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Since You Ask

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Since You Ask is about the origins of sexual compulsion, and one young woman’s attempts to be free.

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Excerpt from Since You Ask

PART I

Last May my whole family drove out to JFK Airport to meet Raymond. He had been gone for six years, and Dad was carrying his camera as if Ray were some kind of movie star. Usually, I was nervous around Ray, but I wasn’t that day. Partly because I didn’t live at home anymore and partly because Ray didn’t bother me anymore.

‘Give your brother a kiss,’ my mother said, prodding me in the back.

‘Put your arm around her,’ Dad said, pointing his camera at us. Then Eric stood between us and Dad took pictures of that, too.

In the car, we passed rows and rows of housing projects, all square and brown and the same. I would have to kill myself if I lived in a place like that. I pointed this out, but no one said anything.

Raymond lit a cigarette when he stepped out of the car. Couldn’t you wait, I wanted to say. He had a few drags, then flicked it to the gutter. We went to Sardi’s. It was loud and crowded, and Dad ordered wine and pasta with clams. He gave a toast to Raymond, ‘our prodigal son.’ I looked at Eric, but he didn’t seem to notice. Raymond set his glass on the table and tapped his fingers. Then he went to the bathroom.

*

Dr. Keats, my psychiatrist here, says I am too ‘fragmented.’ I am overwhelmed, he says. My mind is overwhelmed and for this reason it has begun to crack, or ‘break.’ He doesn’t say this in a mean way, but in a way I will understand. I do understand, too. I am glad he says this because it is true. It is frightening and it is true.

*

After dinner, Dad dropped me off at 46th and Ninth. I had a sublet there: one room with a platform bed and a table overlooking the airshaft. The building was full of dance studios. I could hear African drums sometimes, or the footsteps of ballet classes. My place belonged to a ballet dancer; she had gone to Europe for a year. As soon as I got inside, I wanted to go out again. No one was around, though. Sylvia was at Yale, and Henry was in the Hamptons. I turned the television on, then off. I sat on my bed and looked through my phone book and finally, I called Beck.

We had met on the street, six years ago. Even then, when he was eighteen, he was the best-looking boy I had ever seen. He was grown like a man and as serious, leaning against a car with his arms on his chest, staring at me.

Now he was a corrections officer at the Tombs. He came over and sat on my bed, lighting matches with one hand. ‘Oh, Betsy,’ he said. ‘Betsy, Betsy.’

‘What?’ I asked.

‘You’re all grown up. You’ve got this apartment and all your books.’ He dropped his hand to my knee. ‘Can I?’

Then he took off my clothes, and his. He ran his hand between my legs, and his tongue. Guys liked that, he said; I liked it, too. Only then he got rough, the way he always did.

*

Fairley has a swimming pool and a tennis court, but they’re kind of depressing. First of all, who wants to play tennis in a mental institution? Second, the pool is like an old person’s pool: all dark and clammy. If I kill myself here, I am going to walk into the pool with rocks in my pockets. Even though this is a mental hospital, we don’t have locked wards. It is the kind of place where you could walk with rocks into the pool and no one would notice.

Beck stayed until six a.m. Then he left a note by my bed: Beck + Betsy. This made me feel bad — mostly because it wasn’t true, and also because I shouldn’t have called him up that way.

‘What way?’ Dr. Keats asks.

‘The day Raymond came home.’

‘You feel that you used him?’

‘I don’t know about that. I do call him at pretty weird times. I met him just before Raymond went away.

Keats’s eyes lighten. ‘You mean, before he left six years ago?’

I would like to be an interesting patient to him.

‘Yes.’

*

I liked the morning hour between seven and eight. It was quiet, subdued. I held onto Beck’s scrap of paper and finally, I got up. I put on a white shirt and a cotton skirt and I walked to work the way I always did, across 42nd Street to the East River. I stopped at the river, and the sunlight was gleaming off the water. I went up to World Sight and sat at my desk—pretending to read, but not reading, just thinking.

