The door of Dr. Adam Fitzgerald's private office slowly opened and a young man struggled to enter, fighting a strong gust of icy wind as he did so. He cautiously glanced about the room, finding himself to be alone, with the exception of one older woman situated in a corner, gazing at a gaudy ring that flickered in the light. Upon observing this, the gentleman subtly grimaced and ventured towards a desk, where a quiet young lady was seated.
"Excuse me," he addressed, his voice crackling with phlegm. "I need an appointment with Dr. Fitzgerald. I'm afraid it's rather urgent."
"Name?" the young woman asked, lifting a fountain pen and preparing to write.
"Oakley. Charles Oakley."
"What seems to be wrong with you, Mr. Oakley?" the young woman inquired apathetically.
"Isn't it rather obvious?" he asked crossly. She glanced up at him for the first time, noticing his deathly pale complexion, irritated eyes and stuffy nose.
"Oh dear. Is it a cold?"
"If I knew that, I wouldn't be here, would I? How long before I can see the doctor?" Mr. Oakley was in no mood for stupid questions. "The fact is, I can hardly breath, my throat feels as though I swallowed needles and I can't see straight."
"Any nausea?" she asked, copying down his symptoms.
"Not any more. If you must know, I had a piece of toast and coffee this morning. Unfortunately, it didn't stay down for long."
"Fever?" she asked, still writing.
"Well…" He thought for a moment, squinting at her through his puffy eyelids. "I feel warm at times and then freezing at others. I'm not quite sure-"
Before he could continue, the woman impatiently rose from her chair and roughly placed her hand on his forehead. The sudden physical contact nearly caused him to lose his balance. "Oh my! You're on fire!" she exclaimed, though still not overly concerned.
"I've hardly been sick a day in my life," Mr. Oakley commented miserably.
"Yes, I'm sure it's due to the cold winter weather. You better sit down before you faint."
Though normally Mr. Oakley was not vulnerable to passing out, he had nearly done so no more than several minutes before when he was walking up the stairs to the doctor's office. He glanced at the older woman, who had been staring at him since he first entered, and briskly crossed to a chair on the opposite side of the room. He eased into the chair and rested his head in his hands unhappily.
Curiosity getting the better of her, the older woman struggled to stand and waddled towards him gracelessly. "New York is just dreadful, isn't it?" she asked in a shrill tone, nearly causing him to jump. He glanced up towards her, trying to conceal his displeasure. Though he made no response, she continued. "I'm from England, myself. I hardly ever get sick, you see. Not me. I'm just as strong as a horse. Except for when I'm traveling. Somehow I always become ill. Colds, usually. Can't you tell? Don't I sound just terrible?" Mr. Oakley watched her in awe, trying to ignore the fact that the room was beginning to spin around him.
"You don't look sick at all," he stated, annoyed. Taken aback, she made a slight shriek.
"Well! But I am, of course! Maybe my throat doesn't hurt… But my nose was definitely running last night! It's not so bad now, but nevertheless, as soon as I woke up, I decided that I simply had to find a doctor. This Dr. Fitzgerald is supposedly the best. Do you come here often? No, I suppose you don't. You said that you never become ill. By the way, I hope you don't mind that I was listening in. Oh! But you don't look too bad! Just a little pale. If you covered those dark bags under your eyes with powder, I'm sure it would do you a world of good! You simply must fight it! A young man like you shouldn't need a doctor! It's mind over matter, young man! Oh, in case you're interested, my name is Edythe van Hopper!" She held her hand out for him to kiss, which he stared at for a moment in disbelief. Suddenly she withdrew it and groaned. "Ewww! I suppose that wouldn't be all that wise, would it? Wouldn't want to give you my terrible infirmity."
"I doubt it would worsen my symptoms!" he said, pulling out a handkerchief and wiping his nose. He sniffed several times and leaned his head backwards against a wall, his mouth hanging open as he gasped for air. She watched him curiously, furrowing an eyebrow.
"Really, you shouldn't do that, Mr. Oakley. It's not particularly attractive and I'm sure the doctor wouldn't want you to rub your head all over his walls." Charles glowered and stiffly pulled away from the wall, continually wiping his nose with the handkerchief. "Excuse me!" Mrs. Van Hopper snapped, rising and waddling towards the young woman at the desk. "I have been here for over ten minutes! What could possibly be taking the doctor so long?"
