doctor's offices aren't like this.
you were expecting plain white walls with the odd pamphlets-on-cork triptych, not old oak cabinets stained so deep and dark you're afraid you might lose yourself in them. not a nightmare palette of jarred tinctures in so many shades of so many colors you wonder for a moment if this ends in her making a canvas of you.
stepping across the threshold feels like nothing so much as a dot-dot-dash-dot-declaration of surrender, of acquiescence, a lurch in your stomach and the inescapable sense that every step consigns you to her a little more.
doctor's offices aren't like this. shouldn't be like this.
"Oh. You're. here."
a pale woman looms over you, positively swimming in an embellished white coat that evokes made-up medical dramas about the Commedia Dell'Ardiology unit. you try to tune out her smile (too perfect, too painted, too sharp, too sweet) and her smell (spun sugar and fairground memories and unguardedness) and every last awful joke and you focus on the absolutely withering email you're going to send the insurance company because oh my god why is this the only in-network doctor and–
for all her menace her voice is so gentle
(well, a kind of kind. a monster’s kindness, a villain’s kindness, like a vampire who can’t bear to break her exalted prey.)
she asked a question.
an actual normal question.
the details come tumbling out so easy you don’t know what you’re saying ‘til you hear it in your voice, so easy you half-expect a slide whistle or a laugh track.
(a quirk of the eyebrow. at least she didn’t rub it in.)
you don’t like going to the doctor unless you absolutely have to but you feel impossibly intolerably miserable, you say.
an exaggerated thinker’s pose, a painfully nervewrackingly excruciatingly long pause.
“Does life. Seem harsh and cruel?”
well, maybe sometimes, you say.
“Do you feel,”
(it’s like gazing into a tragedy mask.)
“Alone? in an uncertain world?”
you stammer and stutter and squeak and in this moment you know–
(she leans in, gently cups your cheek.)
(you imagine her marking you, tracing an if-lost-return-to blotch in carmine with her thumb.)
in this moment, you know that she smells blood.
no, you’re not alone in an uncertain world. you’re fine! you’re fine. you just moved here and your entire social circle’s on discord but you’re fine. you’re. not. alone. not even a little bit alone!
(drips and drops of doubts and little pangs of maybe-you-are start seeping through. her smile grows so very much.)
“wish for a cure?”
god, sure. of course. sure. anything, anything that ends this. anything that gets you out of here. you don’t even care about writing the stupid email anymore you just need to–
“Treatment is simple!”
oh for FUCK’S sake
this is a bit! this is a bit. this is a bit and you feel so small and stupid for ever buying into it.
you’re staring and glaring and scowling harder than you ever have and waiting for the HORRIBLE pagliacci joke and your blood’s boiling hotter with every extra second the silence hangs over you ‘cos all she does is smile that stupid saccharine snow-angel smile like she’s the spitting image of–like she’s the avatar of all things delicate and guileless and doting and she only wants to help you go–
“deeper, deeper, juuuuuuu. st. like. that.”
your eyelids feel heavy and everything feels heavy and the horror of this moment doesn’t hit ‘cos it feels like one of those things you don’t pick up on ‘til someone points it out, like you’ve always felt this heavy, like–
she’s switched out the teardrop pendant in her hands for a comically oversized slinky. up and down, up and down, every last link tugging the rest inexorably d-o-w-n.
(you can’t be strong, but you’d settle for clever if you could.)
you’re so dizzy, so fuzzy, so–
(saying something to highlight the ridiculousness of oh, i’m the slinky now, does slinkyfication count toward my deductible? feels like the grandest moment of defiance you can hope for)
(but you are so far beyond defiance, now.)
just going to rest your eyes, a bit. a frightened-puppy whimper slips out and the last thing you see is something gentler still taking shape in her eyes.
when you wake in another room, curled up on what looks like an AI artbot’s first fever dream about a humble Ikea sofa, clothes replaced with something ten times lighter and brighter and softer–
maybe it makes sense that your first instinct is to cry, big messy overwhelmed sobs.
so isn’t it perfect timing when she scoops you right up? little shushes and shooshes, little strokes and swirls, little dollops of doting on “her perfect pierrette.” good girl, good girl, good girl. (are you a girl? were you a girl? everything’s so fuzzy and foggy and hopelessly jumbled in your head and all you can offer up is a halfhearted–)
shhh, don’t worry, she says. i’m here, she says. don’t worry about a thing, she says.
(you have enough worry for an entire cirque du solanxiety and a billion but-doctors to offer up besides, but before you can belt out any of them she stills you with a single question–)
who are you, she says? you didn’t. fill out the intake form. did you receive our email? you can check in On Line now, she says. (she pronounces it exactly the way you’re imagining.)
it’s a trickier question than you’d think.
the stumbling flailing terror of not knowing gives way to something so much worse, the sense that there was a Before and there was a Normal and you’ll never be that way again ‘cos she’s done something irrevocable, ‘cos you can’t even cling to the scraps of it, ‘cos you’re–
the tears stream and sting anew and it’s all you can do to sob and heave and crumple against her.
(she may be a monster, but at least she’ll let you grieve.)
good girl, good girl, good girl.
(you’ve never been held like this, given the space to cry out every last tear you have. maybe there’s a kind of healing in that, even if it isn’t what you had in mind?)
as it turns out, being dr. columbina’s pet isn’t all bad. have you seen the health insurance plan?