The Shrinking of Barry Teeter
by Sameer Kulkarni
Every now and then, when the sportsmen have repressed a desire for queer stimulants and are intent on playing a sport with sober balls, this country’s newspapers try to blacken the leftover white space with news that helps restore faith in the dottiness of the human race.
One Barry Teeter, who had no mental illness but had been sent to the psychiatric ward at Bishop’s Hospital due to some bizarre mistake, planned a daring escape and it made The Sunday Times. The editor, however, had the chutzpah to omit certain particularities, and while I plan to run after him with a broken bottle in my hand as soon as I finish the wine, I decided to scrawl down the details myself in the interim. Although it isn’t directly from the horse’s mouth, the escape itself will surely leave a blazing trail for future forsakers.
* * *
‘Which one should I take?’ Barry asked Jane, as they fumbled through a collection of
clown masks that lay on the table. She took one, put it on Barry’s face but realizing it’s grandness in size took it off. She quickly had him try another one, but it was too wide and stuck out. She finally found one that fit him perfectly, and fixing a cheap Colombina for herself they then proceeded to congratulate Dollie.
‘Why does she want everyone to wear masks for her birthday?’
‘At least it’s masks this year. Last year, she had everyone stand on the table with a bra on their head and had them jump and use the bra as a parachute. She said someone had given her orders to invade Poland. Anyway, this year her word is that we are all in a kindergarten class together. She wanted a clown at the party, but the hospital refused her request and instead dispatched Miss Sumner with lipstick on her nose.’
Jane shot her eyes in the direction of Miss Sumner, who, now, on top of the lipstick had vanilla frosting hanging from the tip of her nose and was one step closer to how a nonconventional, busty, three-eyed Indian goddess appearing in a corset advertisement would have looked.
He chuckled and said, ‘Jane... Listen. I need you to take two masks for me, the size doesn’t matter. Put them in your bag.’
‘I will tell you when the time comes.’
* * *
Six days later...
Tuesdays were always busier in the psychiatric ward. New enrollments, afternoon visiting times, physical and mental examinations for the patients, and diffused staff members meant that there was less tracking of a patient’s whereabouts. All in all, it was an excellent day to plan an escape if one wanted to plan one.
Barry came down for breakfast and found Jane sitting near the window, tucking into scrambled eggs. He had the air of a car that’s just popping it’s head out of a car washing lane. For a moment she thought, this raffish descendant of Adam looked quite meaty for a man of forty-five.
The only person who believed that Barry had been submitted to the psychiatric ward by a mistake was Jane. She was herself undergoing treatment for clinical depression, and hence when Barry told her that he was going to escape she felt rather peppier and decided to help him.
‘Now, listen carefully,’ he said, looking around and then pulling his chair forward. His face had that gravity which would have caused even the regular ganders to run amok and think of visiting the gypsy tearoom at the end of the road for a tarot reading to verify if foie gras was on their fate plate. ‘If someone comes and asks about me, just tell them that I am getting some tests done with Dr. Gerber.’
‘Who is Dr. Gerber?’
‘Someone on the affiliation board, and he isn’t attached with the psychiatric ward so it will take them some time to figure out where I am.’
As Charlene, the main nurse for their ward, whose eyebrows looked like they had been gavage-fed trampled over a couple of guys in the first row and came over to give him his pills, he got up, something that no other man in the ward did when a woman came to their table. When she gave him an appreciative smile, he handed her a note.
‘I wrote something for you. Very private.’ She slid the note into her blouse, gave him a coquettish smile and retreated.
‘That’s done it. Now she won’t come looking for me until lunchtime. Hello, I should be going,’ he added, looking at his watch and hurried towards his room.
On the way, he swiftly checked Charlene’s pass card which he had nicked while she was giving him his pills. The short essay he had written for her, most of which he had plagiarized from Jane Austen’s Persuasion, he was sure, would make her not look for it for at least another hour.
* * *
Bishop’s had a rather thorny setup when it came to the space layout and the architect most likely would have been a great candidate to open their psychiatric ward. The main reception was on the 14th floor and all the elevators froze there. The only way to access the fifteenth floor was using the back stairs, which also meant that if someone from the fifteenth floor wanted to get out of the building their only gateway was getting on to the fourteenth floor and then walking towards the elevator banks. Fourteenth floor, coincidentally, also had enough doctors and nurses to start another hospital within itself.
