The focus of Diane's designing enthusiasm had a simple purpose it was the spot where our patients hung out before their psychotherapy appointments. To me, a simple purpose called for a simple room.
Diane once shared that naive vision. But no longer the changes she envisioned were far from mundane. When she began to conceptualize her project the room was furnished with the pedestrian crap we'd bought from office-supply catalogs when we'd first hung our practice shingles. Her case for transformation was simple: "We're not dentists and we shouldn't have a dentist's waiting room."
I'd replied that I thought the room was fine, but my argument was pro-forma. In the best of times I lacked the will to stand up to a determined Diane.
Diane was determined. It wasn't the best of times. Not even close.
Is that . . . blood? I thought. I just don't need this.
Diane and I had co-owned the little Victorian house for a long time. The building was on the edge of the once-sleepy, once-light industrial side of downtown Boulder, the few blocks closest to the foothills, a neighborhood that after a couple of decades of determined gentrification had earned the moniker the "West End."
The natural light in the waiting room came from a pair of north-facing double-hung windows. The dusty mini-blinds came down and bronze curtain rods as thick as my wrist replaced them. Soon the indirect sunlight was being filtered through silk panels that were the color of the worms that had spun the threads. Diane had a name for the hue that I forgot within seconds of hearing it. New lamps two table, one floor provided just enough illumination to allow reading. The shades on the lamps were made from nubby linen in a color that was a second cousin to the one she'd chosen for the drapes.
"Organicity," Diane had explained for my benefit. "It's crucial."
No, I hadn't asked.
As resolute as Diane was to transform, that's how committed I was to stay out of her way.
Paint? Of course. Not one color, but four two for the walls, one each for the trim and ceiling. The new furniture four chairs, two tables reflected Diane's interpretation of "serene." Two chairs were upholstered and contemporary. Two were black leather/black wood sling-y things, and contemporary. The rug was woven from wool from special sheep somewhere I thought she'd said South America but I hadn't really been paying attention and the sheep may have been shorn of their coats in Wales or Russia or one of the nearby 'stans, maybe Kazakhstan. The rug indifferent stripes of muted purples in piles of various heights was placed so that it cut diagonally across the ebony stain Diane had chosen for the old fir floor. She'd put the rug in place one morning while I was in a session with a patient; I came out to greet my next appointment to all its angularity and hushed purple-ness.
"Need to break the symmetry, Alan. We can't have too much balance," Diane explained to me over our lunch break.
Neither symmetry nor its absence had ever caused me angst. But I said, "Of course." The alternative would have been to ask "Why not?" Diane's answer to my unstated question likely would have troubled me. I feared that I would have had to set my feet and steel myself for the words "feng shui."
I didn't want to have to do that. I really didn't.
As a lure to join her for the waiting room picnic she'd picked up take-out from Global Chili-Chilly on Broadway. The bait had worked. My role, I suspected, was to applaud as she admired the purple and the stripes. My mouth was on fire but the curry was good so I didn't mind the heat. Truth was, I didn't really mind the rug either.
She'd also reached a fresh perspective about the magazines we provided. The titles should be, in her words, "Neutrals. We need to see our clients where they are we don't want their reading to take them anywhere they aren't."
Excerpted from Dry Ice by Stephen White, Copyright © 2007 by Stephen White. Excerpted by permission of Dutton, a division of Penguin Group. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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