The Doctor is Not In ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Temple Wardell arrived for her appointment with Dr. Fritz Hackles 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. Temple’s eyes traveled from the obscene word to the faces of the only other two people in the room, a Man and a Woman. The Man had a small, round head on a long neck with lush lips and a sickly grin, giving him the look of a demented Ventriloquist’s Dummy. The Woman, with her bright-red hair, wide mouth, and round nose, brought to mind a Circus Clown.
To keep from having to look at the Man and Woman, or speak to them, Temple picked up a soiled magazine and began thumbing through it. When she realized the Woman was speaking to her, she lowered the magazine a couple of wary inches.
“How are you today?” the Woman asked.
“Fine,” Temple said, going back to the magazine.
“Beginning to look like rain,” the Woman said.
“Who you talking to?” the Man asked.
“This lady here just walked in.”
“Oh, hello!” he said. “I thought we were alone.”
“We’ve been sitting here over an hour,” the Woman 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 have emergencies,” the Man said.
“Oh, they make me sick! They should only do one thing at a time! The people sitting here waiting should come first!”
“You need to be patient,” the Man said.
“Patience is something I ran out of a long time ago.”
“You’re not even the one waiting to see the doctor. I am.”
“Oh, excuse the hell out of me! If you’re the one waiting to see the doctor, then why am I here?”
“You can go any time you’re ready.”
The Woman looked at Temple and stuck the tip of her tongue out and made a comical face. “Isn’t that just like a man?” she asked. “He won’t go to the doctor unless I take him. You’d think he was five years old and I was his mommy!”
“Oh, shut up, you old hag! Nobody said any such a thing!”
“Do you want me to split your head wide open? Calling me an old hag in front of this nice lady!”
“She’s got eyes, don’t she? She can see you’re an old hag!”
“You can see plainly he’s not right in the head,” the Woman said confidentially to Temple. “He’s like an adult-sized baby. I have to watch him every second the same as if he was three years old.”
“Oh, you’re a liar!” the Man said.
“A while back he started having blackout spells. The first time he did it we were having dinner and he pitched over in his chair onto the floor. He pulled half the dishes on the table down on top of his head. I thought he was trying to playing a joke on me. I said ‘Get up from there, you big jackass! You’re not the least bit funny!’ Then when I saw his eyes were closed and he wasn’t moving, I thought he was dead.”
“I’m sure you wished I was,” the Man said.
“That was only the beginning,” the Woman said. “Another time he blacked out in the grocery store. Can you imagine? He fell over into the meat counter and everybody thought he was dying.”
“I disappointed you again that time, too.”
“He can’t drive a car anymore or mow the lawn because he might have one of his spells at any time. I have to do everything myself!”
“That’s not true!”
“I even have to give him a bath because he might drown himself in the bathtub.”
“You’re full of it! You’ve never given me a bath in your life! I wouldn’t allow it!”
“I’m thinking about putting him in a nursing home and washing my hands of the whole deal.”
“You just try putting me in a nursing home! I’ll have you committed! I’ll slap your ass into a mental institution, which is where you’ve belonged for as long as I’ve known you!”
“I think his problems started as a small child. His mother was a terrible drunk. I think she dropped him on his head regularly when he was a baby. He hasn’t been right since.”
“Oh, how could you know anything about when I was a baby? You weren’t even born yet!”
Temple 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 the Dragon Lady on the other side.
“Yes?” the Dragon Lady said, sliding back the glass, obviously annoyed at being bothered.
“Where is Dr. Hackles?” Temple asked.
“He busy. What you think?”
“He’s been keeping me waiting for a long time.”
“Just sit and wait turn. He be with you before you say Jack Robinson.”
“I’ll only wait five more minutes and then I’m leaving and I’ll be finding myself another doctor.”
“Okay, lady! Don’t get panties in a bunch! Doctor be right with you!”
“These people sitting here are annoying me,” Temple said in a low voice meant only for the Dragon Lady. “I need to get away from them.”
The Dragon Lady craned her neck around to see who Temple was talking about. “They not bother,” she said. “Tell them no bother.”
“What did Slanty Eyes say?” the Man asked Temple when she sat back down.
“Nothing that helps.”
“I’d like to slap her silly!”
“Honestly!” the Woman said. “I feel like sending them a bill for all the time they’ve wasted! My time is just as valuable as theirs!”
“I’m just on the verge of walking out the door and telling them to kiss my nether parts!” the Man said.
“We’ve waited this long,” Woman said. “We’ll give it a few more minutes.”
“Let’s set this place on fire!” the Man said.
“You can’t do that!” the Woman said. “There’s nothing here to burn.”
“There are plenty of old magazines!”
“And how long do you think it’d be before Slanty calls the police and they come and take you away in handcuffs?”
“I’ll be gone by then.”
“See how crazy he is?” the Woman said to Temple. “He thinks he can go around setting fires whenever he feels like it.”
“They need to be taught a lesson,” the Man said.
