The Shrinking of Barry Teeter
by Sameer Kulkarni
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
Barry came out and puffed a huge sigh of relief, but it was all blocked because of the mask he had on his mouth. Irritated, he pulled it off. He had already lost half an hour, and he hadn’t even progressed towards the elevator banks. He shrugged with disbelief and, as he was taking off his gloves, he saw that Charlene was charging down the corridor. Before he could call knife, he was inside a room that had WOMEN written on it.
He hadn’t realized what he had done until it hit him that Charlene might be heading towards the restrooms herself, which gave him the willies. He decided to hide behind the door. A few more wasted seconds and the realization that she was not going to show up as an after effect of that calmed him down for a moment. Although a sterilizer strong enough to cleanse his visual palette of the images of those big buttocks had yet to be invented, he realized that washing his hands might just alleviate the shock and goad him into feeling clean.
Just as he had finished washing and was drying them on a towel, a woman released the lock of a corner toilet and came out. She looked at him and was about to scream when he said, ‘Dr. Ben Franklin. Angela, a patient from the psychiatric ward on the fifteenth floor is missing. I don’t suppose there is anyone in here?’
The woman, totally confused by why a nurse or a female doctor couldn’t have come in to a women’s restroom looked behind at the empty toilet and said, ‘No. No one here.’
‘Keep your eyes peeled, will you? Very dangerous,’ he said, and walked out.
* * *
Now outside the restroom and having ensured that the woman inside wasn’t coming after him, he started walking towards the elevator banks. The only problem now was that he would also have to cross the reception area surreptitiously.
Just when he had taken five or six careful, measured steps towards the intended he found four-five visiting cards strewn on the floor. They were lying there in a bunch as if someone had pushed them from a pocket before they could call foul. It said ‘Dr. Gerber MD’ and had a few other details that verify a human being that is on the grid.
The layout that Bishop’s had here was quite peculiar as well. They had a big door, and on the inside two appointment desks were placed that had attendants watching the door. On the other side lay the general waiting area for patients with sofas and chairs, beyond which was the reception desk with receptionists on the frontline directly facing the elevator banks. The elevator at the end was rather out of the visual scope of the receptionists, which meant if someone wanted to escape unnoticed they could, using this elevator.
With the green cap on his head, Barry looked quite beyond recognition and he walked out of the door without either of the assistants raising any alarms. However as his luck would have it, two of the ward boys from the psychiatric ward were just coming out of the elevator with an elderly lady on a wheel chair who was adorning a pirate’s eye cap and had a big broom in her hand. She was trying to use that as a paddle and was emitting ‘bhurr! bhurr!’ sounds.
The boys and the old lady were about ten steps away from him when she asked for magic potion. Baffled with the request, one of the boys went away to get some orange juice from the vending machine.
Barry realized that there was no way he could just skip past the left over ward boy, and the only thing he could do was to get inside again and then find another way out. The timing of the arrival of this thought and an announcement on the PA system for an “Amy Thurber” collided so perfectly that without any further ado, Barry stepped over just a bit towards the waiting area and said, ‘Amy?’
A blonde woman in her early thirties stood up and gave a dry smile. As he walked her in, he let her take the left side so that the assistants wouldn’t steal a look at him.
‘How are you doing, Amy?’
‘Fine. Thank you!’
‘Excellent! I am Dr. Gerber,’ he said, and shook hands with her. ‘Dr. Johnson is too busy today and I will be taking a look at you.’
‘Oh, my appointment is with Dr. Patterson, not with Dr. Johnson.’
‘Oh, I know that. Well, as it happens, Dr. Patterson isn’t in today. He burned his hand this morning when he was ironing his wife’s blouse. So all his appointments were shifted to Dr. Johnson. Now that guy is a genius, but he is overworked and underfed. In short, we decided to shift some of his load to his better colleagues. I can show you my qualifications if needed.’
‘No, no. It’s all right. I believe you. After all, I don’t think a quack will be able to pull it off in Bishop’s. And you do look like a doctor,’ she said, and gave a hearty laugh.
He smiled and opened the door for her. Charlene’s punching card gave him access to the computer and he was soon looking at Amy’s file. She had some sort of a skin condition on her back or back condition on her skin, one of the two. It didn’t matter.
‘All right, Amy. Chives, eh?’
‘Pardon the medical slang. It’s called hives generally, as you know, but when it occurs on the back, we call it chives. I will need to take a look at it before confirming the earlier findings. Is that all right?’
‘Yeah, sure. Do I need to change?’
‘No, it’s quite all right.’ Waiting outside while she changed wouldn’t have boded well for him.
When Amy was seated on the patient bed, he saw that she had a normal rash just next to her left shoulder.
‘So, tell me, how are you feeling? Does it hurt?’
‘Umm, not idly. But when I scratch, it burns.’
‘Scratch? Who told you to scratch?’
‘Well, Dr. Patterson said it was all right...’
‘You can’t believe everything a doctor says, especially a doctor like Patterson.’
