Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “Kāmasūtra”


Our hero Arnold Schnabel has just awakened from seven hours of hypnosis on the couch of the attractive lady psychiatrist Dr. Blanche Weinberg.. 



(Please go here to read last week’s exciting episode of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume memoir; those who wish to start the journey at the beginning are invited to click here to order
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, available both as a Kindle™ e-book and a lurid large-format paperback printed on FSC certified, lead-free, acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.)

“To say that Arnold Schnabel deserves a place in the ‘American canon’ is to do him a grave injustice, for surely the so-called ‘Rhyming Brakeman’ constitutes and deserves a canon all his own.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Family Circle Literary Supplement.



“Or,” said the doctor – she had been wearing her glasses, but now she took them off, folded them and let them hang from their chain upon her bosom – “I could fix you something to eat here.”

“You have food here?” I said, and I suppose I looked around the dimly lit room for a sign of a refrigerator or cupboard.

“Not in this consulting room,” she said, “but in my apartment. You see, I live here through that door.”

She gestured with her cigarette to a door in the wall to her right.

“I didn’t realize,” I said.

“I did not announce the fact. Would you like to see my digs?”

“Um, uh,” I said.

“Don’t worry, I sent Donna home at five o’clock.”

“Oh,” I said.

“And please don’t think, Mr. Walker, that I am making a pass at you. I would be unceremoniously drummed out of the American Psychiatric Association for a caper like that.”

“Oh,” I said, “no, I, uh –”


“Put your shoes on.”

I did as I was told, and I could feel her eyes on me as I did so. When I finished I sat up and looked at her, sitting back with her legs crossed, smoking her cigarette and looking at me.

“Good,” she said. “Come with me, then.”

She closed her notebook and put it on the table, got up and went over to the door and opened it. She reached in and presumably flicked a light switch, at any rate light came on through the doorway. She turned and looked at me over her shoulder. I got up from the couch and went around it and her chair and followed her through into the other room. The doctor gently closed the door behind me.

It was the sort of apartment I would have to call “tastefully furnished”, although I ask the hypothetical reader to bear in mind that I know nothing or almost nothing about taste in such matters as domestic furnishings and decorations. Like the consulting room, this room – which with my eye for detail I identified as the living room – felt cozy and feminine, with lots of pictures on the walls that looked not like reproductions from Woolworths or rotogravures clipped from Sunday supplements but real paintings, most of them but not all of them of the abstract variety, and there were also hundreds and maybe even thousands of books on shelves, on tables and chairs and ledges and windowsills, and even a casual glance assured me that these were mostly hardback books, and not luridly-covered paperback novels about regular guys caught in whirlpools of despair and sin. There was another comfortable looking couch in here, and like the one in the consulting room it had a floral pattern, albeit of more subdued and faded colors, and in front of it was a glass coffee table with lots of magazines, books and newspapers on it. Beyond an archway was what looked like a dining room. 



“Sorry about the disorder,” said Dr. Weinberg. “A woman comes in to clean, but I have forbidden her to touch my books and papers and magazines.”

“I like it,” I said.

“To the right of the dining room in there is my little kitchen.”

“Ah.”

“That door on the far side of the dining room leads to my bedroom. But don’t worry, I won’t show you that.”

“Good,” I said.

“I could take that the wrong way,” she said. “But I won’t.”

“I didn’t mean it that way,” I said.

“What way?”

“I didn’t mean to imply, uh, that –”

“That you find me unattractive?”

“Yes,” I said.

She paused, looking at me, smoking her Philip Morris Commander.

“I think maybe it’s best after all that we go out somewhere for a nosh.”

“If you say so,” I said.

“And I don’t mean because I have nothing to eat in my little Frigidaire.”

I said nothing. To be honest, I just wanted to eat, and as soon as possible, and I didn’t much care where I ate. But first there was something else I needed to do.



“Listen, Dr. Weinberg –”

“You can call me Dr. Blanche if you like.”