"Dr. Fitzgerald is very popular, ma'am," she explained quietly. "Since you didn't actually have an appointment, you'll have to be patient."
"Patient?" Mrs. Van Hopper echoed. "Patient! I have been patient for far too long! Now please tell me when I will be able to see the doctor!"
The young woman opened an appointment book and ran her index finger down a list of names. "The next appointment is in approximately ten minutes, but the lady hasn't arrived yet. If she doesn't come by the time her appointment is scheduled to begin, you will be the next patient Dr. Fitzgerald will see."
Mrs. van Hopper grunted indignantly and returned to Mr. Oakley's side, much to his bitter disappointment. "Can you believe this? It's simply deplorable. Wouldn't you agree that it's deplorable service, Mr. Oakley? It's deplorable."
"Yes, I heard you the first two times," Mr. Oakley snapped. She remained silent, for a few moments at least. Mr. Oakley removed his hat and ran his fingers through his hair, which he hadn't even bothered to comb that morning. Ever since he left home when he was sixteen, he had noticed that there was something particularly aggravating about older rich women with more time on their hands than they knew what to do with. He glanced lazily at Mrs. van Hopper, who was fiddling with a large gold bracelet. She was the perfect example of such women. She seemed proud of her jewelry, but that was all. Here she was, at a highly revered doctor's office, complaining and making a scene, and to make matters worse, she wasn't even ill. Now she was going to be able to see the doctor before him, weigh him down with a dozen trivial questions, and by the time the doctor finished with her, he would probably be in such an impatient, bad humor he wouldn't even bother to give Mr. Oakley a decent exam.
His thoughts were soon interrupted by the sound of light coughing. He turned his eyes briefly to Mrs. van Hopper, who was holding a small lacy handkerchief to her mouth. "Oh, pardon me, Mr. Oakley. It's this terrible cold, you see. It's given me the worst throat ache!"
"You said that your throat was fine," he grumbled.
"Oh… I did? Of course I did. But now…. Oh! It's horrible! Simply deplorable!"
He watched her for a moment with disgust. He was tempted to ask her if she even knew what that word meant, but figured that she probably wouldn't be listening anyway. She continued with her wheezing into the lacy handkerchief. With every cough, he felt his entire body seize up with vexation. He wound his own handkerchief between his fingers tightly.
"I know what will make my cough disappear!" she exclaimed, grinning idiotically.
"Good. Go find it," he mumbled under his breath.
She opened her large alligator bag and pulled out a cumbersome box of truffles. "Chocolate! Simply divine! I just love chocolate!" She stuffed her mouth full of the candies. Mr. Oakley watched in absolute revulsion. "Care for one, sir?" she asked, chocolate seeping through the holes between her teeth. She held out the large box of candy in front of him. The sweet smell caught him off guard and he soon found himself grasping at his mouth, suppressing dry heaves.
"Please!" he snapped, pushing them away.
"Well, really, Mr. Oakley! I was only trying to be generous! You act as though I were disrupting you in some way!"
"Mrs. van Hopper," he began, attempting to remain calm, yet still twisting his handkerchief between his hands violently. "If you have not noticed, I am incredibly ill. I'm not trying to seem rude. I simply want to have some peace until I see the doctor."
"Oh, you won't see him for a while. My appointment comes first!"
"Yes," he replied, his tone remaining cool though his eyes were beginning to blaze. "I am well aware of that. Nevertheless-"
"Mrs. van Hopper!" the young woman called. "Dr. Fitzgerald will see you now. It's right through that door."
Mrs. van Hopper rose, tipping her nose up in the air. "You see? I told you." She sauntered towards the door in a huff. He could hear her complaints to the doctor as she walked down the hall. Sighing with relief, Mr. Oakley leaned his head back on the wall and closed his eyes, taking in the quiet atmosphere with pleasure. He couldn't explain what it was about old, rich women, such as Mrs. van Hopper, but every time he met up with one of them, he felt himself grow furious and disgusted with them. It was as though they had nothing better to do than make him feel miserable! And with his current ailment, this was a fairly simple task. Sometimes when he looked at these old hags, he couldn't help but wonder what their purpose was in the world. At times, he felt that he could strangle every one of them… But of course he would never be able to do anything like that… Would he?
