Saul looked at the street door to the office block. He couldn’t help but feel that it ought to have, graven above it into the stone blocks that were undoubtedly nothing more than a façade, the words Abandon all hope you who enter here. Every time he came here he felt his centre dissipate and his sense of calm, usually a firm and comforting presence, shatter into millions of fragments. What had the poet said? Things falls apart, the centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. If only it were mere anarchy and not… demons.
He took a deep breath and crossed the road. Taxis honked their horns at him, a man leaned out of a car-window and shouted something random about his mother, and a young girl who surely couldn’t be older than ten gave him the finger. He checked: the crosswalk signal was telling him to go and the traffic to stop, but this was the city – no, this was the City – and the traffic wasn’t happy being stopped. He smoothed his robe down, mentally sighed just a little bit that even a buddhist monk couldn’t get a little patience from this City, and reached the other side of the road. The doorman at the office recognised him, and exchanged a look of world-weariness with him.
“Any chance you’re here for the other office?” asked the doorman. His name was Samuel, he had a wife, two girlfriends, a drinking problem, a child from a previous marriage with behaviourial ‘issues,’ two dogs, a motorcycle and indecision over whether he should be taking his motorcycle repairman’s offer of an open relationship up. Saul often stood and listened to Samuel’s soap-opera of a life to avoid going up to the office he was visiting, even though he knew he’d end up listening to a lecture about his time-keeping skills.
“No Sam,” said Saul, smiling broadly. “I’d still need to have a sex-change, wouldn’t I?”
“That’s a pretty easy thing to arrange,” said Samuel. “I think they’ll probably do it for you, I can ask at the reception desk. Give me a moment.”
“No,” said Saul laying his hand on Samuel’s shoulder. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a generous offer and I appreciate you thinking of me, but I think I should go and see Dr. Fraud.”
“You keep coming to see him, week after week. Is it charity work?”
Saul smiled again, this time a little more ruefully. “Court-ordered, Sam,” he said. “Court-ordered.”
Samuel stared at him. “What the hell did you do?” he said finally.
Dr. Fraud was sitting in his chair near the window when Saul let himself into his office. They were up on the thirtieth floor, and Dr. Fraud was staring pensively out of the window at the people on the sidewalk down below.
“They look like ants,” he said, his Austrian accent a little thicker and stronger than usual. Saul wondered who had been in before him today; the different patients seemed to affect Dr. Fraud differently. So far his favourite was a woman called Bethany. Whatever she talked to Dr. Fraud about, he always seemed quite subdued and almost scared afterwards. “I wonder if you could mount a magnifying glass up here and focus it on them like ants?”
“Ants are part of the living world,” said Saul. “What reason is there for hurting them, for killing them? Without reason there should be no action. And it is hard to find a reason for killing anything; there are always other alternatives.”
“Not if you want to eat them,” said Dr. Fraud. “It’s the standard flaw in the vegetarian argument. Until we reduce the number of cows in the world stopping killing them would just mean that we’d be killing ourselves – slowly, mostly by means of being trampled or assaulted by angry cows. And if we have to kill them, then we should eat them so that their deaths haven’t been in vain.”
“You want to eat people you’ve flash-cooked with a giant magnifying glass?” Saul sat down on the leather chaise-longue: Dr. Fraud was a traditionalist in a number of ways.
“No, but a nice steak sandwich wouldn’t go amiss right now,” he said. “Now, who are you?”
“Saul Below,” said Saul. “Not the novelist, his surname is Bellow. My parents were just optimists.”
“Which comment suggests you think you’re not,” said Dr. Fraud. He drew the blinds, long vertical sheets of ivory-coloured cloth that diffused the light more than kept it out. He turned to his desk and picked a file up. “Are you sure you’re not Bethany Price?”
“Very,” said Saul. “Was she your previous patient?” He concentrated on keeping the optimism out of his voice.
“No,” said Dr. Fraud. “She’s next. Ah, you must be this file then.” He picked up a second manila folder that was substantially thinner and Saul felt an odd pang of jealousy. He filed away the thought to come back to later and consider, and understand. Emotions happened for reasons too, he felt. “Mr. Below. As above?”
“You make that joke every week,” said Saul.
“And you’re late every week,” said Dr. Fraud reading the front page of the papers held in the file. “It suggests a reluctance to confront your problems.”
“Are you describing yourself as one of my problems?”
Dr. Fraud smiled thinly and twisted an egg-timer on his desk. “Forty minutes remaining,” he said. “Tell me about your mother.”
“She died before I was born,” said Saul. “So I’d rather not, I think it might engender trauma. I’m having trouble meditating. Very often now I’ll manage to clear my mind of thought and I’ll find myself thinking about something, as though it’s being thought about at the bottom of my mind, underneath all the everyday thoughts. But I can’t push it out of my mind to properly achieve the nothingness that leads to transcendence.”
“Boring,” said Dr. Fraud. “I only recommend meditation for patients who need to sleep more. Or who need a decent dietician but are too neurotic to admit it. You don’t need to sleep more, you need to admit you have problems and confront them. And from the sound of it, you can confront them, but you want help running away from them. I can’t help you with that, I’m a doctor!”
“A decent dietician?” Saul lay down on the couch, noting that it seemed to be ripped in several places. “You prescribe meditation in place of a diet-plan?”
“It stops them eating,” said Dr. Fraud. “Make the mantra complicated enough and it’ll be hours before they get done and can eat again.”
“That’s not what meditation is about!” Saul felt pleased that despite the emotion conveyed by his words he was feeling entirely calm. “And it’s not why I want to talk about my problems acheiving a meditative state.”
“Well I don’t want to talk about them,” said Dr. Fraud. “This is a talking cure, not a knitting circle where we all gossip about our sex-lives, small children and sharp knives.”
“How do you manage to link those three things?” Saul felt a stirring of interest and made himself push it aside.
“Aharrumph,” said Dr. Fraud, suddenly shuffling papers. “That’s just three things you’ve spoken about in the past. How about I prescribe you some meditation medication?”
“There’s such a thing?” asked Saul. “Well, that might help.”
“Excellent,” said Dr. Fraud, scribbling something on a pad. “Here you go. Same time next week!”
Saul stood up, and accepted the prescription. He tried to read it, but gave up quickly: it could have said Viagra or Valium at a best guess, but neither sounded plausible. “Same time next week,” he said.