Ray had been back in the city for about eighteen hours when Dad brought him by for lunch. I went down to the cool glass lobby, light shimmering off the white marble. My father was wearing one of his expensive suits and smelled of citrus, of this English after-shave made for noblemen in 1861, that’s what the bottle said. Ray smelled of cigarettes and cherry cough drops. We still hadn’t said more than ten words to each other. Maybe he was embarrassed, having being in prison for so long.

‘Show him around,’ Dad said. ‘Introduce him to some people,’ as if this would be exciting for me. He went up to 6 to visit Wayne, and I took Ray to 3, down the long white corridors to the lab where I worked.

Ray’s white wool sweater was grubby under Dad’s blazer.’So this it?’ he asked. ‘The famous Institute?’

‘I guess.’

I showed him my workstation, a section of a long black counter. A lab technician, Diane, was there, and I introduced them.

‘Pretty girl,’ Ray said.

I tipped my coffee into the sink.

‘You see much of Wayne?’ he asked.

Wayne was a director at the Institute. He had grown up with my parents in London, and we had known him always, Ray and Eric and I, since we were born.

‘Sure I do.’

‘Really?’

‘I work for him.’

Dad took Wayne and Ray and me to lunch, up a flight of cobblestone steps to Le Balcon, across from the UN. From our table, we could see the river, shadowy bluish gray. Dad ordered for everyone: wine and oysters and sea bass. A week ago, my father had said Ray was going straight from the airport to rehab. Now that he was home, no one mentioned rehab at all.

*

We were born in Antigua: Raymond and Eric and I. Dad’s first job was for the English government, working on Antigua’s independence. Each night, I waited on the porch for him to come home, up the dusty hill in his creased linen shirt and his tan pants. He picked me up off the porch, salt coming off the ocean and metal slapping on the mast of our boat—Stewball, she was called, after Dad’s favorite song:

Old Stewball was a racehorse and I wish he were mine,

he never drank water, he always drank wine.

We sailed her all around the island, to Barbuda and St. Kitts. We moored in the pale blue bays and swam to shore in the morning. We climbed the hillsides, through the loblolly and lantana where the jaquina smelled like honeysuckle.

Now Dad is a corporate lawyer for Thomas Tripp Stanton Geary & Scott. His office is on 50th Street and Sixth Avenue, in a row of skyscrapers. On his wall are all these photographs of my mother and Raymond and Eric and me. In most of them, we’re on Stewball, tanned and half-naked. ‘What a good-looking family,’ people always say, when they see these photos.

*

The best thing to be at Fairley is an alcoholic. They have affairs and steal all the Oreos and play guitar on the Dobson House porch. Once I went to Bishop House, where the depressives are, and everyone was sitting on the blue couch, watching television. Their faces were stiff from their medications. Alcoholics aren’t supposed to be given medication—though they usually are.

I have been in Fairley for two months now. In Session, Dad says he wants me out of here as soon as possible. Keats says this is only the beginning of my ‘recovery,’ that I should stay at Fairley as long as my insurance will allow, then go to a good ‘aftercare facility.’ Dad doesn’t want this, though. Dad doesn’t want me here at all. He says I just like the attention.

We have lunch in Dining Hall, herbed salmon and green beans, and I get tremors in my hands from medication and also nervousness, I guess. My parents’ faces turn a strange shade of gray, as if they are living through a catastrophe. I feel bad for them, especially for the Wayne part.

‘Why Wayne?’ Dr. Keats asks me later.

‘He tried to help.’

‘And where is he now?’

‘In Belgium.’

‘And where are you?’

Most of the time, my parents are very dazzling. They walk around like movie stars, kissing each other and wearing suede jackets. My mother is 5’7″ and wears 3″ heels. Sometimes, when she has just taken a bath, for example, it is a surprise to find that we are the same height. Her hair is the color of white honey, her eyes wide and pale blue. Eric inherited both of these features. People say this is a shame, since I am the girl, but I don’t mind. Ray and I have my Dad’s coloring, which is darker.

