Waiting. My fingers drum out an uneven rhythm on the hard, plastic armrest of my chair. The noise jars against the light, methodical patter of the receptionist on her ergonomic keyboard. I see her wince and know I'm rubbing her the wrong way, like nails down a chalkboard.
My nonverbal protest is the only complaint I can make because waiting is a privilege. It means I've moved up one rung on Dr. Petersen's "ladder of trust." One rung on a ladder that stretches all the way up to the cloud-covered sky. I'm at the bottom. And I have no intention of climbing to the top. Still, my small ascent has its advantages. I'm wearing my own clothes, for a start. My hands are free, and I can continue my discreet torture of the snooty-faced secretary. Smiling serenely at her, I increase the volume of my tapping.
The door opens. Both the receptionist and I look toward the rectangle of space, but no one appears. Through the doorway I can just make out the cream-colored wall, covered with certificates, and the plush shag of the crimson-red carpet. At no sign that I can see, the receptionist takes her cue.
"Dr. Petersen will see you now."
She's perfected that sickly sweet voice. Professional, polite, and dripping with disdain. I avoid looking at her as I rise out of my seat. The rubber soles of my slippers—real shoes are at least another six rungs—make no sound on the cheap laminate. Instead, slightly out of step with me, the heavy tread of my escort announces my presence loud enough for Dr. Petersen to know I'm coming. Loud enough for him to look up and greet me.
"How are you today, Heather?" he asks the piece of paper in front of him.
It doesn't answer. There are at least eight seconds of silence before he deigns to lift his eyes to me.
"Hmmm?" He raises his eyebrows, his expression open, pleasant. As if we're friends. Confidants.
I hold his gaze as I ease myself into the plush leather chair facing his desk. No ugly molded plastic in this room. He drops his eyes first, and I allow myself a small smirk of victory as I watch him go through the rigmarole of shuffling the papers on his desk, clicking his engraved silver pen several times, and adjusting his tie, his shirt. Then he clears his throat and fixes me with a piercing look.
Now we're really playing.
"Are you ready to talk today, Heather?"
To you? No.
He reads it in my face and sighs. Leaning forward over the desk, he drops the pen and presses the fingers of both hands together into a steeple. The soft yellow spotlights on the ceiling make the signet ring on his right little finger sparkle. I can't see what's imprinted on the circular face, just the hint of etchings rubbed worn with age. Like the lines around his eyes, the repugnant folds of his jowls surrounding a mouth puckered by dislike—the expression he wears every time he looks at me. The feeling is mutual.
"I have a report to make to the court, you know."
I lift one eyebrow disdainfully. Do you?
"The judge wants an update on your progress, your state of mind. Heather, I can't do that if you won't engage with me."
Written down, these words seem considerate, the rhetoric of a doctor who cares about his patient, about her welfare. When this is transcribed by the receptionist outside—and I know I'm being recorded, even if I can't see the equipment—I'm sure that is how it will read. Only I can hear the razor edge of threat.