Mr. Oakley opened his eyes and curiously turned his head down to his hands. They were shaking violently and, though he couldn't explain his reasoning, they were still twisting the handkerchief violently. Something about this frightened him and he suddenly felt compelled to drop the handkerchief. He crossed his arms, agitated, and tried once more to relax. But right as he was beginning to fall into a light sleep, he heard the front door swing open and another older woman entered, clad in rich furs and a flamboyant hat.
"I'm here for my appointment!" she demanded, crossing to the desk.
"I'm afraid you missed your appointment, Mrs. Atwater," the young woman explained nervously. "But if you'd like, I could add your name to the list and you can have the next possible opening, after this gentleman of course."
Mrs. Atwater rapidly turned towards Mr. Oakley, who was silently praying that she wouldn't address him. She suddenly began to smile at him in a way that inwardly rattled him. "Well…" she said, removing her gloves. "This is simply frrrrrightful! I suppose I shall have to wait though, won't I?"
"Yes," Mr. Oakley thought to himself, watching her with contempt. "Believe it or not, you will have to wait like the rest of us."
"You know, if my husband were alive, he wouldn't stand for this type of treatment," Mrs. Atwater said, eying the young woman accusingly.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Atwater. If only you had been here ten minutes earlier."
"Well," she began, moving towards Mr. Oakley, whose stomach was beginning to churn with dread. "I suppose I shall have to make due… At least I'll have a companion." She patted his arm, giving him that same horrifying smile.
The smell of her perfume was beginning to increase the sharp pain in his sinuses. "Excuse me," he muttered, lifting his handkerchief and dabbing his nose once more. "I'm afraid that I must be allergic to your perfume. Would you mind-"
"Oh no! That's not possible, my dear boy!" she said, patting his arm with her heavily jeweled fingers.
"Yes, actually. It is possible. I don't do well with strong perfumes."
"No, my boy! You don't understand. It's lilac." He stared at her blankly for a moment before turning his head away with a poorly concealed groan. "Oh, you dear thing! You must be ill! Poor thing! Let me look at you!" At this, she grabbed his face and rapidly turned it in her direction. He stared back at her as she scrutinized him, feeling his fingers squeezing the handkerchief once more.
"I'm fine!" he said, pulling away and wiping the lilac sent off his face. "It's just the flu or something, I think."
"I had the flu very recently!" she began, waving her hands in front of him animatedly, nearly striking him several times. "It was simply exasperating! Not like the little trrrrifling colds that most people acquire this time of year." Every time she rolled her R's, he flinched in aversion. "I couldn't leave my home for nearly a week! All of my friends were quite concerned. Usually I meet them to play cards at some hotel. Only the best hotels, mind you." Apparently Mrs. Atwater didn't notice the fact that Mr. Oakley had been glaring at her for several minutes now, his expression growing darker the longer she prattled. His handkerchief had been squeezed and twisted so tightly, it could have been used as a rope… or a weapon.
He lifted his hands very slowly, unaware that they were making their way to the oblivious woman's throat. But before he lost all self-control, the examination room door opened, revealing Mrs. van Hopper. His eyes shot up towards her, a sense of happiness finally filling him. He was by no means pleased to see her, yet he knew that this meant he would be examined within a matter of minutes. He felt himself beginning to shiver and knew it would only be a short amount of time before he would require a place to lay down. He gently wiped a thin layer of perspiration from his forehead and closed his eyes.
"Oh, the poor thing!" Mrs. Atwater exclaimed, gently shaking his shoulders. "But don't fret, my dear boy! I'm sure you'll be looked to next."
He opened his eyes and stared at her, wondering what it was about that horribly shrill voice of her that compelled him to squeeze the life out of it with his bear hands.
"He's not all that sick, mind you," Mrs. van Hopper commented, sitting on the opposite side of him. "You see…" At this, she grabbed his face, scrunching his cheeks between her thumb and index finger. "He just needs to go outside more often! That's it, I'm sure. You can always tell when someone is really sick or when they're just overreacting."
