Dr. Fraud opened the box with a degree of caution. After his laptop had malfunctioned last week he’d had a narrow escape from being electrocuted. If the patient he’d been seeing at the time hadn’t insisted that Dr. Fraud was poking it with the letter-opener wrong, it would have been Dr. Fraud holding it when the power-supply discharged into it. He’d sent a letter to the hospital where the man had died requesting the silver mass that the letter-opener had become returned, and was still waiting for a reply. The box however, proved to be not connected to the mains, or particularly lethal, and contained only an old clown suit. He took his out, and shook it, looking at it critically. He was pretty certain that the last time he’d worn this was to his graduation party, when everyone had dressed up as someone else’s phobia. They’d all then had a great time getting drunk and trying to avoid the scary things, and by the end of it he’d been completely unable to remember what it was that he’d been scared of at the start. He did remember that he was one of the lucky ones though as there were at least three students and two bar-staff who’d gone home with a new fear of clowns, and eighteen people had developed a fear of spiders; at least, ones that were man-sized and predatory.
The intercom buzzed just as the office door opened, and as a young man with bouffant hair came in the voice over the intercom announced, “Thomas Dremel, Your Worship.”
“Your Worship?” asked Thomas, sitting down on the chaise longue uninvited. Dr. Fraud frowned. “Weren’t you the Very Reverend last week?”
“And I was Ship’s Petty Officer the week before that, if you recall,” said Dr. Fraud. “But you put my secretary up to this, as I have discovered. You think it’s funny to try and challenge me when you enter, so that it is questionable, in your mind at least, as to which of us is mad.”
“Madder, doc,” said Thomas easily. “Damn, I thought your secretary would have held out for a bit longer before ratting on me. I paid him enough.”
“Yes, well,” said Dr. Fraud, who’d simply slipped an hypnotic into his secretary’s coffee one morning and then spent an instructive half-hour learning things about many of patients. “It was a very interesting ruse, and I’m pleased to see that you acknowledge that madness is not a disease, it is but a reflection of society’s opinion on one’s behaviour.”
“Woah, doc,” said Thomas. He sat forward and actually looked impressed. “Have you been reading modern books? That sounds dangerously enlightened. You’ll be telling me next that you’ve burned your copy of the DSM IV!”
“Don’t be silly,” said Dr. Fraud, pointing to the unduly large volume on the bookcase in the corner. “Not only is it useful for subduing patients when they are highly-strung, but a number of my referrals are from people actively wishing to be diagnosed from that manual. Their insurance requires it, I’m told.”
“You’re quite the pragmatist there,” said Thomas sitting back. “What does it say about society that we conspire to be ill for each other like that?”
“Shouldn’t you tell me?”
There was a moment’s silence while Thomas looked uncomfortable, and then he rallied.
“What’s with the clown suit, Doc? Are you addressing someone’s fear of clown today?”
“Not at all,” said Dr. Fraud. “I’m simply updating my wardrobe. When you spend your days in the circus, what would be more appropriate?”
“I’m more of a Ringmaster, myself, Doc,” said Thomas, smiling. The smile, Dr. Fraud noticed, didn’t quite reach the corners of his eyes. “Centre circle, holding the whip.”
“Not cracking it?” asked Dr. Fraud. He sighed, seeming not to listen, and started to the fold the suit up again.
“Nah, too much effort,” said Thomas. “It should be enough for people to know that I’m there, know what I mean, Doc?”
“Who else is in the circus, though?” asked Dr. Fraud. He seemed to be having trouble getting the suit in the box. “Back in Austria, when I was a child, we would have dancing bears.”
Thomas shuddered, sure that Dr. Fraud was too preoccupied to see that. “Sounds dangerous Doc,” he said. “Like lions. If you have to keep them in cages, they’re too dangerous for the circus. You want the acrobats on the trapezes, and the strongman lifting the weights. With the clowns sitting on them sometimes, too!”
Dr. Fraud finally found something else in the box and pulled it out so that he could get the clown suit back in. It was a beard on a wire.
“Bearded lady?” he asked, slipping the beard onto his face for a moment. Thomas looked over and turned very pale. “Your mother was a bearded lady, was she not?”
“Who told you that, Doc!” Thomas came to his feet like a Jack erupting from his box. He took a step forward, but Dr. Fraud was already removing the beard. “My mother was a bloody saint!”
“Yes, I’m told she was very generous and giving,” said Dr. Fraud. “But we’re not here to talk about your mother, Mr. Dremel. We’re here to talk about you.”
“She looked after me as best she could until the lions ate her!”
“And when she was gone the clowns took you in and looked after you some more,” said Dr. Fraud. “It’s all in your case notes, don’t worry. How are you feeling today?”
“They made me perform with the seals!” Thomas was an odd combination of deathly pale from the neck down and a deep puce all over his neck and head. He was rocking slightly from side to side. “They made me honk horns with my nose! They FED ME FISH!”
“They fed you fish,” mused Dr. Fraud dropping the beard on top of the box and closing it up. “Ah. Do you think we might finally have gotten to the root of your phobia of fish, then?”