Barry liked doing things impromptu. Most of his plans, which he thought were elaborate, only included the first step which always got others excited because they were inclined to think he had a clear strategy. Sooner or later, everyone freaked out and spat on his shoes one by one. This time too his only plan was to get inside a storage cabinet, which was luckily located at the back end of the floor and then proceed from there.
He found it as soon as he entered through the fourteenth floor door.
When he got inside, he saw tons of things neatly stacked on shelves. Doctor’s gloves, green aprons, green hats, protective masks, CPR masks, and other medical paraphernalia. Although his confidence was riding high until this moment, he now suddenly found himself humbled and a certain dampness prodded him in the underarms. He quickly adorned a green apron, a matching green hat and a protective mask.
As he closed the door gently and turned around, a nurse came running down the lobby towards him. She had a small steel bowl in her hand. She said, ‘Hurry up, Doc. They are waiting for you,’ and then quickly escaped behind a door that had a flashing yellow light glowing on the top. Emergency Room. She was holding the door for him.
* * *
It is one thing to nick a pass card and use it illegally, and it is another thing to actually work on a patient. Barry was no exception to this. In the short span of walking to the door, his Adam’s apple had made a quick round trip and the dampness in his underarms had now transformed into rivulets and were trickling down his body.
Inside the room, there were about five people around the table, two doctors on either side and three nurses that looked like the Three Witches. A man lay on his stomach in the middle with his rear end opened for inspection. There was a quick round of introduction amongst the doctors. Dr. McIntyre was here as they had requested.
Just then the man on the table shifted sides. The steel bowl that the nurse had brought in was being used as an ash tray and passed around, until it reached a nurse who then kept it on the small of the back of the prostrate patient.
‘He is Tramontana’s top man, manages the East Coast operations,’ one of the doctors started.
‘Who is Tramontana?’ Barry asked.
He pointed over to a nurse, who was, coincidentally, smiling at Barry with a shining scalpel in her hand.
‘What’s the case again?’ Barry asked, gulping.
‘He was frothing from the mouth when they got him here, too much beer. He said something about a rabid dog, and his pants were torn at the seat. We can’t make anything of it, but Cooper here thinks that the man tried to give us a clue, that maybe he got bit by a rabid dog in the buttocks. We wanted to have your opinion about asynchronous dearsenicksia.’
‘I am not very keen on that, although there have been lots of cases where it has been used successfully,’ Barry said with some confidence. ‘Although in such cases, we have to be absolutely sure if it can still be saved and assarted.’
He then put his gloves on and picked a magnifying glass from the bedside table.
After confirming the patient’s name with one of the nurses, Barry said, ‘Mr. Dudley, tell me your symptoms please.’
The prostrate man proceeded to tell his inner feelings.
‘Well, it’s just like what I said earlier. I feel like lapping up milk from a bowl, I chase running cars and I sometimes go and sniff at the rear ends of women.’
‘Hmm... that’s just how dogmatism starts.’ Barry then scribbled something on a stray notepad and added, ‘Pay attention. Take ten of these tablets, and then flush five in the toilet. Do it three times a day, in that order. It’s thirty dollars a bottle or something like that. The clerk will know.’
‘I also feel really itchy and then I lick my own hands and legs. My wife ...’
‘Watch your language, man! There are women in the room. This is no time to talk about your bedroom excesses.’
‘Hold him, he is as mad as a rabid god.’
At least a couple of them realized that he had said rabid god, but the man on the table had just bit one of the nurses and it was imperative that he be contained first.
‘Hmm... interesting,’ Barry said looking at the man’s buttocks where the bite marks were.
‘What is it, Doctor?’ one of the nurses enquired.
‘I have never heard that word before,’ a young doctor said, looking at the left buttock cheek that had the marks.
‘I bet you haven’t. Who is this schmuck?’ said Barry, asking one of the older nurses.
‘I didn’t mean to—’
‘I have never been mistaken when it comes to this. It’s, without any doubt, Maybelline 945. Distinctive colour, glossy matte finish.’
‘What does that mean?’ the same doctor who had questioned earlier interfered again.
‘Young man, I don’t know what you studied as a Cornhusker but if you can’t figure this out from the symptoms and what I just said, you are chaff.’
‘C’mon, Nate! Dr. McIntyre has practically laid it out on the plate for us,’ others chided.
‘Good luck, fellas.’
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Sameer Kulkarni