“The Old Doctor’s Story, Or The Haunting of Mill Creek Medical Facility,” 2021. Ploughshares
Dr. Burton was having a no-good, very bad day, and I was more than a little proud of my role in it. I watched from the eaves of her beamed kitchen as she burned her coffee and then her tongue, cussing a little, and then as her boys — all five of them — fought her requests, demands, and eventual threats that they had better eat their cereal breakfasts or else no tv that evening and no video games. Te baby gummed a frozen teething ring without comfort and wailed even as she lifted him from his highchair and bounced him between her shoulder and hip around the exquisite space — white glass-paned cabinets and a matching walk-in pantry, turquoise and royal blue hand-cut tilework on the backsplash, stainless steel appliances, and a separate maid’s kitchen, in addition to the bar and island. Not my taste, mind you, but representative of a certain level of comfort she could only afford at the expense of people like me and her husband’s job as a professor of mechanical engineering at the selfsame university where I used to teach.
Outside, the devil beat his wife all morning, the sun glistening through lush raindrops that ran down the street and threatened flash foods on local radio, and while I don’t perform the devil’s bidding, only my own, I delighted in his contribution of additional stressors as Dr. Burton made her way to her car, parked in the driveway despite her three-car garage. I turned her umbrella inside out just as she managed to spill her travel mug onto and partly into her Wellington boots. Her limp brown hair hung about her neck in soaked clumps and dripped onto her collar. She pinched the bridge of her nose before backing out and into her commute to the hospital, stalled four times by detours where workers had placed sandbags and hazard signs. It would be a glorious day for me, to be sure, though I hadn’t outlined my course of actions yet. Rather than a set plan — though there are consistencies — I like to respond to her as the day proceeds. This method seems to cause the most damage.