Showing 71 - 80 of 142 annotations contributed by Miksanek, Tony
Doctors Everett and Mimi Menlo are psychiatrists living in Toronto. The married couple sleeps in separate beds. They vow never to work as a team or in the same medical facility. Each doctor is deeply troubled by a patient who refuses to communicate. For Mimi, it is Brian Bassett, an eight-year-old boy with autism who eventually dies under her care. For Everett, it is Kenneth Albright, a hospitalized patient with severe paranoid schizophrenia who has attempted suicide four times.
Kenneth's dreams were once complex and intriguing but lately they lack detail and variety. One morning, he is found covered with blood but has no signs of injury. Despite a thorough investigation, it remains a mystery as to whose blood it really is. Following that strange occurrence, Everett experiences insomnia, but he is reluctant to admit the cause to Mimi. She worries that he might be having a nervous breakdown.
In truth, he fears dreaming. He has recurrent nightmares of a bloody Kenneth kneeling next to the bodies of strangers. Everett suspects that Kenneth has placed these corpses in his dreams. Everett finally tells Mimi about his nightmares. He shocks her with the revelation that Kenneth Albright has genuine bloodstains on his clothing and hands every day even though he is still confined to the psychiatric ward. There is only one spot Kenneth can escape to--dreams. After their conversation, Mimi falls asleep and dreams of Brian Bassett. She wakes up and finds Everett in the bathtub. His pajamas are saturated with blood. Mimi promises Everett, "I'm waiting here . . . until we both wake up" (596).
The physician-narrator recounts two unsettling house calls made three decades earlier when he began his medical practice in a remote part of Virginia. The doctor is asked to see Alan Jordan at the request of his wife, Judith. They live with their son and three elderly female relatives in a deteriorating house on a secluded estate known as Jordan's End. The Jordan clan is notorious for marrying their own relatives, but Alan wedded someone outside the family.
Judith is beautiful, and in the doctor's eyes, ethereal. Alan's infirmity began 3 years ago with brooding and melancholy but has now progressed to episodes of withdrawal alternating with agitation. A renowned psychiatrist from Baltimore evaluates Alan, deems his condition incurable, and recommends institutionalization.
Mental illness and insanity--the result of heredity and inbreeding--seem to affect all the Jordan men. Alan's grandfather and two uncles are in an asylum. His father died in one. After the narrator examines Alan, he gives Judith a bottle of opiate medication to help ease her husband's restlessness.
The doctor is soon called back to Jordan's End. He finds Alan's dead body in bed covered by a linen sheet and notices that the full bottle of medicine he left only two nights previously is now empty. The doctor cannot decide whether or not Judith has killed her husband nor does he really want to know.
Joseph takes a lengthy journey on a strange train to visit his father who resides in the Sanatorium. On the way, he meets a fellow with a swollen face who wears a tattered railwayman's uniform. That man eventually vanishes from the train. When Joseph arrives at his destination, he is informed, "Here everybody is asleep all the time" (115). The Sanatorium's physician, Dr. Gotard, provides a confusing explanation about the condition of Joseph's father. From the perspective of the natural world, Joseph's father is already dead. As a patient in the Sanatorium, however, time is manipulated for him. The past is reactivated allowing for the remote chance of recovery (or at least existence in a type of limbo).
During his stay, Joseph sleeps with his father since no other bed is available at the Sanatorium even though he suspects they may be the only two guests there. He discovers that his father--pale, emaciated, and nicely dressed in a black suit--has two different lives. In the Sanatorium, the man is moribund. Outside the facility, he is vibrant and runs a small cloth shop in a peculiar nearby town. Joseph finds himself "mortally tired" [p 125] and often overpowered by sleep.
A ferocious watchdog guards the Sanatorium, but up close Joseph notices that it is not a canine but rather a man (or perhaps a dog in human guise) so he unchains the creature. Feeling an urgent need to escape his situation, Joseph races to the railroad station where he boards a departing train. He is convinced he will never see the place again. Joseph makes the train his home. Nonstop travel becomes his future. Joseph now has a swollen cheek that is bandaged. He is attired in a worn out railwayman's outfit. When he is not wandering on the train or dozing, Joseph sings and people lob money into his hat.
An overthrown Latin American ruler, Mr. President, is exiled to Martinique. The 73-year-old man develops a peculiar pain in his ribs, lower abdomen, and groin. He travels to Geneva, Switzerland in search of a diagnosis. After extensive medical testing, he is informed that the problem resides in his spine. A risky operation is recommended to relieve the pain.
The President meets a fellow countryman, Homero Rey, who works as an ambulance driver at the hospital. Homero schemes to sell an insurance plan and funeral package to the sick man, but the President is no longer wealthy and lives frugally. He is reduced to selling his dead wife's jewelry and other trinkets to pay the cost of his medical expenses and operation.
Homero and his wife, Lázara, grow fond of Mr. President. They provide financial assistance and care for him after he is discharged from the hospital. The President returns to Martinique. His pain is unimproved but no worse either. He resumes many of his bad habits and considers going back to the country he once ruled, only this time as the head of a reform group.
