The woman who answered my knock was hunch-shouldered, her shawl so large it swept the ground. Tapping her wooden walking stick in front of my shoe caps, she insisted I couldn’t enter without an appointment.
I assured her that I had one with Doctor Mary Kelly.
There was no Doctor Kelly at 11a, she said, shutting the door in my face. A moment later, the letter box flap opened: “Try Number 11.”
I did. After the second knock, the red door swung wide. The same woman stood before me. This time, her cane was lifted a few centimetres off the ground, its rubber tip aimed at my knees.
“And you are?” she asked.
“Remember? I’m Doctor Kelly’s 10 o’clock appointment.”
“I’ve never seen you before, and there’s no Doctor Kelly here.” Slam went the red door. “Try Number 11a,” said the voice through the letter box slit.
For the second time in five minutes, I rapped on the yellow door.
She was still hunched, but the stick was raised even higher this time. “Yes?” she asked.
“Let’s not go through this again,” I said. “I just tried next door and was told to come back here.”
“Told? By whom? No one has lived there for years.”
I was tiring of the game. “So, there are no psychiatrists in this building?”
“Of course, there’s Doctor Bristow. Come in.”
“Don’t I need an appointment?” I asked as she led me down a dark hallway lined with stuffed animal heads, each with a slightly startled look on its face.
“Of course not,” she said. “Where would you get a silly idea like that?”
Doctor Bristow rose from behind his desk. A heavy three-piece suit was set off by a bright yellow tie that matched the colour of the front door. He was in his mid-60s but, possibly, had never looked young. His hand touched my shoulder as he motioned me towards a leather couch. “Lie down and tell me what’s the problem.”
“I’d rather sit,” I said, reaching out for a visitor’s chair. The moment I sat in it, the rear legs began to give way. I went to the couch.
The corner of Bristow’s mouth curled up. “Go on.”
I explained how I felt that my life was in the hands of others; that I was dancing like a puppet.
Bristow lit a black cheroot, turned it over in his fingers and blew smoke down his nostrils. “Ah, yes. We call that ‘determinism’. Determinists believe the universe is governed by causal laws resulting in only one possible state at any point in time. In short, you have no free will.”
“We? As in: you psychiatrists?”
“I’m not a psychiatrist. Where would you get a silly idea like that?”
Swinging my legs off the couch, I crossed the room in three strides and flung open the door. It was a broom closet.
“Lie down,” said the voice behind me.
I refused. He shrugged. Beneath my feet I could feel the floorboards begin to creak. The creaking grew louder. I went to the couch.
“I don’t believe my life is pre-determined,” I said. “I do have free will. Look ….” I waved my hands around the room, “I chose to come here.”
“You had the illusion of choice. Two doors, some minor difficulties, the offer of a second doctor, a chance for you to feel as if you were in charge. The purpose? To lead you somewhere we chose for you.”
I wanted to ask “we?” again. But I was terrified of the answer.
The room seemed smaller than when I’d arrived, while Bristow and his cheroot were growing. Through the smoke, I could see his eyes were slowly turning the colour of the door at Number 11. It was like being trapped in a folk tale.
I had an idea. Slapping the couch with my open palms, I smiled at Bristow. “You know, this is a fine couch. Very comfortable. I love it here. I’m choosing to stay.”
Bristow’s eyes were crimson. “No,” he said. “No.”
I pinched the leather. “Frankly, I couldn’t be happier. I want you to keep me here.”
A moment of darkness, a splinter of bright light and I was back on the wide steps facing the two doors. A braver man may have stayed to wonder why. Not me. Turning quickly, I bumped into a smartly-dressed woman who was heading for the red door.
“You must be my 10 o’clock appointment,” she said. “Come in.”
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Copyright © 2010 GREG FLYNN