Year of the Goat
“You have to admire him,” someone at the lunch table said.
Rose thought about that imperative; you have to admire him as if he compelled admiration. People used the word captivate ; they were captivated by this energetic, charismatic man like they’d been seized, bound, held captive against their will. His fellow doctors, even hospital administrators often said, he’s enthralling; they’d become enthralled by his competence, his grace under pressure, his self-confidence. But to be in thrall was to be in servitude, to be a slave.
“How is it possible to acknowledge the superior talents of a person, to respect him, even when he’s a narcissistic, abusive asshole,” Rose said, wiping her mouth with a section of paper towel. She scooped up her plastic baggies, bent twist ties, empty yogurt cup, plastic spoon, and empty juice carton and stuffed all of it back into her brown-paper lunch-bag.
Some of the girls at the table tittered nervously, others put on masks of disdain, a few pretended they hadn’t heard. Madeline scrunched up her lips and crimped her eyebrows. She narrowed her eyes. She didn’t have to say a thing; they all knew she would instantly inform Dr. Simon.
Rose flashed a smile in Madeline’s direction; she scraped her chair to the rear, came to her feet. She patted her belly under the bright sky-blue uniform top. “Wow, what a delicious meal,” she said. “A hundred-calorie low-fat yogurt, orange juice, and one biscotti for desert. The same lunch I’ve had every day for the last five years.” She shoved the grey metal chair forward; the back cracked against the table edge.
“You’re a malcontent, Rose,” Madeline said, chewing her bacon cheeseburger like a cow munching grass.
“Fuck you, Madeline,” she replied, and turned on her heel.
An electric sting ran up her spine as approached the cafeteria exit. She paused to toss the lunch bag into the trash can. She knew there’d be blow-back, but she didn’t care. She couldn’t stand it any more. She pushed through the swinging doors and stopped in the corridor. The hairs rose on the rear of her neck.
Rose, Rose, be happy! Be pleasant, be sweet, keep your teeth white and your attitude positive.
“Get out of my head, you fucking dick,” Rose said aloud. She looked at the glossy, polished green and cream-colored squares of the corridor flooring. To the left, if you walked long enough, you’d eventually reach the elevators that led down to the lobby. To the right, at the end of an alcove, was a huge, putty-colored, locked steel door.
Rose, here are your hearts? <3 <3 <3 And kisses and LUVS. Your thoughts are disrespectful, direct, and cold.
She seemed stuck, the muscles of her legs jerking and firing but somehow she wasn’t moving. “Leave me alone, I’ve had enough,” Rose protested through stiff lips. She heard the loud ring of an alarm; out of the corner of her vision she recognized a male figure emerging from the now open steel door; he sashayed with casual, long strides in her direction.
We want you here, Rose. We respect you. Be happy! You’re the flight attendant of medical care, you’re the LPN. Look up at me! You know who I am, I am the goat, I am your king!
She ground her teeth together, her jaw muscles dancing, her face knotty with determination. She tried not to look, she tried to move. But in an instant, there he was, Dr. Simon, looming in front of her, his white lab coat rippling in still air, his stethoscope half hanging out of one lab-coat pocket.
“Rose,” he said–inside or outside her head she couldn’t tell any more, “Nurse Spender….” He took her chin between his right thumb and forefinger. “You have catheters to insert, dressings to change, meals to serve, baths to give, and pills to pass. Be cheery, be quick, and smile.”
Behind her, the double doors swung open, barely missing her, and the women–who’d been sitting with her at their supervised Formica table moments before, streamed out around her as if she and the smirking Dr. Simon were two rocks in a river. Stocky, slender, short, tall, young and old, all in sky-blue uniforms, they began to chant, “Good Afternoon, Dr. Simon, Good Afternoon Dr. Simon, Good afternoon Dr. Simon….”
Rose struggled once more, her anger rising, ready to erupt like a pyroclastic flow.
Dr. Simon snapped the fingers. Now back to work, Nurse Spender. The patients need you! Fix your thinking, or I will have to fix it for you.
She broke free with a spastic jump, immediately leaped away from Dr. Simon, in the direction of the elevators. She was abruptly halted, her body shaking.
He raised his right hand and pointed toward the alcove. “The psychiatric ward is that way.”