“Okay. Dr. Blanche –”

“Yes?”

“Well, I was wondering, uh –”

“You would rather eat here after all?”

“No,” I said.

“Oh,” she said. “Because I do have some pot roast I could heat up. My mother made it, so it’s quite good.”

“No, it isn’t that,” I said. “Um –”

“Why so awkward? I’ve just spent seven hours listening to your deepest secrets and fantasies, so please feel free, Mr. Walker.”

“I wonder if I could use your bathroom?”

“Oh. Oh, dear, of course. Just go through the dining room there. You’ll see the kitchen to the right, but to the left of it is the bathroom. I’ll wait here.”

“Thanks,” I said.

I followed her directions, and found the bathroom where she said it would be. Everything in the bathroom looked very clean, and the towels all looked fresh and ironed. I relieved my bladder, it took a while, and then I washed my hands, looking at my current incarnation in the mirror. I was still Porter Walker, romantic bohemian poet, with the wrinkled seersucker jacket and plaid shirt with the top button undone, and a loosened stained grey tie. I (or he) needed a shave, and I had a black eye and some other stray bruises and cuts on my face. How had I gotten the black eye anyway? And then it came back to me, my nemesis Emily (one of my nemeses) clobbering me with her purse and knocking me cold, yes. The memory incited me to do a wary check of my corporeal host for any other injuries, but except for a general chorus of dull pains from my knees and arms and head and face I felt nothing excruciating.

I heard a faint tapping and then a rushing rattling of rain and a boom of thunder. There was a hexagonal stained-glass casement window, composed of rectangles of glass of various colors separated by borders of lead or iron or some substance that looked like lead or iron, and the shadows of rain drops streamed down the glass.

I dried my hands and then straightened and tightened up the knot of my tie, but I left the top button of my shirt undone; I was a bohemian poet, and a certain laxness in my personal appearance was to be expected and forgiven.

I noticed a large bottle of Listerine on a shelf near the sink. My mouth felt dry and leathery so I poured some mouthwash into a pristine tooth glass on the sink and gargled. Then I rinsed my mouth out with tap water, and for good measure drank two glassfuls of water. I rinsed the glass well, and then dried it on a corner of a clean hand towel on the nearby rack.

When I came back out to the living room Dr. Weinberg (or Dr. Blanche as I was now beginning to think of her, how quickly people’s names can change) was sitting in an easy chair smoking what must have been a fresh cigarette and reading a New Yorker magazine. She took off her reading glasses to look at me.


“Or,” she said, “I could cease your treatment. Recommend one of my colleagues to take you on as a patient. Then there would be nothing unethical were we to become, if not lovers, then sexual partners.”

This seemed very sudden to me, but then I had no idea what had been going on during the seven oblivious hours of my hypnosis, so it may not have seemed so sudden to her. And I remembered that I was in the world of a Horace P. Sternwall novel, so something like the current situation should not have surprised me.

“Here’s the thing, Dr. Weinberg,” I said. 



“Blanche.”

“Here’s the thing, Dr. Blanche,” I started again, and then stopped. And before I could start again Dr. Blanche beat me to the punch.



“You feel faithful,” she said, “to this, what was her name, Penelope?”

“Elektra, actually, yes,” I said. “I guess I told you about her when I was hypnotized?”

“Oh, yes, in some detail. The caramel and cotton candy smell of her body.

“I said that?”

“Among many other things.”

“Oh.”


“But.”

“Yes?”

“But she lives in another universe. Or so you said.”

“It’s true,” I said.

“But you are in this universe, Mr. Walker.”

“Yes.”

“I think you find me attractive. No, I take that back, I know you find me attractive.”

“I do,” I said. “But.”

“But.”

Even I knew I had to step easy. Dr. Blanche may have been a doctor, but she was still a woman, and, even more to the point, she was a woman in a Horace P. Sternwall novel.

“But I’m really hungry,” I said.

