(originally published in Burning Word)
Doctor’s Report: Patient A, a short story
Patient A is a living museum of femininity, and serves as transitory evidence of extensive neo-geo-psycho-socio-eco-political movement. Designed and built in the second half of the twentieth century, she first gained philanthropic prominence with a cynical, witty, overeducated man eight years her senior, Charles F. She stayed faithful to Charles F. for six months, but the intriguing tales of his former romantic partners, then numbering in the several hundred, irretrievably seized her imagination. She left, and never looked back. She shops for new men the way other women shop for new shoes.
She invariably rejects both the too-easy conquest and the too-stubborn resistance. Every season countless men flock near to witness her fleeting, hormonally-induced states of passion, and observe for themselves her classic “XX” architecture.
If it seems that everything has already been said about Patient A, then it is up to the curious investigator to discover her for themselves, for she offers infinite variety. She is a woman for night-owls, early-birds, strollers, culture-vultures, devotees of high fashion, low-lifers, luxury-seekers, ascetics, flower-givers, wine-drinkers, the avant-garde, the old guard, fans of high times, fans of art, or just plain fans. Spend your time walking with her through parks, along leaf-lined boulevards, window-shopping, drinking coffee in sidewalk cafes, or overdosing on her sweet, flowery smell. Patient A is the sum of all the men who have loved her, described her, and taught her. She combines the unique with the humdrum — note her fine, trembling sensitivity, her bullheaded obstinacy, her spurts of unbounded energy, her fits of restlessness, irrational generosity, contemptible stinginess, as well as her innate proclivity for sleeping all day on the couch, unwashed dishes piled high in the sink.
In her twenties, following several remarkably disastrous affairs with high-strung youths, she gradually assumed supremacy over William B., an older, stolid man with a government job. Beautiful buildings sprang up around her person, the arts flourished within her living room, and she gained renown as the creative capital of the household.
She was kind and good and true to William B. for longer than she had ever been with any man. She wanted to settle down with her mate and raise a herd of children. Justice was what she had in mind. As you sow, so shall you reap. She had a set of rules in her head, and she did not break them until she had no choice left but to live or die. Everything unkind her husband said was made even heavier by something kind he left unsaid, and the weight of his personality dragged on her like a universe. Omissions are not accidents — in this belief she is said by many to be unreasonable. It’s so unrefined to object to a fleeing wife. He could have tried to even things out. She held the cosmos on her inadequate neck, and how it ached at night!
For a long time after she finally left him, she was afraid of love and all things human. There was no one left to speak to, and the fact that she never made anyone other than herself smile didn’t help. She realizes now every woman fights her own private war, and what seemed like losing was really winning. Every good thing is for such a very short time — bring forth roses in haste from the rocky ground, the growing season will not come again. She longs to drink honey from the honey-flower. She is free of barbed wire, yet cannot erase the blood of the sacrificed. How can she love again, ever?
She must do the best she can. Her last romantic partner told her to find a good husband. He, himself, was too much of an adventurer and would not fit the bill he imposed. Patient A believes everything will be all right, if only she can find the right man. He must be rich, not in money but in spirit. He must allow her to travel the world in safety. He must be like the father and mother she never had. He must both take care of her and let himself be taken care of — the balance herein is extremely delicate and can sometimes even be spoiled merely by improper breathing. This is an order impossible to fill.
Patient A has developed self-induced amnesia as an art form. Patient A hardly remembers her Mother and Father’s arms, their hearts and minds — where are they, why did they leave, what did they expect of her, anyway? Even so, she prays to their memory, which resembles nothing more than a pair of white herons dressed up as guardian angels — she prays — please deliver to me wisdom, please deliver strength, on your snowy wings bring me goodness and bravery. She sleeps, and in her dreams never speaks. Footsteps must be paced to meet an obstacle at every stride. Stillness is hard, so much harder than words.
Beached whales keep on breathing, trembling as their skin dries and cracks. Unaffected people gather pine cones for adornment. It is human nature to stand in the center of a thing. The most faithful feeling always shows itself by restraint. A match, not a marriage, was made between Patient A and her husband, William B. It was an unfortunate incident, fortunately ended. To define grace with any degree of eloquence requires an inquisitive hand. The only stronghold powerful enough to trust to is love. In the end, Patient A will be as ordinary and egotistical and hard-hearted as anybody else. If you nevertheless choose to pursue her, she will not be gracious, she will not absolve you.