And You, As Well
by Desire Ameigh
“Williams,” said the loudspeaker. “Williams-comma-S.”
Sarah stood. She collected her belongings from beneath her chair and the chair beside that one. She tucked one arm into her jacket, shifted her things, and tucked the other into the other. She shimmied a bit, and evenly distributed the stuff between the bends of her elbows and the bulk of her chest.
She carried her notebooks and pens and the knapsack she bought at the outlets with her into the office and then she sat again. Here, there were only three chairs—two in front of a desk and one behind. In the lobby, there had been rows upon rows of chairs, and most of them empty. Sarah took up two of those chairs, and the space beneath one of those, and she felt so capacious; but in this other room, she was vacuum-sealed. It was as if passing the threshold from lobby to office was moving through a magnifying glass from one side to the other.
While she was waiting, she read a magazine that she’d found on the floor by the front door. There had been plenty of glossy pages attached and detached, stacked on tables by the ends of each row of chairs, but she figured if she should pick up the one by the door, she should try to read it. But the stories were not in English, and Sarah could not discern which language they were in because she wasn’t too energetic, especially not intellectually.
In the office, she looked at her pile of things, as they sat between the chair she had chosen and the chair she had not, and on the top of that pile was the not-in-English magazine that she could never read.
“I should return that.”
“What’s that?” The man she’d come to see walked in through a door she’d not noticed before. It was not the same door she had used to walk in from the lobby, but instead, an opening carved between two book-case clad walls and plugged with a large, wooden block of a door.
“I didn’t see you there.”
“I just walked in.”
“No, not you. I was talking to the door.”
“Yes, the door. How are you?”
“Oh, me. Well, I am well. How are you?”
“I didn’t even know that there were two doors into this room. Are there more doors into this room?”
“Miss Williams, I—”
“Sarah. Just call me Sarah, please.”
“Sarah, I am not quite sure what to make of your intake forms.”
Sarah sighed. She always had an exhausting way of not being able to communicate effectively. When she was a child, her mother would scold her for the way that she rambled. And when her father would check over her reading and writing assignments before school, he’d shake his head in an almost-defeated kind of way. Sarah wanted to wedge herself between the edge of I’ve given up on this child and she has potential; she wanted to expand her body to push them apart the way that one tool extends the bottom of the car up and above the driveway when a person needs to change a tire or oil or something.
“I’ve been keeping notes,” Sarah began.
“Notes on what, exactly?”
The doctor wanted a precise response, Sarah could tell.
“Well, for example, I might write down that I heard my name over the loudspeakers and that’s why I walked into the door,” Sarah turned her body slightly and lifted her arm to point to the door that she’d used to get into the office. “And that’s how I ended up sitting here waiting for you. I didn’t wait long, though, maybe thirty seconds or more than that but not much more. And I sat here and you walked in through that door,” Sarah pointed forward to the door that didn’t seem to exist before, but now clearly existed very distinctly. “And now we are talking, and I might take notes on the way that I told this particular narrative.”
“Yes,” Sarah paused to find the correct notebook to write this down. At first, she’d just write the word loudspeaker, then later she’d flesh out the details just as she remembered them. For instance, she might add that the one chair looked like it had an uneven seat and that the doctor smelled sterile, even though he did not look all that clean and was not wearing gloves. But maybe she should also write two doors, because the number of doors was really weighing on her and she didn’t want to forget that there had been more than one but less than three. She wanted to greet the trashcan that was next to the desk, but she did not. Instead, she scanned the room for more doors, then she added, “Excuse me, Doctor, are there any more doors out of this room?”
“No, Sarah, just the two. But, also, there is no loudspeaker. Do you mean the nurse?”
Sarah snorted—what a preposterous thing for a doctor to say. A nurse is not a loudspeaker; a nurse is a person. And Sarah would have remembered if there had been a person in the lobby with her, but there had not been—rows upon rows of empty chairs, and a glass window with the a perfectly circular hole for two people to chat about what people in lobbies chat about. The loudspeaker had been hidden behind a fake tree or in plain sight in a corner or something of the sort, but Sarah couldn’t have told the Doctor exactly where, just that it was not a nurse.
“Sarah? The loudspeaker?”
“Doctor, I don’t know. That’s why I write these things down, so that I can ask questions about them to experts like you. That’s why I am here. That’s what I wrote down on that paper you’re holding.”
