Everyone in this place talks about Dr. Redd. I had never wanted to talk to staff because (1) my spies would get wind of it, (2) Dr. Redd sounds crazier than the patients here and (3) he might get suspicious. Nurse Bealer, who looks like Charles Laughton on a bad day, convinced me to go. She just wanted me off the ward for an hour or so.
Dr. Redd was expecting me, and so I walked into his office without knocking. It smelled like stale beer. His office was un-inviting. Books, papers, magazines everywhere. No pictures of a wife and no ring on his finger. In fact, nothing in his room made me feel he was human at all. I am a writer, and so I would usually describe him. However, in this instance, he is a blank blackboard.
As I gazed at his face, I imagined Sidney Greenstreet and my spies telling me that he had his own spies under the desk. If I knew what was good for me, I’d only talk in code. As I looked around, I noted, “You must not have a wife who can clean up your office. Would you like me to be your wife? I can make your office look like Dracula’s castle.”
I began to move items on his desk.
“Aren’t you the one who wants to kill her husband? I think I’ll keep it this way. Don’t touch things that aren’t yours. Now why do you want to see me?”
“I was told that you can help me. I was also told you will sniff my chair after I leave and only ask about sex. This is the kind of stuff that intrigues me, so I just wanted to meet you. The only reason I’m in this hospital is to expose all your dirty secrets to the public. I’m not really crazy.”
“It sounds like you’ve been talking to Buella. She’s one of our most disturbed patients. It would be better if you stayed away from her. Tell me about your childhood. Perhaps we can determine if you are crazy or not.”
His dark eyes matched the dark circles under his eyes. His chubby fingers had hair on the knuckles. I wondered if that was because he dug holes with his hands on his days off or if he was a werewolf.
“I’m not really interested in talking to you. I just wanted to see for myself if Buella was right. It’s just as I thought. She’s not crazier than anyone else. She’s here because she likes sex, and that’s apparently dangerous territory for dames. Why is that? In fact, I think the staff is crazier than the patients. What do you think?”
“Why are you so concerned about who is crazy and who is not?”
He picked up a magazine, avoiding eye contact with me. I didn’t know if he was actually scared of me or bored to death. I liked people being scared of me, but I didn’t want to bore anybody. No writer of short stories wants that! I wondered if I should talk to him about my childhood. I wondered, too, if he had all the answers and could explain everything. In my family no one ever talked to outsiders about anything personal. They felt that no one knew anything about anyone else, really, and that was for the best. The more I watched him ignore me, the more I knew they were right—he knew nothing! Why didn’t he work in a crematorium? Why wasn’t he a bricklayer? Maybe he’d be good at barnstorming. I needed to talk to him about his career choices.
I asked, “Why are you a psychologist? You seem so unsuited for this field.”
“You seem to be asking questions that are not in your field. That’s housewife, I believe. And one would question if you are a good one, considering you accuse your husband of having an affair and stabbing him every chance you get. Why are you not talking about your childhood? Do you have something to hide?”
“I’m not hiding anything. Since I don’t like you, I’ll give you the over-the-bridge version of my childhood. My parents were killed in a car accident in their Packard when I was in high school. I told Frank never to buy a Packard, but that’s exactly what he did so he could torment me. My grandmother was here, as you well know. She was afraid of the fairies in the well coming to take her grandchildren away. Is craziness inherited? Will I end up being here forever like her?”
“You have a lot of questions for me. According to the staff, you always act like you have all the answers. So— is this just an act, or are you serious about wanting to know what’s wrong with you?”
He put his finger in his ear and shook it. I wondered if he was hearing the same voice as mine commanding, “Jesus Christ, get out of here before all your blood gushes out like Old Unfaithful.”
“I don’t think anything is wrong with me. I just wanted to prove to myself that my family was right. Strangers and powwow doctors like you don’t know anything. I don’t act like I have all the answers. And you shouldn’t believe everything you read in my file either. I bet you don’t know much about love, do you? I don’t make my husband, Frank, miserable. He loves what I do to him. He knows I have spirit, and he likes that, even though he tries to break it all the time. See, that’s the problem with men and women. They need to break each other like sticks so they can make a bonfire. Frank knows I’m smarter, kinder and every other ‘er’. That’s why he’s so mean to me. He knows he’s inferior to all women.”
“So, it’s like I said. You have all the answers. What do you need me for?” Dr. Redd opened a desk drawer, took out some files and, again, ignored me.
“Don’t you want to know what I’m going to write about you? I went to college to be a writer, but Frank made me quit. He wanted me to be his wife so he could control what I write. He wouldn’t let me have my dream job of art critic for the New York Times.”
For the first time, Dr. Redd became animated, red in the face. “You will never get out of here if you continue with your delusions about your husband. I’ve spoken to him on the phone, and he seems like an upstanding man of our community who is saddled with the burden of a lunatic. You’ll never be a writer or anything else. Face it, sister, you’re a nutcase!”
I started to cry. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of calling me a lunatic again so I didn’t bite him. He was lucky, since the dentist pulled all my teeth last week.
I decided to leave Dr. Redd’s office and never find out about life or my childhood. “You are the rudest man I’ve ever met, even worse than Frank. I’ll be leaving now and I hope to God I never see you again. And you would never make a good Sidney Greenstreet. He’d eat you alive! I plan on telling everybody about the horrible things you did to me so you can say I’m the most disturbed patient here. I want that distinction, just remember that
It’s been 10 years since I talked with Dr.Redd. Buella, Freida and the new patient, Salubagitan, who everyone says is seen only by me, continued to tell me tales about his inner and outerlandish behaviors: patting nurses on the behind and diagnosing a patient with delusions of pregnancy when in fact she had gangrene of the bowel.
Whether it’s true or not, I guess I’ll never know. The truth is as scarce as my teeth in this place, but Dr. Redd was found in a fetal position under the superintendent’s desk last week.