“I can’t relax.”
“I understand that. We can prescribe some meds that will help with that. But—” the therapist replied.
“I don’t want your meds! You already know that. I didn’t start saying my thoughts out loud until you put me on those pills.”
“Beatrix. We don’t know that.” There was an appeal in the therapist’s voice.
The two began talking over top of each other at this point.
“Yes, you do. I told you. You wrote it down on your little pad. There was nothing of that sort in my history until you started me on that anxiety medicine!”
“Yes. Of course,” his therapist attempted to assure him, “but that could be coincidental. We can’t be certain the meds are causing you to speak without intending to.”
They both paused. Beatrix finally broke the gaze they were sharing. His eyes fell down to the tile flooring of the examination room, his muffled sob rolling out over the crease in his bent neck. He lifted his large hands to smear his tears into a sheen across the dry skin of his narrow face.
“We just need to get your payments squared away. Your insurance coverage will max out in two months. We can offer you half-price thanks to grant funding we receive…”
Three long breaths, out and in, then Beatrix attempted to look his therapist in the eye, who continued, “We just need to determine how much you can actually pay and then we can work together to cover the difference. It may seem a bit trite, but to stop your treatment completely could result in a worse condition than you have seen in some time.”
“I have to lift five pounds ten times each night. I have to bend over repeatedly. Those five pounds all go in a barrel, and then, I push them down a hall, outside, and lift them into a dumpster.”
“I recommend that you get a new job, Beatrix,” the doctor replied bluntly.
“I already told you that this is temporary. I’m a sub on one of the floors that I supervise. They were supposed to send someone to cover the floor last week. I just have to cover a couple more weeks at most.”
“Tell them you can’t do it, Beatrix. I will write a note for you,” the doctor said, moving to the counter.
Beatrix’s eyes tightened in the corners by his nose. He gripped his left knee for a moment, then his jaw shifted. It seemed to lock, and he crossed his arms.
“Okay. I’ll give you one more refill, Beatrix. This will last you two months if you are careful and don’t increase the rate you have been using them at. Be certain not to take these on an empty stomach—at least have milk. Take them as needed, but not more often than one every four hours.”
“I let it dissolve under my tongue.”
“I’m not certain that is a good idea,” the doctor said, glancing in Beatrix’s direction.
“At first it made my mouth and throat numb. Now, I don’t notice that, but it is a lot better than how high these things make me feel if I swallow them whole.”
“Dear god.” His doctor never looked up; instead, he finished scrawling on the small paper, tore it off, and handed it to Beatrix, adding, “We’ll call this in to your pharmacy. And the next time I see you, I want to hear that you’ll be back to supervising only.”
Beatrix closed the door behind him, his eyes wetted. He slid the chain into its slot and squeezed his lids down, pressing the water out, which he let roll down his face.
He turned and faced the hard, bare walls of his apartment. The blinds were lowered and the floor lamp in the corner, always left on, was the only source of light.
“All this just to go to work tomorrow.”
He voiced a deliberate chuckle as he walked into the kitchen.
He opened a cabinet to retrieve a glass. Beatrix took a pill bottle from the back of the counter. He looked at it and pitched it into the trashcan against the wall at the end of the counter. The minute-hand on the clock above the trashcan ticked to fifteen past and the second-hand moved fluidly around the curve. He pulled the bottle he had picked up on the way home out from his jean pocket and moved another from the back of the counter forward beside it. He filled the glass with milk and returned the carton to the refrigerator door, which swung shut mostly by its own weight. He took a large drink of milk, then placed one of the painkillers under his tongue.
Beatrix returned to the living room with the glass and bottle of anxiety medication and sat in the recliner under the light of the floor lamp. He paused for a moment, untucking his shirt, then turned on the television, and the lights and sounds of the world filled the air around him.
“Not the most comfortable.”
He began to adjust his weight in the chair, then leaned back, as news of the world unfolded. In what seemed to him like no time, the news was finished. Beatrix didn’t feel considerably more in touch with the world, but he did have a sense that he knew the direction that the world had headed in, at least for that day—a day that he had spent going from one place to the next in preparation for work tomorrow evening.
Standing up, he went to the kitchen and prepared a frozen dinner. It wasn’t long after finishing the meal that he went to bed.
It was nearly eleven o’clock when Beatrix woke.
“Am I tense?”
He went to his bathroom and began to prepare. He preferred to shower, then shave, then dress, then make a final pass in the mirror. It was in the final pass that he caught himself.
The first word struck him. It was scary to see his own lips moving without him intending them to. He mind went to the first two occasions he had been mumbling when he hadn’t realized it. He had caught himself. Meer hums of flux, similar to syllables, and one had been when he was lifting a particularly heavy trash bag. The other had been when he first bent over to clean around the edge of a cabinet.
Then there was Tuesday, when he had apparently been talking at length. He had been vacuuming, and the lady who worked late in an office on the floor he was cleaning had walked up behind him. It was a gentle tap on his left shoulder. The softest thing all night, maybe in a while, really. It was jarring, bringing Beatrix back to awareness. She had reached up to his shoulder and he had turned and flipped the vacuum cleaner off. That was a strange conversation.
“Excuse me. My name is Margot. I’m sorry if I’m interrupting you.”
“It’s okay. I’m Beatrix. What can I do for you?”
“Do you have a cell phone?” She leaned to look at his ear that wasn’t facing her.
“No. Is there a problem with the phone in your office?” He leaned looking past her, down the hall toward the office where she worked.
“No. You’ve just been talking for a while, and it is beginning to seem loud even over the vacuum.” She smiled. “I wanted to check to be certain everything was okay.”
That was unsettling. He hadn’t realized. He moved the electrical cord from his left hand to his right and smiled broadly. “Oh, I’ll be sure to keep real quiet.” He chuckled and she smiled a little. “I didn’t realize anybody else was here.”
“Okay. Thanks. I do that sometimes, too, when I’m alone,” she replied, then turned and walked back down the hall.
Beatrix had burned inside his face. The sweat on his forehead had felt foreign, singeing each crack that it slipped into. His eyes welled and he dropped the cord and walked to the janitor’s closet.
That was what he had visited the therapist earlier to speak about.
This morning, it is just a whisper, it likely couldn’t be heard over a vacuum, but he can see his lips moving. His teeth peak out with the “g,” then his own lips form gentle, cradling curves as the “o” sounds slips out unintended and unchecked, and finally they rest in the near smile left by the “kay” at the last.
“It’s going to be okay.”
He stares at himself.