John Pula – A Pill to Swallow

It took months to get an appointment. Dr. Fitzburg’s passion was his research, and he only took enough patients to fund it. The other doctors had tried everything. SSRIs to start. MAOIs next. I nearly killed myself eating gouda; I still haven’t decided if it wasn’t intentional. I even tried electro-shock, albeit self-administered. All that did was make me forget what I’d had for breakfast. Dr. Fitzburg was a regular among non-peer-reviewed psychiatry journals, had assisted Timothy Leary, and even participated in some less rigorous experiments. His website was full of testimonials from so-called “lost causes.”

I drove fast enough to arrive twenty minutes early. The office was tucked into an industrial park, behind a dirty glass door, and down a poorly-lit hall that smelled of oil and sawdust. My goal was at the end, suite 148, next to an exterior door with a sign that said EMERGENCY EXIT and outlined my shadow in red.

I knocked. There was an angry scream from behind the door and I double-checked the address. It was right, so I knocked again.

The door burst open and a wild-haired man with half a beard held an electric razor in front of me. He wore a double-breasted suit more stain than khaki with a bowtie twisted into a square knot.

“You’re early,” Dr. Fitzburg said, and backed inside. A trail of beard trimmings traced his path around the room. He sat behind the kind of desk whose owner creatively interpreted the assembly instructions and used extra screws. He continued to shave, his hairs mingling with the bare threads of his coat.

“I’m Silas,” I said. “Silas—“

“It doesn’t matter. Sit,” he said, and I did, on an overturned crate. “I can’t believe I had to take a patient.” He spat the last word. “You’re lucky.”

“I know,” I answered.

“I doubt it. Do you know how many applications I get?”

“There’s a message board.”

“The faithful. They understand, mostly. They believe in my work, but they’re needy. Like children. They claw and clamor with sticky fingers for a rope to pull them from the dark holes of their lives. I am that golden rope, indestructible and infinitely long. But they want me all to themselves. You want me all to yourself. I shouldn’t be bothered with individuals. I can save humanity, but only if I have time. You are taking my time. In return, you’ll provide precious money. Precious to whom? Not me. To them. To you. Where’s your money?”

I fumbled for my wallet. “Do you take Pinnacle?”

“Take Pinnacle? I create pinnacles. I am the pinnacle.”

“Pinnacle Healthcare. My insurance.”

“I’d take anyone’s money, but those bureaucratic fools don’t understand my genius.”

“So…No?”

“Cash only.”

This was the end. I was foiled by the greenback and headed back to taping a broken power cord to my temples. I had only twenty dollars, and said so.

“Yes, fine,” Dr. Fitzburg said, snatching the bill away. “Can you bring more next time?”

“How much?”

“I should ask for utter devotion, but I’ll take five hundred per consultation.”

“Okay.” I wondered if my wife would notice a missing half-thousand dollars.

He asked, “What’s the problem?”

“I was hoping you’d tell me.”

“I don’t deal in problems. I deal in solutions. Perhaps The Solution. So, I ask you again: what’s the problem?”

“I suppose I’m depressed.”

“Depressed. What does that mean?”

“Down? Blue? In the dumps?”

“Those are euphemisms. What is the opposite of depression? We cannot understand a thing until we know its antagonist.”

“I suppose the opposite of depressed is happy.”

“If you were happy, you’d no longer be depressed? You’d be cured. Hunky-dory. A-OK.”

“I think so.”

“What would you pay for a cure to your depression? To no longer be down, blue, or in the dumps? To be happy?”

“Anything.”

“I very much doubt that. You can’t, for instance, offer blanket FDA approval for any test a genius might require.” He poked the twenty dollar bill, crumpled on the desk. “Nor can you offer the funds to facilitate such testing.”

“Anything I can.”

“Come back Monday. Bring money. As much as you can. Now leave. I’ve work to do.” He ripped off his tie.