“Oh. Yes,” she said. “How inconsiderate of me. Let’s get some food into you. But first allow me to freshen up. I won’t be a mo. Here, take my seat, I’ve got it all warmed up for you.”



She stubbed out her cigarette and stood up, tossing the magazine on a table. 

“I think I’ll just stand,” I said.



“There’s the drinks cabinet over there by the window. Make yourself a highball.”



“I’d really like to eat first,” I said.

“Something to whet your appetite.”



“It’s pretty whetted already.”

“There should be ice in the bucket,” she said. “I recommend the Haig & Haig if you like scotch.”

She turned and walked toward the other room, but then she stopped at a bookcase, took out a large leather-bound book and brought it back to me.

“Here,” she said. “Something to look at while you’re waiting.”

I took the book and she turned and walked away again. I looked at the title of the book, embossed in gold on the soft black leather.

The Kama Sutra

I opened the book and leafed through it. Then I closed it. Call me a prude, but if there was one book I didn’t want to fall into and become a part of then this was it. I took it over to the bookcase and put it back.

Then I headed for the drinks cabinet. I figured I could use a drink after all, and maybe more than one.


(To be continued even further into a seemingly endless night.)



Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “the couch”



Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the cozy consulting room of the lady psychiatrist Dr. Blanche Weinberg...

(Kindly click here to read last week’s installment of this Gold View Award™-winning 77-volume epic of confessional literature; those curious souls who would like to start at the beginning may go here to purchase
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, available both as a Kindle™ e-book and a handsome large-format paperback.)

“Arnold Schnabel: outsider or the ultimate insider?” – Harold Bloom, in the
Us Weekly Literary Supplement.



I don’t know why I didn’t just say thanks but no thanks, get up, say goodbye, please send me the bill, and go. 
 
But then where would I go? Outside was the unknown, and inside here was also the unknown, but less unknown. And here was an attractive woman doctor who wanted to help me, and charging only five dollars an hour, and deferred at that, urging me to lie down on  a comfortable-looking couch, and I was tired, very tired, it felt like six and a half years since I had gotten out of bed that morning.



I got up and went over to the couch, walking on legs that felt as if they belonged to someone else in some other world, and wasn’t that the truth anyway. The couch was about seven feet long, more than enough for me to stretch out on, with three or four tasseled unmatched floral-patterned pillows at the left end, the end closest to the door, and a crocheted pink and orange and purple afghan folded at the other end. To the left of the couch was a cozy-looking easy chair, and this too was upholstered in a floral pattern, one that didn’t match the couch but which didn’t clash either. To the left of the chair was a small round lace-covered table with an ashtray and an old-fashioned electric table lamp, its curved base painted with flowers and its tasseled shade printed with more flowers. 



There were a lot of other things in the room – cabinets, book cases, shelves, little knick-knacks and sculptures, paintings, photographs – but I won’t attempt to enumerate or describe them because to be quite honest I barely noticed them at the time because all I really saw was that couch, that comfortable looking couch, and I was just bending my knees preparatory to flopping down on it when the lady doctor’s voice called and said, “I would ask you to take off your shoes, Mr. Walker.”

“Oh, of course,” I said.

I sat down on the couch and unlaced my work shoes, which were in fact very dirty. I had greyish white sweat socks on, and they were damp with sweat, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that. There was an oriental rug on the floor here, at least the rug looked oriental to me, although it could well have been made in Philadelphia for all I knew, anyway I set my dirty work-shoes side by side on the rug and lay down on my back on the couch, my head and shoulders on the pillows, the fingers of my hands joined over my stomach. It was almost as if I were dead finally, and on display in my coffin, and I felt almost as calm as if I were dead.

“You can take off that seersucker jacket if you like,” said the doctor. “It will get wrinkled. Or I suppose I should say more wrinkled yet.”

“That’s okay,” I said. 



“Yes, of course, you’re a poet after all, are you not, Mr. Walker? I suppose the wrinkled look is quite de rigueur in your profession. Unless perhaps you are T.S. Eliot.”



