Excerpt from The Sleeping Father by Matthew Sharpe, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Sleeping Father

by Matthew Sharpe

The Sleeping Father
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    Oct 2003, 290 pages

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This week Bernie was on deadline for Gates of Horn (newsletter of the American Association of Ophthalmologists), Indefinite Horizon (travel newsletter for senior citizens), and Soft Shoe (newsletter for podiatrists specializing in osteoporosis). Working out of a home office may be fine for obsessive-compulsives or borderline personalities, but it's the kiss of death for the chronic depressive. Bernie had done no work the entire morning, and facial hypesthesia is only one of many excuses the conscience of the depressed home office worker cannot bear to accept.

After a lunch consisting of the sort of sandwich a man would not eat in polite company, Bernie left the house to pick up the dosage of Prozac his psychiatrist had adjusted for him that morning. Driving toward town, he felt confused and disoriented. This particular bout of confusion and disorientation may have differed little from any of the others in his life, but now that he was taking an anti-depressant, he wondered where the drug ended and he began. The thought that his every thought was contingent upon the amount of serum serotonin the drug allowed into his bloodstream disturbed Bernie. He experienced Prozac as an oppressive presence in his body that bound his mind too tightly to the causal/scientific worldview, making him doubt the mystery of his own soul.

Bernie ducked his head and lifted his hand in greeting to the pharmacist and a man standing at the counter. The pharmacist returned the greeting warily, and the man ignored him. There was something deferential or even submissive in Bernie's greeting that rankled not everyone but these two men in particular. The pharmacist, Bill Yardley, had used to greet Bernie warmly, but had turned cooler once he began self-prescribing Paxil. Bill Yardley took Paxil because he'd been afraid of his customers. The fear was painful, resisted all of his efforts to understand it, and depressed him. The Paxil cured the fear and depression, but had a peculiar side effect: Yardley found himself less kind and helpful to his customers now that he was no longer afraid of them. The absence of fear helped him to prepare prescriptions and do his paperwork more efficiently, and made his advice to his customers clearer and more coherent. But this excellent advice left the customers unsatisfied and bewildered. Previously, when his advice had been oblique, groping, and delivered in a shaky voice, his customers had seemed comforted; he had felt emanating from them a soft, vulnerable gratitude that he did not feel any more and did not care to feel. Thus Paxil made Yardley less depressed and more efficient, but also less happy and not as good at his job, his own unbearable fear having been his most sensitive and useful instrument of community relations.

Bernie gave Yardley his new Prozac prescription and proceeded to wander around the store, still touching and tapping and massaging his face in response to the numbness. Yardley handed his other customer a bottle of Nardil, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor that was sometimes prescribed for patients whose depressions resisted Prozac or Paxil. Yardley said, "If this doesn't help, maybe you should kill yourself." The customer was so hurt by this joke that he left the pharmacy without his prescription. Yardley's customers used to love this joke and respond to it with knowing, deep-body laughter, before Yardley had cured his own depression with Paxil. Now they all got offended. Perhaps out of cruelty, Yardley continued to make the joke anyway, though he feared that for doing so he would be repaid later in life with some crippling psychosomatic illness.

While Yardley bottled his Prozac, Bernard Schwartz found his way to the new self-service heart rate and blood pressure machine at the back of the pharmacy. For a dollar, he discovered that his pulse was 75 and his bp was 120/80. He dutifully wrote these numbers on a piece of scratch paper and stuck them in his wallet, though he had absolutely no idea what they meant. He returned to the front of the store. Yardley emerged from pharmaceutical backstage and placed Bernie's bottle of Prozac on the counter next to the previous customer's bottle of Nardil. Bernie made his co-payment of $10—the remainder of the cost being covered by his HMO—and neither man noticed him pick up the wrong bottle.

From The Sleeping Father by Matthew Sharpe - pages 3 to 16 and 22-30. Copyright Matthew Sharpe 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Soft Skull Press.

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