You Can Leave Any Time ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Mrs. Jenks arrived for her appointment with Dr. Capers on time. She gave her name to the inscrutable Asian nurse and took a seat in the dreary waiting room where everything was gray—gray walls, gray floor, gray chairs. She hated her visits to the doctor, always made worse by having to wait. She would rather dig in the dirt with her fingernails than sit and wait her turn.
Underneath the No Smoking sign on the wall opposite, somebody had written, in large block letters, the word PUSSY. Mrs. Jenks’s eyes traveled from the obscene word to the faces of the only other two people in the room, a man and a woman, obviously a married couple. With her wide painted mouth and curly red hairdo, the woman resembled a circus clown. The man, with his bow tie, protruding ears, long neck, and wooden-like bald head with a tuft of hair on top, resembled nothing so much as a ventriloquist’s dummy.
The circus clown looked at Mrs. Jenks and smiled, showing horse-like teeth. “How you today?” she asked.
Mrs. Jenks managed a tight smile but, in an attempt to forestall any conversation, picked up a battered copy of Popular Mechanics and pretended to be engrossed in its contents.
“Who you talking to?” the ventriloquist’s dummy asked.
“We’re not alone,” the circus clown said, nudging the ventriloquist’s dummy with her elbow.
The ventriloquist’s dummy looked at Mrs. Jenks over the top of his glasses; his lips drew back in a grimace.
“Oh, hello!” he said. “I thought we were alone.”
“We’ve been here over an hour,” the circus clown said, “and in all that time there hasn’t been a single person go in or come out. You have to wonder what in the holy hell those people are doing back there.”
“Doctors are busy,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.
“That’s no excuse! They need to have a little more consideration for the patient.”
“You’re not the patient,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said. “I am.”
“Oh, excuse the hell out of me! If you’re the patient, then why am I here?”
“You can leave any time.”
The circus clown looked at Mrs. Jenks and rolled her eyes. “Isn’t that just like a man?” she said. “He’s too much of a baby to go see the doctor on his own. I have to take him as if he’s a tiny child.”
“I’m a sick man,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said. “I need you to help me in case I falter.”
The circus clown pursed her lips and blew out a stream of air in derision. “You are so full of it!” she said. “If anybody falters, it going to be me!”
“Let’s not fight in front of this lady,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.
“Nobody’s fighting,” the circus clown said.
“Don’t get your panties in a bunch.”
“My panties are perfectly fine. You don’t need to worry yourself about my panties.”
The ventriloquist’s dummy made a sound with his lips like fshaw-fshaw-fshaw that Mrs. Jenks realized was laughing.
“No, honestly,” the circus clown said, “my husband isn’t right in the head at all. I guess you can tell that just by looking at him.”
“This lady doesn’t want to hear about my troubles,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.
“He has fits and fainting spells. Have you ever been sitting across from a person at the dinner table and have them faint on you and end up with their face in the mashed potatoes and gravy? The first time it happened I thought he was dead. Every time it happened after that I thought he was just being an ass, so I ignored him. When he came to—or pretended to come to—I told him to get up and quit acting like an infant and clean up the mess he made.”
“Nobody wants to hear all that!” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.
“When they had him in the hospital, they did every test known to man and—do you know what?—they couldn’t find a thing wrong with him. It should be obvious to any five-year-old child that there’s something terribly wrong with this man! What is the matter with these people?”
“Doctors! the ventriloquist’s dummy said. “They only do all that shit so they can charge you a lot of money.”
“Well, anyway, getting back to my story,” the circus clown said. “When he was three years old he was kicked down an elevator shaft and landed on his head. I think that is the root of all his troubles! Those doctors don’t need to look any farther than that! He’s never been right in the head since he was three years old.”
“You didn’t even know me then,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.
“He can’t drive a car anymore so I have to take him to the doctor or the grocery store or anyplace else he wants to go. It’s as if I have no life of my own because I have to take care of this adult-sized baby!”
“You’re welcome to go any time,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.
Mrs. Jenks sighed and stood up and went over to the little sliding window to the receptionist’s area and rattled it to get the attention of whoever might be on the other side.
“Yes?” the Asian nurse said, sliding back the glass, obviously annoyed at being bothered.
“Is Dr. Capers even in?” Mrs. Jenks asked.
“Well, of course he in,” the Asian nurse said. “What you think?”
“It’s taking him an awfully long time.”
“He in. Just take seat and wait turn. He see you shortly.”
“These people are driving me crazy,” Mrs. Jenks said in what she hoped was a soft voice so that only the Asian nurse could hear.
The Asian nurse looked over Mrs. Jenks’s shoulder disinterestedly to see who she was talking about. “Just be oh-so patient,” she said. “Take seat and wait turn.”