I drove and realized Dr. Fitzburg had manipulated my anticipation into a temporary happiness. The knowledge of the thing brushed it away and made the drive longer, slower, and darker. The fact I had to go back to work didn’t help.

I had the kind of job most people dreamed of, with interesting challenges that weren’t insurmountable and kept me busy, but not harried. I still wondered why coworkers worked late and came in on weekends. I assumed management just wanted to minimize my damage. Nothing hinged on my success or failure. Everyone greeted me, the janitor cheeriest of all. I stopped at my manager’s desk.

“Hey Silas,” Shirley said. “How’s the analysis coming along? We’re all excited to see the results.”

“I’m working on it. I just wanted to let you know I just got back from a doctor’s appointment. I’ll stay late to make up the time.”

“The company appreciates it, but,” she whispered, “you can just charge it to sick leave. It doesn’t matter.”

I would have worked from under my desk if I could. I tried to reread the doctor’s papers online, but most were blocked by the web filter for containing content about drugs. They weren’t wrong. Anyone could see my screen, and I kept an eye over my shoulder. I bet that forty percent of my pay went to browsing the internet, and wondered if that was why I didn’t get more interesting work. I saw the accusing look behind Shirley’s smile at the coffee pot.

You lazy fuck, I heard, I don’t pay you to drink coffee.

#

I arrived home to another reason I oughtn’t be depressed, which made its reality concrete. My wife, Eugenia, was cooking my favorite dinner.

“Hi, sweetie,” she said, grinning from the stove. The smell of steaks searing and nutty browned butter made me salivate like I should have for my beautiful wife. The dog jumped at my heels like I’d been gone for a decade.

Eugenia asked, “How was your doctor’s appointment?”

I’d told her I was seeing a regular doctor. As much as I believed in Dr. Fitzburg’s genius, I wasn’t sure she would.

I said, “I need to go back Monday for blood tests.”

“Is something wrong?” She left the steaks and draped her arms over my shoulders.

“Just standard new patient stuff.”

She planted a kiss on my nose. “I got a call today.”

“From who?”

“Whom.” I rolled my eyes, but she misinterpreted it as playful jibing and kissed my nose again. “A vice-principal!”

“Did he offer you a job?” Dr. Fitzburg required payment and, since the move, our savings were bolstered by only my paycheck.

“I have to interview first, and it’s only a substitute position. It’s a great in if someone retires, and I might be able to move to full time like back home.”

“This is home,” I said.

“Of course, silly,” she said. “I meant back in Colorado.” She kissed my nose a third time and went back to the steaks.

I inhaled mine and thought about licking the remaining juices before wondering out loud if Eugenia could make any money cooking. It’d certainly help with the medical bills.

“I can’t cook and teach,” she said.

After dinner, we watched TV until she took off her glasses and swung a leg over my lap. “You seem a little off today,” she said. “Anything I can do to help?”

She kissed my neck while I fumbled with her bra. Her breasts were more perfect than I had any right to enjoy. She faked enthusiasm well enough that the dog yipped from his bed. It was as if she actually wanted to be there. My winner’s guilt weighed on me until she rolled away and pulled up her panties, too soon for her to orgasm. I assumed she was getting her kicks elsewhere. If not the motorized contraption in her bedside dresser, then the hunky triathlete two doors down.

#

I returned to Shirley’s desk Monday morning.

“I have another doctor’s appointment today,” I said. “Routine bloodwork.”

“I hope everything’s okay. I saw you made up your time Friday. Gold star.” She winked, and I left.

I stopped by the bank on the way to the industrial park. I went through the glass door and down the poorly-lit hallway, by the emergency exit, and knocked at Suite 148. The door flew open and Dr. Fitzburg ushered me in wearing the same double-breasted suit, but with a bolo tie.

“We worked all weekend,” he said, handing me a jar of fine black powder.

I shook it and asked, “We?”