‘What’s wrong with Dr. Patterson?’
‘Who said there is something wrong with Dr. Patterson?’
‘I also said don’t believe everything a doctor says. So! Tell me the symptoms again, please.’
‘When I scratch it burns. Also, after a shower it gets red and itchy. It itches when I’m at work and it makes me very uncomfortable.’
‘Work? Most of my patients live off their parents. What do you do?’
‘I work at a library.’
‘Trash. Do you use a soap or a body wash?’
‘Body wash. Lavender Nights.’
‘Well, it looks benign. See if you can get a body wash with Moroccan Argan Oil. Silky smooth skin,’ he said, and rolled his shirt over and showed her his impeccable hands. She looked impressed.
‘Thank you, Dr. Gerber.’
‘Is there anything else, Amy?’
‘No, that’s all.’
‘Let me show you out.’
They both started towards the reception, with Barry staying on her left to avoid reluctant gazes from the regulars. He walked her towards the waiting area and realizing that the last elevator was waiting, bolted past her to get into it. Amy followed him.
‘Need to step out for a bit,’ he said.
She just smiled.
* * *
While all these improvisations he had made just to get out did put a smile on his face, but very soon Barry realized that he had no mode of transportation and he needed to find something real fast before the fastidious warden sent out the dogs after him. He tried to check where the nearest bus stop was when out of the corner of his eye he saw that a car was coming out of the underground parking lot. It was Amy.
He suddenly transformed his face to look flustered. By the time she came by him, he had managed to get the air of a ring master who suddenly finds that a gorilla on whose shoulder the whole circus act rested was having a temperature of 103 as he took the thermometer hanging from his mouth.
‘Is everything all right, Dr. Gerber? You look like you’ve got the blues.’
‘I am absolutely in the pink, I assure you. You see, it’s my wife. She’d taken my car for a spot of shopping this morning and she was supposed to put it back by 11. I absolutely need to get to my dentist. If I miss this appointment, he will probably give me one after the war ends.’
‘What war? The war ended five years ago,’ she asked, looking confused.
‘Just a metaphor. It’s always going on between the dentist and the patients,’ he said. A near escape.
‘Oh, if it’s all the same to you, I could drop you there.’
‘Are you sure? I don’t want to impose on you.’
‘Sure. Now where is it?’
‘Oh, gee! Aren’t you sweet? It’s just four blocks down from here. 45th and Michigan.’
When they were just leaving, the ward boys bolted out of the doors and shouted, ‘Barry, wait!’ but the car had already sped and was on the road. However, Amy had heard their shouts and she was about to stop the car again in case there was an emergency.
‘No, no. Go on. I will never get to my own appointments if this continues,’ he said, smirking.
‘But why were they calling you Barry?’
‘At Bishop’s they encourage a very hierarchy-less structure. No titles. Everyone is just known by their name. Believe me, I would like to be called as Dr. Gerber. I feel like those fifteen years’ of education is slowly trickling down the bathroom drain,’ and she gave out a pillowy laugh.
‘You have been grand, Amy. Keep this card,’ he said and gave her one of the visiting cards. ‘And Amy?’
‘I would avoid the long walks in the moonlight if I were you,’ he said, and shut the door on her broad smile.
* * *
He hurried past the skirting cars and started running towards what looked like a strip mall. He saw the lights turn green and Amy leave. He was now on his own, no one to guard him, no one to control him, totally uninhibited.
He walked for two miles and came to the house. There was a lot of noise coming from within. He could see the balloons. And then he saw Gretchen, his daughter. Seeing him in green overalls, she realized what he had done.
He looked at her and pointed towards the backyard. A tear that he had forever imprisoned trickled down his left cheek.
‘What is it, mommy?’ a little voice said, coming out of the back door. She was wearing a blue frock with polka dots sprinkled on it and Mickey Mouse shoes.
‘Look there,’ Gretchen said, pointing towards the steel rail that protected them from the sidewalk.
‘Grandpie!’ she said and jumped.
Before he knew he had climbed the rail and he was inside. They hugged.
‘Oh, my honeycomb! See what I got for us,’ he said, and showed her the two masks he had hidden.
* * *
By the time Bishop’s guys tracked Barry down and telephoned Gretchen, it was already dusk.
The van pulled over in front of Bishop’s and two ward boys and Barry got out. As they approached the restricted area, Barry said, ‘Allow me, guys,’ and gave them access by swiping his wallet.
As they went up in the elevator, Barry noticed that one of the ward boys was scratching his hand. He appeared to have some sort of a rash.
‘What you got there? Looks like dermis scintislatesia. Do you use soap or a body wash?’
‘Body wash. Why?’
‘Not why. That’s why. Tell you what you need. Moroccan Argan Oil. Look at these silky boys,’ he said and rolled his shirt sleeves to reveal his smooth hands.
Barry was, of course, released with due apologies and, the next day, an inquiry placed into looking at the escape incident revealed that there had indeed been a mistake.
Copyright © 2017 by Sameer Kulkarni