To be honest, now that I was lying down I just didn’t feel like sitting up to take the jacket off. Speaking of the jacket, I could feel in its right pocket what felt very much like the revolver that woman Lily had given me ages ago, so I still had that in this world, that was good to know.

Turning my head, I saw that Dr. Weinberg was pulling venetian blinds down over the windows and drawing the lace curtains together.

Then she walked out of my field of vision, and a moment later the overhead lights in the room went out. It was still daylight outside, so the room was dim but not dark. Then a light came on somewhere to the back of my head, but a low-wattage, pinkish blue-tinted light, and I heard Dr. Weinberg’s voice saying, from just behind and above my head:



“Would you like to tell me what’s on your mind, Mr. Walker.”

What a question.

All I could do was to answer with at least a modicum of honesty.

“I hardly know where to start, doctor,” I said.

“Why don’t you tell me why you made an appointment with me. Something must have been bothering you.”

“If I told you the truth I’m afraid you’ll think I’m insane.”

“I doubt that.”

“No,” I said. “You will.”

“Why don’t you let me be the judge of that. I didn’t get those diplomas on the wall behind my desk for my good looks you know.”

“Yes, you’re right, I suppose,” I said.

“Then I ask you, Mr. Walker, please, simply tell me the truth.”

I sighed.



“I mean of course as well as you’re able to,” she added. “The truth shall we say as you perceive it.”



Again I sighed, involuntarily, or as involuntarily as sighing ever is.

I heard the sound of a cigarette lighter being clicked, and then  I saw a small cloud of cigarette smoke wafting above my head.

“Oh,” said Dr. Weinberg’s voice. “I should have asked, because I know you said you quit smoking, but do you mind if I smoke?”

“Oh, no, please do,” I said. “It’s the next best thing to actually smoking myself.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like a cigarette yourself.”

“Oh, I would definitely like one,” I said. “But I’m so comfortable lying here, and I’ve never liked smoking lying down.”

“You could sit up if you like.”

“No, I think I’ll just keep lying here,” I said. “But please feel free to blow the smoke towards me.”

“I shall then,” she said. “So.”

“So,” I said.

But then I said nothing. It was just all too much. I lay there and looked up at the ceiling, which was the same blue color as the walls of the office, a greyish blue now that Dr. Weinberg had closed the blinds and curtains and put out the overhead light. The table lamp that she had apparently turned on cast a gentle and vague circle of yellow and purple and pink on the ceiling, which was decorated with the molded outlines of large flowers and swirling vines.

I closed my eyes. I could hear the scribbling of pencil-lead on paper.

I began to doze, and in fact I even began to hear myself snore, but before I could fall solidly asleep I heard Dr. Weinberg’s voice again.

“Mr. Walker. You’re snoring.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“Have you had a long day?”



“Very long,” I said.

“Six and a half years long?”

“Approximately,” I said.

“I can’t help you if you say nothing at all.”

I responded to this by saying nothing. I wasn’t trying to be annoying, I just couldn’t think of anything to say, or, rather, I thought of many things to say, too many things.

“I have an idea,” said her voice. “But I shall need your permission. Would you mind terribly if I hypnotized you.”

“That depends,” I said.

“On what?”

“It depends on if it’s going to make me crazier than I already am.”

“I stake my professional reputation on my assertion that hypnotizing you will make you no crazier – your term, not mine – than you already are, if indeed you are, although again 'crazy' is not a term we use in my profession.”

“I don’t know why not,” I said.

“Ha ha. Do I have your permission.”

“What is it like?” I said.



“Being hypnotized?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, I suppose the closest analogy would be to the dreaming state. It’s not the same as sleeping, but it does share some of the qualities of a good sleep, for instance, the so-called rapid eye movement –”

“Okay,” I said.

“Okay as in yes you agree to be hypnotized.”

“Yes,” I said. 

If it was anything like sleep I was all for it. I felt like I could sleep for twenty-four hours straight, but I would settle for a good nap.

“Very well, then, Mr. Walker. Now listen, I should like you to try to relax.”

“I actually feel pretty relaxed already,” I said. “This is such a comfortable couch.”

“Splendid. Now I would like you please to breathe deeply and slowly. Deeply. Slowly. That’s it. Deeply. Slowly. Feel your stomach rising and falling gently as you breathe. Slowly, deeply. Deeply, slowly…”

Then I was asleep, or hypnotized I suppose, or both, deep asleep, a sleep without dreams, no, that’s not quite true, I was aware of myself, or of someone, aware of myself dreaming or someone or some thing dreaming, but I didn’t know what the dreams being dreamt were, and I didn’t care, and centuries passed without fear or terror or desire, and then after six hundred years I heard Dr. Weinberg’s voice again:

“And now you will awaken.”

And I was awake, and the room was much darker, although the lamplight from behind and above my head was much brighter than it had been.

“You can sit up now, Mr. Walker.”

I sat up, swinging my stockinged feet down to the floor and the rug. The blinds on the windows were still down, the curtains still drawn, but no daylight shone through them, night had fallen. I looked to my right, and Dr. Weinberg was sitting in her chair, smoking a cigarette, her legs crossed, her leather-bound notebook open on her lap.



“How do you feel?” she said.

“Very well rested, thank you,” I said. “How long was I out?”

She looked at the tiny watch on her wrist.

“Oh, about seven hours,” she said.



“I thought the session was only for an hour.”

“Yes, so it was meant to be. But what you were saying was simply so interesting that I just let you go on. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No,” I said. “To be honest, I really needed the rest.”

“Yes, I imagine so,” she said.

“What did I tell you?”

“Oh, you told me quite a bit.”

“About – how I got here, and everything that happened before?”

“Yes. Or as much as could be told in seven hours. I’m sure there’s much more.”



“Oh, there is,” I said. “So.”

“So?”

“So now you know I’m crazy.”

“I know nothing of the sort. Are you hungry by the way.”

“Yes,” I said.

“I am famished. Shall we get something to eat?”

“I’m not sure if I have any money on me.”

“Please allow me to treat.”

I’ve never been one to turn down a free meal, so I told her okay.

(Continued here, and onward, inexorably.)






Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “Dr. Blanche”



Our hero Arnold Schnabel has passed into yet another fictional universe, that of the sadly out-of-print Lady Psychiatrist, by  “Hannah Pierce Sandler” (although internal evidence suggests that this was one of the dozens of noms de plume employed by Arnold’s prolific friend Horace P. Sternwall)...



(Please go here to read last week’s thrilling episode. Those who would like to begin this Gold View Award™-winning 76-volume memoir at the beginning may click here to purchase your very own copy (either as a Kindle™ e-book or the deluxe paper edition) of
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel.)

“Memoir
? Roman fleuve? The fevered ravings of a madman? Welcome to the world of Arnold Schnabel.” – Harold Bloom, in his Introduction to Arnold Schnabel Without Tears: a Beginner’s Guide.



Inside I saw an office much like what I would have imagined a psychiatrist’s office to look like, based not only on what I had seen in movies, TV shows and magazine cartoons, as well as my own personal experience, except this one had a definite feminine feel and look, especially so since the apparent psychiatrist was a well-put together woman in a black dress and pink high heels, standing off to the right facing a window with white lace curtains. The walls of the office were a pale blue, and everything in it seemed to converge upon the woman at the window.



She turned her head and looked at me. She had short dark hair, like a girl freedom fighter’s, reddish-orange lips, a strand of pearls or something like pearls around her bare neck. She looked to be about 35, and her face was perfectly smooth and pale, like the marble of a holy water font. Her eyes were dark, and even from across the room they looked straight into mine.

She had apparently just taken a drag on a cigarette she was holding up in the air in her left hand, her elbow propped against her side in that way ladies hold cigarettes, and she let the smoke drift out of her nostrils before speaking.