"Perhaps," Mrs. Atwater said hesitantly. "But see here!" She snatched his face from Mrs. van Hopper's grasp and began observing him for herself. "His eyes are all red and terrrrible. You simply can't deny that!" Unfortunately, Mr. Oakley was feeling so weak at this point that he really had no choice but to allow these women to tug him about like a rag doll.
"Look at these gangly limbs!" Mrs. van Hopper demanded, lifting his powerless arm and shaking it mercilessly. "My late husband was twice as strong!"
"Perhaps he's not accustomed to physical exerrrrtion," Mrs. Atwater suggested. "Tell me, my boy. Are you a businessman?"
"I just want to see the doctor," he moaned weakly.
"Does that mean yes or no?" Mrs. Atwater asked, lifting his other arm.
He sighed pathetically. "Yes, I am a businessman. Excuse me. Nurse!" The young woman at the desk had gone to see the doctor and could be of no help to him.
"My boy, you're burning up! You really should take off your coat," Mrs. Atwater suggested, trying to tug his arm out of a coat sleeve.
"Yes, I'll admit that he is rather hot. Let me help," Mrs. van Hopper said, tugging at his other sleeve.
"Please!" Mr. Oakley snapped, a sudden burst of energy enabling him to leap from his chair. Before he could officially blow up at the old women, the nurse returned to her desk.
"Mr. Oakley?" she called.
"Yes!" He quickly crossed to her desk, trying not to think about the fact that the blood was quickly rushing from his head. "Is he ready? Is the doctor ready for me?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Oakley," she began. "But it's 12:30 and Dr. Fitzgerald will be lunching for the next two hours."
He stared at her for a moment in disbelief. "Can I see him after lunch?" he asked impatiently.
"No, I'm afraid his schedule is completely booked after lunch. This morning was the first slow period we've had here in two weeks. Let me see where I can fit your appointment…" She glanced down at the appointment book and flipped several pages. "Hmm. Will you be available to see the doctor on the…" She flipped a few more pages. "23rd of next month?"
Mr. Oakley was unable to speak for what seemed to be the longest minute of the young woman's life. "No, Miss. Somehow I think I'll be quite busy on the 23rd of next month!" He snatched his hat from a nearby chair and stormed towards the door.
"Oh! Mr. Oakley!" Mrs. van Hopper called out. Slowly, he turned around to look at his two biggest sources of contempt.
"May I help you?"
"Well, I can't help but feel that… Perhaps… You would have been able to see the doctor before his lunch if it weren't for the fact that I insisted on speaking with him about his poor choice of decorations in his examination room."
He stood in silence, digging at his hat, his bloodshot eye beginning to twitch. "Anything else?"
"No, that's all." She lifted her alligator bag from the chair and walked towards him, Mrs. Atwater following.
"Oh, Mrs. Atwater!" the young woman called. "Would you like to reschedule your appointment?"
"Hmm?" She turned back to the desk. "Oh, no, my dear. It was only a check up anyway. I really only came because I couldn't think of anything else to do. I'll call at a later date!"
At this, both older women turned and fixed their eyes intently on Charles Oakley, who had begun to rip his hat to shreds. Suddenly, a queer sort of grin began to form on his lips.
"Ladies," he began slowly, his voice oozing with charm. "Since apparently you two have nothing better to do with your lives…" He had debated whether or not he should say 'small, insignificant lives' but decided against it. "Would you care to have lunch with me this afternoon?" Both women began to squeal with delight. "Good, good. And what better place to eat than one of your homes, where it will be small… quiet… lonely… No one will be there but the three of us."
"Yes! I think that sounds marrrvelous!" Mrs. Atwater exclaimed.
"My hotel is only a short ways away. We could always have lunch served in my room. That way no one will be there to bother us," Mrs. van Hopper suggested.
"That sounds perfect," Mr. Oakley said, leading both women towards a cab.
"Oh! This winter weather is deplorable!" Mrs. van Hopper exclaimed, climbing into the cab next to Mrs. Atwater.
"I quite agree," Mrs. Atwater added. "I'm quite sure it will be the death of me!"
"No, I wouldn't say that, Mrs. Atwater," Mr. Oakley commented with a dark, devious smile, the strangled handkerchief woven between his fingers. "I assure you that the weather will not be the death of you. Either of you, for that matter."