Saturday, 15 September 2012

Index cards

Dr. Fraud drew the curtains across his office window.  The window looked out and down onto the street eight floors below, and now and then he wondered how much trouble he'd get into for forcing it open and dropping things out of it.  People, as tiny as toy dolls, moved around down below and the traffic ebbed and surged along the street, obeying the ever changing patterns of traffic lights, and Dr. Fraud half-smiled, thinking of termite mounds.  Finally he pulled the curtains fully closed.  They were full-length but made of a light sepia material that still let the afternoon sun in, just tamed and mellowed. There were floor-to-ceiling vertical blinds he could use instead, but his patients complained that the shadows made them feel like they were trapped in a cage.
He returned to his seat, and sat down.  A stack of index cards sat on his desk, each with a phrase or two written on one side, and an elderly man was lying on the chaise-longue.  He'd been lying there now for several minutes without saying anything, and Dr. Fraud was wondering if he should go over and check for a pulse.  He decided he didn't want to touch a dead body, and so cleared his throat.
"Are you ready to talk?" he asked, letting a trace of his old Austrian accent creep into his voice.  He'd been living in America for nearly twenty years now and was more at home sounding like he came from Queens, but he found that the Austrian accent and slightly stilted enunciation seemed to fill a need for his clientele.
"This reminds me of the camps," said the elderly man, his voice breathy and weak.  Dr. Fraud shuffled through the stack of index cards until he found one headed "CAMP" and read it out:
"The notion of camp often hints at repressed homosexuality."
The elderly man chuckled weakly and wetly, a sucking, choking sound that didn't sound healthy.  "No, doctor," he said, "the camps.  The prison camps.  The light is just like we had in the afternoons, but it's cooler and the... vicious... flies aren't around."
The index cards shuffled again, and Dr. Fraud said, "Prison is a metaphor for things we don't trust ourselves to do.  Did you ever want to–" more shuffling –" have sex with; wait, that's not right... fly?"
More of that dreadful chuckling, sounding like a drain that was backing up.  "All you head-doctors are obsessed with sex, aren't you?  My, did you ever want to have sex with a patient?"
"No," said Dr. Fraud instantly.  "That would be unhygienic!"
There was a long pause while the elderly man thought about what that said about Dr. Fraud's opinion of his clientele and Dr. Fraud sorted his index cards, trying to work out why he couldn't get them into a order he liked.
"That wasn't an offer," said the elderly man finally, "For all that you seemed to be going there yourself. Do you want to hear more about the prison camps?"
Shuffle.  Shuffle.  Dr. Fraud rejected the cards he'd already read as having been heard too recently, but he didn't seem to have anything else on prisons or camps.  Free associating, he pulled out the card for boy scouts.
"Do you like wearing tight shorts yourself?" he read aloud.
"Not particularly," said the elderly man.  "And in the prison camps you wore what you arrived in, until it rotted off you.  There were no replacements.  We learned, eventually, to sew the larger leaves together with a type of grass to reinforce what was left of our clothes.  Everything rotted in the humidity."
"Is that a reference to marijuana?" asked Dr. Fraud, still reading from his cards.
"No," said the elderly man.  "It was just leaves.  One of the most normal things of life there, something that grounded us.  In the cages."
"Did your parents ground you a lot?" asked Dr. Fraud.  The 'GROUND' card had lots of options on it and he hadn't been listening enough to know which one to pick for the best.
"My parents were dead before I was captured."  There was a tremor in the man's voice now, and his hands, lying across his chest, clutched each other.  "They were dead before the war began."
"Thank-you for using Ay-Chihuahua brand Index Cards, sold in packs of thirty," said Dr. Fraud, suddenly realising that he'd reached the end of his index cards.  "Time's up!"
On the couch the elderly man began to cry.

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