Thursday, December 12, 2013
By OFW editor:
Published: December 18, 2013
“Show Mrs. Covington in, Dominique.”
Dr. Marcus Lundquist released the intercom’s key and stood from behind his desk. The air was heady with the tang of leather and waxed cedar panels. There was leather on the chairs, on the sofa, on the chaise lounge and covering the volumes cramming the shelves. He loved the room.
After a couple of minutes, he opened the door and walked into the reception. His secretary, looking more confused than ever, swapped glances between a thin folder in her hand and a woman reading a magazine.
“What’s the matter?” he whispered.
“I’ve called Mrs. Covington, three times... she doesn’t answer.”
The woman paused her reading, looked in their direction, smiled and continued browsing the magazine.
“Please,” he nodded to the folder. Other than a driver’s license photocopy, from where
Dominique must have transcribed the cover details, the folder was empty; it was Mrs. Covington’s first appointment. No insurance details meant she would pay for the sessions.
Marcus scanned the patient’s name and then cleared his throat. “Excuse me...”
She snapped the magazine shut and straightened her skirt, a weak smile on her face.
“Mrs...?” Marcus tried.
The woman glanced at Dominique and stood; a look of misgiving on her face. “Buchanan, Ophelia Buchanan.”
His hand outstretched, Marcus neared. “I’m Dr. Lundquist, please follow me.” After reassuring Dominique with a brief nod, he opened the door and stood aside. “Please, make yourself comfortable.”
He glanced toward the sofa, collected a legal pad from his desktop, switched on a tape recorder and adjusted the microphone on the low table.
Mrs. Buchanan stood, eyeing the sofa and the chaise longe further to a side. “Should I lie down?”
He followed her gaze and smiled. “Are you tired?”
She looked about, confused.
“Please, sit here,” he pointed at the sofa’s end, next to the easy chair. “I reckon we’ll both be more comfortable.” Marcus waited until she settled; absently counting the times she had stretched the hem of her skirt. Five. “Fine,” he occupied the easy chair and opened her file. Inside there was the single sheet of paper he had scanned outside: a photocopy of Ophelia Covington’s six month-old driving license. “Mrs. Buchanan... that, I presume, was your married name?
She fidgeted with her hands and tugged again at the hem of her skirt. “Well... yes.”
“Your birth name is Covington, Ophelia Covington, correct?”
“Right! I’m sorry, I forgot.”
Marcus smiled. “I’ll tell you what we’ll do, Mrs. Covington. This is your first consultation; we do not know each other.” Marc paused, striving for the correct choice of words. “Just like at the onset of any relationship, it’s advisable that we lay some basic rules.
“I’m not a conventional psychologist. Some people consider therapists as friends for hire. Unlike many of my colleagues, I do not resent such view. I believe in friendship. My name is Marcus and my friends call me Marc. I suggest that we drop the titles and relax. Can I call you Ophelia?”
She nodded. “Please.”
“Splendid, you can address me as Dr. Lundquist.”
Ophelia’s incipient smile faded. Marc laughed. “I’m sorry about the bad joke. Let’s start again.”
He offered his hand. “I’m Marc.”
She smiled, more openly this time, and placed listless fingers in his hand.
How can you forget your name? For an instant he pictured Sylvie and Deborah, his two failed tries at permanence. Not the best credentials in his line of work. He wondered if they ever forgot their names, even for a day or two.
“According to the details you gave to my assistant,” Marc scanned the folder’s cover, “when you booked this consultation. You were referred by... yes, Melanie Schott. Are you friends?’
Ophelia shook her head. “We work in the same building. I don’t know her, really, but we’ve shared a coffee break or two.”
“What do you do?”
“Do? Well, I... office work, some accounting, at times I attend the telephone, filing, a little of everything.”
“Fine.” A little of everything: menial work. “You’re forty, and have a beautiful name… quite a sum.
I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my sum.”
A bleak smile migrated across her face, like an errant shadow.
For an instant, Marc had the certainty she was familiar with Hamlet’s line. Why have you forgotten your name? “Care to tell me about your marriage?”
“He divorced me.”
Marc cringed at her choice of words. Self-reproach and self-accusation, he pondered as he jotted down a note. Self-condemnation and any other suitable noun-self combination. A classical stage. “When were you divorced?”
