I don't know what was going through my head when I did this one... It came out good, I think. I like it, at any rate. Sort of a narrative essay from a fictional point of view. The woman isn't supposed to be me, I don't think, but who knows. I like the old lady in the waiting room. Please review.

oooOOooOOooo

ISSUES

As I walked down the long, white hallway, I could hear the clicking of shoes and the squealing of wheels in desperate need of oiling. The walls around me were mayonnaise-white and there were little brown signs at every intersection with arrows pointing out the way to places like the Patient Lounge and the Medication Office.

The nurse who walked in front of me carrying my clipboard was short and thin. Her brown hair was up in a little ponytail and she wore no makeup. Her white, rubber-soled tennis shoes were silent on the white and blue tiles.

"Right this way," she stated, turning the corner at the sign that said "Evaluation Office." She spoke quickly, snapping her mouth shut at the ends of her sentence.

The nurse pulled open a heavy-looking brown door and stood aside, motioning for me to enter. There was a desk with a secretary, a small window with thick, black bars, and a row of low, hard plastic, brown chairs with an old woman sitting in one of them.

Jabbing one corner of the clipboard at the first chair in the row, the nurse commanded, "Sit here."

Fighting back the urge to tell her that I wasn't stupid and I could see the chairs very clearly, and figure out what to do with them, I sat in the one she pointed at, my body ridged with anger and annoyance. Hopefully this meeting would finally clear this whole mess right up.

"Nancy Fielding is here for her appointment with Dr. Lancaster. Two-thirty, her chart says."

The secretary, who'd been typing furiously, looked up at the nurse. "He's still in with a patient."

"Can you watch her then? I want to get a cup of coffee before I have to go back on Annex Four."

"I have work to do."

"She's quiet. She won't do anything. Just five minutes."

Reluctantly, the secretary said, "I guess so. But only five minutes."

Already out the door, the nurse called back, "Thanks, Barb."

Listening to them, I was furious. They were talking as if I wasn't even there! Or as if I was some stupid person who couldn't understand them! I clenched my fists against the arms of the chair I was sitting in. Glaring around the room, trying to find something to focus on to calm myself down before my meeting, I found myself looking into two glassy, crystal ball eyes. I was startled to realize that the old woman who'd been sitting in the low, brown chair was not only staring at me, but that she'd moved so she was in the seat right next to mine.

The time I'd spent in that place had taught me that having as little conversation as possible with these people was the best way to get through the day, so I ignored her. I stared intently at leg of the secretary's desk.

Several minutes passed. The nurse did not return and the doctor did not open his door. I relaxed a little, slouching slightly, my attention sliding down from the desk leg to the patch of blue tiles on the floor beside it.

The woman who had been staring at me since I sat down finally spoke. "Why are you here? What are your issues?"

I looked at her. "I don't have any issues," I snapped.

She smiled benignly. "You can share one of mine if you like. I have plenty."

"Thanks, but I think I'm all set." I went back to staring at the blue tiles.

The woman continued to stare at me.

Annoyed, I asked, "What?"

"Nothing. It's just odd to see people in here who don't have issues." She leaned towards me, cupping her hand by her mouth so no one would overhear as she whispered loudly, "I don't think you'll quite fit in."

It would have been a relief to find someone who agreed with me if it weren't for the fact that it was an old, white-haired lady wearing paper slippers and an institute-issued dressing gown. I simply stared at the far wall, wishing there would suddenly be an earthquake and that a ceiling tile would fall on my head.

Just as I seriously began to consider hitting the old woman, Dr. Lancaster's door opened and he walked out, followed closely by one of the other ladies who lived on Annex Two.

"Hi, Nancy," she said, smiling vaguely.

"Hi, Petunia," I replied flatly. I would have ignored her, but I learned early on in my stay that doing that only made her angry. Petunia was prone to fits and they weren't very pretty.

"Barbara, will you page Eleanor and let her know Petunia's finished?"

The secretary picked up the phone, then covered the receiver with her hand. (I couldn't help but stare at Barbara's long, bloody fingernails. Not bloody, I had to tell myself. Blood-red. I never liked nail polish.) "Nancy's here for her appointment," she said, as if he couldn't have seen me sitting there.

Dr. Lancaster turned to me and smiled. In a broad, friendly voice, he said, "Hello, Nancy!"

I stood up. "Hello, Dr. Lancaster." My words were clipped, like the nurse's.

"If you'll just step right in here and have a seat, I think we can have a talk."

Walking into the office, I wasn't surprised to see that little had changed from the last time I was in there. It was still decorated with mauves and deep blues. There was a fat reading chair squatting in the corner by a tall floor lamp. The bookshelves were packed with double layers of books bound in blacks, blues, and greens, their gold lettering gleaming in the sunlight that streamed in through the only unbarred window in the building. At the far side of the room was a grand desk with wooden organizers full of pencils and paperclips, and various colored date books scattered across its top. In the middle of the mess was a picture of a small boy who was holding up a puppy, laughing. In front of the desk was a small, uncomfortable, wooden chair with a thin cushion and a high, unpadded back.

I glanced over my shoulder to see if the lounge was still against the wall by the door. It was. Dark red with a little pillow and a thick, green throw, the couch looked very out of place with the wooden furniture through out the rest of room. When I had first visited Dr. Lancaster in his office I asked if I should lie down on it.

