The Curmudgeon


Sunday, May 07, 2006

A Case of the Shrinks

A Tale

For some time Fingler had been in the habit of slicing into his forearms with a razor. The incisions, though ugly, tended to be superficial, and by no means threatening to life or limb, or even of excessive clearing up afterwards. In fact, no less than three psychiatrists prior to Dr Izbod had informed Fingler that he was suffering from nothing more severe than an excessive desire for attention.

Fingler, therefore, was somewhat taken aback one day when, having just drawn his blade across half an inch of hitherto pristine wrist-flesh, he saw two hands emerge from the wound and grasp the skin on either side preparatory to hauling their owner out. Here he came now: a tiny man, quite plump for his height, and dyed scarlet all over. He found it a fairly tight squeeze; Fingler felt distinctly the little legs kicking at the inside of his arm, desperately seeking purchase on the slippery bone.

At last, with a sort of squelchy pop, the homunculus heaved himself free. This occurred with such suddenness that he rolled halfway across the room before he was able to clamber to his feet and turn towards the astonished Fingler. There was something strangely familiar about the tiny face; but coated as it was with blood and bits of fluff, as well as being distorted with pain or irritation, Fingler could not hope to place the resemblance. Before he could think what to do next, the man shook his miniature fist in Fingler's direction and disappeared, squeaking with righteous indignation, underneath the sofa.

Dr Izbod, as ever, was no use at all. "Why do you suppose you should have seen such a thing?" was his first question.

"That's hardly the point," Fingler replied. "I don't even know what happened, let alone why it happened."
"Perhaps," said Dr Izbod wearily, "the two are interlinked."
"Fine," Fingler said. "The two are interlinked. A man, less than an inch tall but who I may have met before, climbed out of my wrist yesterday for no other reason than that it was in fact yesterday. Thus time and event are inextricably connected, the whole thing was inevitable since creation began, and that's all there is to it."
"You seem," observed Dr Izbod, "a little ill at ease. Your demeanour betrays a certain ... sarcasm."
"Sorry," Fingler said. "Obviously I haven't the least reason for sounding like that."
"There's always a reason."
"Even for midgets who climb out of razor cuts and then dash under the furniture?"
"Well, if not for the midgets themselves, then at least for claiming to have seen them."
"You don't believe me," Fingler said, "do you?"
"That really isn't - "
"Go on, admit it; you don't believe a single word I've said. Your careful use of the subjunctive betrays a certain scepticism. Tell me the truth, now."
"Whether or not I believe you," said Dr Izbod, "is not at issue here." He leaned forward, elbows scraping his virgin blotter. "I believe the time has come," he said, "for some frank parlance between us."
"Good idea," Fingler said. "Frankly then: you don't believe a word, do you?"
"Never mind that," said Dr Izbod. "Do you recall what we talked about in our last session?"
"Yes," Fingler said. "You informed me what a rotten time I've been giving you and said you wouldn't treat me any more."
"A highly subjective rendering, but nonetheless accurate in its essentials. You seek attention, Fingler, through self-inflicted scars, because you feel that life is insufficiently dramatic, fantastic, or interesting, and that people will fail to notice you unless you do something extraordinary. Faced with this truth, which naturally you find unpalatable, you take refuge in bizarre fantasies like - "
"You simply don't believe me," Fingler interrupted. "Just come out and say so, why don't you? I can take it. Lord knows I'd be sceptical in your position, given the lack of any tangible evidence ... "
"You have a new scar on your left wrist," Dr Izbod stated, with the air of a man making every effort to be strictly impartial.
"Of course, but what does that prove? If only I could have shown you the little fellow himself, he was only about so high, but he ran under the sofa, as I mentioned, and I just couldn't get hold of - "
"As I was saying," continued Dr Izbod heavily, "and as I intimated last time we met: as long as you persist in this behaviour I can see no possible way to, ah, to improve, as I remember you putting it, on the diagnosis of my learned colleague, Dr Gloak, who referred you to me, and I am therefore just as unable as he was to - " He broke off. "What is it, man? Why are you looking at me like that?"

Fingler's jaw had dropped open and his eyebrows were as one with his hairline. "Gloak," was all he said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Gloak," repeated Fingler. "That's who the little bastard reminded me of!"
"Rubbish, man," said Dr Izbod.
"I'm telling you the truth," insisted Fingler. "That's who it was! Gloak, of all people, clambered out of my arm and ran underneath the sofa. Damn! No wonder I couldn't catch him. Even when you haven't taken a bath in someone's blood, you doctors are a slippery lot."
"For heaven's sake, Fingler, get a grip on yourself." Dr Izbod reached for the telephone. "I'm going to cure you of this latest idiocy right away, and at no extra charge. I'm going to call Dr Gloak and ask him precisely what he thinks of this ... this stuff you're spouting here." He picked up the receiver, one eye searching Fingler's face keenly for the first hints of embarrassment, to be followed by hurried retraction and contrite apology for wastage of the doctor's valuable time. But no embarrassment was visible; Fingler was as interested as the doctor, perhaps even more so, in whatever Gloak might have to say.

A few moments after dialling, however, Dr Izbod hung up with a frown and tried again. Then he looked up the number in his diary and tried a third time before giving in. "Number's unobtainable," he said. "I wish Gloak had had the courtesy to inform me beforehand, and you can take that smug expression off your face this minute, Fingler. This means nothing, nothing whatever, do you understand? God in heaven, man, what are you up to now?"

His voice rose considerably as Fingler rolled up his sleeves and took the razor from his pocket. Flourishing the blade at the doctor like a hat pulled out of a rabbit, Fingler placed it to his own right wrist and slowly made the cut. He did it most carefully, partly because the razor was in his weaker hand and partly because the hand itself was trembling with excitement and anticipation. By the time he had finished, Dr Izbod was running round and round the blotter, shrieking incoherently. Fingler plucked him up and stuffed him head first into the new incision. He bandaged himself with his handkerchief and sauntered out, nodding happily to the receptionist on his way. Sooner or later, no doubt, the urge would come upon him again, and he would use the razor and be forced to let Dr Izbod escape. Sooner or later, no doubt; but, he thought with contentment, not for a little while yet.


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