“My assistant and I. You should thank her.” He plucked at his coat. “I’m more comfortable naked. Why should someone like me bother to dress? Let alone shave.” He rubbed his chin. “Feels like a goat’s ass.”

The back door opened and a female voice said, “Maybe if you’d use an actual razor instead of that rusty relic.” She stepped out in pigtails and enough blush to satisfy the cheap seats. She wore what might pass for a Halloween “sexy scientist” costume, except her glasses were so scratched and tape-repaired they had to be a necessity. She added, “I think you look good in the suit. Introduce me?”

Dr. Fitzburg mumbled, “My assistant, Ariadne.”

“A pleasure.”

I said hi, and the doctor’s eyes lit up. He asked, “Where’s the money?”

I handed him ten hundred-dollar bills.

“What is this?” he asked.

“You said five hundred—“

“I know what I said. What of the medication? This doesn’t nearly cover that.”

I knew it would fall apart.

Ariadne poked his rib and he said, “I suppose it’ll have to do.”

“It’s plenty,” she added. “For now. Tell him how to use it.”

“A teaspoon in water twice a day.” He tore off the bolo tie and unbuttoned his jacket.

“Hey!” Ariadne said. “I told you: not until he leaves.”

“I shouldn’t have to put up with this. I should be naked because I want to be, and I should be surrounded by women who are eager to thank me for saving their retched lives.” He paused, considering the image. “Who are also naked because I want them to be.” He turned to me. “You! Leave. It’s sweltering in here.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“What else?” Ariadne asked, sighing and unbuttoning her lab coat.

The doctor added, “Come back in a couple days.”

“Good job.”

“Bring money.”

#

I hid the jar behind the kitchen garbage and retrieved it after Eugenia had dragged me to the bedroom and one step closer to her finding a more talented lover. The dog followed me to the kitchen, and I eyed him like he might tattle as I unearthed the jar.

The powder spun in the water like detritus in a tornado. It precipitated quickly, black motes raining to the bottom. I chugged as fast as I could, and every grain tore fissures in my throat. I had to chase it with milk to sooth the sting. ECT is the closest treatment to having instantaneous results but only counted if “results” meant “convulsions.” I was still disappointed by the doctor’s new medicine.

In bed, Eugenia said, “I had my interview today.”

I’d forgotten in my excitement with the doctor. “How’d it go?”

“I’m hopeful. They said they’d call me next week.”

“That’s great,” I said, kissing her and switching off my light.

She continued, “I asked if they ever hired their subs permanently.” She paused, and I grunted into my pillow. It already felt like the meds had scarred my throat. “He said they hadn’t in the past, but it looks great on a résumé for other districts.”

There was another silence, but I didn’t grunt, and Eugenia turned off her light.

#

I snuck another cup of powdered obsidian before work. Shirley asked if the doctor left enough blood to feed my brain and laughed. We both knew my job only required a warm body with a master’s in engineering. I wondered if some quirk in my anatomy marked me so deep a loser Dr. Fitzburg’s drugs would have nothing to do with me.

I warmed leftovers for dinner, most of which Eugenia dumped into the garbage. “No call today,” she said.

“Maybe tomorrow,” I said.

I obliged her with an extended kiss goodnight and nibbled at her neck. She giggled and said, “Not tonight.” I rolled away, and she whispered into my ear, “Maybe tomorrow.” She switched off her light, and I snuck downstairs to drink my liquid knives knowing our love had fizzled.

#

The sun broke through the curtains and alighted on the lashes of my right eye. Eugenia still lay in beautiful unconsciousness as I crept to the kitchen. I fried eggs with yolks that mirrored the sun and brewed coffee from the beans we’d hand-picked in Hawaii. I thought the toast might contain the image of some benevolent god. I gave the dog a bacon treat and stood beside our bed. A light cough stirred Eugenia.

“Silas?” she murmured. “Are you okay?”

“I’m grand,” I said. “I thought you might want some real breakfast for once.”

