Carousel Court@Joe McGinniss

1

Phoebe opens her eyes before the alarm. She does this lately, since they arrived. On low-dosage days the ground beneath her hardens, common sounds are shrill: Jackson’s cries more urgent, Nick’s words more hollow. Above her, the blades of the ceiling fan rotate too fast, send chilled air across Jackson’s exposed arms. He sleeps fitfully next to her and she pulls his small blanket over his shoulders. Last night he was inconsolable or she was. She could remove the pacifier from his mouth and wake him, but watches him instead. There are fourteen bones in the human skull; eight surround the brain. She brushes his forehead where the bruise yellowed then finally faded.

It’s almost seven and Nick still isn’t home. Knowing how exhausted he’ll be, she scrambles eggs and slices ripe mango for him and leaves them on a plate in the microwave and sends him a text telling him they’re there in case he feels like skipping the morning rush at Starbucks on the way home. When she leaves the house it’s already hot and Phoebe holds Jackson to her chest with one arm while her free hand pulls the heavy red front door closed behind her as the ADT chimes. Her day will be spent driving. Always driving.

At day care, she kisses Jackson’s warm forehead. She says “Duck, duck” and he says “Goose!” and laughs. She looks back once, as she does each time she leaves her son in this strip mall three miles from Carousel Court, and blows him kisses. She pushes against the glass door, out into the heat and glare of another day. She should be home with him. She hates herself.

Just after ten in the morning she’s alone on a freeway that connects her to the other side of the city and all the ugly retail strips and offices, and despite the heat and harsh sunlight and the cool air-­conditioned car and the helicopter buzzing overhead, this middle part of each morning is a gentle breeze: the zenith of Klonopin highway happens an hour after she swallows the last of four pills. She sends Nick a rambling message, coasts and descends into the valley, and laughs at the woman in the silver Jaguar leaning on her horn because Phoebe won’t leave the left lane and let her pass. You need to be on this, Phoebe thinks, and continues in the left lane doing seventy and considering another caramel macchiato. With whipped cream this time.

Soon it’s one and the sun is a beast and directly overhead and she needs to eat something but she’s buzzed, shaky, from two caramel macchiatos and the anticipation of her afternoon appointment. Her ten milligrams of Klonopin from this morning have worn off completely. The Effexor is losing its effect as well. The tingling in her fingertips, which feel cold in the morning, is a sign. So is her appetite: She has none. She feels empty but the thought of food makes her queasy. The front seat is littered with parking receipts, MAC lip liners, her badge, a suitcase full of pharmaceutical samples and glossy brochures, her ­iPhone, and a stuffed Elmo doll. Normally on the floor of the passenger side would be the goodies. Mocha frappuccinos with whipped cream for the office staff, a dozen doughnuts from Krispy Kreme. Bribing the gatekeepers is the way the game is played, access to the doctors is everything, the only way to push product, improve her numbers. Show up, perform, and close.

Performing and closing: What happens in the office stays in the office unless he wants to text about it later and send crude photos after midnight. That’s where she’s struggling. The energy is gone. The playfulness and flirtation are labored if not missing entirely. Except today. Today, she will meet a young physician with a new practice and she is energized, sharper than she can remember. She also has a new strategy.

Phoebe breezes into a crowded, cool office and feels the eyes of tired mothers and frail seniors and men moving over her strong, tanned calves and smooth thighs, the thin fabric of her form-fitting lavender skirt. This used to be the most entertaining part of her job. A physician back east once propositioned her in his office, offered to leave his wife and kids for her. Another put a thousand dollars in cash on his desk and asked for her panties. The female office manager of another practice accused her of stealing samples from their closet and had her banned. Phoebe