You can find this short story in the Literary Town Hall collection, conveniently listed over there on the right.
As the saying goes, never apologize and never explain. But this short story is eight years old and I have to admit that there are parts of it that don't really hold up. Then again, there are parts of it that, I think, hold up extremely well.
As you will probably be able to guess when you read this, much of it is based on real life events.
Also, I think there might be some swearing in there, not to mention a few disturbing metaphors. This is probably a PG-13 story.
By Kyle Garret
I am a guided missile without the guidance.
I’ve never been to this doctor before. The only thing I know about him is that he accepts my insurance and that his office is less than ten miles from my apartment. Unfortunately, each of those miles is shadier than the next. By the time I get there, I’m beginning to question the validity of my new doctor’s qualifications, not to mention the quality of my insurance company.
His office is in an old brown building. There’s no sign on it anywhere that would indicate a doctor resides there, at least none that I can see from my car. Mathematical deduction is the only reason I even find the place; this has to be his office because the building after his has an address that is two numbers higher.
I park and get out of my car, making sure to hit the “lock” button on my car keys. I hear the car honk and I’m suddenly very thankful for technology. Then again, I’ll draw little comfort that my car is safe if I’m beaten to death inside this building.
And then I see the sign.
The sign is a piece of notebook paper with “Dr. Daley” written on it in blue pen. It is taped to the front door of what I’m assuming is his office. If my wrists weren’t actually throbbing as I stood there, I would have turned around. But beggars can’t be choosers and apparently I’ve turned into a beggar. I suppose every girl I’ve ever slept with would attest to that.
When I enter I immediately notice two things: two attractive young women who appear to be medical assistants and a framed picture of who I am assuming is Dr. Daley. The assistants are nice to see; the picture is less so. The photo is a pastel looking shot of a middle aged man in a shirt, tie, and cardigan sweater. He’s wearing those black, horn rimmed glasses – the kind they used to wear in the 50’s and 60’s. And in the picture he appears to be about fifty years old. Those pesky math skills quickly alert me to the fact that this man could be over a hundred.
“Are you here to see Dr. Daley?” says one of the assistants, no doubt picking up on my look of complete bewilderment.
“Uh, yeah, I have an appointment,” I say.
“Okay, just sign in for us here,” she says as she points to the sign-in sheet with one hand and grabs a clipboard with the other, “and fill this out for us. You can sit over there.” She points towards the opposite side of the room.
Suddenly I notice that there are, in fact, chairs in this room. I hadn’t noticed them before because there’s no one sitting in them. I’m the only patient.
I put my name on the sign-in sheet and sit down, wondering how long I could possibly have to wait since I’m apparently the only one here. In fact, the medical staff outnumbers the patients in this scenario, something that really can’t be good for business. Then again, maybe Dr. Daley gets a lot of wealthy divorcees who have been coming to him for decades. Judging by the neighborhood, I tend to doubt it.
I fill out all the paperwork that’s required of me and hand it back to the assistant. She smiles and thanks me and goes back to talking to the other assistant. I’m beginning to wonder how many assistants this guy could possibly need considering his average number of patients.
The door to what I assume is the examination room opens and all of my questions are answered.
Slowly – oh, so slowly – walks out Dr. Daley. If he’s a day under one-hundred and fifty I’d be surprised and it dawns on me that perhaps he’s some kind of medical miracle in his own right, and that’s why he’s still practicing: healing magic through osmosis.
He doesn’t see me as he heads towards the main desk. One assistant scurries up to him with a folder containing all of my information as the other one heads back into the exam room. Maybe the assistants will actually examine me. Maybe Dr. Daley is just here to put his stamp of approval on the HMO forms.
The assistant with Dr. Daley points in my direction and he turns to face me. He smiles and begins to lumber in my general direction, much like a mummy or a zombie who’s just noticed how so very tasty my brains are. I have to resist the urge to scan the room for something to decapitate him with.
“I’m Dr. Daley,” he says in that old man voice, and you know exactly what I’m talking about. He holds out a quivering hand to me, undead body language for wanting to shake. I grab his hand as weakly as possible and we do a quick up/down motion before I let go. Depending upon which movie this is and whether or not he’s a mummy or a zombie, he could suck my life force away with just a touch, so it’s best not to take any chances.
He sticks his hand out as if to indicate that he’d like me to head in the direction of the exam room, as if he wants me to go in ahead of him. My ADD and entire lack of manners would have made this happen, anyway, as there’s no way in hell I could have handled walking behind him at half an inch per minute. So I eagerly walk past, fully aware that this could be the part where I fall into the secret undead death trap.
Everything happens in slow motion. Dr. Daley asks me my symptoms, I tell him. He gives me what most folks would call “practical advice,” in this case holding my arms under cold water for forty-five minutes every night. This is all well and good and within the bounds of what I was expecting. I wait for him to prescribe me some industrial strength painkillers.
And then it happens.
“Jarred,” says Dr. Daley as his assistant suddenly appears standing beside me, “with your permission we’d like to include you in our prayers.”
Okay, so that’s a little unorthodox (or very, depending upon your definition of the word), but I figure that’s fine. If this elderly man wants to say a little something to god for me tonight before he goes to bed, then so be it. I imagine I could use all the help I can get.
“Sure,” I say.
And no sooner is the word out of my mouth than do he and his assistant each grab one of my hands while simultaneously grabbing each other’s hand – in essence forming a circle of three. They then proceed to put their heads down and close their eyes.
There is no praying for Jarred tonight. There will be praying for Jarred right the hell now.
“Our Lord Jesus, through whom all things are possible,” he says and my head is almost as not down as my eyes are not closed. It’s like I’m in another world, a crazy world where insurance companies direct you to faith healers.
“Please help our brother Jarred, who in these trying times needs your guidance.”
There’s an implication in there somewhere. I know there is.
“If you could ease his pain, Lord, make his wrists feel better.”
I once saw a stripper put her legs behind her head while felating a cucumber. I’m more stunned now than I was then.
“We are your humble servants, Lord. In Jesus’ name we pray.”
I’m trying not to laugh. I’m trying with every ounce of strength that I have and I am not a strong man, physically or mentally. And I feel like a total shit for finding any of this funny at all.
There’s thirty second of silence and they both open their eyes and look up at me. “Amen,” he says.
“Amen,” I say. I’m going to hell now.
I give Dr. Daley and his assistants the most sincere sounding “thank you’s” I can muster and make my way for the door. I try not to look like I’m fleeing, although I do look back to make sure they’re not following me.
When I get outside my car is still there. I pull my pack of Camel Wide Lights out of my pocket. I light up. I had assumed I’d be going to the pharmacy after this, that I would then go home and vegetate on federally regulated opiates. Instead I’m left with Jesus.
I’m a little worried; I’ve heard he’s a gateway drug.