“On a work day?” She sat and cleared her eyes of sand. They widened at my tray and her smile threw wide the curtains. “What’s the occasion?”

“I thought you deserved it.”

“For what?”

“For being so beautiful.” I handed her the tray. “I’m going to hop in the shower.”

The water warmed my sore back and massaged away the knots. I reached for my loofa, but another hand beat me to it. Eugenia stepped into the tub and ran the sponge over my skin, then I ran it over hers. We made love against the wall as the suds slid into the drain. Eugenia broke a nail against the tile. I didn’t care I was late for work, and greeted everyone I met on the way to Shirley’s desk.

I said, “I’ll have that analysis done by Monday. I know you and the team are anxious for the results.”

Shirley said, “I didn’t think that would be done for another two weeks.”

“I found a way to speed it up.”

It wasn’t an impossible promise, but it would take an enthusiasm and focus most people found hard to muster. Mine was mustered, showered, shaved, and running laps. I was going to use this project to show I was capable of more interesting work. I was so focused I didn’t leave my desk until I needed to urinate so fiercely that I ran to the bathroom. I worked while I ate, which took an hour because I had to remind myself to chew and swallow.

I pulled another thousand dollars from the bank and drove to the industrial park. I went through the freshly-cleaned glass door, down the hall lit by the setting sun, and knocked on suite 148. Ariadne answered wielding a kitchen knife.

“Oh, hi,” she said, dropping the blade. “I thought you were someone else. You’re a little late. I had him dressed earlier—real tie and everything—but he took scissors to them when you didn’t show.”

“Should I come back another time?”

“No, come in. I’ll get him.”

I heard Dr. Fitzburg shout through the back door, “Did he bring money?” He trotted in completely nude save the bolo tie and said, “Did you bring money?”

“Of course,” I said, fanning the bills on the table. “It’s a thousand dollars. Five hundred for this consultation and another for the medication.”

He snatched the cash away and counted. “I suppose this will do,” he said, and tried to leave, but Ariadne grabbed the tie.

She said, “He paid for a consult.”

“Fine.” He sat. “How goes it?”

“The stuff goes down like finely ground nails,” I said. He looked ready to leap across the table and choke me with his bolo tie. “It took a day to kick in, but today’s been great. The sun’s brighter. My wife’s more beautiful. I look forward to the uncertain future with wonder and excitement.”

“A day?” the doctor said. “Seems long. Too low a dose?” He looked to Ariadne, who shrugged. “A finer powder, perhaps.”

“Sounds good. Some flavoring wouldn’t be amiss, either.”

Ariadne whipped toward the back door and brandished her knife. “If you’ll excuse me,” she said, and left leading with the edge.

“Any side effects?” the doctor asked.

“Not that I’ve noticed. Are there any I should be aware of?”

Dr. Fitzburg shrugged and said, “Come back next week.” Through the back door, I heard Ariadne yell a karate-style, “Hi-ya.” The doctor turned back. “Bring money.”

#

I opened the door, and the dog growled until I stepped inside. He barked himself hoarse, then bared his teeth and retreated upstairs.

“What’s his deal?” Eugenia asked, kissing me. “And why are you so late?”

“I had to check in with the doc. They didn’t take enough blood last time.”

“Poor baby. The school called to say I was on the substitute teacher list.”

I kissed her forehead. “That’s fantastic news. You should have said something earlier; I would have brought champagne.”

She turned back to prepping dinner. “He also said I was low in seniority and I’d be the last person called.”

“Baby steps, right?”

“I just miss teaching, you know? Back home, I was excited to get up and get to work, to impact kids’ lives.”

She set the table and I kissed her neck to distract her. She faced me and said, “I suppose I promised, didn’t I?” I reset the table when we were done.

The dog refused to come to bed and bit me when I tried to carry him. He slept downstairs.

#

The sun tickled my eyes open, and Eugenia was already in the shower. I snuck in and she nearly hit the wall when I touched her.

“Jesus,” she said. “What the hell are you doing?”

