On Doctor's Orders
I’ve quit drinking orange juice.
It’s a long story.
Three years ago, my doctor told me to quit drinking alcohol and try orange juice.
“It’s got vitamin C.” He said as if it was the be all and end all of everything. “Vitamin C will protect you from getting ill. I’m a great believer in natural products. Don’t drink the stuff they sell in Wal-Mart. Make your own. Fresh, organic, sweet and fresh. Nothing beats it. Believe me Mr Anderson, you’ll feel the benefit.”
My mother raised me to believe doctors know what they’re doing. Doctors were gods in her day, but times change. Shit! Doctors are liars. If I ever fall ill again, I’ll just deal with it. I’ve been three years on the wagon but now, I’m staring at a bottle of whiskey that I bought an hour ago at the liquor store. My fridge has no food in it but it’s full of beer and man, do I feel good.
Three years on fresh orange juice turned my piss that color. No man should piss orange. It’s demeaning and it also stains your pants. I'm tired of wearing black pants.
Three years of orange juice also fucked up my head. When I was a drunk I never worried about anything. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have a bank account. I sure as hell didn’t have any worries. Now I have all three. It sucks.
That doctor robbed me of my self-esteem. When I went to a bar I was somebody. They all loved me perhaps for the wrong reasons but I never cared about that! I never kidded myself that everyone loved me for my good looks and witty conversation but they sure as hell knew whi I was. Now I'm just invisible.
I took my doctors' advice because he said I’d die if I carried on drinking. He caught me off guard which is a dirty trick to play at any time but especially bad if you’re halfway dead. I think I must have been drunk or something when, just after I’d left the doctor’s I stood up at the bar and poured that last beer on the floor and announced. “That’s it.” I sure as hell wouldn’t have done it sober!
The first year was rough, much worse than any hangover.
Last week I watched a debate about whaling. Three years ago I didn’t give a damn about big fish but now I found myself screaming at a Japanese guy who was in a studio about three thousand miles away. That’s when it started to hit home. I have wasted three years of my life in living a life I didn’t need and I didn’t want.
I have a woman. We’re not married but we live together. When I was a drunk, fucking a woman was a selfish indulgence. I never gave a rat’s ass whether or not whoever I was screwing got any pleasure out of it. Now, I have to think about her needs. I have to fucking think! Thinking takes away all the pleasure. I want to scream at her but because I drink orange juice I have no anger left.
She does Tai Chi. She encourages me to take it up. Why? Three years ago the most exciting thing I ever did was to cross the street in a straight line.
The whisky bottle talks to me in a voice that's pure LA noir; it's Sam Spade in a bottle.
“If you were a man, you’d take your life back. I don’t know if you have the guts to do it. I mean, look at you. You check yourself out in the mirror every morning. Why? Maybe the world will stop if you don’t shave or brush your teeth? Perhaps it will. Perhaps you want to live your life in a filing cabinet. How’s that job of yours? Worried about that promotion? Have you filed your tax returns? You still have dirty thoughts don’t you about that little clerk on the third floor. Yeah, she’s nice. You would wouldn’t you? The hell you would! Three years ago you would’ve but that was before your piss turned orange. Why are you listening to me at all? I’m just a bottle. No comeback, eh. You know I’m right, don’t you?”
I do, I do. I thank that whisky bottle by drinking it dry. When I’m drunk I can focus. I see things a lot clearer.
Tomorrow I’ll leave my woman. I don't think she'd like my drinking. She only drinks green tea and camomile, I don't even know what camomile is. I know it's not whisky, that's for sure.
Anyhow, I don’t think she’ll care that much. Sexually we were never that much in tune. I think she just needed someone that needed an anchor. She'll find another soul to save,
Perhaps my pecker will grow again. I mean, it always looked bigger when I was drunk. I never had any complaints, well I never heard them if I did. That's what's great about being drunk too, you only hear what you want to hear and you never fall ill.
You never have to see a doctor.
And you never have to drink orange juice.
I've had prescriptions before - athlete's foot, antivirals for shingles, antibiotics for yet another February sore throat. If I was being completely honest, some tablets for Chlamydia a few years ago also. You sign, you pay, you leave with a little box of tablets in a white paper bag, you read the instructions, possibly the side effects, you take the course and a week later you're back on your feet.
But this time is subtly different. There is no queue in the pharmacy and I walk to the counter as if acting, conscious of my movement in the eyes of others. The young lady at the counter doesn't stop to pass a casual remark, she just takes the prescription and turns to the pharmacist behind her. Her smile is less friendly than I remember, more sympathetic. She looks away; perhaps she thinks I might 'do something' whatever that means. The doctor had asked if I feel like doing anything.
I sit down and wait on one of the three battered chairs to one side, realising a tear is drying in the corner of my eye. The same tear that I promised myself I would not shed in the doctor's surgery. But when it came to explaining, talking through what was happening in my life, it just squeezed out. Did I really believe that the doctor hadn't seen it? Of course she had.
