He stood statuesque with fists clenched. The vein running across his temple pulsated in concerted rhythm with his rapid heartbeat. The staples holding his flesh in harmony threatened to spring from his head, the pressure beneath them mounting.
He checked the bandage with his fingers. He could swear he felt puss ooze from the wound. But his fingers were dry when he brought them down before his eyes. He dared not avert his gaze from them for fear that the mere sight of the man standing before him would ignite his rage.
Probably just my imagination, Clive thought, calming himself. He wiped his hand on his pant leg just the same.
The smell of the sick and the disinfectant used to counter it filled the air, combining into lemon-scented ass. It made him dizzy. He looked around the room, trying to focus on anything tangible and regain his equilibrium. A gum-chomping receptionist; a row of hard plastic chairs; an elderly man with an untied shoelace; a cat clock with mischievous eyes ridiculing him as its tail click-clacked back and forth, all painted ghostly images in Clive's mind, snapshots of his surroundings viewed with uncertain clarity. At last, a plastic cup filled with unused Popsicle sticks caught his stare. He wondered if it were possible to kill a man with them. And he had one man in mind.
Only a few weeks ago, Clive Menard's life had been dull but carefree. With no aspirations or responsibilities, Clive plodded aimlessly through life, a simple man employing simple means. Tall, slender, and fairly good looking, he could have been something more than ordinary. But ordinary he was, and ordinary he liked it.
Clive was complacent in his complacency, his life without waves. Somehow, that last few weeks of his life had been caught up in the storm.
"Dr. Landenberg, you carved open my head for no goddamn reason?" Clive was hotter than mid-summer Jamaican tar at high noon. But the screaming was hotter still, a squeaky-hostile voice chanting louder and louder inside his head.
Kill the doctor! Kill the doctor!
"Not now!" Clive shouted. The outside world went quiet. His head throbbed so much that he thought he might lose consciousness. With every pulse, he wavered between reality and a surreal counterfeit. His knees weakened. His senses dulled.
Steadying himself against the receptionist's desk, he knocked over her small Dixie cup of water. The liquid ran across her desk and onto her lap.
"Hey," she whined as she scrambled for some paper towels.
Clive didn't notice. The incessant chanting of that squeaky voice and the still mounting pressure in his forehead were all he could perceive.
Kill, kill, kill the doctor. Won't you please just kill the doctor?, the voice sung. Take his scalpel. Raise it high. Drive it down into his eye.
Clive couldn't distinguish Dr. Landenberg's voice from the inner voice's ranting. He spaced out. The blood rose in his head, threatening to re-open his wound or worse. Was this the initial stages of a stroke? Most patients were lost on the operating table. Clive thought it ironic that he could slip away in a waiting room. But nothing his treatment had gone according to the textbooks.
In his haze, Clive wondered if Dr. Landenberg could hear the voice echoing throughout his skull. The absent look on the doctor's face revealed no perception of the sinister monologue playing out within Clive's head. How could he hear the voice when Clive couldn't even be sure it was real? The menacing melodies playing in his head seemed meant solely for an audience of one.
Clive sucked back his drool. Dr. Landenberg grabbed his arm to help him balance. Amidst his convoluted thoughts, Clive wondered if his death would be preferable to Dr. Landenberg. Did the good doctor ponder the ways in which he could make his Hippocratic Oath utterly hypocritical?
Dr. Landenberg appeared benign, not unlike the false anomaly he had diagnosed in Clive. He let the doctor prop him up in a waiting room chair.
Dr. Landenberg squatted and held Clive's head steady between his palms. He shook Clive forward and back, more likely to induce a seizure than to alleviate Clive's symptoms. Instead, it worked to wrestle Clive slowly away from his temporary, inner fantasy world.
"Clive?" Dr. Landenberg called again. He let out a deep sigh, the sound of a man under considerable stress. Clive could only assume himself to be the cause of Dr. Landenberg's anxiety.
"What are you going to do? In all fairness, the abnormality appeared on every scan in roughly the same spot each time. The machine seemed to be working perfectly. How could I have known it was defective?"
For a moment, the unforgiving voice quieted, and the throbbing lessened, enabling Clive to catch the tail-end of Dr. Landenberg's excuses. It did little to quell his rage.
"You sawed open my skull, poked around my frontal lobe, stapled my head back together, and poorly stitched me up in a way bound to leave a scar that only Tony Montana would be proud to have, only to tell me now, in my pain-stricken, out-of-Vicodin state, that when you looked at my brain, everything appeared healthy and normal? What kind of doctor are you, anyway? I thought neurosurgeons were supposed to be the best and brightest?"
I told you that you should kill him, the little voice scoffed.
"I'm not going to kill him," Clive said for all to hear.
"Nothing, Doc. Just thinking out loud. Anyway, what do you propose we do to make this right?"
"Clive, accidents happen. I'm sure you make a mistake every now and then at your job, too. But," Dr. Landenberg said, oozing with false sentiment. "I do feel awful about all this. Would you settle for my sincerest apologies?"
"Are you fucking nuts?"
"Well, let's see. What can I do?" Dr. Landenberg rubbed his chin. It appeared as though he were pondering Clive's best interests. "I know. I got two tickets to the Red Sox-Yankees game this Sunday. I saw you wearing that Sox cap when you came in. It's sure to be a great game." Dr. Landenberg smiled like a car salesman. "You can have them if you like, and we can put this unfortunate event behind us."
"You really are retarded, aren't you? Did you see any brain damage when you were poking around in my head? Or perhaps the better question is whether you saw any brain damage not caused by you? I wear that hat to cover the large gash that you lovingly displayed on my noggin, you jackass. You just performed life-threatening surgery on me without justification or, apparently, remorse, and you want to quiet me with baseball tickets?" Clive was truly insulted. Now season passes, those may have been different story.
"I don't think I approve of your tone."
"What? You don't like my tone? Are you seriously that oblivious to your own incompetence?"
Can we kill him now? Huh? Please?
Clive again failed to grasp the concept of inner monologue. He reminded himself of those people who can't think quietly to themselves, like those weird guys in grocery stores who stand in the middle of the aisle asking themselves, "What am I going to do today?" or "What movie should I rent later?" No one gives a fuck, so shut the hell up, Clive always thought. He prayed he wasn't becoming one of those guys. Then again, was it actually himself to whom he was talking?
"Maybe," he repeated as though he meant to say it the first time. "Maybe I should see about getting your license revoked."
"Well, a simple 'no' would probably have sufficed. I don't appreciate your threat. I think you should leave."
Dr. Landenberg sounded insulted. Clive was far beyond the point of caring.
"Fine. You'll be hearing from my lawyer."
Clive turned to leave, thinking he had said everything that he was supposed to say. In truth, he didn't even know any lawyers.
"I'll look forward to it. But before you go, Mr. Menard, there's the little matter of your co-pay."
"You can't be serious."
"Don't worry. Since there was no tumor to remove, the initial calculation we provided you has been greatly discounted."
"Go fuck yourself."
Yeah, go fuck yourself, the miniature voice echoed. Clive exited the office, slamming the door loudly behind him.