“What did that slanty-eyed son-of-a-bitch say?” the ventriloquist’s dummy asked Mrs. Jenks as she sat back down.
“Nothing that helps.”
“I’d like to slap her silly!”
And suddenly Mrs. Jenks had a warm feeling for the ventriloquist’s dummy because she was thinking the very same thing.
“Honestly!” the circus clown said. “I feel like sending them a bill for all my time they’ve wasted. They need to realize my time is as valuable as theirs.”
“I’m just on the verge of walking out the door and telling them to kiss my ass!” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.
“We’ve waited this long,” the circus clown said. “We’ll give it a few more minutes.”
“Let’s set this place on fire!” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.
“You can’t do that!” the circus clown said. “There’s nothing here that would burn.”
“Magazines!” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.
“And how long do you think it’d be before they call the police and have you arrested for arson?”
“I’ll be gone by then.”
“See how crazy he is?” the circus clown said to Mrs. Jenks. “He thinks he can go around setting fires and everybody will think it’s all right.”
“They need to be taught a lesson,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.
“You can’t do it that way!” the circus clown said. “If they take you to jail, it’ll be up to me to figure out a way to get you out! And I might just decide to leave you there!”
Ignoring the circus clown, the ventriloquist’s dummy began gathering up the old magazines and piling them on the floor in the middle of the room. Some he ripped apart and others he opened up and tossed upside down so they would burn better. When he had a knee-high pile of magazines, he took out his cigarette lighter and set fire to them.
The fire was just beginning to burn efficiently when the Asian nurse opened a door from within and stepped into the waiting room.
“No fire allow in doctor waiting room,” she said, without a change in her mask-like face.
“Oh, my!” the ventriloquist’s dummy said. “It’s getting out of control, isn’t it?”
He stomped out the flames with both feet and looked at the Asian nurse with a guilty smile. “Just having a little fun!” he said.
“Doctor leave, big hurry,” the Asian nurse said, ignoring the smoke from the magazines. “He go out on biiiiig emergency.”
“Is he invisible?” the circus clown asked. “We didn’t see him leave.”
“Private entrance back of building,” the Asian nurse said.
“I don’t think he was ever even here,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said. “I think they’re just screwing with us.”
“You’ll be getting a bill from me for my time that you’ve wasted today,” the circus clown said.
“Doctor say you call again next week. Have a nice day! Bye-bye!”
“Well, how do you like that?” the circus clown said. “He’s wasted all our time today and we never even laid eyes on him!”
“Terrible way to treat people!” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.
Mrs. Jenks wasted no time in getting out of the building, away from the circus clown and the ventriloquist’s dummy. She was fuming because she didn’t like Dr. Capers anyway, and this was absolutely the last time she would ever go to him. Who does he think he is, anyway? He’s not the only doctor in the world!
She was just getting into her car when the circus clown ran up behind her.
“I wonder,” the circus clown said, “if you could give us a ride. You see, our car broke down and we’re just stuck here.”
“Where are you going?” Mrs. Jenks asked.
“I’m not going to Burkhardt,” Mrs. Jenks said. “That’s fifty miles away.”
“So much for the milk of human kindness.”
“Can’t you call a taxi?”
“Do you know how much that would cost?”
“No, and I don’t care. I’m sorry for your troubles but we all have them.”
“I’m sorry to do this to you, honey,” the circus clown said. “You seem like a nice enough woman, but we’re going to take your car.”
The ventriloquist’s dummy handed a gun to the circus clown and the circus clown pointed the gun at Mrs. Jenks.
“What is this?” Mrs. Jenks said. “Are you going to kill me?”
“Either we take your car, or I shoot you and we throw your body in the river. Nobody would ever know how it got there.”
“You must be out of your mind,” Mrs. Jenks said. “I’m not letting you take my car. You’ll have to kill me first.”
The circus clown pointed the gun at Mrs. Jenks. “You think I won’t shoot you?” she asked.
“No, I don’t think you will.”
But, instead of shooting her, the circus clown hit Mrs. Jenks with the gun, on the side of the head, just above the ear, with enough force to crack a coconut.
Mrs. Jenks was just aware of the circus clown and the ventriloquist’s dummy getting into her car and driving away with a squeal of tires. Time seemed to slow down as she fell backwards. The blow to the back of the head, coupled with the blow to the side of the head, rendered her unconscious there on the abandoned parking lot of Dr. Capers’ clinic.
When she regained consciousness, it was almost dark. She was aware of pains all through her body but especially her head. She pulled herself to a sitting position and looked around for someone who might tell her what had happened, but saw no one. She stood up then, took a few halting steps, and began walking in the direction of the most beautiful faraway lights she had ever seen.
Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp