By Michael Hendery
It appears I have forgotten my pants. Of course I remembered my nose hair trimmers, but not my chinos. Blast. I only have -- twelve minutes to get to the clinic from the gym. Too little time to go home. Maybe Glenn brought an extra pair. He was on the StairMaster. No, not even dentists would do that.
Let’s see, Mrs. Gurley is my first patient. She never makes eye contact. Even if she fixates on the fresh-cut dahlias I put out yesterday, in time she will surely notice my bare legs. They are a kind of shocking-pale white that would stand out even more against my brown leather club chair. I should have gone with the linen swivel. It came in eggshell.
I have a throw blanket on the couch, but it’s itchy and draping it across my lap would require an explanation. She might think I peed myself. I could say I am chilly, but that might conjure up Mrs. Gurley’s hypochondriasis. She already fears she contracted Ebola from those college students with the clipboards at Forsyth Park. Plus, it’s August in Savannah. No one is chilly.
So what if I show up to our session in my blue dress shirt, my loafers, and my little, neon-green running shorts? We could have a laugh. I’ve never seen Mrs. Gurley laugh. This could be a lesson in self-deprecation, in self-compassion even. She is deficient in both of these qualities. Maybe this would be a turning point in therapy for her. For months, she has elevated me to such an impossible standard. She wishes the world was full of people like me. If she saw how I am capable of making such an embarrassing oversight -- no, her husband just died last month. She still needs me to be indefectible.
"No one calls her at home, not since the days after the funeral, after she told everyone that she was not going to be divvying up Mr. Gurley’s estate anytime soon."
We could do a phone session, but it’s too late to reach her at home. She’s so damn punctual. And she told me she doesn’t have a cell phone. She said she has gotten along fine for seventy-three years without one, and all she’d subjecting herself to is texts from her kids and grandkids asking for money. That’s what they saw her as -- a printing press, as she put it. I think she meant a minting machine.
No one calls her at home, not since the days after the funeral, after she told everyone that she was not going to be divvying up Mr. Gurley’s estate anytime soon. Her daughters were waiting for him to die, for months. They figured the occasion would be a big payday for them -- her youngest, Susie, in particular. Vultures.
Mrs. Gurley is considering traveling to Europe in the coming year, now that she does not have to contend with her husband’s wheelchair and his loathing of airport security protocol. She wants to go to Venice first, then Zurich or London. Why does the word gondola refer both to the boats and the cable cars? she wondered last session.
I have seen Mrs. Gurley for nearly a year now, twice-weekly. She pays in cash, full fee. She does not want these sessions to be billed through Medicare. It’s none of the government’s business what goes on between her ears. She asked me not to keep a record of her visits. I don’t keep a record of anyone’s visits, so that has been easy.
The monthly revenue I get from Mrs. Gurley is almost exactly the child support payment I have to make to my ex-wife for my own little vultures. Those horse riding lessons are courtesy of Mrs. Gurley. Band camp, Girl Scouts, Irish Dancing, all paid for by Edna Gurley. We have never missed a session. We even met on Christmas Eve. She brought me an almond roll with a tiny plastic container of powdered sugar to sprinkle on top. It was a nice gesture, but I never eat or drink anything that a patient gives to me, not after learning Dr. Bruce was poisoned by a vanilla chai latte.
It’s not that I believe Mrs. Gurley is capable of such direct expressions of hostility. She prefers to punish others with her discontent. She was married for forty-four years to a man she detested. She dropped out of college soon after they met, cared for the kids’ basic needs, but never enjoyed their company. She did not want to give Mr. Gurley the satisfaction that she was a happy spouse or mother. I doubt she’ll make her way to Venice. That could be too gratifying for me.
Her children ask her for money because she has nothing else to offer them. Her eldest moved to Atlanta and voted Democrat in the last election. Even worse, Susie moved to Asheville. She doesn’t talk about her. She believes the world has come unraveled -- there is not enough God in public spaces, and we have lost too many of our traditions in this country. We are not even allowed to be proud of our southern heritage. It has become a dadgum free-for-all in this country, she said once, before apologizing -- not for her sentiment, but for her passion.
Eight minutes. It takes six to get to the office. I could skip the session and be out a hundred-and-forty dollars, but Mrs. Gurley is not the forgiving type. Who knows how much this would end up costing me?
Glenn is over on the treadmill, and his locker looks open. I envy dentists -- they can stick their hands in a patient’s mouth when they don’t feel like talking. And they could position themselves to only be seen from the waist up.
Glenn and I are about the same size. His inseam might be an inch or two longer. Mrs. Gurley would hardly notice.
Michael Hendery is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.