"Oh, no, don't bother. I don't use that for my patients."

"Then why do you have it?" I had asked, my frazzled nerves unable to take anything else that didn't make sense.

"It makes me feel like a 'real' psychologist," he'd explained with a laugh.

Seeing it still in its place, looking as untouched as it did the first time I saw it, amused me. I sat in the small wooden chair.

"Well, another review here already? Has it been six months?" Dr. Lancaster sat in his seat, sliding away his date books and photograph so he had space for his pad of yellow legal paper.

"No. It's been seven," I said tersely.

"Seven? Time does go by."

"I imagine it might for you."

Looking at me from his side of the desk, Dr. Lancaster's casual features formed into the blankly compliant expression he always wore when it was time to get down to business. Oh, he did look agreeable when he wanted to, but that didn't fool me. I knew he was going to play hardball again.

"You seem upset about something," he began.

I tried not to laugh. "Yes, I am. I'm here. I think that's reason enough, don't you?"

He studied me for a moment.

I glowered back at him.

Sighing and leaning back in his chair, Dr. Lancaster rubbed his eyes. "Nancy, you know why you're still here."

"Because you won't let me out," I answered sharply.

He peered at me, all traces of compliance gone. "Do you know why I won't sign your discharge papers? We went over it last month at your family conference."

I knew exactly what he was getting at. Once a month Dr. Lancaster met with each of his patients and their benefactors. It was sort of a student-parent-teacher conference where he gave a report of goals attained. At my previous one he'd preached, falsely, about my abhorrent behavior, noncompliance to rules, and inability to maintain proper social habits until my parents were nodding their agreement that I was far from ready to leave. He was a tricky man, convincing my poor parents that I needed to be in that place just so he could get their money.

But I wasn't as gullible and trusting as they were. I shifted in my seat, crossing my arms over my chest, staring at him defiantly.

"You have not reached any of the goals that were set for you. You've been here through three reviews and you're still on your original goal sheet. Before I'll even entertain the thought of releasing you, you'll have to put some effort into this."

"I have been putting in effort!" I snapped.

Calmly, he marked something on his legal pad. I hated it when he did that.

"Have you been going to your group therapy sessions?"

"No."

"That isn't showing effort."

"I don't need them!"

"Then humor me. Go and talk about your childhood pet."

"It's a waste of my time."

Dr. Lancaster sighed again.

I could imagine how frustrated he must of have been. It would be terrible to be that stupid. We'd only had this very same conversation a dozen times. I couldn't see how he didn't understand the point yet.

"You're an intelligent woman," he started. "But you have unresolved matters that are severely interfering with the way you proceed in your life. That is why your family chose to admit you. If you do not show some effort at trying to get better--"

"How can I try to get better when there's nothing wrong with me?"

He raised his voice slightly and amended, "You have a social disorder. If you do not show some effort at trying to get better, you will be here for a very long time." He enunciated his words as if he was speaking to a stupid child who didn't understand him.

The way he spoke made me so mad that I had to grip the arms of the chair to keep from loosing my temper.

"Can you understand that?"

I leaned forward, still clutching the chair. "I do not have 'unresolved matters,'" I hissed. "The only 'matter' I have in my life is you."

"Nancy."

I could tell he was very close to being angry with me. And for no reason at all other than his own stupidity.

"You set fire to your office cubical."

"It was an accident."

"You have been arrested for assault several times."

"They provoked me."

"And you have a problem with owning your actions," he stated pointedly.

"I do not."

Dr. Lancaster rubbed his eyes again, then looked at me. In a firm voice, he said, "I'm denying your request for discharge. We can go over all the details of why, but I think you already know them."

Seething, I glared at him with as much hatred as I could muster. My nostrils flared as I breathed in deeply, buying time to plan my next move.

Dr. Lancaster looked back at me calmly. The little bit of exasperation he'd started to show was gone and once more he was the compliant doctor, just trying to do the best thing for his poor, pitiful patient.

The longer I looked at him, and saw the way he looked at me, the more angry I became.

"I think our meeting is over." His voice was calm and light.

I opened my mouth to argue, but I saw the compliance leave his face and I knew he meant it. I could stay and try to make him see what a mistake he was making, but then I'd get in trouble. They didn't like people who understood the way the good doctor thought. How he liked to take advantage of people.

I stood and stalked to the door. He was on his feet and close behind me.

"Go to your meetings," he said, his hand on the doorknob so I couldn't open it and leave before he had his final word. "Take your medication and behave, and we'll see where you are in six months. You could be out of here now if you really wanted to. You know what you have to do. You just have to do it." He was trying to sound helpful.

"Thank you, Dr. Lancaster," I sneered. I could see between those good intentions and caring words. He wasn't going to fool me.

Opening the door, Dr. Lancaster walked me out to the sitting area. "Barbara, please page Ray and tell her Nancy's finished."

The secretary picked up the phone.

The old lady was still sitting in the chair, her vacant smile fixed on her pale, wrinkled, plastic face.

I sat a couple seats down from her to wait for the skinny nurse with the short, brown hair and quiet, rubber-soled tennis shoes.

The old woman turned to me. "Did Dr. Lancaster help you find your issues?"

"I don't have any issues," I snapped.

The woman smiled sadly and shook her head. "No, dear, you won't fit in here at all."