Carousel Court@Joe McGinniss Page 0,1

knew the real reason: She was too distracting.

Today a plain-looking office manager working reception hands Phoebe a clipboard and asks her to fill out both sides of each form for new patients.

• •

“I don’t have a ton of time,” she says and waits for the doctor’s eyes to drop to her legs. When they finally do, she scratches her knee, slowly uncrosses and recrosses her legs. “So,” she says as she feels her skirt slide up—clumsily, though, too high—until the yellow lace edge of her panties is showing. She starts to adjust it, then stops. He stares. She’s off her game; the mood isn’t right, the room is too bright, her thoughts bounce from one unrelated topic to the next. Does she have anything left in her checking account? Did the lock click when she pressed the button on the handle? His eyes are too blue. She should stand, go check the door, but her skirt is still too high and he’s still staring. Then she realizes she doesn’t care what he sees or who walks in or what she does because all that matters right now is getting what she came for.

“I need you to write me a prescription.” She interlaces her fingers on her lap. She’s trying too hard to look calm.

“For what?”

“Klonopin. You know, Clonazepam.” She closes her eyes. “The good stuff.”

“Are you anxious?”

She laughs and wipes her nose for some reason. “It’s the driving. It’s bad out here. I’m not used to it.”

The doctor is forty, his brown hair flecked with gray, clean-shaven. His wedding band is silver and thick. He wears an expensive-looking pale blue button-down shirt and black slacks and shoes. He sucks on a mint. He takes no notes as he listens to her explain her medical history.

“I know I scheduled a physical but actually I just need the ’script.”

“Where is it coming from?” he says, meaning her anxiety.

She sighs. “You know, the usual tribulations. Can you write me something?”

“What other medications are you taking?”

“Effexor.”

On her way here, stuck in traffic, Phoebe had watched a skinny, wrinkled woman with bleached-blond hair in a floral bikini and Coke-bottle shades push a stroller with two big kids in it along the side of a six-lane thoroughfare. Those kids, she thought, had to be at least seven years old. The woman looked fifty. The exhaust and heat and sun beat down, and Phoebe had wondered how far she herself was from that, how much debt and desperation until she would be reduced to walking through the vapors.

“Where are you from?” the doctor asks.

“Boston. Delaware before that.” She exhales and crosses her legs again, and the doctor’s not looking. “We were moving to New Orleans.”

“And?”

“At one point. Now we’re not.”

“You don’t sound too happy about that.”

“We had other plans.”

He stares at her with a sympathetic smile. “What brought you out here?”

The question makes her femur throb, and she feels a flash of pain from the fourth and fifth vertebrae to the top of her skull. “See this?” She pulls up her top, touches a long thin scar along the right side of her torso.

“Ouch.”

“A UPS truck I didn’t see.”

“What does your husband do?”

A long pause. “A PR firm. He’s a filmmaker,” she says, referring to Nick’s position that prompted the move here. “Produces films for corporate clients, mostly.”

“Get undressed.” He hands her a white paper gown and walks toward the door.

Phoebe watches him go, sees the exam table on the other side of the large office. Before she can say anything, the door closes and he’s gone.

• •

Hung on the wall: a framed spread from the Los Angeles Magazine Best Doctors issue. As she undresses, Phoebe studies the picture of the physician and his wife, casually seated together in an oversize white Adirondack chair. Wrapped around them are two beaming blond children, a pair of Chesapeake Bay retrievers at their feet. She loses herself in the lush green lawn and the sprawling estate. She’s pretty sure they’re not staring down a readjusting ARM. Their smiles are so easy and infectious that she feels the corners of her mouth begin to rise as the physician knocks on the door and pushes it open in one motion.

With Phoebe on her back, the physician slides the paper gown to her hips, leaving her upper body exposed. He presses his fingertips too firmly into her midsection, checking for organ swelling, unusual masses. “What is that?” he asks, breathes in through his nose. “Like cotton candy.”

“Like a teenager?”

He laughs. “Is that the