Dr. Borkyan looked down at the page. His morning rituals work so well that his rides into the practice were nearly serene. Of course there are other cars on the road—and they make noises—and there are stop signs and stoplights and signals drawing his attention from one place to another, and all so quickly. But, he doesn’t need music, and he doesn’t think all that much until he gets to where he is going and he flips through pages where the patients are supposed to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth without a bailiff or a Bible or any other type of oath. They’re just supposed to be truthful; and Sarah was trying to do that, but when Dr. Borkyan looked down at the page, he could not read it.
“I am not an effective communicator,” Sarah said, and then she began to weep. At first, it was a subtle and theatrical movement. She heaved her upper-body at an odd angle and her face looked like it was crying, but the doctor studied it and saw no tears until he did, and then they wouldn’t stop. “Maybe I should reschedule.”
When he first wakes up, Dr. Borkyan stretches all of his limbs. He puts his fingertips to his earlobes; and he tries to lift himself at a ninety-degree angle without supporting his body with his hinged arms. He does all of this before he pulls the string on the lamp to light up half of his bedroom so that he can find his methodically placed night slippers. He slips them on, then glides into the bathroom to pee. He rarely needs to relieve himself any more than that, so then he washes his hands and brushes his teeth and combs his hair and leaves his bathroom for the kitchen.
“I have two doors in my bathroom,” Dr. B says to Sarah, who immediately stops crying.
“Just like in here, there are two doors in my bathroom at my apartment,” Dr. B folds the intake forms in half—the whole stack of them. He presses the crease, “And this morning I walked into one and out of the other because one is for my bedroom and the other is for my kitchen. The realtor said it was for guests, but I don’t have guests.”
They sat silently for two minutes, which is a long time to be quiet when you’re sitting in a room with another person.
Dr. B continued, “And when I went into my kitchen, I made coffee. I don’t drink coffee, but I like the way that it sounds when it is brewing. It’s serendipitous.”
“Don’t you mean serene?” Sarah sniffed.
“I do, I do. It’s serene. See? You communicate effectively.” Dr. B was shocked at himself for adding that last part, because it was most certainly not true. Not even a little bit. Sarah was perhaps the worst communicator he’d ever met, and his patience with her was thinning. Still, though, he told her more about his morning. “And when it was done dripping, I made sure to turn the machine off because I always do that, as well. It’s a machine that will turn itself off after a while, but I don’t trust that to always work and it gives me some peace to press the off-button myself.”
After he turned off his coffee pot, he changed into his work clothes. And just like every morning, he thought about the way his body looked so different in pajamas than it looked in a button-up and slacks. The first time he’d worn nice clothes was for Church when he was very small; at least that’s what he remembered, anyways.
“And then I went back to the kitchen,” he told Sarah. “There are two doors on my bedroom, as well. One for the bathroom, of course; and one for the kitchen, as I’ve just told you. I dumped the coffee down the drain and filled my water bottle. And then I breathed.”
Dr. Borkyan had been married to a woman named Gloria Adams-Borkyan. When they divorced, she went back to being Gloria Adams. Before they were divorced, though, she’d sit on the barstool by the island in the counter and insist that he, Mark Borkyan, M.D., breathe with her. And this all seemed so silly and pointless until she left him for three years with no warning then returned to serve him with divorce papers just before Christmas on a Wednesday. That’s when he began breathing purposefully before leaving his apartment, and for all intents and purposes, it seemed to work very well.
“Have you told Gloria that it works?” Sarah was not weeping at all anymore.
“How did you know her name is Gloria?”
“You just said it.”
“Oh, that’s right. Yes, well, no. I do not speak to Gloria anymore.”
“That’s too bad.”
Sarah had never been married, and she didn’t like the idea of marriage. In fact, it made her skin feel hot and a little bit itchy to even listen to these intimacies of Dr. Borkyan’s life. She could endure the physiological awkwardness of it all if it meant that she could sit in this office without having to explain fully why she was there. If truth be told, which she always tried to do, she’d forgotten the reason for her visit, anyways. She tried to find an indicator of what kind of doctor this man was—a business card or a framed diploma? Was he a cardiologist? A psychologist? A neurologist? An epidemiologist?
“What is an epidemiologist?”
Dr. Borkyan answered.
“Oh, and you’re not that, are you?”
“No, Sarah, I am not. Why would you ask that?” He smoothed the crease on the forms again, then opened them into full pages. He put them down on his desk amidst other papers, and then they were part of a collage of white against regal wood. Sarah imagined that all of the trinkets and do-dads so indigenous to a desk were a scattered framework for these layers of documentation.
“Well, my name is not Sarah.”
The parking lot outside of the practice was too big, which was not sustainable. Sometimes, people would make appointments to meet with Dr. B to ask if he’d be willing to repurpose parts of it, but he always said no.
