The Out Patient

Ingrid turned out to be a little dark person, compact and almost ruthlessly clean, as if she used some abrasive kind of soap. She spent her time pacing from window to window in the apartment at the Center, tapping on things with bloodless fingers. When she was still, she read: a novel by Muriel Spark, a crisp, slightly bitter book. Not at all the sort of thing Margaret liked.

By degrees, Margaret was realizing that she had anticipated a very different sort of outpatient: a woman older than herself, cowed by years of marriage, gentle and clinging and not especially intelligent. She would be up for a little television, a little Reader’s Digest or Home Beautiful. Perhaps they would discuss, over tea, the less distressing items in the newspaper. Between diversions, she would simply get on in a quiet relieved way with the business of convalescence. And Margaret would be able to go home each night feeling generous and satisfied.

In connection with Ingrid, it was hard to feel any kind of satisfaction.

“Would you like some tea?”

“No,” said Ingrid. “Do you have any cigarettes?”

“Sorry.”

She got up from her chair. “How soon do you think they’re going to let me work?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“It doesn’t matter.” She looked at Margaret for what seemed like the first time that afternoon.

“Did they tell you I failed art college?”

“No.”

“I did.”

“Why?”

Ingrid bit her nails. “I got sick.”

“Do you think they would take you back?”

“No.”

“Could you apply to another –?”

“No, I said.” Ingrid strode to the window and leaned hard on the sill. “It was a blessing, to be honest. Most of what went on there was bullshit.”

“What kind of artist are you?”

“A painter.” She went back to gnawing her nails.

“Are you still painting?”

“Fuck you, Pollyanna.”

Margaret felt her soft little hands clenching into fists.

“You must be a great artist,” she said.

“Why’s that?”

“Because you’re an asshole.”

In the kitchen, the clock ticked audibly. Ingrid regarded her without expression.

“I think it’s against the Code of Conduct to call patients assholes,” she said.

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