The NEW NORMAL by Daphne Bellflower
The NEW NORMAL
“Doctor,” she asked, “do you believe in ghosts?”
She glanced at him, trying gauge his interest level in this subject. His professional concern, on a scale from one to ten, appeared to be a solid three today.
Her question hung in the dead space between them for three, two, one. He cleared his throat, and rubbed his forehead. “The question is, do you?”
“Doctor,” she said, “Something happened to me last week. I’m starting to think that I do. I want to know if it’s normal. That’s why I’m asking you. I want a reality check”
He shook his head back and forth, no. “We go through this every week. I’m not here to tell you what normal is and isn’t. This is your hour.”
She was surprised that he remembered she came here every week. It was on her calendar: Appointment with doctor, Thursday, 4:00 p.m., recurring event. Recurring theme: refusal of doctor to engage. She was here because wanted to try yet again to be a functioning member of the human race. But at 4:50 each Thursday she felt that $165 an hour would be best spent on shoes or a trip to Los Angeles.
“Doctor,” she said, “do you remember what we talked about last week?”
He glanced at his notes. “It says here that we talked about your dad. He died, and I think it says here, if I can read my writing, I think it says that you didn’t feel sad.” He glanced at her, and continued reading. “It says here that you felt weird because you didn’t feel sad, and you didn’t think it was normal.” He stared at his notes.
“Well, does that seem normal to you?” she asked.
“I think last week we determined that there are many different definitions of normal.”
She thought about this, and shook her head. “You and I both know that’s bullshit. ‘We’ didn’t determine anything. Why don’t you just tell me what you think for once. Here’s how I see it. You work for me from 4:00 to 4:50. I think your service is terrible. Thank god I don’t have to tip you. It would be embarrassing for us both.” She sat back in the chair and crossed her arms.
He looked up from his notes from their last session, and stared at her. “Tell me about the ghost,” he said.
She uncrossed her arms. “I was traveling on business last week, and I stayed in this really old hotel. It’s on some historical register, the lobby is beautiful, but the rooms are awful. Dusty and small.” She glanced at him, and saw he wasn’t taking notes.
“My room was on the upper floor,” she continued. “It was at the end of the hallway by the fire exit. I walked in and the room was cold. And really small. Dingy. The carpet had probably been there since the Nixon administration. Not exactly a four star hotel.”
She looked at his face for a sign that he was listening. There was no apparent visual cue. “Go on,” he said.
“I didn’t want to stay in the room, so I walked all over the city until I was tired. When it got dark, I went back to the room, and read the materials I needed for my meeting the next day. Then I looked at celebrity gossip on my IPad.” She took a sip of her kombucha. “The internet connection was slow.”
“I fell asleep reading my IPad with the lights on. I woke up, fumbled with the lamp switch but I couldn’t make it work. So I jerked the cord out of the wall to turn it off. The lamp was old and the cord broke off in my hand. It sparked all over the place, and it shocked me, really hard. But finally the room was dark, and I could go to sleep.”
“Did you inform the hotel about the cord?” he asked. “That sounds dangerous.”
She shook her head impatiently and continued. “I closed my eyes. Then I heard a low laugh coming from the ratty old chair in the corner of my room. I opened my eyes, raised my head from my pillow and saw a shadowy outline of a man sitting in that chair. Every hair on my head stood up. I was rigid – I couldn’t move. Whatever was in that chair stood up and walked over to the bed. I tried to scream, but it was like I was paralyzed. I couldn’t move.” She caught her breath and looked at the doctor. He was examining his cuticles, looked up, and nodded at her to continue.
“I was terrified. The man stood over me and laughed, quietly first, then louder and louder. He leaned down over me, his head right in front of my face, and whispered ‘Good Luck.’ His breath was cold and stale. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to scream again, but I couldn’t. The room got very quiet, and I opened my eyes. The man was gone.”
“Why do think you dreamed this?” the doctor asked.
“It wasn’t a dream,” she said. “The lamp cord was broken in half and burnt when I woke up.”
“It was just a dream.” the doctor repeated. “There are no ghosts.”
“So it isn’t normal,” she said. “You actually answered my question. Thank you. That’s all I wanted from you. An answer. There aren’t any ghosts. I can’t thank you enough for helping me on this matter. I finally have a take-away from this session. No ghosts. What a relief.” She glanced at the clock, prominently displayed so the doctor’s patients knew exactly what time it was, and could temper their emotions to fit within the allotted time. It was 4:34. She grabbed her purse, and stood up. “I think our time is up today doctor.”
He stared at her as she gathered her things. “So your dad died and you didn’t feel bad. Why should you feel bad? After your parents divorced, you didn’t see him growing up. You saw him sporadically as an adult when he wasn’t drinking. You only saw him in the few months before he died of lung cancer, and you had to initiate the contact. Do I think it’s normal that you don’t feel any emotion about the situation? No. I don’t. I think you should try and talk about it”
She fumbled with her phone, looking for the calendar app, found it, and deleted the Thursday, 4:00 p.m. recurring appointment.
“Doctor,” she said. “This is our last appointment.”
He glanced up as she opened the office door. “Good luck,” he said.