“Blinds down and curtains drawn, or both open,” she said.



Beyond her I could see, not surprisingly, or maybe surprisingly the way things had been going in my life, the same cityscape visible from the receptionist’s office, but from a slightly different angle. I now caught sparkling glimpses of a river above the rooftops and in slivers of vertical light between the buildings, with another smaller and hazy cityscape beyond the blue of the river.

“Or perhaps you would prefer the blinds up but the curtains open,” she said.

“Oh, sorry, however you like it,” I said.

“Open then, blinds and curtains. For the time being.”



“Um, yeah –” I said, just to say something, the same reason I’ve said nearly everything I’ve ever said.


“Mr. Walker,” she said.

“Yes?” I said. “I mean, yes, I guess so.”

“You guess?”

“That’s the best I can do,” I said, then added, “I guess.”

Suddenly she strode right toward me, and I wondered if she was going to slap me for being a wise ass, but, no, she stopped a couple of feet away from me and put out her right hand. The hand was delicate, pale and smooth like church marble except for the fingernails which were the same or very similar orange-red as her lips.

“I’m Dr. Weinberg,” she said.



“Hi, doctor,” I said, and I shook her hand. I don’t think I’ve ever quite decided what’s more awkward, shaking a man’s or a woman’s hand, but her hand felt nice, slightly cool, from the air-conditioning I suppose, because this office also had an air-conditioner, humming quietly in the other window in the room, the one the lady doctor had not been gazing out of.

Her grip was firm and strong for such a fragile looking hand, but there was no masculine attempt to turn the gesture into a test of strength and will power. She gave my hand two quick solid shakes, and then withdrew hers.



She brought her left forearm up to a few inches from her face and glanced at a tiny golden watch on her wrist.



“You realize you’re sixteen minutes late, Mr. Walker.”

“Oh,” I said, “yeah, I thought it was only fifteen minutes, but, yes, your, uh, receptionist –”

“Donna.”

“Donna told me I was late, and I know I still have to pay for the whole session.”

As soon as I said that I wondered if I had any money, and was I expected to pay on the way out?



“It’s important that we have these rules,” she said. “And that we obey them.”

I noticed that she had a pair of horn-rimmed eyeglasses hanging above her breasts, attached to a very thin gold chain around her neck. The glasses moved up and down with the breathing of her bosom.

“Or don’t you agree?” she said.

“Agree?”

“That we need rules.”

“Well, you’re the doctor,” I said. “What do I know?”

“That is what we hope to find out,” she said. “Why don’t you close the door if you’re staying.”

I hadn’t quite realized that I hadn’t closed the door, but I hadn’t, so I turned and closed it as gently as I could, shutting away the sight of Donna the receptionist leaning forward and sideways, looking at me. Then I turned to face the lady doctor again.


“Now,” she said. “Shall we sit and have a little chat?” 



Her body gave off a scent of perfume, it smelled like the gladioli in my aunts’ garden on a hot day after a rainfall. 

“Sure,” I said, I said, just as her lips were opening to ask me if I were completely insane or merely hard of hearing.

There was a broad but delicate pale wooden desk across the office, and she turned and walked over to it and behind it and sat down. She may have been a doctor, but the body that walked away from me, on pink high-heeled shoes, was a woman’s. Was I disconcerted by this? Yes. But the hypothetical reader of this chronicle will know that I am no stranger to disconcertion.



I saw that there were four or five framed diplomas on the wall behind her, including at least one in French and one in German, so she must have been legitimate, unless of course the diplomas were forged.

I walked up to within a few feet of the desk, which had two arm chairs facing it, both of them upholstered with a floral pink and blue pattern, roses I think.

I took note also of a couch against the wall to the left, covered with a pattern that matched the two arm chairs. Suddenly all I wanted to do was to lie down on the couch, perhaps to doze for a short while.

“Should I just go ahead and lie on the couch?” I said.

