An Excerpt from The Office of Desire
Brice emerged from his office looking ragged, his cuffs rolled up instead of linked at his wrists. "My mother's on the phone. She was in the ER this morning for leg pain. They told her to see Dr. Strub this afternoon."
I wrinkled my nose. "Could she see the gynecologist?" Dr. Strub's schedule was packed, and Alicia would have to be persuaded.
Brice said, "They told her to come here. Can you pick her up on one?"
I punched the button. "Did Brice tell you?" Kitty said. "I was sound asleep—sound asleep!—and then I got this terrible . . . "
Wilma Barndollar waved at me through my window, pointing at her husband, who was taking a seat in the waiting room. "Make sure Dr. Strub asks about his piss," she whispered.
" . . . the doctor was so nice. He said I was his favorite patient he'd seen all . . . "
I wrote Ask re prostate on a Viagra Post-It note and stuck it to Mr. Barndollar's chart. Line two lit up.
" . . . he couldn't believe how old I was, and I said, 'What, did you think I was ninety?'"
"Drs. Strub and Markowitz, can you hold, please?" I said to line two.
" . . . so nice! And he's the head of the whole emergency department, he . . . "
The UPS man was at my window, the handle of his trolley visible. "Supply run!" he said. I forced a smile, scribbled my signature on his sheet, and gestured for him to put the boxes in the corner of the waiting room until I had time for unpacking.
" . . . when I told him I had cancer, he really got concerned, he . . . "
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Brice poke his head from his cave. Alicia was at the far end of the waiting room, ready to call a patient, and I waved at her and held up a piece of paper. Kitty Kelvin, ER this AM, leg pain, see doc today. Alicia crossed the waiting room, snatched the note from me through my window, growled, set the note on the ledge, and attacked it with her pen. Before I could read her response, she'd turned her back to me and was calling Mrs. Haggerty.
ADD HER AND DIE
West of Indianapolis I took some state route north until it was good and dark and farm-y. Indiana was flat and covered with corn. At midnight I parked my car on the berm, got out, and looked up at the sky. An ungodly number of stars up there—hundreds, thousands, more than I could count. How was it possible that light had enough energy to travel for millions of miles over millions of years, and what was light, anyway, and why couldn't I remember any of this from my physics class in college, and if I could would it explain the problem? If I ever learned a thing about light I'm sure I didn't understand it, just wrote down some formula to spit back on a test. I was a dutiful student.
Days of Awe. We Jews were clever with labels. Even an ordinary fall day became special once you called it a Day of Awe.
My neck started to hurt from looking up, so I lay myself down on one of the rows between the stubs of corn in the harvested field next to the road. This wasn't at all uncomfortable, it was sort of glorious, the great glittery dome above me and the high-pitched tiki-tiki-tiki of some insect beside me and the smell of dirt enveloping me. Always good weather on the High Holidays, my mother used to say. Above me there was a shooting star, which I thought I must have imagined but, no, there was another one—they were remarkably fast, like crickets hopping. I was tingling with hyperalertness and the next thing I knew I was floating above the field, in space myself. It was odd because I was totally alone and unfindable—I was lying in a harvested cornfield in Indiana, for crying out loud—and yet I felt as if my package of skin had become permeable. I was floating in a bath of life, isotonic to the universe. I bobbled in the current. I was warm and relaxed and perfectly at peace.
Maybe this was a religious experience, I didn't know.
When I got up I felt dazed and pure, as if I'd been rinsed in some celestial ionizing stream (ironic, since I smelled of dirt.). I got in the car and shut the door with a space-capsule clang, but before I started the car I turned off the tape, because any extra noise might jar me out of this moment, disturb my sense of slipping like a shooting star through the night, heading for home. I felt my heartbeat, like someone in the basement rapping on the door. Death. Death. And its gorgeous converse: I'm alive I'm alive I'm alive.