“Six months.” She hesitated and bit her bottom lip, “and eleven days ago.”
This is going to be difficult. “How long were you married?”
“Twenty-two years.” She bit her lip again.
Marc held his breath for something like “nine months and twenty-two days,” to round up the sentence. Thankfully no further details were forthcoming. “Children?” Marc penciled another note on his pad.
“Two; boys, twenty and twenty-one. Lucas is at college: Harvard. Bradford is in the Army; Marines, he was never much good at studying, he likes his freedom.”
Marc theorized that her husband must have been a lawyer or a soldier. Bradford was probably the eldest. Her ex-husband would have chosen his name. He couldn’t picture Ophelia naming her child Bradford. Marines? Freedom? “You married young, didn’t you?”
“I had just turned eighteen.”
Her husband had probably told her that they had married too young, he hadn’t known what he wanted, it had been a mistake. “Did you attend college?” Marc peered over his reading glasses.
As if on cue, a shadow clouded her eyes. “I couldn’t, my husband needed me.”
Probably another case of self-inflicted-serfdom. This place is a pigsty. You need a woman. Did women realize that with such overused cliché they offered themselves as housekeepers? What was wrong with: This place stinks buster. Call when you’ve cleaned it. It probably wouldn’t work because the next in line would stay. “What did your husband do?”
She blushed. “Do?”
Marc could have kicked himself. “I mean for living.”
“Oh, he’s a marketing consultant,” there was pride in her voice.
Well, so much for the lawyer or soldier guesses, can’t win them all. “You helped him?”
“I sure did,” she nodded, “I did all of his accounting, kept his books, his appointments...”
“Did you have social life?” Mark kept his gaze on the pad. Throughout the ensuing silence, thick as molasses he wrote his full name several times to avoid looking at her.
“I did,” she said at large, her voice delicate, as if receding down a tunnel. “I accompanied him to conferences, presentations, talks; I always kept his papers...”
“That sounds interesting,” Marc, continued writing his name at a sedate pace, he needed to concentrate. “Did you work together? You know what I mean, did you discuss his work?”
“Oh no, that wouldn’t have been proper. How could I?”
“Do you mean because his work was complex?”
She must have read his mind because she answered without pause. “I mean that a woman should know her place.”
That was it, simple, out in the open. A woman should know her place. Mark removed his glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose. What have they done to you Ophelia? No, that wasn’t fair. He belonged in the same society, condoned the same immorality. What have we done to you? “Besides looking after your family, did you practice any hobby? Friends?”
“I read, and wrote a little... the usual friends, neighbors...” Her voice thinned down to a whisper.
“What did you read?”
“A little of everything.”
“Care to give me some examples?”
“I don’t know... Virgil, Rousseau, Nietzsche...”
Heavy duty, indeed. Somehow, he half expected as much. “Did you discuss philosophy and literature with your ex-husband?” Marc spotted another shadow scuttling across her beautiful eyes. He already knew the answer.
“He didn’t read, other than technical papers and periodicals.”
A devious thought crossed his mind. “Did your ex-husband know about your hobby?”
Ophelia’s eyes widened. Then her face sagged and shook her head.
“He might have felt uneasy about your culture?”
“I don’t think so... he is an intelligent man.”
He isn’t, Ophelia. You’re lying. You are an intelligent woman, forced to lead a double life. Outwardly, you’ve been a model homemaker; not too bright and not too cultured; a few notches below your ex-husband, careful not to draw attention to you. He would have felt castrated, is that it? But you’ve had to feed your intellect to retain your sanity. “I understand. In your spare time you read and studied, you searched for the word that would free your understanding
das erlosende wort
as Kant proposed.”
The fidgeting hands stilled.
Marc kept his gaze low. What are you going to do now, Ophelia? You know that Kant never searched for any word. He wasn’t concerned with language.
“Something like that.”
You’ve been conditioned. You know I’m wrong, yet you will not argue. “I think I understand; you didn’t want to rock the boat as it were.”
She straightened. “No, Marc, you don’t understand. When we married, I promised to respect and support my husband. That included helping him on his way.”
