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     I believe everything I read. Every single written word crystallizes into fact. It could be emergency instructions on an airplane or a poem handed out by a woman on a park bench. I cannot argue against a single sentence any human being writes. This is why I am a patient of Dr. Fleiss.
     He writes something on his notepad and hands it to me.
     "There are rats in your apartment," it says.
     "Where?" I say, staring at his wispy hair. The handsome curl of his mouth. He leans back again, until sunlight reflects in his glasses. Then he scratches something else on the paper and hands it back to me.
     "There is a dead man under your bed."
     He apologizes for his lack of imagination and then stands up. Shaking my hand and slapping me on my back, he wishes me good luck and leaves me to my rats and bodies.
     I wait on the porch until Martha comes home from work, and then I explain the situation. She stands on the lower step, looking at me with grave sympathy. Everything about her seems slightly different. The immaculate brown of her business suit. The tight bun of blonde hair. The tiny silver rectangles on her shoes.
     I follow Martha upstairs, and while I wait in the hallway, she shouts at me from all corners of the apartment.
     "No rats in here," she says from our bedroom. "No body either."
     But I sleep over a corpse with one eye frozen open, the other a wrinkled slit. His hands are bony, white claws. I hear the dishes in the sink move. A box of cereal topples over.

     Dr. Fleiss smiles at me gently, as if I were growing hopeless.
     'I haven't slept," I say.
     "This is good," he says. I watch him scribble something else on his pad of paper. He looks up for a moment as if he were sketching me.
     "I'm scared," I say.
     "This is a synonym for progress," he says, and hands me the pad of paper.
     "Martha is gone," it says. My whole body goes cold and I end up staring at the misshapen ashtray on the edge of his desk. It is polished to green brilliance and I cannot understand it.
     "What are you thinking?" he asks.
     "Why you have an ashtray on your desk if you don't smoke," I say.
     "You are in shock," he says.
     "Thank you," I say.
     I let him lead me out the door and we walk down the corridor, and pass one of the disturbed children. He is overweight and hangs his head and tries to walk into me. The carpet is covered with patches of sawdust where recent struggles have taken place. Everyone on the staff is an expert chokehold artist, and sometimes, from Dr. Fleiss' office, I can hear bodies being taken down, and then muffled howls, as if crying had yet to be invented.
     In the lobby, I wave goodbye to the security guard, a thin black man who looks like he never trusted anyone.
     "Careful out there," he says. The lock on the door buzzes and clicks.

     At home, the memory of Martha persists. She drops silverware and curses me. She turns up the volume on the TV and insists she is alive. Presses her warm palm against my cheek. Hurls an orange crème bar at me and lets it melt on the kitchen floor.
     I talk to her as I always have. But she is not here. In the bedroom, at dawn, I touch her hip. She is facing away from me. Through the window, I can see the frayed clothesline that hasn't been used in years, and the rusted pole which anchors it. At the top, a squirrel spasms and gnaws at an unripe peach. I wonder if Dr. Fleiss will take it all away, and what he will put in its place.

     "Do you want her back?" Dr. Fleiss says, unwrapping an egg salad sandwich. He holds up one overfilled half and waits for my answer, white and yellow clumps dripping on his desk.
     "Are you playing God?' I say.
     "For now," he says.
     I tense up when I see him bring out the notebook again. He scribbles a sentence and then crosses it out. He settles on something and rips off the sheet of paper. He hands it to me.
     "I am happy," I say, reading the words.
     "Why not?" he says, looking at his watch. "I couldn't think of anything else."

     Close to midnight, when I usually panic about my life, I start the celebration.
     Deep in the fridge is a bottle of pink champagne that my mother once left for me on one of her dour visits.
     "Drink this when something fabulous happens," she said, and then frowned, as if it never would.
     Martha watches me carefully twist off the cork. For two days she hasn't moved from the couch. Crumpled balls of paper litter the floor, each one a letter from her that I have refused to read. Dr. Fleiss has insisted on being the sole author of my life.
     I put her glass of champagne on the coffee table and sit across from her. On the television, a slick of oil has spread on the sea and caught fire. We watch it with the sound turned down and suddenly we can hear the woman next door. She is in agony again, groaning her pleasure for the whole neighborhood, her invisible partner nudging her into fits of ecstasy.



matt marinovich