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Ulf Kirchdorfer

The Waiting Room

Jonas Swallowater is sitting in the waiting room of the psychiatrist’s, the swell of the water encompassing his state of being; the fear consisting not so much of generalized anxieties but the very real possibility that he will run into one of his colleagues from his institution of higher learning that, while no formal study that he knows of or has checked into has been undertaken, should hold clouds-full of clients or patients to rain down in exposure upon the college or the public at large. A bad PR situation as far as anyone would be concerned, even though “mental illness” and all its varying degrees is becoming more acceptable, so acceptable that everyone is talking about Tony Soprano seeing his psychiatrist.

The weather of the waiting room is not good. The temperature seems to change from hot to cold; Jonas Swallowater, at times, can sink back into the sofa pretending to himself and others that he is relaxing, as if just a soft breeze were blowing in the air—it’s all in the visualization. But visualization be damned. What if someone he knows walks in, like a lightning bolt filling his entire system, going through a range of emotions with only the foremost of shame being an external weather indicator as he is sure the other person will not think he is here to have his foot bandaged or receive a shot in a strategically placed location that has nothing to do with the head?

When this person enters the waiting room, Jonas Swallowater will feel his throat go dry and probably have a conversation about the weather, so inane, with the other colleague.

“God, it’s hot outside!”

“I’m going to have to have my air conditioning checked. The car is only two years old.”

“With humidity like this, I think it’s going to rain. It’s not like we don’t breathe water all day.”

The other, who shall only be identified as Professor XYZ and as one who teaches mathematical equations of the highest order, gets called in before Swallowater.

Swallowater now sits there, observing himself in the third person, having that ability of supposedly detached insight that is such a blessing and curse, and considers the implications of his name, its biblical connection, and the fact that Jonah had indeed some bad weather, but so did Jesus in the bible, but who really wants to be Jesus. What will he, Jonas, tell his colleague.

Sun, so bright it blinds him as he walks between buildings to get his mail and makes him feel like a normal person, whistling and watching the artificial and pleasant rain of the fountain enrich the lives of walkers-by and the fish probably, spells everything into a fine situation, when, upon entering the dark shelter of the campus post office, which really should be bright, he runs into Professor XYZ.

Both of them just say hello, not even nodding any conspiratorial or support-group type signals, and it occurs to Jonas that weather is more an internal thing, though you can’t ignore the external weather and the effect it has upon us. Some amount of sunlight is actually good, and stepping into puddles with one’s loafers is not good, because the loafers leak, and when you return to discuss modern American literature, or even old British, the hum and blow of the air conditioning system--yet another kind of weather-- makes Jonah’s wet socks feel most unpleasant and cold. He has an immediate and focused worry about getting a respiratory-affective ailment from this marked stimulus, and as he works with the students on Lowell and that island with strange weather, he launches into a discussion about internal and external weather, taking with a poker face resembling the scientific measurement of a thermometer or barometer answers from students, some of whom sympathize and probably empathize with the states of mind of the poet. And he feels for a moment a chill on his neck, thinking, thank God my starched collar is covering up this shiver and my students don’t know that their perfectly normal but bright professor visits a psychiatrist’s office. Only the math professor knows, and their paths hardly ever cross, like equidistant parallel lines. And then there’s the question whether we let weather affect our lives too much; a question Jonas can hypothetically pose to his students, shielded by the umbrella of open discussion under which his role can be professional, and we’ll just leave it at that, time’s up.

Ulf Kirchdorfer has published poetry in Blue Mesa Review, Poet Lore, New York Quarterly, The Quarterly, Mudfish, The Chattahoochee Review, and Rolling Stone magazine. Fluent in German and Swedish, Ulf has published translations on subjects from bodybuilding to Jane Austen and Henry Miller. He is currently looking for a publisher for his poetry manuscript "What is Barking Inside Me," and at work on a novel for children.


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