Natalie Gerich Brabson ~ Office Visit

Mattie clutched her bag. She clutched her bag so hard her arms tensed and ached. Her bag was a sea foam green that she want­ed to squeeze the col­or out of. The pain in her arms from the squeez­ing didn’t com­pare to the ache, the throb in her tem­ples.

She would be called back soon, this woman said. They would help her very soon.

She hadn’t slept since— hadn’t slept for two weeks, not real­ly. Just lay in bed awake, and Charles held her, and then he fell asleep, some­how. And she lay there the rest of the night. Sometime in the morn­ing the sun came up and shone through the win­dows. She turned to her pil­low away from the shin­ing sun. She hat­ed the sun. Sometimes, with her face in the pil­low, she drift­ed into a light haunt­ed sleep, still aware of every­thing, like how she used to sleep on sub­way com­mutes to work, and would wake as the train slowed into her stop.

Mattie clutched her bag clos­er now, knead­ed her fin­gers into it, crum­pling the fab­ric.

A patient who had come in after her was called. She was still wait­ing. She unzipped her bag, went through the con­tents to pass the time. She pulled out her stress gum­mies. Maybe gum­mies would help her now, while she still didn’t have what the doc­tor would give her. (The thing that would sure­ly help.) She sucked on the can­dy. She sucked all of the elder­ber­ry fla­vor out of the can­dy, and she was left with a fla­vor­less gum­my. The time passed slow­ly.

She pulled out her wal­let. Her bankcard, her driver’s license, her health insur­ance card, her old health insur­ance card, two or three punch reward cards for cafes. She took out the cafes cards. She wouldn’t need them any­more, and she put them next to her in a to-throw-out pile.

She didn’t have the pic­ture. The pic­ture of Eliane. She had been sure she had—the one from first grade, or the one of Eliane hik­ing for the first time—but now she doubt­ed if she ever had either Eliane in her wal­let.

She wasn’t the type to car­ry pic­tures in her wal­let, nev­er had one of Theo, and she didn’t have one now of Charles. But by god, Elly. Elly’s face.

A cou­ple of tiny pieces of paper, per­haps scraps of dis­in­te­grat­ed receipts. She put these with the café cards to throw away.

In the out­er pock­et, her hand hit some­thing large, and she passed it, for now. Her fin­ger­nails scraped crud at the bot­tom. They scraped at the crud, and it shim­mied its way under her nails. She with­drew her hand, and spent a moment putting one nail under the oth­er to scrape at the crud, try­ing to dis­pose of it but most­ly trans­fer­ring it back and forth. She slipped her hand once more into the pock­et. Her hand hit the large thing, and she pulled it out open-palmed to look at it bet­ter.

A shell. She would have known it was a shell if she had slept, if her tem­ples didn’t press in on her, if Elly wasn’t— Elly had giv­en her this shell, not at the beach this time, no, but years ago.

The office door opened. The nurse held it open and called her. Mattie fol­lowed the nurse through the door and down the hall to an office in which she was invit­ed to sit, paint­ed a dark lilac. The lilac absorbed the sun stream­ing through the win­dow, and so the room stayed shad­owy. She lay on the table fac­ing away from the light-splin­tered win­dow, flung her arm over her head so every­thing was more shad­owy.

Her arm was still flung over her head when the doc­tor came in. She sat up, and he sat down.

He asked what hap­pened, and Mattie told him her child—

He repeat­ed what she’d said like he didn’t believe it, and then wheeled his chair over and put his hand on her shoul­der.

He kept his hand on her shoul­der. He wrote notes on his clip­board with his oth­er hand. He had to place the clip­board on the table, and so she watched him scrib­ble as he talked. He wrote with jagged let­ters that she could half make out, and per­haps the first thing he wrote was that he want­ed her to attend ther­a­py, a group ses­sion with oth­er par­ents. He wrote then what she began to tell him: that she hadn’t slept a full night since— and that she dis­played symp­toms as expect­ed. When he was done writ­ing, he placed the clip­board and pen aside and swiveled to face her. He took his hand off her shoulder—now fac­ing her, his hand on her shoul­der would have meant they were too close— and fold­ed it with his oth­er hand in his lap.

Something like Ambien,” he said. “We can pre­scribe it to you for just a cou­ple weeks, just to get you sleep­ing some.”

She said yes, she would like some Ambien.

He wrote her a pre­scrip­tion for three weeks, and said they’d scan it over to the phar­ma­cy right after.

I’ll go to the phar­ma­cy right away.”

Make an appoint­ment for two to three weeks. I’d like to check in with you at that point.”

She was hold­ing the shell still. It lay curved into her open palm. She brought it close to her face, shaped her lips as if to kiss it. “Shell,” she said, sup­press­ing her voice to a whis­per.

He gath­ered his clip­board and pen. He didn’t men­tion what he had writ­ten. “I am so sor­ry,” he said.

Mattie didn’t say good­bye as he left. She sat in the lilac room to pre­pare to leave it. She sat there and breathed, took the air into her lungs the way her daugh­ter had tried and found only water. She pre­pared her­self to walk to the phar­ma­cy. The walk in the sun. She was too tired to dri­ve, and the sun dur­ing her walk would be blind­ing.

~

Natalie Gerich Brabson is cur­rent­ly a stu­dent in the MFA pro­gram at Sarah Lawrence College. Her work was pub­lished in Go On Girl Book Club’s mag­a­jour­nal as the 2017 Unpublished Writer Awardee.