“I thought I’d join you,” I said, my erection obvious.

“Not today. I got called in to work.”

“I knew they’d want you,” I said, kissing her neck.

“A little more notice would have been nice.”

“I know I want you.” I ran my hands over her hips, but she stepped away and lathered her hair. “Not now. Please take the dog out.”

He bolted when I tried to leash him, and Eugenia growled more than him when she had to do it.

I trotted to Shirley’s desk. Her eyes flitted back and forth over the text on her monitor. She sniffed, then turned to me.

“Silas,” she said. “Do you need something?”

“I just wanted to let you know everything is going great and I’ll have the analysis done like I promised.”

“Uh huh,” she said, and turned back to her monitor.

My focus was interrupted only by images of future accolades until I got an email from Shirley, subject: Desk Move. The body listed a seat number in a deserted room. I stopped by her desk and had to make several noises before she sniffed and raised an eye.

“You want me to move?” I asked.

“That a problem?” Her voice made it clear it ought not be.

“Not at all.”

“Can you do it ASAP?”

“Should I ask IT for help?”

She sighed. “You’re a big boy. You can handle it.”

I’d never seen anyone move without IT’s help. They didn’t like it when you moved very expensive computers without them, but I had the boss’ permission and they always seemed franticly busy. I wagered they’d appreciate the help.

The servers stored in my new space meant it was cold and filled with their incessant hum. I made a mental note to bring a sweater and recalled a study that correlated white noise with productivity. I beat Eugenia home and made our favorite pizza, a cheap frozen brand we’d subsisted on in college.

“Couldn’t be bothered to cook anything real?” she asked. “What’s wrong with you today?”

I tried to take the dog out, but he backed into a corner and snapped at my hand.

“Can you take him?” I asked.

“Do I have a choice?”

The dog trotted beside her out the door.

When I asked if she was ready for bed, she said, “You go. I’ll be up in a bit.”

I read until my chin struck my chest, and realized Eugenia still hadn’t joined me. I went downstairs to find her.

“Genie?” I called. The TV and all the lights were off. I found Eugenia in the guest room with the dog at her feet. I watched her slightly parted lips, smiled, and wished she hadn’t been so concerned about waking me. But she’d been complaining about our mattress for a while and this was at least an opportunity to test the guest bed.

#

I silently thanked Shirley for the blissfully quiet and isolated desk. The analysis tool worked glitch-free and my input file was flawless. I worked through lunch and started making spaghetti carbonara when I got home. I was grating parmesan when Eugenia came in.

“How was school, sweetie?” I asked.

“Amazing. It’s so good to be teaching again.” She set down her purse and stared at my work on the counter. “Going out tonight.”

I switched the burners off. “Where do you want to go?”

I’m going out. Without you.”

I switched the burners back on. “Want dinner before you go?”

“I’m just here to change.”

I watched the kind of terrible TV I enjoyed and Eugenia loathed until I dozed off, then woke and texted her. I was still alone the next morning and found her in the guestroom. I was impressed she’d had the sobriety not to wake me.

I made a hearty hangover-proof breakfast with plenty of coffee and woke Eugenia with a mounded, fragrant plate.

“Wake-y wake-y,” I said. “Eggs and well, hash.”

She pulled a pillow over her head.

“Diner’s choice of Pepto, Excedrin, and Alka Seltzer.”

“Yes,” she mumbled, then, “I’ll be right out.”

“Would madam like breakfast in bed?”

“I. Will. Be. Right. Out.” Each word rose in volume through her pillow.

“As you wish.”

I set the table with fancy folded napkins. Genie came out with last-year’s-Christmas-lights hair and one eye squinting. “What’d you do last night?” I asked. Being back at work was obviously stressing her out. I was glad she could blow off some steam. “I hope you had a good time.”

Eugenia dropped her fork, took a large gulp of coffee, and looked at me through mostly symmetric eyes.

She said, “I’m leaving.”