“Not that way!” the Woman said.
The man 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 Dragon Lady opened a door and stepped out into the waiting room.
“What going on here?” she said. “No fire allow in waiting room!”
“Just having a little fun!” the Man said, stomping out the flames. “Nothing to get excited about!”
“I have announcement about doctor,” the Dragon lady said.
“Better spill it,” the Man said
“Doctor leave big hurry! He have terry-bull emergency at hospital!”
“Well, how do you like that?” the Woman said. “We didn’t see him leave. Is he invisible?”
“Private entrance back of building.”
“I don’t think he was even here,” the Man said. “I think you’re just been screwing with us.”
“You’ll be getting a bill from me for my wasted time,” the Woman said.
“Doctor say you should call again next week for reschedule appointment,” the Dragon Lady said. “Have a nice day! Bye-bye!”
“Well, how do you like that?” the Woman said. “He’s wasted all our time today and we never even laid eyes on him!”
“He needs to be taught some manners!” the Man said.
“Not by setting another fire!” the Woman said. “That was a terrible idea!”
Temple wasted no time in getting out of the building, before the Man and Woman had a chance to speak to her again. She had a feeling all day long, ever since waking up that morning, that everything would go wrong that day. She never cared for Dr. Hackles anyway. It was absolutely the last time she would ever go to him.
She was just getting into her car when the Woman came up behind her suddenly, startling her.
“I wonder,” the Woman said, “if you would give us a ride? Our car broke down and we’re just stuck here.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m not going to Burkhardt,” Temple said. “That’s fifty miles out of my way.”
“I know, but I just thought, since you seem like such a nice lady and you have a such a new-looking car, that you wouldn’t mind taking us.”
“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.”
“Now, that just isn’t very nice at all,” the Woman said.
Temple put her purse on the seat and started to get in when the Woman grabbed her by the wrist and pointed a gun in her face.
“I’m sorry to do this to you,” the Woman said, “but we’re taking your car.”
“I said we’re taking your car.”
“You’re stealing my car?”
“That’s what I said, bitch!”
“You’re not taking my car! How long do you think it’ll be before I call the police?”
“You’re not calling anybody, lady!”
The Woman grabbed Temple by the arm and pushed her to the ground. When she tried to get up, the Woman hit her in the side of the head with the gun, stunning her. She was barely aware as the Man and Woman both got into the car and drove away with a screech of tires.
As she fell back onto the blacktop, she felt that something inside her head was broken. She was dizzy beyond being able to stand up. She vomited, unable to turn her head to the side. After she vomited a second time, she lost consciousness.
She awoke to rain on her face. As she came awake, she remembered nothing, knew nothing, except that her head hurt terribly and she didn’t know why.
She pulled herself to a sitting position and looked around her. She was lying on an empty blacktop parking lot and she didn’t know why. When she tried to stand up, she staggered and fell.
Finally she was able to stand without falling over. She took a few tentative steps, stopped, leaned forward and groaned. She believed she might be dying.
She began walking along the shoulder of the highway; she chose to go left because she could see bright lights off in that direction. She was staggering. People honked at her because they believed she was drunk. One car swerved and narrowly avoided hitting her. Teenagers passed by in a pickup truck and screamed and laughed at her.
A police car came along, red lights blazing. The car stopped, barely off the road. A uniformed officer got out of the car and approached her.
“You been drinking, lady?” the officer asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” she said.
“Your head is bleeding. Did you have an accident?”
“I don’t know. I don’t seem to be able to remember.”
“Do you have any ID?”
He opened the back door of the police car and gestured for her to get in.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked.
“Just get in.”
The sudden jerk of the car as it started moving gave her the feeling of being on a rocket ship propelled into space. Star-lights burst on the edge of her vision. She leaned forward and vomited on the floor between her feet.
The officer drove to the nearest hospital, stopped the car and went inside. In no more than a minute, some people in white came out and removed Temple from the back seat of the police car and took her into an emergency room.
They left her alone in a tiny white room, reclining on a cot. She lay on her back with her eyes closed, hands folded across her chest as though dead. In a couple of minutes a nurse and a doctor came in. The nurse took her blood pressure and told her to open her eyes. The doctor held his finger in front of Temple’s face and told her to follow it with his eyes. It was then that she knew she had seen the doctor before. He had blubbery lips and a long neck and small head, giving him the look of a Ventriloquist’s Dummy. The nurse also was familiar. She had flaming-red hair, a wide painted mouth and a round nose. She looked for all the world like a Circus Clown.
“I know what you did to me!” Temple said. “You pistol-whipped me and took my car! I want out of here!”
“Clearly delusional,” the doctor said with a little laugh.
The nurse laughed, too, and prepared the needle to draw the blood from Temple’s arm. The doctor sat down, his fleshy lips two inches from Temple’s mouth.
“Now, then!” he said, blowing his foul breath into Temple’s face. “Suppose you tell me everything that happened.”
Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp