Donald Winter

Calculated Response


"Once I saw a lemming rush into the sea and I could not repress the thought that there but for the grace of God goes me."

"I see," said my analyst.

"Identification," I pointed out.

He clucked. They're trained to do that at Bellevue by the 87-year-old relic of one of Sigmund Freud's dead and buried disciples, the one who, bonne chance pour Bellevue, latterly married a Jungfrau.

I giggled. "Making a mountain out of a molehill," I said out loud.

"Atavistic," said my analyst.

Sixty bucks an hour I paid that guy, and he couldn't get over the fact that my father read me to sleep from Bartlett's.

I hitched upright, got the calculator out of the pocket and retrieved Memory One. It's the function I always reset when the nurse announces me. I re-total the bill to include the upcoming fifty-minute hour.

That's a rip-off. "Like the Army, ten minutes break every hour," I mutter, calculating.

"There it is," he says.

"Identification," I point out. I hit more buttons on the panel. He may end up owing me money.

"Wait a minute," says my analyst.

"Is it on the tab?"

He bounces out of the chair, crosses to the desk and picks up the stopwatch. "What's showing plus ten all right?"

I agree, fine.

"What do you mean, an identification?" He's flipping through his notebook. "I'll check the tape, he says.

"This is on your account," I tell him.

"Jesus." He raises the nurse on the intercom. "Look, call the institute. I'll be late for rounds."

"Twenty-five seconds," I tell him. "That's at least forty-five cents." I flick Memory Off and hit Arithmetic to make sure. He yanks open the second drawer on the right and reaches in for his calculator. He turns Power On and looks at the stopwatch. Crafty, he asks me, "How do you read the time?"

I punch Miscellaneous Readouts and order up Elapsed.

"Thirty-one seconds," I tell him. I check the display. Red dots!

"I've got an emergency condition. Let me borrow your power cord."

"From thirty-one?"

"From thirty-one," I tell him. These shrinks.

He's taking all day. I've got ninety seconds to Malfunction and this joker's playing games.

"Come on," I say to him. "Middle drawer. It's in the middle drawer, with the staples." I stand. He hands it over, grinning.

I pull the couch away from the wall and hook up. I take a reading. Sixty-four. I'm down. I get aggressive. "It was an identification."

"What was?"

"You gotta ask, you better listen. I thought you were gonna playback."

He curses. Not for long. We're in real time.

"There it is."

"Identification."

He snaps off the tape. "Fakey. You're stealing time from the analysis just to keep the bill down. You get what you pay for, you know. "

"Yeah," I say. "That's why I wanted the contract. You have to say something I haven't heard before."

"In context. You never heard anybody say 'there it is' like that."

"In the Army I did. Identification."

"You weren't in the Army." He's got the file out. He's leafing through it. "Were you?"

"You were," I look at his wall. Diplomas. Certificates. He sidesteps, trying to block out the commission. I press. "You wanted to know about my father, not, my Uncle Sam."

He relaxes. I lob in a zinger. "This is your time, right?"

"It's no identification, I'm telling you." He proceeds to tell me. I lay back down on the couch and restart the Accumulator. Every sixty seconds I reprogram for the running total in dollars.

Zero. I sit up.

"Okay. We're finished. We're even now."

He clucks. I toss the calculator on the couch and start walking out.

He's mad. "You guys, cretins who pass up group insurance. You're not worth the trouble."

I stop at the door. I lock his eyes, "Use my calculator from now on. It's fast."

This work first appeared in Gargoyle, issue #4. Please respect the fact that this material is copyrighted. It is made available here without charge for personal use only. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose without the express consent of the author or artist.