The Standard Response



"I'M A MAN WITH A VERY SERIOUS PROBLEM, DOC.  You have to help me, I can't go to work anymore. Every time I walk by the produce, I'm overcome with such unnatural urges… Last week they transferred me to the meat counter, and the objects of my lust are just across the aisle. They are propped up, shiny under the lights, just waiting for me -  right there!"

I've heard a lot of things but this was a new one. A shudder passed through me, and I felt the beginning of a growing itch. I frowned and concentrated on keeping my eyebrows level. I smoothed back a straying lock and tucked it back into my professional bun.

"What do you consider, unnatural. It's important that we realize our feelings are just that, feelings." The standard responses passed through my lips, but I really didn't want him to talk about fruits or vegetables.

My allergy wasn't usually triggered by just the thoughts of fruits or vegetables. But my fear of them ran deep. They could be the death of me. 

"But Doc, I don't just think things. Sometimes I..." John swallowed and lowered his head.

"It's okay John, you can tell me, you're safe here."

"Sometimes, I kiss the peaches. No tongue or anything, though. And one time, I took an onion and put it under my pillow."

A nervous tick started in my left shoulder at the word "peaches." My right foot, encased in its shiny black pump, started an uneasy swinging with the word "onion."  Luckily, John couldn't see me behind the couch.  I needed to encourage John to talk about his feelings, but if he kept on about produce, things could get dicey.

"I just, want them all." John sighed and stood up from the couch.  He started shuffling across the room.

I watched him and fought to keep my body under control.  My breathing sped up.

"I don't usually recommend avoidance, I usually recommend confronting these types of things, but have you considered changing employment?"

"I'm not qualified for much else doc… But I do have one other gig going on the side..." John stopped pacing and turned toward me.

"I'm a special kind of insurance adjustor..."

John took a small plastic sprayer from his pocket. His stance changed from shy and introverted to aggressive and outgoing. Had I missed a personality disorder?

"I insure that injured people get retribution. Do you remember Maryanne?"

My thoughts turned from fruit and personality disorders to Maryanne, the delusional patient who thought she was in love with me.

"Yes, I remember Maryanne, I had to discontinue her treatment when she wouldn't follow my treatment plan. I wanted to transfer her to a hospital and work on finding her another doctor."

My mind made the connection. Maryanne worked in the produce section of a grocery store.

"You wouldn't see her anymore. She went crazy with grief. Was it really too much to think that a patient could honestly love you?"

Now I stood, uneasy with the turn of events. "We should keep talking about you, John, I really can't discuss other patients."

John moved closer, his eyes wide. His hand lowered to his other pocket.

"Would you like to talk about my love of ...peppers?"

He pulled a large Jalapeno out and held it up.  Jalapenos.  The worst thing possible for my allergy.

John ran the jalapeno down the side of his cheek, closed his eyes, and breathed it in deeply.
He raised it to his lips and took a bite. The fumes filled the air. I tried to slide toward the door, but my foot hit the umbrella stand with a thump.

His eyes gleamed, predator looking at prey. I could see it trigger, run through his whole body.

"Want a bite doc?"

He seemed to grow larger with each step.  The distance between us only a few feet. 

"Or maybe just some of it's sweet perfume, courtesy of Maryanne. She made it special for you."

He lunged and discharged the spray into my face.

I choked and fell to the floor. Was I going to die at the hands of a crazed patient?

"That's from Maryanne...and me."

I curled my hands around the phone in my pocket, frantically pushing buttons. Please, god, someone come help me.

Just before I lost consciousness, I felt John pry open my mouth and force the Jalapeno between my lips.  And there was the distant sound of a voice, far off.  "911, what is your emergency?"

 

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About Christine Nichols


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Christine Nichols hoes a small patch of dirt in the heart of earthquake country (Oklahoma). She is a card carryin' John Fullbright groupie. She wants to grow jalapenos some day, when and if it it rains. Professional stuff: Christine writes and publishes poetry. "The Standard Response" is her first...read more published short story.
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