In the dream, she is back in the woodsy hospital. The one with acronyms. Maria is there, doing something with acronyms. She can see Maria write a title across the dry-erase board: “The Pros and Cons of Being a Drama Queen.”
In the dream, she is talking to Lyle on the ward payphone. No one is waiting in the hallway, outside the booth, the way she remembers phone calls. Before cell phones, patients had to take turns using a designated ward payphone, usually placed at the end of a hallway. It was the source of much conflict, waiting for the payphone, which staff tried unsuccessfully to make therapeutic fodder.
“How’s your father?” Lyle asks, as if it mattered. It had something to do with a camaraderie among physicians—the way her father instantly trusted Lyle; the way Lyle and the nurses paid enormous respect to her father. That, and he was Irish and Midwestern; New Yorkers generally found Midwesterners refreshing.
“I should have been an ophthalmologist,” Lyle said, after a long sigh. “This Shrink business doesn’t pay the rent these days.”
“What do I do now?”
“Did you graduate?”
“I’m learning ancient Greek. It’s vitiating. What a language.”
Lyle was always telling patients about his extracurricular activities; he considered himself something of a Renaissance man: one week reading Proust in the original French; the next week opining on the teachings of Gandhi, and Gandhi’s correspondence with Tolstoy. He made copies of the letters, and brought them for the patients to read. She remembers a time when he brought copies of The Magic Mountain to pass among the patients on the ward. It was questionable therapeutically, but most patients didn’t read it anyway. She always did, though. Les said this intellectual kinship with Lyle was part of the reason she'd never let herself be critical of Lyle, or the place itself.
“He’s seduced you,” Les said, before she was discharged, “You’ll get it one day. I trust you. I believe in you, even if you don’t believe in yourself yet.”
“I’ve been thinking about Istanbul.” she told Lyle. She heard him cough.
“You remember what I told you, Katy?”
“It’s harder to keep a husband than it is to keep a therapist.”
“It was in Greece, once. I think.”
“Do you remember that?”
“Maybe I don’t want to keep a husband.”
“I didn’t think you were sick anymore.”
“What do I do?”
“Everyone has to grow up sometime.”
“They told me things would be different.”
“Health care is changing.”
“Life is short, you know. I have a page but you don’t have a say in these things.”
In the dream, she held the phone up to her ear for a long time, listening to the sonorous and insistent dial tone, looking toward Maria, who was dancing now, dancing ecstatically and far away from the dry erase board which remained mostly blank.
Suzanne Scanlon is a writer, actor, and educator living in Chicago, where she teaches in the English Department of Columbia College. Her writing has appeared in Pindeldyboz, Fail Better, elimae, 580 Split, The American Scholar and elsewhere. As an actor, Suzanne has worked with The Bread and Puppet Theater Company and performed in such NYC venues as Theater for the New City and P.S. 122, in a solo performance piece she wrote and developed with the performance artist Holly Hughes.