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.