The truth is, Dad is right. I do like the attention. I like it when everyone sits around and discusses me. I like the plans and deliberations. I like being in the hospital, in general.

*

At first, I figured I would see Ray at family functions—on holidays and birthdays—and that would be it. Then, he called me the day after Le Balcon. It was ten-thirty at night, and I was watching some movie awards.

‘What is it?’ I asked.

‘Nothing.’

He must have called for some reason, though he never got to it. He asked what I was doing and I told him. Then he asked me who my favorite actor was and I said Daniel Day-Lewis and then he hung up.

Two days later, he called me from his bedroom. Dad had been taking him around, he said, introducing him to his friends. ‘He wants me to join his club.’

‘Are you going to?’

‘It’s a pretty nice club. On 68th Street. They have a pool and masseuse.’

‘So join.’

‘I don’t know. You have to talk to everyone all the time—the doorman and the pros and the members.’

I didn’t know what to say to him, so I didn’t say much, really.

Then it was Saturday morning and my doorbell rang, and I heard his voice through the intercom. It was like my lungs stopped; I couldn’t breath. I had to wait a minute before I could speak, and finally, I told him I would come down.

He was leaning against the wall by the buzzers, in a beat-up corduroy jacket, a sort of dark yellow.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked.

‘Just walking around.’

I remembered what my mother had said, just before Ray came home. She had said it would be hard for Ray, that six years was a long time to be away and he wouldn’t know anyone now. He would be lonely and we should be nice to him.

‘You look pretty,’ he said, and I did a small double-take on him then; it was the first time he had said that, ever.

We walked over to Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park. The grass was long and green. Some school kids were playing guitar, and Ray didn’t look like anyone there, with his paleness and his thinness and his black shirt buttoned at the wrists.

‘So what do you do for fun?’ he asked.

‘Read. Go to the movies, parties.’

‘You know of any parties now?’

‘No.’

‘You have any friends at the Institute?’

‘Wayne.’

‘You should stay away from Wayne.’

‘Why should I?’

Raymond leaned back against an elm tree. ‘You just should.’

I thought it was pretty funny that Raymond would tell me to stay away from anyone.

We went to Denzi’s, off Madison Avenue on 63rd Street. Our table was small and round and white marble, just on the sidewalk. Raymond smoked and drank beer and pushed back his lanky hair. He leaned in and took a cigarette from my shirt pocket. Then he told me about prison and how he never should have been in there, how they made an example of him because our family was white and had money. The truth was that my father found the best lawyers in three countries to get Raymond out of jail. Truth was he had been sentenced to ten years and only served ten months.

‘How’s it going?’ Wayne asked me on Monday at work, looking up from his desk.

‘Okay.’ I sat on his bright cranberry-colored couch, the coffee table littered with Evian bottles and newspapers.

‘What’s it like having Ray back?’

‘It’s not bad.’

Wayne was like a real brother, like a brother is supposed to be. He talked to me.

‘We’re getting along.’

‘Your mother says he’s doing well.’

‘Maybe he is.’

I liked the Institute, working nine to five, walking to work all the way east across 42nd Street. I liked the clean white hallways and the smell of the river, the lattice windows with thick glass panes. Sometimes, Wayne opened his windows and we smoked a cigarette together. At the end of May, we took his car uptown for my mother’s birthday. Wayne had an old navy blue BMW with wind-down windows and a stick shift. He opened up his sunroof on the FDR Drive, going uptown beside the river. The light shone on the silver streaks in his otherwise brown hair. He got better looking as he aged, my mother said. His face was lean, his nose aquiline. He was too skinny, but it suited him, somehow, would have made him winsome if he had been a woman.

‘What did you get your mother?’ he asked me.

‘A scarf.’

‘That’s nice.’

He smoked like someone who had just started to smoke, squinting his eyes.

