Dark eyes lifted, grew large. An expression of what might have been surprise passed across Farah’s face. Or maybe she was angry to find Quentin standing in the open doorway. The tissue in her tiny hand was pink and dry, and patting dry eyes, she lowered her gaze. A quiet voice asked, “Where is she?”
“I wanted to…” she began. Then, “Never mind.”
The examination table had been stripped of its sterile paper, the stink of alcohol giving the tiny room its medical authority. Farah was sitting on a steel-and-plastic chair, her right shoulder leaning into the table’s immobile bulk. She seemed smaller. Not thinner, but physically lessened. Quentin searched for signs of morbid depression or suicidal urges, but the worst he could find was her reasonable fatigue and the immobility that comes to a person who has done too much during one very long day.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
She blinked and looked at him again. “Yes,” she said, refolding the pink tissue, her fingers precise and thorough, seemingly preparing the tissue to be reinserted into the box set on the counter beside the white ceramic sink. “I’m sorry too.”
Nothing happened for the next minute.
Then a distant chair was pushed, one sharp noise passing down the hallway. The Clinic’s remaining employee was fuming inside her office, eagerly awaiting her chance to leave. Quentin wanted to be home but didn’t know how to escape. Burying himself inside his apartment seemed like quite a lot, a job beyond his talents. Which was why he said nothing, unwilling to push events along.
“That woman,” Farah began.
“What about her?”
“She’s so nice,” the patient stated.
The Director was nice? Or some vanished doctor or technician? Unless she was being sarcastic...
Farah rose without warning, and discovering herself standing, started to turn in a slow circle. “My coat is somewhere.”
The butter-yellow coat and black scarf were draped over a second chair, in plain view. He picked them up, perhaps as she planned, trying to ease her right hand into the heavy sleeve. The stink of tobacco clung to the fur collar. She buttoned every button, and with her back to him, she conspicuously did nothing. Farah was waiting for a hug or a comforting pat. What Persian gesture lent strength to the suffering? But as soon as his hands lifted, she opened the door and left, and he dropped his arms and eyes and took a couple breaths before following her into the hallway, not quite sure which direction she had taken.
He caught Farah in the lobby. She refused to look at Quentin or answer when he asked, “What can I do?” He had decided that he wanted to help, very much, and when she refused to give instructions, his reaction was a pissy, self-indulgent anger. Get her outdoors, achieve the most minimal goal. They weren’t far from her apartment. The woman could walk home easily enough.
Stepping into the late autumn cold, Farah aimed for Quentin’s parked car.
He felt guilty for being angry.
He felt justified.
Farah stopped beside the passenger door, waiting.
“It’s not locked,” he mentioned.
That earned a glance, sudden and puzzled, and finally scornful.
He came around the little car and opened the door, and she sat and stared straight ahead, plainly waiting for him to close the door too. He did—a gesture that felt like play acting, lending a sense of the false to whatever was to follow.
The engine caught on the first try.
The drive was brief and silent. Quentin invested his moments imagining the best words necessary to end this duty. But when he pulled up in front of the big old house, Farah turned to him, showing tears and fury while a sorry, pitiful voice said, “Thank you,” and then, “I don’t know why you were called.”
“The others must have said, ‘No.’”
“Anyway, thank you for everything, Quentin.” Then she leaned toward him and kissed his mouth, reaching behind his head to keep him pressed against her lips. But as soon as the act felt natural, she was gone, out the door and behind his car, finding purpose as she strode toward the reliable steel dog.