“For the day?”

“Forever. I’m leaving you. I want a divorce.”

I took a swig from my coffee and realized I hadn’t yet taken my medication. The jar was still tucked behind the garbage, and I wondered why I’d ever hidden it. The black powder was clearly working; I was happy, even with Eugenia’s unfortunate news. Why hide it?

“What the fuck is that?” she asked.

“My medication from Dr. Fitzburg.” I put a scoop in water and watched it swirl and dissolve into a perfect suspension, like pitch-colored Kool-Aid.

“You make me leave a career, drag me to Florida, and now start lying to me? I shouldn’t be surprised. This was all a fucking lie anyway.” She dropped her voice to mock mine. “The Florida sunshine will help my depression. I’ll be happier there. You didn’t mention the massive school layoffs.”

“I am happier here,” I said, and smiled. “I’m absolutely joyous.”

“I’m sure you’ll be even happier without me to hide shit from. And what the hell are you spending so much money on? I saw your ATM withdrawals online.”

“Dr. Fitzburg only takes cash.”

“At least it’s drugs and not hookers. I don’t have to worry about catching anything.” She tramped up the stairs and I slammed my medication down, smooth as milk.

Eugenia had been unhappy for a couple days. Maybe a divorce was the answer. I was happy, why shouldn’t she be? I busied myself with dishes until she returned with a suitcase that looked heavy.

“Going somewhere?” I asked. She narrowed her eyes at me. “Oh, right. Leaving me.” I’d forgotten. Maybe that was a side effect. “Do you want me to pack you a lunch?” I asked, just before the door slammed.

#

Eugenia’s absence freed me up to watch TV and play video games all weekend. Letting the dog out was a precarious adventure and I got worried Sunday when my meds were getting low. But I remembered I was due to see the doctor, and he could give me more.

At work on Monday, I was putting the final touches on my analysis when Kent the IT gopher popped into the room.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Working,” I said. “What are you doing?”

“Trying to find the company’s stolen equipment.”

“What was stolen?”

He looked incredulous and waved toward my desk. “All of that.”

“That’s my stuff. It’s not stolen.”

“It’s not yours. It’s the company’s. And it isn’t where it’s supposed to be.”

“Where’s that?” I was right where Shirley told me to be.

“Desk 213.”

“That’s my old spot. I was asked to move last week.”

“There’s no record of the move request.”

I hoped I hadn’t gotten Shirley in trouble. I said, “I figured you were busy, and didn’t want to bother you.”

He flung up his arms. “You can’t just willy-nilly move thousands of dollars of company assets. We track this stuff. I’m reporting this to management.”

He stalked off, and I went back to work until Shirley called. “Can you come to conference room alpha?”

“Sure,” I said, and did. Seated around the table were Shirley, Brian the chief IT guy, and Dr. Krchevsky, Shirley’s boss and hoarder of consonants.

“Take a seat,” Shirley said.

“What’s up?” I asked.

Brian said, “You moved company property without authorization.”

I met Shirley’s narrowed eyes and smiled. “Sorry about that. I needed extra privacy to get an important analysis done.” She leaned back in her chair; I’d kept her out of trouble.

“That’s what we figured,” Shirley said. “You wanted more privacy.”

“But we thought,” said Brian, “why not just put in a request?” He pulled out a stack of papers. “So we started digging through your browser history. You’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time screwing around the internet.”

I looked at the list and said, “It ends a couple days ago.”

“There’s no history after that. You stopped.”

“My new medication helps me focus. I finished my analysis two weeks early.”

Shirley said, “You’re the one that originally said it’d take longer. Probably accounting for all the screw-off time.”

“The analysis is finished though. And with these new meds I’ll be able to continue focusing on my work.”

“It’s not just that. Moving company assets. Wasted time. Your coworkers have reported a growing dislike of working with, and around, you. To be frank, I’m one of them. You’ve changed, Silas.”

“So, what now?”