‘What did you get?’ I asked.

‘I forgot, actually. You don’t think she’ll mind?’

‘No.’

Wayne and my parents had grown up in London. After his first wife died, he came sometimes to visit us in Antigua. Once, when I was twelve, I saw him with my mother up on Shirley Heights, in the bar in the ruins of an old fort. It was Christmas and the walls were strung with tiny colored lights. The wind smelled of salt and Wayne and my mother were dancing. He had a slight stoop, as if from shyness, though he wasn’t shy. He was more self-deprecating than shy. His hand was on the small of my mother’s back. She had a drink in her hand and was leaning into him. Then he whispered something to her, and they turned and walked off down the hill.

* * *

My parents live in a townhouse on 64th Street between Lexington and Park, three stories high with a brown stoop and a garden out back. Wayne prodded me in the back when the door opened. It was my mother, of course, in a cream white suit and high-heeled sandals, toenail polish like mother-of-pearl. Wayne cupped her head in his hand.

‘Only God, my dear, Could love you for yourself alone, And not your yellow hair,’ he said, not so unusually.

I could almost feel her smooth soft hair in his hand. I could almost hear his breath. It annoyed me, the way he touched her all the time, like she was some precious object. I gave her the box with the scarf in it and went back into the house, past the staircase on the left and the open dining room on the right, down a step into the living room. It was bright. The garden doors were open, late sun on the slate slabs. Ray was on the silk blue couch, a pale blue like the tropical blue of a bird. Eric was in a chair, one leg crossed over the other.

‘Hey,’ he said.

‘Hey.’

He had just been awarded a fellowship at Yale Drama School. We weren’t supposed to talk about it, though, because it might make Raymond feel bad.

Ray stood up. ‘You want a drink, Eric?’

‘No.’

‘Smoke?’

‘No.’

He laughed. ‘You don’t do much, do you?’

I felt bad for him, then, trying to insult Eric. Maybe that’s why I went out with him later. Eric went up to his room. Wayne and my parents went to Dad’s club and Dad gave Ray a $100 bill. ‘Take Betsy out,’ he said. ‘Go and hear some jazz.’

We didn’t go to hear jazz, but to Trader Vics at the Plaza Hotel. The walls were dark wood like the cabin of a ship, the plants stiff and green and waxy. Our table had a candle in a globe. Ray ordered beer and a piña colada for me. The place was full of girls in headbands and pearls, and Raymond didn’t fit in at all, with his slick hair and black jeans and black cotton shirt. I saw two people from high school: Billy Kraze, who was at Wharton, and Ellen Drake, who slashed her wrist junior year.

‘So how’s your boyfriend?’ Ray asked.

‘I don’t have a boyfriend.’

‘I thought he went to reform school.’

‘Oh, Beck. He’s not my boyfriend.’

‘You see him, though?’ he asked.

‘Sometimes.’

He tipped his beer glass back and forth. His fingernails were bitten down, the edges soft and papery.

‘You still want to be a doctor?’ he asked.

‘Yes.’

“What are you going to do about med school?’

‘I deferred. Didn’t you know that?’

I had wanted to be a doctor since I was ten, since I fell down the cliff at Pigeon Point and broke my leg. I was in the hospital for two weeks, a Catholic hospital where the Sisters hung needlepoint above the bed: Jesus with his yellow hair, quotes from the prayer book decorated with flowers and little crosses.

Oh Jesus, bless my father, my mother, my brothers . . .

(Page 26, PRAYER FOR OTHERS)

Oh Jesus, may I lead a good life; may I die a happy death

(Page 26, PRAYER FOR YOURSELF)

I copied out my own one day, using the 36-pastel-crayon set my father had bought me.

Oh my God, I am sorry and beg pardon for all my sins and detest them above all things, because they deserve your dreadful punishments . . .

(Page 9, ACT OF CONTRITION)

Sister Megan was upset at this. ‘What have you done, Betsy,’ she asked, ‘that you are so sorry about?’