That included degrading yourself to unfathomable depths to ensure your man wouldn’t feel emasculated. “You mean like a beacon for his ship?”
The transformation took Marc by surprise. Ophelia beamed, and her beautiful eyes sparkled. She shifted her legs, and her skirt hiked a couple of inches unhindered by restraining fingers. With a purposeful movement, she collected her purse and stood, a distended smile on her face.
“Thank you; Marc,” she offered her hand, “you’ve been most helpful.”
Confused, Marc tried to stand but she stopped him with a raised palm. “No need, I’ll see myself out.”
“But, the next session...”
“I don’t need another appointment.” She stopped, a hand on the door handle, and smiled again. “I’ll write a check to your assistant, if that’s acceptable.”
“Well, yes, of course but...”
“Goodbye, Marc.” Ophelia opened the door a fraction and froze. She turned around, an intense blush on her face. “It doesn’t belong to Kant. You meant Wittgenstein; he searched for
das erlosend wort.
” Without another word, she hurried out.
Dumbfounded, Marc fought the urge to follow her outside. He remained seated, donned his glasses and peered stupidly at the last few lines composed solely of his name: repeated at least twenty times. You’ve fought back. Ophelia! He should have been elated but couldn’t shake a strange foreboding, a feeling of doom.
Mark reached for the tape recorder, rewound it to the beginning and donned the earpiece.
When the door opened after a tentative rap he didn’t raise his head. “Not now, Dominique...”
“But Mrs. Thompson will be here shortly.”
“Please, reschedule her session for tomorrow, or the day after.”
“Yes, Dr. Lundquist,” the tone of her voice sprouted icicles.
Marc made a mental note to give her an explanation later.
For the next thirty minutes, he ran the tape backward and forward, coming to rest on the sentence before Ophelia’s sudden mood change. He saw the light atop the cliffs and all became clear. “Oh, my God!”
Mark tore the earpiece and leaped over the low table. In two strides, he reached the door, yanked it open, and barreled out of his consulting rooms almost colliding with a furious Mrs. Thompson and an open-mouthed Dominique.
At the landing, he pressed repeatedly the elevator buttons before tearing along the corridor on to the emergency stairs. He was out of breath when he reached his car.
As dusk settled over Milwaukee, Marc gunned the 4WD out of the garage, flying over the ramp, speeding along Park Lane and toward Interstate 42. What have I done? In his ears thundered the fatidic question; six words that he should have never uttered
like a beacon for his ship?
Damn! As he swerved on 12 with Messinger Avenue, he replayed the conversation. He should have known. Ophelia was a cultured woman and obviously knew her Virgil.
When Aeneas departed from Carthage—to obey Jupiter’s dictums—Dido, her jilted lover, driven to madness by her passion, committed suicide.
How was I to know? Because you’re supposed to be a professional, you idiot! Ophelia’s case wasn’t extraordinary, perhaps extreme, but not a rarity to write a paper about. Mark swerved to avoid a slow-moving vehicle. A woman of extraordinary intelligence she had been viciously impoverished; stunted like one of those pathetic bonsai trees; shaped, defeated; her personality eventually crushed. Like millions of women in all five continents, she had accepted life in a man’s shadow and learned to respond automatically to his master’s voice with the reflex conditioning of a Pavlovian experiment. She had given her persona, her ethos, in a diabolic pact without the mirage of requital. Although they had exchanged scant words, Marc knew her tale by heart. She had been the faithful submissive wife, always minding her words, trying to appear dimmer. Eventually her pretended stupidity had become a way of living. Like mistletoe, she’d led a symbiotic relationship with Him, up to a point where her existence as an individual became impossible.
Ophelia had been driven into a state of irreversible inanity.
Without formal education, degree or work experiences, her chances of adaptation to the market’s aridity were dim. Yet she had read; she had nurtured her intellectual appetite, in hiding, in those moments when he didn’t need her.
The sense of foreboding didn’t abandon Marc throughout his mad dash through darkening streets. As he reached the promontory overlooking Mesnes States he slammed the brakes. The sky was ablaze, yet the sun had set on his back. Roaring flames leaped towards heavens, like arms waving in a propitiatory offering, in the spot where the Buchanan’s house used to be.
Dido’s funeral pyre lit the safe departure of Aeneas.
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