We don't? We didn't. Despite an almost irresistible temptation I didn't question her vision of neutrality even when she added O to the list of magazines on the table. I could tell that she wasn't thrilled that I wanted to keep the subscription to The New Yorker. She merely shook her head and sighed when I admitted that I'd just signed up for another year of Sports Illustrated.
I treated patients who liked to read it, I explained. My rationale, especially in the context of our discussion, sounded lame. She didn't bother to inform me that the Swimsuit Edition would never, ever find its way into our neutral space.
Diane didn't specify a fountain as the design of the room evolved, but when she announced that the room lacked a focal point I knew that running water was a coming attraction. I could feel it the way I can taste a thunderstorm a quarter hour before the first lightning bolt fractures the clarity of a July afternoon.
The water feature was the final piece to arrive. Diane had it custom-made by a water artist who had a studio on a llama ranch a couple of miles east of Niwot. I could tell that all of the details the ranch, Niwot, the llamas were important to her. I didn't ask for particulars. Again, I didn't really want to know.
The fountain had been installed the previous weekend.
The red tint in the water? I couldn't make sense of it. I really don't need this, I thought again.
The sculpture was a clever thing of black soapstone and heavily patina-ed copper that sent water coursing through a series of six- and eight-inch bamboo rods in a manner that I found phallic. Diane was blind to any prurient facet of her gem so I kept the critique to myself. Since the fountain's presence was a fait accompli I comforted myself that the scale was right, even if the volume of all the gushing water was a little too class-five-rapid-ish for the size of the room.
I told her the fountain was "nice." I could tell that she'd been hoping for something more effusive.
My share of the renovation was absurd. I wrote a check.
Why had I acquiesced when Diane had suggested that our waiting room was overdue for transformation? Why had I agreed to let her do whatever she wanted? Diane had suffered through a brutal couple of years the waiting room project was important to her. I knew its purpose had much more to do with her emotional health than with any design imperatives. For her the room represented a new beginning.
And basically I didn't give a shit.
Less than half a year before I'd watched a patient of mine killed on the six o'clock news. That event had shaken me to my core.
I knew that my reaction to his death emotional withdrawal mostly, my downhill slide lubricated with too much ETOH was upsetting the equilibrium in my marriage. Controlling my decline felt beyond me. The timing wasn't ideal. My wife's MS, always a worry, was in a precarious phase. She and I each needed caretaking. Neither of us was in great shape to give it.
That's why I was way too weary to quarrel about remodeling with a friend I adored. The design of the waiting room wasn't likely to climb high on my ladder-of-life concerns. Dental? Psychological? Didn't matter.
I drew a solitary line in the sand at Diane's request for piped in yoga music. She didn't call it yoga music; she'd said something about needing the sound of humility in the space. I knew what kinds of tunes she wanted. She was talking Enya.
She didn't argue when I vetoed the background drones. Her silence didn't indicate abdication. She planned to wait me out. If I was serious about wanting to keep Enya at bay I would need to be vigilant.
I doubted that I had the energy to keep my flanks defended.
Diane knew me well. Well enough to know that about me.
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.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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