I didn’t tell her.

‘So what kind of doctor do you want to be?’ Raymond asked.

‘I don’t know.’

‘You could be anything, anything you wanted.’

*

‘So why did you start spending time with Raymond,’ Dr. Keats asks, ‘considering how you felt about him?’

The sun slips between his wooden shutters. My legs are glossy with lotion. I swing my foot against the floor in its flat brown sandal. ‘Sylvia was at Yale. Henry was in the Hamptons. And he was different. He was nice. Also, you know, my parents said he was “so far behind me,” that I was so “beyond him.”‘

‘And you believed that?’

‘I guess I did.’

Fairley has a small square library in the doctors’ office, an empty desk with a stack of Fairley postcards of Main House in the 1950s. There are two reading chairs also, with cracked green leather. I copy down a poem from John Berryman and give it to Dr. Keats.

I’m too alone. I see no end. If we could all

run, even that would be better. I am hungry.

The sun is not hot.

It’s not a good position I am in.

If I had to do the whole thing over again

I wouldn’t.

*

One thing you have to understand is that Raymond had always been on drugs. When I was twelve, my parents sat me down and told me that Raymond was a junkie and could die at any time. Also, I did drugs myself, in high school mostly, with my friend Sylvia Goldfarb Davis. We did cocaine in our school basement and the theater and the bathrooms. We did it at her house, drinking soda and listening to the Cure song, “Seventeen Seconds.” So I can’t pretend that Raymond, you know, corrupted me.

He started picking me up at World Sight almost every day. He waited outside on the white stone plaza and we went to Glide and to Shelby’s and to Denzi’s. We sat on the green benches in Central Park and it seemed that nothing bothered Raymond. I saw the flush on his skin and he was happy. He was content just to feel the breeze on his skin, while I was always waiting for something.

‘So tell me about Beck,’ he said one night.

‘Beck? He’s a corrections officer.’

‘A corrections officer? Jesus.’

‘What’s wrong with that?’

‘He must be an asshole.’

‘Don’t say that.’

‘What are you doing with a corrections officer?’

I shook my head. He had no business talking about my private life. He had no business saying anything.

I started to walk off, but he followed me. ‘Oh, come on,’ he pulled at me. ‘Let’s get a drink.’

*

Sometimes things just happen all around you, and they happen fast—the way in Antigua, in January, the sun set so suddenly that we hardly noticed it, Raymond and Eric and I, and then it was dark, our mother on the porch ringing the dinner bell. It was nice to think that things could be different between Raymond and me. But Dr. Keats says this is where I fooled myself—that situations like the one I had with Raymond never just go away.

*

One night, it was summer by then, we were in my apartment, sitting at my table drinking from green bottles of beer. Above us was an African dance class, the sound of drums and sixty feet moving across the wood floor. ‘Can I have some?’ I finally asked.

‘Some what?’

‘Some of what you’re doing.’

‘Which is?’

I tilted my head to one side. ‘Coke?’

He lit a cigarette, plucking a piece of tobacco from his tongue.

‘I’ve done it before, Ray.’

‘You have?’

People always think I am so innocent. Like this man Reese, who stopped me on the street once and asked me if I wanted to earn a lot of money—a lot, he said; he told me I had the face of a nun.

‘Plenty of times, in school.’

I went to the kitchen for more beer and when I came back, he had put out two lines for me.

‘Thank you,’ I said.

‘You’re welcome.’

He took a sip of his beer.

‘So,’ he said, ‘have you seen anyone since Beck?’

‘A few people.’

In Antigua, Ray had had a girlfriend called Alison. They had been like one person, drinking beer from one bottle, eating fish and chips from one packet, their house littered with her clothes and his, with teacups and ashtrays and newspapers. She worked as a nurse’s aide. She lost her job, though, for stealing prescription pads and letting Ray forge them.

‘So what are you going to study in the fall?’ I asked Raymond.

‘I don’t know. Psychology. Marine biology.’

