to me. How was I supposed to help a bunch of crazies with their problems if I couldn’t even make it through one day at a new job?
When I got back to the office, Melanie said there was a woman waiting for me in the other room. Naturally, I asked if the woman was attractive. Melanie didn’t acknowledge me. The woman called to schedule an appointment for whenever “Dr. Jeremy” got back from his trip, but Mel told her I was here today, so she came right over. She had been waiting in my office for about ten minutes already.
“I was out to lunch. Sorry you had to wait, Miss — ”
“Missus. It’s Mrs. Lawrence,” she said, glancing at her wedding band. The tears were already streaming down this one’s face, forming a puddle in her lap. I had to try to cheer her up.
“In that case, are you doing anything after this? Maybe wanna catch a movie or something? Head back to my place, crack open a bottle of wine, and see what’s on Netflix…” Just because there’s a goalie doesn’t mean you can’t score.
This surprisingly didn’t go over well. The puddle in her lap became Lake Superior, and she seemed to have trouble breathing for a bit. I guess this wasn’t the right time to tell her I didn’t actually have my own Netflix account. Or wine. I didn’t know CPR, and I couldn’t have a hot chick die in my office on my first day.
“Uhm, what’s…Uh, did I say something wrong, Miss — ”
I may be stupid with women sometimes, but I can take a hint. I handed her the box of tissues off my desk and thought Forget about that movie now. After twenty more minutes of crying and five minutes of deep breathing, Miss — MISSUS — Lawrence finally opened up to me.
I learned that she had been married for seven years and had a four year old son named Benjamin. Just like my name. I also learned that, two months ago, she was on her way home from a family function with her husband and Benjamin, when her car was smashed by an eighteen-wheeler on its driver’s side. She was in the passenger seat and came out with scratches and a concussion, but alive. Benjamin and Mr. Lawrence, however, did not.
After Mrs. Lawrence left, I went into the bathroom in my office and thought This bathroom is sweeeeet. Adam must be doing something right. But as I looked at myself in the mirror, guilt wiped that smirk right off my face. Did I seriously just say that to another human being? Had I actually tried hitting on a woman who had her husband and son die right in front of her?
“Don’t do it, Mr. Garner.” He looked at me as if I was trying to play him. “You make that move and you’ll leave your flag wide open for me.”
“You have no idea where my flag is,” he said with a chuckle as he made the move.
“After seeing how you play Stratego every day for the past week, Mr. Garner, I always know where you put your flag.” I was bluffing. I made a move and actually left my flag wide open for him. Shit.
“Well, you’ve only beaten me once.” I’d cheated. “And that’s just in the games we’ve technically finished.” He made a move towards my flag, and I knew I had no way of stopping him from getting there in the next three turns.
I looked down at my watch and saw that there were still eight minutes left in the session. Ah, close enough. “I’d hate to cut this game short, Mr. Garner, but time’s up for today. I guess neither of us can technically count this one as a win.”
After Mr. Garner left, I went to check with Melanie if I had any more appointments for the day. “How does the rest of the day look, Mel?”
“Mr. Garner was your last one, Adam. Looks like you have the rest of the day off.”
“Then you do, too,” I said with a smile. “Go home and forget about this stuff here.” I closed the files and appointment books that she had open on her desk.
“What if there are any emergency appointments?”
“They can call me on my cell phone then,” I assured her. As I watched Melanie leave, my phone rang. It was Adam.
“Ben! How’s my big brother doing?”
“I’m doing great actually. How about you, you wanker?”
I mockingly spoke in a British accent.
“Well, that’s why I’m calling. They’re cutting this psychiatry conference short by a few weeks...”
My eyes opened wide.
“…So, I’ll be home on Thursday.”
I walked into my office and shut the door behind me.
“That’s, uh, that’s two days from now.”
“Yep, yep. How do you like the new job?”
“The new job? I love it. I think I finally found something I enjoy doing.”
“Really? That’s great! Should I expect you to have your own office by the time I get back?”
Adam giggled a bit. I looked around the room and saw his desk with the DR. ADAM JEREMY name plate on it.
“Uh, yeah. Something like that.”
“Listen Ben, I gotta get going now. But I’ll see you Thursday, and I really want to hear all about this new job of yours.”
“Trust me. You will.”