I was done now with my telling—or as much as I was going to reveal to Dr. Beckman for the time being.
The doctor paused and glanced at his watch. When I had begun my story, there was still time to spare in my appointment hour.
Now we were about to run over.
“I would say that you’ve suffered from a mild delusion,” Dr. Beckman said. “That’s my initial assessment, anyway.”
You think? I wanted to say. But I held my tongue. This was no time for sarcasm. Dr. Beckman was trying to help me, after all.
“Your delusions—if you’re not offended by that word—”
“It’s okay, Doc. I’m not offended. Say whatever words you need to use.”
“You have suffered from some delusions, but you aren’t delusional, if that makes sense. When you saw—correction—when you believed you saw—your co-op’s severed head atop your desk, you were able to recognize that you were having a hallucination. You were still capable of appealing to logic. And this is important, Steve. Because there is a logical explanation for everything.”
The standard retort of the evangelical skeptic, I thought. I was determined not to take an arch tone with Dr. Beckman, but I had to challenge him a little. I knew he wouldn’t even consider the notion that my temporary “delusion” of Madison’s head on my desk had any cause outside my own mind. But there was objective reality to consider, too.
The quarter. The quarter had returned to my desk. Inexplicably.
When I posed this question to Dr. Beckman, he smiled indulgently.
“Steve, you have to check your premises here. You’re making two assumptions. First of all, you’re assuming that that student co-op of yours wouldn’t defy your orders. Secondly, you’re assuming that your administrative assistant was being completely truthful when she assured you that she had been sitting faithfully at her desk the entire afternoon.”
I nodded. Those were, indeed, my working assumptions. Based on my experiences with Madison thus far, she would have sooner skipped naked through the halls of Covington Foods than placed the quarter on my desk a second time. And although Loretta could be a bit irascible on occasion, she had never lied to me.
“Have you considered the possibility,” Dr. Beckman said, “that you’ve misjudged both of these individuals? This Madison does seem to have a strong passive-aggressive streak. And your administrative assistant: Is she a smoker, may I ask?”
“Yes. Loretta is a smoker.”
“Well, there you have it. Loretta was probably out of the office on an unauthorized smoke break that she didn’t want to reveal to you. That gave Madison a window of time in which to enter your office, and place the quarter back on your desk.”
I said nothing. I didn’t agree with Dr. Beckman’s hypothesis, but I couldn’t disprove it, either.
“And this thing about the young man in the co-op area. You said you’d had some interaction with this same young man in nineteen seventy-six?”
“Yes. It’s been more than forty years, but I’m almost certain I saw him back then.”
“Surely you realize that that’s impossible, Steve. If he had been a young man in nineteen seventy-six, he’d be in his late fifties—or more likely his sixties—today. And if he truly is a young man today, in twenty eighteen, then he hadn’t even been born in nineteen seventy-six. He wouldn’t be born for around twenty years, in fact.”
Once again, I found myself unable to either agree with Dr. Beckman, or to logically refute him.
When I didn’t speak, Dr. Beckman glanced at his watch again.
“Steve, we’re about out of time, and I have another patient at the top of the hour. But I don’t want to let this go. So let me tell you what I want you to do.”
“Whatever you say, Doc,” I said—though I wasn’t quite certain about that.
“As you know,” Dr. Beckman began, “I’m just a general practitioner. I’m not a specialist on these matters. But I think I may be able to make an assessment that will tell us if we need to refer you to a specialist.”
“You mean a shrink?” I said. “A head doctor?”
“I mean a psychiatrist or a psychologist, Steve. Lots of people see them nowadays. They can often help. But before we get to that, I need more information. I don’t believe that we quite got to the source of your trauma in this visit. The root cause.”
Yes, that was true. And you wouldn’t believe me if I told you, Doc.
“I am therefore going to ask you to make a written account of what happened to you—or what you believe happened to you. Write it down, Steve. Write it all down.”
“I’ve listened to your story, and it’s plain that you’re harboring a deep trauma related to something that happened in the year nineteen seventy-six. That is a common element throughout everything we’ve discussed over the last twenty minutes—from the Bicentennial quarter on your desk, to your belief that one of Covington Foods’ student co-ops is a young man you knew in that year.
“If we can uncover your trauma from nineteen seventy-six, then we can get to the heart of what ails you…Or, I can refer you to someone who can.”
Dr. Beckman added a final word of explanation—or assurance. “Needless to say, Steve, this matter will remain strictly between us. It won’t be part of your Covington Foods physical. Your official biennial exam has already been closed out, and you’ve passed with flying colors.”
Dr. Beckman fixed his gaze on me, doctor-to-patient style: “Will you do this, Steve? Will you write that journal?”
I didn’t want to outright lie to him, so I answered as plainly and as honestly as I could: “I’ll give it serious consideration, doctor.”
“Please do. You can write it in any format. When you’re done, send it directly to my attention. You should have my email and my mailing address. If not, you can pick up a calling card at the receptionist’s counter on the way out. And don’t worry about other eyes reading it. Send your document to my attention, with the designation ‘confidential’. My staff won’t peak at it. They know better.”
“Thanks, Dr. Beckman. Like I said, I’ll think about it. Seriously think about it.”
“That’s all we can ask,” Dr. Beckman said.
As I prepared to exit the exam room, a final question occurred to Dr. Beckman.
“Oh,” he said. “What did you ever do with that quarter? Did you give it back to Madison?”
“No.” I hadn’t. I had spoken to Madison numerous times since that day. At no point had she given me any indication that she was expecting a rebuke from me, or further questioning about the quarter.
So I never mentioned the quarter’s return. Perhaps Madison was—as Dr. Beckman put it—passive-aggressive. I tended to think, however, that Madison simply didn’t know about the quarter’s second appearance on my desk.
“Where is the quarter now, then?” Dr. Beckman asked.
I knew exactly where the quarter was. The quarter was in my pocket. I’d been carrying it around with me since that day.
I had my reasons. If I discarded the coin a second time, and it inexplicably returned to me, that might be more than my sanity could handle.
“Actually, doctor, I have the coin right here.” I dug into my right pants pocket and pulled out the quarter.
Just then, a somewhat unusual thought occurred to me. But this had been a week for unusual thoughts.
I extended the quarter to Dr. Beckman on my open palm. “Here—take it.”
“Me?” Dr. Beckman asked. He nearly drew back. “But—why?”
“Call it a tip for the extra psychological counseling,” I said. “Or maybe it would simply be good for me to get rid of it… And there’s nothing for you to be afraid of, right? It’s just a quarter, after all.”
Dr. Beckman caught the implicit challenge in my words, and—to his credit—he rose to meet it.
“All right,” he said. A sly smile. “Why not? Maybe this will be one of the rare Bicentennial quarters that’s actually worth something.”
“If that’s the case, Doc, you don’t owe me anything.”
“Oh, you’re right about that,” he said. “I plan to research this quarter’s value on a numismatic website tonight, and sell it accordingly. In any event, though, I feel quite confident that no harm shall befall me, despite having this cursed, diabolical quarter in my possession.”
Dr. Beckman slipped the coin into his pocket.
And then I left. As I headed out, into the waiting room, I said a silent prayer that Dr. Beckman’s parting joke didn’t take a dark turn.
Now that I thought about it, I had ample reason to believe that the quarter was indeed cursed.