Ray had spent hours at Pigeon Point, searching rock-pools for starfish and crabs. Once he dissected a crab and left it on my pillow. My father gave him a whipping for that. Then he left spiders in my shoes. He started humming a song, I don’t like spiders and snakes, as he sidled along the walls of the house, but that ain’t what it takes to love me.

*

The fact is, I tell Keats, Raymond had changed in the years he was away. He was solicitous now, courteous. He opened doors for me and paid for drinks for me and gave me his jacket if I was cold. He always answered when I called, came when I asked.

‘So you cared for him,’ Dr. Keats says.

‘I didn’t say that.’

‘You let him into your life.’

‘Yes— ‘

‘So you cared.’

‘Oh, please.’ I get up from my chair, the way I am not supposed to. I shake my head at him and sort of raise my hand and then I am out the door, down the hall, into the parking lot.

Kenneth is there, leaning against the black Lincoln Continental. He has been a driver here for sixteen years. His hair is soft-looking and silver. He wears black Ray Bans, black pants, and a black tie on a short-sleeved white shirt. His red and white Winston cigarette pack shows through his shirt pocket.

‘Can I have one?’ I ask.

‘Sure.’

The flame from his lighter sizzles around the cigarette paper. It doesn’t taste good, though. My mouth is too dry.

‘Going for a swim today?’

‘Maybe.’

Keats comes out of the doctors’ office, smiling at me as if I haven’t just walked out on him. ‘That your doctor?’ Kenneth asks.

‘Yes.’

‘Young guy.’

*

By July, Ray and I weren’t sleeping. We sat with the air conditioner on high, drinking beer and doing cocaine. We went to his dealer three and four times a night. I stayed outside with the building super, Jesus, and in five minutes Ray was back, his eyes gleaming dark and skittish, packets of cocaine in his socks.

* * *

Wayne sat me down on his couch at World Sight. I was drinking milky iced coffee, the sugar grainy at the bottom. ‘What is it?’ I smiled.

‘You’ve lost some weight.’

Cocaine will do that, though I didn’t say so. Instead I said, ‘It’s summer.’

‘I sound like a parent, I know.’ He ran his hand through his fine dark hair. ‘It doesn’t suit me, does it?’

I laughed.

‘How is Ray faring?’

‘Fine.’

‘Is he using drugs?’

I shrugged.

‘He never offered them to you, did he?’

I looked off at the East River, gray as a dirty coin. ‘In high school, maybe.’

He shook his head. ‘Asshole.’

‘He’s all right.’

‘I should call your parents.’

He wouldn’t, though. It seemed to me that Wayne was a little in awe of them. He was four years younger than my mother, eight years younger than my father, and everyone in their town had known them. Wayne didn’t want to bring them bad news. He wanted to impress them—the way, for instance, when I was in high school, he always brought his dates to the house, as if for my parents’ approval.

*

I got a letter from my mother today. Her name was printed at the top:

Laura

Dear Betsy,

I hope the summer is as lovely in Kent as it is here. Last night the Chubbs came for dinner in the garden. The music school opened their windows and we had our own little opera performance. It was just about perfect, though of course we miss you. Eric loves Drama School and Raymond is visiting some friends out in Montana. Your father and I have to go to Boston for a few days, but you can always call on the cellular.

With love, your mother

I read this letter to Dr. Keats and he asks how it makes me feel and I say homesick.

‘What about her telling you about Raymond?’

I shrug.

‘They must know how you felt about him.’

‘They know.’

‘But they ignore it?’

They knew if I said ‘Hello,’ he said ‘Hello.’ If I said ‘Stop it,’ he said ‘Stop it.’ They knew he mimicked me, watched me, waited for me—that he tripped me up and pulled me, by the hair, by the arm, by the leg, down under the house onto the yellow soil as my mother called out, ‘Raymond, Raymond.’