“You’re fired. Effective immediately.”

Before the meds, I was miserable working there. Maybe this was the kick in the pants I needed to move on from a job I hated and a broken marriage. Had Shirley set me up, or just seized the opportunity? Did it matter?

I smiled and said, “Okay.”

We all stood and Dr. Krchevsky offered his hand. “Pleasure working with you. Sorry to see you go.” It was the most he’d ever said to me.

I was given a box to hold my witty coffee mug and framed picture of Eugenia, then Shirley escorted me out. She never mentioned the little white lie between us, but grimaced and shook my hand before I left. I drove to the industrial park and went through the glass door. Down the dark hall, I knocked at suite 148. The EMERGENCY EXIT sign had burnt out, and I cast no shadow on the door. Ariadne answered immediately, her knife replaced by a small revolver.

“Oh,” she said. “It’s just you.” She peered either way down the hall.

“Expecting someone?” I asked.

“More like searching. Come on in. How’s things?”

“My wife left me and I just got fired. Never better.” I meant it.

“That’s good? I’ll get the doc.”

She led with the gun through the back door and shouted, “Aha! Found you!” before firing twice. Dr. Fitzburg arrived naked and wearing the bolo tie around his genitals like an ineffective loincloth.

“Still working?” he asked, looking at a non-existent watch.

“Nope. Fired.” I said, and he stared. “Oh, you mean the meds. Absolutely. I’m happy for the first time I can remember.”

“Side effects?”

“Some memory loss, maybe.”

Ariadne stepped in. “He lost his wife and job.”

The doctor spun, making the bolo tie jingle. “Related?” He spun back. Another jingle. “Yes, I can feel it already. Revulsion. Anger.” He stuck his nose in my armpit, then squatted to crotch-level and sniffed. “Pheromones? Shouldn’t be hard to make you tolerable, at least. Easiest way is to isolate it and administer a blocking agent to those around you.”

“If I want people to like me,” I said, “I have to give them medication?”

“Most probably.”

“I can’t give drugs to everyone I meet.”

“You wouldn’t be able to afford it.” His eyes narrowed. “Would you? No, you wouldn’t.”

“I’m nearly out of the medication you gave me.”

“Did you bring money?”

“I’m losing my job, and I’m not sure I can afford much more.”

“You can’t afford to be happy? Everyone thinks genius should be free. That I should change humanity from the goodness of my heart.”

“Doc,” Ariadne said, “Can’t you work out an arrangement?”

“That sounds great,” I said. It didn’t matter what I was agreeing to. I’d be happy.

“That might work,” Dr. Fitzburg said. “Come in.” He went through the back door and Ariadne waved me forward.

The back room was a warehouse filled with echoes, containers of unidentifiable substances, oddly shaped glassware, and equipment I didn’t recognize. A mattress sat in the nearest corner with a pile of used condoms at its foot. There was a bare toilet with a pink floor mat and a chemical shower beside which hung two loofas and a pair of shower caps.

“Mi casa,” Ariadne said. “Well, our casa.”

“You live here?” I asked.

“Now, you too, I guess. I’ll get you a loofa.” She caught me staring at the pile of rubbers. “Gotta pay the man somehow. My stuff costs even more than yours.”

“Your stuff?”

“My medication. Nobody else could help with my monsters. I’d fight them, kick and scream, but they were immune. The doc fixed that. Now,” she held up the gun, “I fight back.”

#

That was six months ago. I’ve since cashed out my bank account and moved in. I take my medicine twice a day and give the doc and Ariadne a pill so they won’t hate me. I work with Ariadne doing odd jobs around town. Blow jobs, mostly. I’m told it pays the bills, and I’m happy to help. Most of the johns don’t seem to hate me, and the ones that do cum the quickest. Dr. Fitzburg works his magic during the day, and some nights sneaks away from Ariadne. It hurts, but I smile and even enjoy it a bit, because now I’m happy.

And that’s all the matters.