I like talking to the Doctor. I don't like telling her things.
Bright humid day with birdsong rippling air, the wet magnolia smell would be wafting into the shop. Thanks, I am not in the junk shop today. At home, in the half-tub I turned into a sofa with a buffed edge and a set of carmine cushions, Doctor Ozma by my side, not leaving me a whole half-sofa, no, course not. She has had half a bottle of red wine, I have drunk a third, and superficial flies laze around us, transcribing the warped orbits of stoned planets about a small sun.
In Wuthering Heights, the guy describes Mr. Heathcliff as "the solitary neighbor that I shall be troubled with." Ain't that the thing? Isn't that her, too?
No one but she and I lives in Newport right now. Tet a tet. Serious.
Otherwise a city of the dead.
"Explain it to me," I say, "again." I emphasize that "again." I want it to mean something. Want her to feel this, to understand in ways I will never understand the significance. For emphasis: "Explain it to me, again."
"Did Jett give you fuck-induced stupidity?”
I do this hand mouth gesture - I hate that she makes my body do this - fingers flippinh around, become fist, point, hands moving to and from my lips trying for words that don't make it. I have to shut myself entirely down just to say, "I'm not going to talk about that."
Doctor Ozma laughs. I have to call her Doctor Ozma, her bare foot shoved up by my ear, her body crowding me on my couch, I need the reminder.
"It'll pass," she says, "if I tell you again about death, you'll forget what you've got. You'll forget what you remembered. I've tried it."
She throws herself back, legs up, then counterbalance swings off Holly Golightly's sofa and onto her well-soled feet. "We have tried it, Cotton."
The Doctor’s name is not, of course, Ozma, but I am a plagiarist in life. I do not steal lines and retype them, or copy paint strokes onto new canvas, but take the created and recreate it in life, and when I cannot pronounce or remember a name, I just use the closest I can get from whatever rings true in my memory. And, what use has a nickname, after, if you do not commit to it?
She is committed to her ruse, Doctor Ozma.
The air is soft in the room, softened and machined. I frisbee a coaster against the base of a tall lamp I probably stole from the store, six bright bulbs bursting in white life. The coaster bongs like a hollow copper model, which it is not. The forty-four magnum of lamps.
Doctor Ozma lowers the needle on the album awash in the light. Dancing, she picks up her labcoat and holds it by the cuffs, broad arcs to a slow song with piano and harpsichord.
"I'll dance too, if we change it."
She watches me stand unsteadily, her eyes turned all away from me. I know she does it, not how. Do I need to?
My stupidity. Her conviction.
"It's your album," she says, hair parted from how she was sitting, not how it should. Ridiculous combover for a woman dancing with a white coat. "I am," she says, "going to make sure you know, Cotton, someday you'll know and remember and keep it. I am trying to get right by everyone, to make all of this work best, work right."
"You're the Doctor." She is.
"I don't know why I drink so much with you.” Tosses her coat to a table out of my sight. I know she lands that coat perfect, too. She turns her eyes on me and the weight of her is more absurd than what she was trying to tell me about death. I say, to get it off, "You like me."
"I like everyone." She switches the record for Bird and Miles. "I'm the Doctor."
"That you are," I say with a smile and take her hands in mine, fingers interlacing as we approach one the other, "and damned if that Sara isn't spreading word all over that you are the kind of doctor knocks out her patients and moves them to bed."
Doctor Ozma has more rhythm than me. Than the me before I got this bum leg and got old, even. She lets me keep up.
"And that kid suiciding?" I ask, trying not to be an asshole.
She says, "'Suiciding' isn't a word." That doesn't mean anything. Cruel. She continues, "He'll get better."
The magnolia scent is forever blooming in the still and mobile air. No one but she and I lives in Newport. I get that. But, why can’t she tell me?
I tell her, “You don't know he is going to heal. You don't know what will pass and what will stay wrong. You don't. You know what I did before I came to Newport. I was paid to be a pessimist, but I was usually right. You don't know how bad all this can go."
Travis Hedge Coke, Hugo and Pushcart nominee, is a regular columnist for The Comics Cube
and associate editor of Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas. Until recently, he taught at Shandong University, and is enjoying his return to the United States. A former editor of Platte Valley Review and Future Earth Magazine, his own writing can be found in Gargoyle, The Lumberyard, and in anthologies including The Willow's Whisper and The World is One Place.
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