Aphelion Issue 268, Volume 25
December 2021
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Patient Patience

by David Far

Mrs. Blessing Theresa Chelmsford Heatherton muttered at her eight minutes of waiting. The private room had a sofa, tea service, and view of the arboretum, but she had not endured such strain since her husband’s death three years ago. A nurse escorted her to the sofa in Dr. Dennison’s office. She thought the nurse’s manners suitable despite her foreign complexion.

Dennison sat in a black leather chair near the sofa. He sifted through each feature on her face as he said, “Hello Mrs. Heatherton.” A vein bulged under her concealer, portending a session with seismic implications.

“Doctor, I hope you can help. It’s so unseemly, and I’ve nowhere else to turn.”

“What’s the problem?”

“She has done it this time. I won’t be able to show my face at the club again.”

“And you’re speaking about your daughter, Elisabeth?”

“Of course.”

“What did she do?”

“You are too kind, Doctor. I’m sure everyone has seen it. The police arrested her at that protest!” Her voice jumped an octave on “arrested” and “protest.” Dennison had not seen the news, if a video seen by thirty-six people could be called news.

“Have you spoken with her, Mrs. Heatherton? Is she all right?”

“I just don’t think my face can take it. Dr. Johnson says he can do only one injection per month. I tried. I shouldn’t have given her such a liberal upbringing. Charles insisted, but a mother knows. My friends had traditional christian surrogates, but we had our baby with a Californian. ‘Give the fee to a refugee.’ A good slogan until your daughter stabs you in the back. The devil take those coastals.”

The Doctor heard slurs often from his landed clientele, though they did not talk that way in public. Dennison tapped his fingertips together. In the past, Mrs. Heatherton had tired after fifteen minutes of wallowing.

“I had Juanita make cupcakes for that vaccine bake sale. When the money came up short, Elisabeth staged that ridiculous sit in and got kicked out of Blue Briar.” The tone used to describe her daughter’s offences escalated from a whining cat to a strangled seagull. “I even donated a hundred thousand to that drinking water foundation, as though people shouldn’t pay their own desalination bills. But it was never enough for Elisabeth.”

Dennison considered when to offer the advice he expected Mrs. Heatherton would ignore. Should he steer her tirade to a controlled landing or allow the deluge of self-pity to crash? While his business card said psychiatrist, his richest clients treated him like a life-size rag doll. “Mrs. Heatherton, do you think this arrest could open a new chapter for Elisabeth? If you are assisting with the legal bills, maybe—”

“That’s just the trouble, Doctor. She turned twenty-one yesterday and has access to half her trust. Charles left me with no leverage.”

During a fifteen-minute digression on her dead husband’s faults, Dennison managed a mask of professionalism. He did want to help Mrs. Heatherton, but to her every problem looked like a nail she should hire a contractor to hit with a platinum hammer.

“Maybe you could try expressing concern for her safety—”

“I demand action. Can’t you have my daughter declared incompetent and root these ideas out of her head?”

“I am not a lawyer, but I have not seen an adult declared incompetent for protesting on behalf of climate refugees. I can only use memory clearance and belief modification in extreme cases of delusional disorder or—”

“What’s more delusional than chanting in the streets to reverse a twenty-foot rise in sea levels?”

“I don’t want you to rely on forcing Elisabeth to change. Consider a more constructive—”

“Then I’ll do it myself. Can you clear my memory?”

“I’m sorry, what are you proposing?”

“I want you to scrub Elisabeth from my mind.”

“It’s possible, but people you know would still talk about Elisabeth, talk to you about her.”

“That’s over now. I’m going to have to move to a new compound, anyway. Yes, as you said, a new chapter.”

Dennison forced his lips into a half-smile and sat silent. “I see that’s our time,” he said. “Let’s discuss this idea again next week. ”

Mrs. Heatherton stood, straightened her clothing, and glided out of the room, buoyed by her notion of a life free from offspring. Dennison stretched and walked around his office twice to get the blood flowing, then pressed a button on his desk.

The nurse brought in the next patient from another private room. She was a new referral.

“Doctor, I hope you can help me. I need a destructive influence erased from my life.”

“The nurse forgot to load your file. I’m sorry. You are?”

“Elisabeth Chelmsford Heatherton.”

2021 David Far

Insert Picture Here David Far studied Economics and Philosophy. As a national championship debater, he enjoyed discussing hypothetical worlds with wizards, robots and moral quandaries. Now he writes about those same topics. David lives in New York City. He enjoys listening to his children spin stories from the secret places adults have almost forgotten. You can find out more at davidfarbeyond.com.

Find more by David Far in the Author Index.