“The doctor will be here in a moment, Mr. Cameron.” The nurse pulled the door behind her as she left, and I turned toward Tommy, sitting at the end of the examining table, his white-sheathed arms wrapped around himself in an involuntary embrace.
“What happened?” I said. My voice echoed in the bare room.
He looked down at his dangling feet, the only limbs still free. He moved them aimlessly as if he were sitting on a dock, cooling his toes in the water. He acted like he belonged here, like it wasn’t all a mistake. But it had to be.
“Tommy, what happened?” I repeated, with a bit more force than I’d intended. He didn’t answer. That used to be his way of getting at me—acting vacant, giving me a “Duhhh…” when he didn’t feel like answering. Now, he wasn’t kidding. He was sitting at the edge of that table like an idiot—so help me, that’s exactly what was going through my mind—my older brother looking like the village idiot. I took him by the shoulders of that awful jacket and said, “Tommy, tell me what is going on!” He looked at me—an unfocused, distant stare—and then he looked away.
I felt someone’s hand on my shoulder, and heard a soft voice say, “Mr. Cameron, why don’t you join me in the next room?”
It was a thin, severe-looking, middle-aged woman with black hair pulled tightly back in a barrette. On her coat was embroidered in cursive writing, “Dr. Landis.” She was the man in the white coat, I thought. The one who comes to take you away.
We stood behind a one-way mirror and watched Tommy from the other room. I couldn’t shake the sensation that all this really wasn’t happening, that sooner or later I’d wake up. I’d call tom and we’d laugh about this dream. I touched the glass in front of me. It was solid.
Tommy went back to watching his feet. The doctor must have been standing back here before, observing my brother and me like two bugs in a jar. She had probably been sizing me up, too, diagnosing me.
“Could you please take that jacket off him?” I said.
“Yes, we will,” she said. Her voice was a low whisper. “He doesn’t seem to be a danger to himself anymore.” She stood behind me, the two of us peeping through the glass at Tom. “I was hoping that you might be able to elicit a reaction,” she said.
I was going to ask her what happened, but before I could ask, she began to tell me. Tommy had called the crisis center shouting, she said, shouting that something was about to happen. When the operator asked what he meant, Tom said something like, “I just need some talk-back!”
“Talk-back? What is that?” I said.
She didn’t know. She thought I might know. She waited, then continued. After he said this, he accused the operator of not wanting to listen to him, and dropped the receiver, leaving it off the hook. When the paramedics got to his building he was on the roof, sitting out on the edge of a cornice, dangling his feet, just as he sat now on the examining table. According to the rescue team, when they pulled him back to safety, he flailed and resisted, but he didn’t say a word.
The doctor stopped talking. I felt like screaming at Tommy, “Cut it out!” but with that glass between us, my words would have only bounced back to me, unheard. The doctor, standing at my shoulder, resumed speaking in her low tone, telling me that it might have been an isolated incident, but then what about his unresponsive state? Had he been acting erratically? Had he been depressed? No, no, I said. I couldn’t think. The last thing I heard her say was that they’d keep him there for observation, and then I stopped listening.
Pulling out of the dark parking lot I passed the “St. Mark’s Hospital” sign, and I thought of the directions Annie and I gave people who were driving to our house for the first time. We used this place as a landmark. “Turn left at the loony bin,” we always said. Ha ha.