Things could hardly get much worse for Joseph. The family business is being liquidated. The former servant girl is rumored to be dead after the boat carrying her to America sinks. Depressed Uncle Charles suddenly decides to move in and then refuses to ever leave the apartment. Worst of all, Father is dead. Joseph's dad had been "dividing his death into installments" (174) so it is not exactly a shock when Joseph's mother finds her dead husband jumping on the stairs one day. Father has been reincarnated as a crustacean!
Despite his metamorphosis into a crab, Father's resemblance to his former self is remarkable. He spends most of his time scurrying all over the apartment but never misses joining the family at mealtime even though he does not eat along with them. On numerous occasions, Uncle Charles attempts to squash Father, but in the end it is Mother who decides to do in the crustacean--death by boiling. After weeks of occupying a plate in the sitting room, Father somehow resurrects himself. All that remains on the dish where his swollen body once lay is a single shredded leg buried in hardened tomato sauce.
Vitamin sales are so low that Patti is presently her own best customer. She peddles multivitamins door-to-door along with co-workers Sheila and Donna. All three women are despondent. The man who lives with Patti is the narrator of the story. He has a menial job at the hospital. Patti accuses him of not caring about anything. The narrator frequents the Off-Broadway, a club where he can drink and listen to music. He is physically attracted to Donna and takes her there on a date.
Two drunken men, Benny and Nelson, invite themselves to join the couple in their booth at the club. Nelson is an intimidating figure who has just returned from Vietnam. He is vulgar and propositions Donna. Nelson carries a "keepsake"--a human ear attached to a keychain. He removed the ear from a Vietnamese man.
After leaving the club, Donna admits she could've used the few hundred dollars that Nelson offered her in return for sexual favors. She plans on quitting her job and moving. When the narrator returns home, Patti is having a nightmare. While he searches for some aspirin, objects keep falling out of the medicine cabinet but the narrator realizes that he doesn't really care.
Two couples drink gin and discuss the meaning of love. Mel McGinnis, a 45-year-old cardiac surgeon, does most of the talking. As an example of bona fide love, Mel describes an elderly couple he treated in the hospital. They were severely injured in a motor vehicle accident and, despite great odds, managed to survive. What bothered the old man the most during his lengthy recovery was his inability to simply look at his spouse.
Mel’s wife, Terri, provides her own case of real love. She previously lived with a man named Ed who professed his affection for Terri the entire time he was beating her. After she left him for Mel, Ed attempted suicide--first by ingesting rat poison and later by shooting himself in the mouth. Terri insisted on being in the room when Ed died.
The other couple at the table, Nick (the narrator) and his wife, Laura, also think they know what true love is, but they have difficulty articulating its essence. After the gin has finally run out and the room gets dark, Nick is acutely aware of the sound of his heart and everyone else’s too.
Lloyd moves out of the house after a serious discussion with his wife, Inez. He rents a small place for himself and tries to limit his consumption of alcohol. Unfortunately, Lloyd continues to drink three or four bottles of champagne a day. About two weeks later, Inez pays him a visit. She needs to speak to him about money and other things.
That same morning, Lloyd wakes up and realizes his right ear is plugged with wax. He experiences difficulty hearing and trouble with balance. To no avail, Inez attempts to remove the ear wax with a nail file wrapped with tissue. She next instills warm baby oil in Lloyd's ear, and after awhile his hearing returns.
While Inez is still there, she comes across an open bottle of champagne that Lloyd has hidden in the bathroom. Inez decides she will return some time to have a talk with him. After she leaves, Lloyd sits on the sofa and watches television. Although it is the middle of the afternoon, he is wearing pajamas and drinking champagne straight from the bottle.
When Ben Nowak reached the age of fifty, his primary care physician for the past fifteen years, Dr. Ellen Parrish, began performing annual digital rectal examinations on him. Ben is still embarrassed by the female physician checking his prostate gland. He finds the younger Dr. Parrish attractive and available. She divorced her husband because the man was abusive.
Dr. Parrish's office receptionist happens to be the wife of Ben's friend, Jerry, who works at a landfill and brings home cases of expired beer. Once, Jerry found a dead newborn baby in the landfill. Dr. Parrish informs Ben that his prostate has gotten larger. The tests she orders come back "inconclusive" so additional tests are done. Ben concedes that he might have prostate cancer, but rationalizes that things could be "a hundred times worse" (29).
When his second set of test results are normal, Ben grasps that it is likely a temporary reprieve; he is only fine "until the next time" (34). He drives to the site of an illegal dump. The trunk of his car contains ten cases of expired beer (courtesy of Jerry). At the dump, he proceeds to drink one bottle of beer from each case and smashes the other twenty-three.
When a cousin is scheduled for major surgery, Richard and Joan Maple volunteer to donate blood. They have been married for nine years. During their drive to the hospital, the Maples argue about Richard's behavior at a party. The intern who performs the phlebotomy is clumsy and rough. He needs three attempts to successfully insert the needle into Richard's vein.
Richard and Joan occupy beds at right angles during the procedure and their blood is taken simultaneously. While watching the blood flow from his wife's arm, Richard experiences deep tenderness for her. An elderly man arrives and chats with the intern. Because Richard has never donated blood before, the three others in the room (Joan, the doctor, and the old man) all expect him to faint, but Richard never does.
The Maples have lunch afterwards. When the check arrives, Richard discovers he has only one dollar in his wallet. He and Joan must both pay. That's how marriage usually works.