For a Friday afternoon, the clinic was quiet. We usually had one or two crises — I firmly believe there’s something about illness that can sense impending holiday, however brief. But that afternoon there were no phone calls, no drop-ins; the regularly scheduled patients came in and went docilely home – or, more commonly, back to their wards. I was thinking of letting Regan, our head nurse, go home for the few minutes left in the afternoon, when she ran into me in the back hall. Regan is the next best thing to psychic.
“We have a problem, Jean. Mr. and Mrs. Ducasse left their prescription sitting on the counter when they left,” she said.
I sighed, didn’t swear — it’s unprofessional. “Okay, what pharmacy do they use? Can we call it in?”
“I checked that — it’s unlisted. They live out on East Clinton Road.” Regan didn’t say, right on your way home. She didn’t need to.
“Okay. I’ll drop it off on my way home.”
Regan beamed. “I wrote the address down. Here.” It was already stuck to the prescription chip. I glanced at it before shoving it in the pocket of my beige jacket. I tried not to think about how this would delay getting out of my work clothes.
Irena Ducasse is on anti-depressants, as most of my patients are. It doesn’t do much for their condition, but it makes them less likely to hurt themselves. There’s not really much else we can do for Milton-Shattuck patients yet, although we’re doing all sorts of experiments with environment, diet, and gene therapy. So far nothing works as more than a stopgap. Makes my job frustrating. We were so used to gengineering being the solution, not the problem.
Irena was exceptional in most ways. The symptoms had started when she was twenty-seven, the earliest case on record. She was a painter — maybe she had better ways to channel intense sensory input. I don’t know. But she handled it better than most. I don’t mean to imply that she was okay, but she managed to interact with other people in an almost normal way. She stayed in her home, at the insistence of her husband, Paul, and I hadn’t seen any problems with that yet. He took care of her with a fierce tenderness.
The Ducasses lived up in the hills east of town, at least half a mile from anything. The summer had burned the grasses a uniform golden brown, and there were no trees near the front of the house. I thought I could glimpse the green of a back garden through the chinks in the privacy fence. I could imagine Paul cultivating roses while his wife slept.
I pressed the visitors’ button. Instead of the discreet personal alert I had expected, an old-fashioned chime doorbell rang, audible to me outside. My first sign of trouble: I wondered if the noise would upset Irena.
But Irena herself answered the door. “Hello, Dr. Derner.” She smiled gently.
“Hello, Irena,” I said quietly. “Is Paul at home?”
She drew in a deep breath. I jumped a little when she sang, projecting a warm alto: “Paul. Dr. Derner is here.”
“I’ll be down in a minute,” boomed Paul’s voice in what I recognized as the opening notes of a Bach chorale.
She shrugged. “You heard him. Come sit down.” I followed my patient into their sitting room. She moved, as always, as though she was ever so slightly tipsy. Her movements all had an unsteady care to them, a deliberation rare among Milton-Shattuck patients, who used most of their energy just to deal with the outside world. Her clothes, worn, loose cotton, almost converted care into grace with their flow around her thin limbs. I gathered that they must have been old favorites from her painting days, because they had oil paint stains all over them.
I was paying close attention to Irena, but I had to conceal my dismay at their house. The Milton-Shattuck wards, and (more rarely) the private homes where patients lived, were decorated with simple furniture in pale shades of beige and gray. Surroundings were designed to mute sounds quickly, to absorb odors efficiently, and to minimize variety of tactile sensation. Fabrics had been specially designed to feel as much like skin as possible.
Paul Ducasse could not have been unaware of these procedures. It disturbed me to know that he was deliberately flouting them.
The living room seemed designed to over-stimulate even normal senses — smoothly carved cherry-wood furniture with velvet upholstery, heavy old-fashioned curtains, wood floors covered by a sumptuous Persian rug. The colors were deep burgundies, accented with navy and forest green. The entire place smelled of baking banana bread. Swan Lake was on a large stereo; Irena sunk onto the couch. I was afraid she was overwhelmed by the spectacle, but she seemed perfectly comfortable, humming along with the Tchaikovsky.
“Can I help you, Dr. Derner?”
I had not heard him come in. “Mr. Ducasse. You had left Irena’s prescription at the clinic.”
“I see. Thank you for bringing i -- [End of Preview.]