Excerpt of Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
(Page 5 of 9)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
Shortly after this trip, we quietly got married at the Evanston courthouse.
We didn't invite anyone, it would have felt like an intrusion. The
clerk was a witness, and it was over in five minutes. On the whole, a
good decision. But on days like today, when I feel James's absence like
a wound, I long to be back in those woods, which somehow remain
as fresh and strong in my mind as the day we were there. I could reach
out and pluck that flower, present it to James when he comes back. A
I am in the office of a Carl Tsien. A doctor. My doctor, it seems. A slight,
balding man. Pale, in the way that only someone who spends his time
indoors under artificial light can be. A benevolent face. We apparently
know each other well.
He speaks about former students. He uses the word our. Our students. He
says I should be proud. That I have left the university and the hospital
an invaluable legacy. I shake my head. I am too tired to pretend, having
had a bad night. A pacing night. Back and forth, back and forth, from
bathroom to bedroom to bathroom and back again. Counting footsteps,
beating a steady rhythm against the tile, the hardwood flooring. Pacing
until the soles of my feet ached.
But this office tickles my memory. Although I don't know this doctor,
somehow I am intimate with his possessions. A model of a human
skull on his desk. Someone has painted lipstick on its bony maxilla to
approximate lips, and a crude label underneath it reads simply, mad carlotta.
I know that skull. I know that handwriting. He sees me looking.
Your jokes were always a little obscure, he says.
On the wall above the desk, a vintage skiing poster proclaims Chamonix
in bright red letters. Des conditions de neige excellentes, des terrasses ensoleillées,
des hors-pistes mythiques. A man and a woman, dressed in the voluminous
clothing of the early 1900s, poised on skis in midair above a steep
white hill dotted with pine trees. A fanciful drawing, not a photograph,
although there are photographs, too, hanging to the right and left of
the poster. Black-and-white. To the right, one of a young girl, not clean,
squatting in front of a dilapidated shack. To the left, one of a barren field
with the sun just visible above the flat horizon and a woman, naked,
lying on her belly with her hands propping up her chin. She looks directly
into the camera. I feel distaste and turn away.
The doctor laughs and pats me on the arm. You never did approve of my
artistic vision, he says. You called it precious. Ansel Adams meets the Discovery
Channel. I shrug. I let his hand linger on my arm as he guides me to a
I am going to ask you some questions, he says. Just answer to the best of your
I don't even bother to respond.
What day is it?
Clever reply. What month is it?
Can you be more specific?
Close. Late February.
What is this?
What is this?
What is your name?
Don't insult me.
What are your children's names?
Fiona and Mark.
What was your husband's name?
Where is your husband?
He is dead. Heart attack.
What do you remember about that?
He was driving and lost control of his car.
Did he die of the heart attack or the car accident?
Clinically it was impossible to tell. He may have died of cardiomyopathy
caused by a leaky mitral valve or from head trauma. It was a close call. The
coroner went with cardiac arrest. I would have gone the other way, myself.
Excerpted from Turn of Mind
by Alice LaPlante. Copyright © 2011 by Alice LaPlante.
Excerpted by permission of Atlantic Monthly Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.