On the fifteen-mile drive to Mercy Hospital, I stay silent, same as Nicole. After ten years of marriage, I don’t have to ask why. We park in a handicapped spot — our first time with that blue sign waving — and walk up. With the quick, final steps of people on an unwanted mission, we trek through freshly painted hallways, winding through nephrology, ophthalmology, osteoarthritis — elderly men stumbling out, with wives or wifeless, as if struck by the suddenness of disease — then pace to my speech therapist’s third-floor office at the end of the hall. My mind’s packed with clouds, dark roads, endless water. Losing names, losing facts, like a half-filled sieve. And yet the mind’s not supposed to go. I point Nicole to the elevator, and we step in. A push of that silver button: the artificial voice says “third floor, going up” in a childlike voice, a voice so small and crystalline it could have been mine.
Friday afternoon. I’ve taken the latest possible appointment with Sarah Messer (delayed already a couple of times, with various unbelievable excuses). As we head down the hallway, I shiver, wanting and not wanting to meet. How have we ended up here, of all places, moving like mummies through morgue-frozen air, after a lifetime of less dire days? When can we drive back to Leaf Lake, catch its blue-green sheen, its schools of cold, fresh fish, again?
“Good afternoon,” Nicole says, stepping in front of me when Sarah opens, voice sweet as tea with the ice taken out. They’ve never met.
“Same,” Sarah says, more laconic than ever, with a sort of I-haven’t-forgotten smile. “Glad you’ve decided to come back.”
Her white coat is open, revealing a black collared shirt underneath, and her dark clogs thump in quick progression as she guides us in. She can’t be more than thirty-five. Her face isn’t pretty, but unusual, with a turned-up nose that looks somewhat doglike, and freckled skin so transparent I can almost see her bones.
“It’s the least I could do,” I say, although part of me wants to take a step back — one step, two — get a running start, and hightail it out. But I’m no gazelle, far from it, and leaving now would be embarrassing. Still, I’ve only talked to Sarah a couple of times, and while she’s pleasant enough, there’s something cold and clinical about her, something that makes me wonder if she isn’t just too serious for me.
Image: Walkowitz, Abraham. Detail of “Angna Enters.” Ca. 1936-1945. Pen and ink, watercolor, and pencil on paper. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.