I glance at the other person waiting, a woman holding a dummy, as her baby comes into view around the end of the aisle. There are so many reasons she might be here. I wonder if it the same as me? It's not a reason I would ever have considered before. Hers is probably something routine, but then again do we ever know what anyone is waiting for in a pharmacy? I search the woman's face for clues, but she just gives a friendly smile, then immediately turns to her child and holds out the dummy which the little boy sucks enthusiastically.
They call me back to the desk and I confirm my address. The pharmacist tips her head to one side as if to wish me luck, hope that this does the trick, and of course, I'll see you next month. Still, I imagine that she has told everyone why I am here, and as I step outside I am relieved when I feel the cold air of spring on my face.
I stuff the white paper bag hard into my jacket pocket and zip it up, flattening the bulge as best I can. This is my secret.
“I….that is we,” he corrected himself, “we have a little girl, Susie, she`s fourteen. I`d like to live long enough to walk her down the aisle, play with my grandkids one day, hell play with their kids.”
The doctor nodded, “Family is a great motivator,” he said. “The reason I ask is that you have to want to quit for hypnotherapy to work, otherwise you`re just wasting your money.”
“Oh I want to quit believe me.”
The doctor made to stand when Terri shook her husband`s hand,
“Ask him,” she hissed, Adams relaxed back, “Ask me what?” he said.
“It`s nothing, just a…..Well….it`s stupid...”
“There are no stupid questions,” Adams told him, “only stupid answers.”
“We went to see one of those stage hypnotists,” Terri said, “And Paul is worried you might make him do something…..Weird.”
The doctor chuckled, “You might be surprised to know how many of my first time patients worry about the same thing. Let me put your mind at ease. It`s a common misconception, but when you`re hypnotised you can`t be made to do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do. Why I could no more make you bark like a dog than I could make you rob a bank; unless you`re already a bank robber; you`re not a bank robber are you?”
Paul shook his head, “I`m in distribution.”
“Well that’s alright then,” Adams said, clapping his hands once, “Shall we begin?”
Six weeks later.......
“Welcome back Mister Reynolds,” Adams said with a smile, “Looking forward to your last session?”
Paul smiled back, “To tell you the truth doc I almost didn’t come, I haven’t had a cigarette all week. But I remembered what you said, about how I might relapse if I didn’t, so I thought what the fuck right, and besides I already paid for it.”
With practiced ease the doctor suppressed a smile, “Well,” he said pointing to the recliner, “Shall we get started?”
Paul eased his bulk into the La-z-Boy, pulling on the lever until the back was at 45 degrees, the doctor settling into the leather arm-chair beside it, “Ready?” he asked. Paul nodded, inhaled deeply, half closed his eyes, then exhaled slowly; as he did Adams said, “Elephants trunks are blue with pink polka-dots.”
All the tension evaporated from Paul`s face as his muscles relaxed.
"How are you today Mr Reynolds?”
“I`m fine doc,” Paul`s said in a dull monotone.
“And when did you last have a cigarette?”
“And would you like to have one now?”
“Excellent, well I must say Mr Reynolds you`ve been a model patient. As I told you when we first met this is only a reinforcement session; what I want you to do from now on is keep doing your meditation exercises every night before bed, but you can reduce it to five minutes, Okay?”
The doctor went to his desk, glancing once at the framed pictures of his wife and daughter, before unlocking the top drawer. He retrieved a brown A4 envelope and returned to his seat.
“I`m going to tell you a story Mr Reynolds,” he said in a flat monotone, not unlike the one Paul used when he was hypnotised.
“Eighteen years ago a psychiatrist went to San Francisco for a conference; now ordinarily he would have cried off but couldn’t as he was listed as the Keynote speaker. Three days later, a Tuesday, about the time he was making his speech; a man,” he paused, cleared his throat, then continued, “A man, snatched the doctor`s daughter on her way home from school. He raped her multiple times, too many for the police to say for sure how many, then strangled her, dumping her half naked body in a ditch like it was yesterday’s trash; where an elderly man out walking his dog found her several hours later.”
Telling the story in the third person, as if it were a case file, something that had happened to one of his patients was the only way he could get through the ordeal. As a psychiatrist he knew it was unhealthy, but he was first and foremost human, and emotion, he knew, trumped logic every time.
“The doctor caught the first available flight home, but it was still the early hours of the morning before the taxi drew up outside his alarmingly dark house. He had expected his wife to be waiting up for him, even if it was past four in the morning. With a sickening sense of premonition he ran to their bedroom where he found his wife draped across their bed, semi-comatose, two empty Excedrin bottles on the bedside locker. She lived for two more days, never regaining consciousness, eventually succumbing to the toxins.”
He paused again.
“And so, a week later, on an impossibly beautiful March afternoon, he buried his wife and daughter,” and here his voice cracked, the memory of Christine, his wife`s sister, graveside; her voice sweet and clear, singing “The Dance,” Garth Brooks`s plaintive anthem to loss, as the pair of coffins were simultaneously lowered into the double grave, leaked tears from his eyes.
He snatched a handful of tissues from the dispenser on the table between them, daubing the tears away, then used them to blow his nose, before dropping the messy wad onto the table. He waited a moment, collecting himself until he was sure he could go on.
