By on Jan 7, 2014 in Fiction

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Starry background with superimposed eye and fetus

When the unearthly being made her acquaintance, Claudia Linstrom was beginning her first year of ob/gyn practice at Montbleu Women’s Center.

She had just finished four years of residency at Montbleu General under the tutelage of Dr. Raymond Pileggi, who was now, unfortunately, showing signs of dementia. Since being a child, she remembered wanting to be a “doctor for girls,” and now she felt assured that the field she had chosen was perfect for her. Occasionally, she had even fantasized about having a special mission to perform.

Soon after starting at the center, she rented a more spacious apartment just outside of town, the downstairs of an old Victorian, the back of which faced woods that extended for miles. She was relaxing after work on the small patio out back and sighing with pleasure at how everything had fallen into place, when her cell phone rang.

“Would you take Richard in for a while, Claudia, please?” asked her mother, who lived in Levittown. “Honey, I so hate to ask, but I need a break. I’m living on Xanax; my nerves are shot. He needs someone more forceful to make him take his meds.”

Her mother had taken care of Claudia’s brother alone for years. If her father were still alive, he would have insisted on Richard moving to a halfway house so they could have time to themselves. “We have a right to our own lives,” he would have insisted. But Claudia’s mother always felt guilty — for what, Claudia didn’t know. Was it her fault that her son was schizophrenic?

Claudia sighed. Any chance of living a normal life was now shot if she had Richard living with her. It was hard enough already to find romance or even time for a date with the hours and stress of her job. The last relationship she’d had was after college with a fellow med student, and that had consisted of fumbling quickies in hospital supply closets. Only once had they spent an entire weekend together. The man was now married and lived in Pittsburgh. Since then, friends had fixed her up, but nothing ever developed. Claudia would, she feared, spend her years alone, her job giving whatever meaning there was to her life. Once in a while, she sobbed herself to sleep.

“Well, drive him up, Mom,” she told her mother. “I don’t have time to come get him.”

She prepared what she had hoped would be her guest room to be instead her brother’s bedroom. A weight descended upon her. She loved Richard, but trouble was trouble.


That trouble began a week after his arrival.

“I am taking my meds!” he insisted.

For the most part, she believed him, since she herself administered the pills every day and not only watched him insert them into his mouth, but insisted on seeing him swallow. Afterwards, she checked the inside of his mouth. She had set him up with Dr. Nevin, a psychiatrist near Montbleu, and made sure that all of his records were successfully transferred.

But now every evening, she came home to someone she wished she didn’t have to. Agitation instead of the peace of her own apartment, empty as she had envisioned it save for a kitten or puppy happy to see her. Now, she’d have to cook a meal and listen to Richard’s wild imaginings or, if he wasn’t home, wonder if the police were going to arrive. Occasionally, Richard liked to wander off, dressed in bizarre outfits. But today, thank God, he was there to greet her.

“My favorite sis of all time!” he shouted.

She was so tired, all she wanted was a glass of Riesling, a handful of almonds and her sofa. That day, a patient Claudia had really liked had died on the operating table. She’d been forty-eight years old with twin boys just gone off to college.

“I’ll get your snacks for you,” said Richard excitedly.

She kicked off her shoes and settled onto the couch. “We need a pet around here,” she said.

“Yes, yes, we do,” agreed Richard, as he handed her the wine. For himself, he’d poured a glass of ginger ale. He wasn’t supposed to drink on his medications.

“What did you do today?” Claudia asked, though what she really desired was to lose herself in some TV crime drama.

“I had that visitor again!” Richard said.

“What? Who?” As far as she knew, Richard didn’t know any people around there yet. She was in the process of registering him in one of the psychiatric clinic’s structured day programs but had not yet heard back about the schedule.

“That man from woods! He’s a very, very strange man but quite nice, in spite of how he looks.”

She sat up straight, heart thumping unpleasantly. “What do you mean? I don’t know anyone who lives in the woods.”

“Well, he does,” said Richard emphatically. “And he says he wants to speak to you. I believe he has something important to tell you!”

“Richard, I don’t want you talking to strangers, especially not someone back there in the woods! If you just wait a couple of days, you’ll be in a program where you’ll make new friends.” She was so upset, she had somehow gulped down half the glass of wine.

“Well,” said her brother, “I can hardly be rude when he comes into the house, can I? What do you want me to do, beat him up?”

She stood up. “He comes into the house? What do you mean? I told you not to let anyone in!

Richard looked affronted. “Are you kidding? He just pops up anywhere he likes! I go into my bedroom, and he’s standing there! I go take a whiz, and there he is, standing in the tub! What am I supposed to do?”

She tried to calm down, be reasonable, humor her brother. “You said he is very strange in spite of how he looks, Richard. What does he look like?”

Richard broke out in a grin, clearly happy she had stopped freaking out. “Oh, you know, not normal.”

“Not normal how?” Her voice was taking on an hysterical edge.

He shrugged. “Well, not like regular people.”

She wanted to shake him. “Describe him, Richard!”

Richard cleared his throat and let several expressions cross his face. He was good looking by anyone’s standards, medium height and wiry with a firm jaw line, long-lashed gray eyes, a thick shock of black hair and expressive hands. Talking and waving those hands about, he looked like someone’s cartoon idea of an Italian. “Real tall,” he said. “Light blond hair, almost white. His skin is chalky, he might need supplements. His eyes are big and blue and nice, but his face is kind of weird.”

“How so, Richard?” He shrugged. “I don’t know, the chin is too long or something. His cheek bones are really jutty. But I don’t mind. It’s what’s inside that counts; you know Mom always says that.”

“And his insides are good? How do you know that?”

Richard smiled smugly. “I just know, silly. You know it, too, don’t you? Everybody knows that if they think about it.”

“Yeah, people who fall for con artists,” she snapped.

Richard’s face twisted. “Don’t you talk down to me. I’m older than you and don’t you forget it!”

She sighed and hurried to the kitchen to shakily pour herself another glass of wine.


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Margaret Karmazin’s credits include 140 stories published in literary and national magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Mobius, Confrontation, Pennsylvania Review and Another Realm. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Words of Wisdom were nominated for Pushcart awards. Her story, "The Manly Thing," was nominated for the 2010 Million Writers Award. She has had stories included in Still Going Strong, Ten Twisted Tales, Pieces of Eight (Autism Acceptance), Zero Gravity, Cover of Darkness and M-Brane Sci-Fi Quarterlies #2 and #4, and a novel, Replacing Fiona, published by etreasurespublishing.com.