“Not yet,” she said. “Maybe later after we’ve had our preliminary chat. That chair is comfortable,” she said, pointing with her cigarette to the chair to the left of the front of her desk.

The chair did look comfortable, with padded seat, back, and arms, and with the pink and blue floral covering. I went over and sat in it.



“Cigarette, Mr. Walker?” she said, and she reached forward and opened a silvery engraved cigarette box, then shoved it across the desk in my direction. “Philip Morris Commanders. My one vice. Or at least the only one I’ll own up to. Ha ha.”

I started to reach over to take a cigarette, despite the fact that I preferred Pall Malls, when suddenly I remembered.


“Oh, wait,” I said. “I forgot. I quit smoking.”



“Oh, good for you. Had you been a heavy smoker?”



“Couple packs of Pall Malls a day,” I said. “Ever since I was in the army. Before that I never smoked for some reason, but in the army –”

“And when did you quit?”



“Smoking?”

“Yes,” she said, just slightly raising one eyebrow.

“Well,” I said, “in real time it was probably only a couple of days ago. But it feels like nine years.”

“Interesting,” she said. 



She put her cigarette in a large glass or crystal ashtray, and then lifted her glasses from her bosom and put them on. Then she flipped open a leather-bound notepad on her desk, the kind with the spiral binding at the top of the page, flicked through several pages, picked up a silvery mechanical pencil from a pen set, adjusted it so that a point of lead emerged from its tip, and finally wrote something down on the pad. She paused, then wrote for a good minute more, and while she was writing I looked around, and for a change I looked down at the floor. It was made of highly polished pale wood, and definitely cleaner and shinier than the cruddy floors of most doctors’ offices I had been in. Then I looked at the doctor’s desk. Unlike most doctors’ desks I had seen in my life, and I had seen my share, there were no framed photographs. I figured that must mean the doctor had no husband or children, or if she did, she wasn’t very sentimental about them. But I looked at her left hand and noticed she had no wedding ring. Like me. She had a dark blue telephone on her desk, matching the one that Donna had out in the reception room. There was a goosenecked lamp, but blue instead of the usual black, and a glass or crystal vase of roses, red and orange and yellow. The lady doctor stopped writing suddenly, then looked up at me. Now that she wore the horn-rimmed glasses her eyes seemed slightly larger, and darker.



“So have you conquered the craving, then?”

“For cigarettes?” I said, quick on the uptake for once.

“Yes,” she said. “Cigarettes. Tobacco. Nicotine. Have you overcome the craving.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “I haven’t overcome anything.”

She reached forward and closed the cigarette box, and as she did I caught a glimpse of the upper portions of her breasts in a black brassière. I looked away, toward if not at one of the abstract paintings, hanging over the near end of the couch.

“Do you like modern art?” she said.

“Oh, no,” I said. “I mean, I don’t dislike it, but I don’t really like it either. I guess it’s like wallpaper to me. Except when it’s –”

“What?”

“Except when it’s disturbing.”

“And do you find that painting disturbing?”

“I’m getting used to it,” I said.

“And what about its fellow, at the other end of the couch.”

“I’m getting used to that one too.”

“May I ask why you are here, Mr. Walker.”

That was sudden.

“Why I’m here,” I said, stalling.

“Yes,” she said. She put down her mechanical pencil and picked up her cigarette, it was almost smoked down, but she took a good drag. “I don’t think you would be willing to spend twenty-five dollars an hour for no good reason.”

“Twenty-five?” I said,  I suppose with a heavy accent indicative of surprise and incipient panic.

“Yes, that is the standard rate. This should have been made clear to you when you made your appointment.”

“Wow, I guess I didn’t pay close attention.”

“Twenty-five.”


“Y’know,” I said, and even though the office was well air-conditioned, I began to feel sweat coursing down my spine, “I guess I really wasn’t paying that close attention, um –”

She looked at her cigarette, then stubbed it out in the crystal ashtray.

