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 dark trophy.
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 chair.
I am going to ask you some questions, he says. Just answer to the best of your ability.
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.
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No Man's Land
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