He’d leave me in the dust then, take off down the rough ragged cliffs to the beach while my mother called out, ‘Get up, Betsy. Get up,’ so I did.

‘You encourage him,’ she’d tell me off. ‘You take the bait. He knows you’ll take the bait, and if you don’t, he’ll stop.’ But neither of us stopped.

‘”Thy brother came with subtlety,”’ I intone to Dr. Keats ‘”. . . and hath taken away thy blessing.’ Genesis, 31:35.”‘

* * *

Dear Betsy,

It’s sweltering here. There’s no air-conditioning so everyone is in a bad mood. Last weekend I went to Nantucket. They were having a Swann yachting regatta, with a simultaneous display of Rolex watches and Rolls Royce’s. It was pretty disgusting.

* * *

Henry sends a photograph of a field of tulips. We went to high school together.

Dear Betsy, my Bets, my Best, My Girl, my Friend,

I cannot believe you are in that place. Then again, maybe it is good for you? Please call me and let me know if I can visit.

Wayne sends letters scrawled on legal pads and stationery from hotels in Botswana and France, pages torn from notebooks and World Sight/Wayne Carter writing pads.

Dear Betsy,

Meet me upstairs?

But that was a long time ago.

Dear Betsy,

I felt so wretched when I saw you pass by my office today. I want so much for you to be happy, to find someone who can love you completely, as you deserve, someone your own age who can make you happy. But I just cannot give up on this idea of you, of you and me together.

This idea of me.

Dear Betsy,

Dear Betsy,

Dear Betsy,

Ida and I have taken a trip to Medemblik, a tiny fishing village on the North Sea. She is angry, of course, but more hurt because I know and she knows, too, how much I long to be on another beach with you. Still I am committed to making our marriage work, and so is she. I wanted so much to make a life with you, but I just couldn’t do it, couldn’t stop the terrible feeling of wrongness. My only consolation is that perhaps now you can get some real help. I wish I could say something to give you hope about us, but it would be wrong. Be strong, move on in your life and don’t look back. You have so much love in you, so much goodness and courage. My thoughts race to you and my heart breaks.

‘Kenneth?’ I ask, in the doctors’ office parking lot.

He is leaning against the black Lincoln. ‘Yes?’

‘May I use your lighter?’

He passes it to me. I hold up the letter in its envelope and set the edge on fire. I watch it burn, pale yellow with a flicker of orange. When it scalds my fingers, I drop it to the tar.

And where is Wayne now?

In Belgium.

And where are you?

‘Jesus, Jesus,’ Kenneth says, stamping out the flaming letter with his black lace-up shoes. ‘What are you doing?’

He calls for Dr. Keats on his transistor radio. ‘They’ll put you in Little House, you realize that?’

Little House—Acute House—house behind the doctors’ office where the suicides are, where they watch you twenty-four hours a day, nurses sitting at the edge of your bed.

In a few minutes, Dr. Keats comes out.

‘Oh, please,’ I say.

‘What’s going on?’

The letter is in ashes on the lot.

‘She set that letter on fire,’ Kenneth says.

‘Who was it from?’

‘”There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”‘

‘Betsy.’

I am not religious. I just like the words of religion.

‘Proverbs 18:24.’ I flick Kenneth’s lighter. ‘You don’t care,’ I tell Keats. ‘You’re paid to care.’

‘Call for Vicki,’ Keats tells Kenneth.

I know what that means: more drugs.

‘Who wrote the letter, Betsy?’

‘It doesn’t matter.’

Dr. Keats shakes his head. He runs his hand over his brow and I feel sorry for him, suddenly.

‘Wayne wrote it,’ I say. ‘Wayne who is in Medemblik with Ida. Wayne who hopes that now I can get some real help.

‘Asshole,’ I say.

Vicki comes down and the sun is hot overhead. Dr. Keats rolls up his sleeves, his smooth blue unwrinkled sleeves, and everyone waits until I take my Haldol, liquid Haldol, swimming like Sambucca in a clear plastic cup.



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