“Let’s not start off with prevarication, Mr. Walker, shall we?”

“Right,” I said. “But, uh, here’s the thing, I’m not sure after all that I can afford twenty-five. An hour.”

“Really?” She took off her glasses and folded them up above her bosom again. “I heard you just got a thirty-thousand dollar advance for your epic book-length poem from Smythe & Son.”



My epic poem – it seemed as if I hadn’t thought about that in years, but wait –



“Y’know, doctor, in fact it’s only a, what, a fifty dollars a week advance, in fact, for the next three months, I think. And that’s against the royalties, if there are any. I think.”

“You think?”

“Okay, I’m pretty sure. It’s hard to remember right now.”

“When did you sign the contract?”

“Well,” I said, “it was actually more of a handshake deal, over lunch –”



“A gentleman’s agreement.”

“Yes.”



“And when did you make this handshake deal?”



“Well, again, doctor, it’s funny you should ask that, because in one sense it was just earlier today, but in another sense it feels like –”



“Nine years?”



“Well, let’s say seven years, seven and a half –”

“And this fifty dollars a week is your sole source of income?”

“Yes,” I said. “Unless I get a job of some sort, or –”

“You’re a poet. Your job is to write poems.”

“Yes, okay,” I said, “but still –”

“You do know your book – your poem – is the talk of the town.”

“Is it?”

“Yes.” She put her glasses back on, then picked up a folded newspaper from her desk, looked at it, and proceeded to read from it, or at least to pretend to read from it. ‘The most highly anticipated poetic début of the year’, according to Edmund Wilson.”

“Wow, that was nice of him,” I said, and I thought of something. “Edmund Wilson. It’s funny, I met this guy named Bunny Wilson –”



She took her glasses off again and looked at me.

“Bunny Wilson is Edmund Wilson,” she said.

“Oh,” I said. “Well, that really was nice of, uh –”

“They’re saying – ‘they’ being the literary wags about town – that your book, what is it, The Bawdy Embraces?”

“I think it’s The Brawny Embraces actually,” I said.

“Yes, of course, Brawny, silly me, but they say your book is destined to be a runaway bestseller.”



“Wow,” I said.

“Soon to have pride of place on the pale pink bookshelves of eighteen-year-old girl romantics across the country.”

“Gee.”

“Great Britain as well.”

“Okay, then,” I said. “That’s good to hear, but in the meantime I’m only getting fifty a week, so maybe if you could bill me for this session and I’ll pay you as soon as I get my first check, or –”

“Do you think I would be so mercenary as to take one half of your week’s income from you for one session?”

“Well, it’s my fault really, but at any rate, I guess I’d better be going then –”

“For you I shall allow a reduced and deferred payment plan.”

“A what?”


“We’ll make it shall we say five dollars a session. I’ll keep an account for you, and then after your book is published and the royalties start flooding in we’ll work out a payment plan.”

“But what if the royalties don’t flood in?”

“Then I will write the experience off as my contribution to the world of literature.”

“Wow,” I said, “that’s very generous of you.”

“Believe it or not, Mr. Walker, I am not in this profession for the money.”

“Oh, well, I, uh, I mean, I didn’t, uh, you know,” I said.



“I hope you’re not one of these tedious people who think my co-religionists and I care only for the accruing of filthy lucre.”

“Wow, no –”

“Great, then,” she said. “Shall we get started.”

“I’d just as soon call it a day,” I said.

“Nonsense. You’re paying for this hour, eventually, unless the royalties fail to flood in, which I very much doubt, and, anyway, you intrigue me, Mr. Walker.”

“Uh, thanks?”

“No need to thank me. Why don’t you go over and lie on that couch.”

“That couch?” I said, turning and looking at the couch.

“Unless you see another couch in this office,” she said.

“No,” I said.

“Go ahead,” she said. “Lie down. I’m not going to bite you.”


Illustration by Paul Rader.

(Continued here, as Arnold seeks the professional help he so clearly needs.)