“What is sustainability?”
Sarah, whose name was not Sarah, explained.
“And why is your name not Sarah?”
“My parents did not name me Sarah.” Her response was terse and exact, which aroused Dr. B just a bit. He hadn’t noticed before but not-Sarah had a favorable face. He started to feel uncomfortable because he thought that if this had been anywhere but where it was, as if between any other two doors, he might ask her to marry him.
“You can call me Mark.” He said this to her strangely, which made her look at him skeptically. Now he was aware of the space in his office, as if he’d willed his robot-vacuum to work by just using his mind, only instead of being somewhere other than home, he was sitting inside of the vacuum in a dark chamber that he could not understand. “Do you ever feel like you’re inside of a vacuum?”
“Oh yes,” she said, and she nodded until the skepticism wasn’t visible on her face anymore.
Mark knew that he should ask not-Sarah what her real name was. But instead, he traced them back to the loudspeaker, which was not real. He asked, “Why did you say that a loudspeaker called you into this room?”
“Because I remember that I was alone and then there was a voice and it came from somewhere anonymous.” She started to chew on clump of hair, which annoyed Mark. And she continued, “And if it had been a nurse that had said the name, then I would have seen the nurse and then I wouldn’t have been alone in the lobby with all of these things.” She gestured towards her pile of things, and the doctor needed to lift himself up out of his seat to crane over the collage and see it all on the floor. “You have too many chairs.”
“There are only three.”
“No, I mean in the lobby. There are too many chairs out there, and they are in very intimidating rows.”
“Okay, I will move them around and maybe take some out of there.”
“Don’t put them in here. Throw them away.” This advice didn’t seem useful, but neither not-Sarah or Mark commented on the fact.
“What is your real name?”
“And then, after the loudspeaker—“
Gloria Adams-Borkyan stood by the door with her purse. She had always been a patient woman and on this Wednesday she wore jeans and a black t-shirt, and she knew that there was only one door that anyone could use to get into or out of this particular apartment. If it had been on the first floor, she thought, then maybe when she knocked, Mark could climb out of a window or use a back door. But the apartment was on the seventh floor, and so he did not have the luxury of doors or windows that did remarkable things like lead to a practical elsewhere. Every door that he could use in this place, except for the one she stood in front of, would take him somewhere else inside of the apartment. And that would do him no good.
“Mark, I didn’t expect you to open the door. Weren’t you nervous or upset?”
“I wasn’t expecting you to be here.”
“I have a key.”
“I changed the locks.”
“Oh, that’s an angry thing to do.” She reached into the purse and handed him the paperwork. “Anyways, I signed these papers so that we can be divorced. I know that I should have had my lawyer bring them to you, but she seemed busy and I missed the tree near the stoop.”
“They removed that.”
He saw that she looked healthy. Before Gloria left the apartment and didn’t come back to be his wife anymore, her skin had started to seem be the color of a mannequin you’d see in a thriftstore. On this Wednesday, though, she had human-colored skin; and her lips had some kind of goopiness making them shine, which was nice. He thought he still loved her, but he had already breathed, and that made him calm. So he signed the papers, and he was divorced.
“But I am still Dr. Mark Borkyan, M.D.,” he explained to not-Sarah. She was gathering her things. He asked, “Where are you going?”
“The loudspeakers have called me back into the lobby.”
“That’s not how an office like this works. You don’t just go back and forth between the lobby and the office. We haven’t finished here.”
She still stood, so he asked if he could walk her out. And in the lobby, the chairs were full of sick people: greyish faces and sunken bodies. And they looked at the two of them walking towards the exit, only Dr. Borkyan did not look at them. He looked over the tops of their heads and between their bodies, and even at the chairs. But he did not look at the patients. He saw the nurse move from row to row, setting down forms and collecting them. And he thought about how he might go back into his office and read those forms.
The woman saw no cars, other than her own. She thought about the lopsidedness of the things she was carrying out of the office and that she should hand the magazine to the doctor but then she did not. She gets distracted by openness.
Out front, they shook hands and said goodbye. Mark could have asked the woman, whose name he did not know, to marry him because that’s the kind of thing that is possible to do. But his wife had left him so suddenly, and this woman seemed so unraveled that he let her leave without any proposal of any type, not even a, “Nice to meet you.”
In the lobby, the nurse finished shouting, “Comma-S. The doctor will see you now.”
About the Author
Desire Ameigh is a full-time English instructor at Wallace Community College. Her work has been featured on "Fresh Picked Prose." Even though she's spent most of her life in Florida, she currently lives with her cat in Alabama.