“The man was apprehended quite by chance,” he continued, his voice once more flat, unemotional. “No-one had seen him grab the girl, and it was only when he was being searched after his car was pulled over when it was observed weaving across two lanes, that they found the girls bloody panties in his jacket pocket. A further search of the car turned up her backpack in the trunk.”
“At the trial the doctor identified his daughter’s underwear by the pink bunnies his wife had embroidered on the waistband. The man claimed he was high on Meth at the time, that he had no recollection of the girl or what he`d done to her and threw himself on the mercy of the court; he was given twenty-five to life.”
Throughout all this Paul`s face remained impassive, now Adams leaned towards him, looking directly at him for the first time, his voice no longer flat but suddenly full of energy.
“It is no coincidence that you`re sitting in that chair Mr Reynolds,” he said, “I didn’t bump into your wife by accident, it took a great deal of planning, and another deal of effort to implant the suggestion that you should give up smoking, that hypnotherapy would do the trick, that she should bring you to me.”
Paul`s eyes didn’t so much as flicker.
“For the last eighteen years I have fantasised about what I would do to the man who destroyed my family,” he said, “How much I would like to get him into that chair. In my imagination I have killed him ten thousand times, in a thousand different agonising ways, and he has died screaming in terror in each and every one of them, but……” he trailed off.
“You remember, before your first session, how concerned you were that I might make you do something embarrassing?”
“Yes.” Paul said
“And I said that I could no more make you bark like a dog than I could make you rob a bank if you didn’t want to?”
“Yes,” Paul said again.
“How many people have you killed Mr Reynolds?”
Without hesitation Paul said, “Five.”
“Five,” the doctor said in genuine surprise, “I thought you drug dealers measured your body-counts in dozens,” then he gave a short barking laugh, “Well I guess that’s what I get for watching too many cop shows huh?”
Paul didn’t reply.
“You see the thing is,” he went on, “The thing is that if you brought him here, sat him in that chair where you are now, and handed me a loaded gun, I couldn’t pull the trigger; I`m just not that kind of man. In this above all else, to thine own self be true.” He intoned.
“Oh perhaps eighteen years ago, in the rush of insane rage I might have been able to, but even then it would only have been a maybe. No Mr Reynolds I know my limitations, if you were conscious no doubt you would berate me for not being man enough, for not standing up for my family. Well let me save you the trouble, I assure you that I despise my weakness more than enough for the both of us. Which is why you are here Mr Reynolds, you are to be my right hand, my sword; you will do what I am unable, you are going to kill the man who raped and murdered my little girl. Can you do that Mr Reynolds; can you kill if I order you to?”
The single word made his heart skip a beat. He slit open the envelope, pulling out an 8x10 photograph, handing it to Paul, “Do you know this man?” he asked.
Paul studied the photo, it was grainy, having been taken with a telephoto lens, but the man with the dark shoulder length hair in the prison denims was easily identifiable. “His name`s Ed Burris,” he said.
“How do you know him?” Adams asked his excitement mounting.
“He was on my landing when I was doing a nickel upstate for possession, guys a prick.”
Adams smiled, he just needed one more piece of the information the P.I. had given him verified, “Why do you say he`s a prick?” he asked.
“Fucker snitched on me,” Paul said, still without emotion, “I did a month in solitary because of him.”
Yesss, Adams thought. “You didn’t get him back?”
Paul shook his head, “He was in the hospital when I got back into circulation, someone busted him up good, he was still in traction when I was paroled a month later.”
“Mr Burris is being released from Otisville next Friday at midday,” Adams said, “You`re going to collect him. Somewhere along the way back you`re going to stop for a celebratory lunch… you do have a gun don’t you?”
Paul said he did.
“You`re going to order something to eat; and when the meal has been served, you`re going to lean towards him and say, “Jill Adams sends her regards” and you`re going to shoot him dead. Then you`re going to wait for the police, and when they ask you why you did it, you`re going to tell them it was revenge for when he snitched on you.”
“Snitches get stitches,” Paul said.
Adams smiled, “Yes indeed,” he said, “snitches do get stitches.”
He took the photo from Paul`s unresisting hands, put it back in the envelope, collected up the soiled hankies and went back to his desk, “Tell me what you`re going to do next Friday Mr Reynolds?” he asked as he fed the envelope, photo and all into the shredder he kept next to his desk, it fluttered in a snow of confetti sized pieces into the mesh basket underneath as Paul parroted his instructions back word for word.
“Very good Mr Reynolds,” he said as he resumed his seat, “Now as always you will remember none of what was said, correct?”
The doctor fixed a smile on his lips, “Okay Mr Reynolds,” he said, “I am going to count backwards from three and when I reach zero you will awake fully refreshed. Three….starting to awake, two….eyes are opening, one….almost fully awake, and zero; how do you feel Mr Reynolds?”
Paul popped the recliner back into its upright position and grinned, holding out one meaty hand, “I feel great doc, thanks.”
Adams took the proffered hand, his smile widening, “The pleasure is all mine.”