Polly don't need your cracker...
Tucker slows the old mustang as the massive ornate gate looms larger. He rolls to a stop, the engine rumbling down to the familiar throaty idle the brand has made famous. He stares at the bronze plate on the gatepost. It reads simply;
He can imagine the old sign. It likely said lunatic hospital or residence of the crazy or criminally insane. But that wouldn’t do anymore. Bat shit crazy still existed of course. Nobody knew that better than Tucker, or Tuck as he was more often called. This wasn’t because he preferred it. He suspected it was simply that most people couldn’t be bothered with two syllable names. Wasted time that would cut into television watching or social media scrolling. He wondered for a moment if he was too damn cynical to be a psychiatrist. It wasn’t what he had imagined in his youth. It was what he needed though. If only to understand himself.
There is no visible camera, no button on the gate or for drive up use, but Tuck is certain that someone knows he is here. It’s not a pleasant feeling, knowing that somewhere, someone is watching you, evaluating you, inspecting you from some hidden observation point. They are in fact analyzing you to determine if you are worthy of entry. If he were strapped down in the back of an ambulance they would no doubt have already swung the gates wide, but since Tuck is here in his own vehicle, of his own accord, he must be subjected to inspection. One mustn’t allow unregistered crazies access.
Tuck sweats, the back of his neck bristling. He is suddenly aware of every movement of every part of his body. He shifts slightly in the seat and wrestles for control of his senses. He shouldn’t have hit the bong at the roadside stop he made for gas. He thought he was farther away and would have plenty of time to discard any associated paranoia. Indeed, it had made the drive on the winding road through the fantasy like forest an adventure he appreciated, but now, as he came so close to the interview that might change the entire trajectory of his life, he would much prefer the dull wit of normalcy.
The sudden creaking as the heavy metal gate begins it’s cumbersome withdrawal startles him. The gate splits in the center and rumbles to the left and right, seemingly being eaten by the trees that form a fence stretching around the entirety of the property. Tuck eases the car forward, then stops abruptly, stricken by the idea that as soon as he moves between the massive gate panels they will switch direction and crush him. He curses his irrational fear and mashes the gas, sprinting through the gate with a squeal of tires.
Here, on the other side, Tuck feels like Dorothy breaking from the woods and into the poppy fields, her destination gleaming in the distance. He reminds himself that Dorothy falls asleep trying to make it across the fields, and only the asbestos snow effects are able to wake her. But the sun shines bright on rolling fields of green, almost as if some heavenly artist had made a dramatic stroke of the brush to limit the tree line. Dark, almost suffocating forest, to immense swaths of green rolling field, all separated by a single imposing gate. Tuck thinks again how easily that gate might have crushed him. He shakes the thoughts away.
The drive ahead descends in long graceful turns into a valley, and the sunshine burns away his sense of dread. Tuck unconsciously hums as he descends the hill.
“You’re out of the woods, you’re out of the dark, you’re out of the night,
Step into the sun, step into the light.”
Almost five minutes later, Tuck exits a long slow curve and finds himself gazing down at the institution. It is much larger than he expected; as big as a large state run facility. The drive begins a loop at the bottom of the hill, running one way around a bright blue pond that reflects the upper portion of the buildings’ soaring center tower. The grounds landscaping is dramatic and impressive and at present is being meticulously groomed. Gardeners tend to an array of bushes, shrubs, and flower beds. A teenager rides a small mower around the immense lawn. Tuck sees no others mowing and the enormity of the task strikes him as impossibly odd. The young man would surely be in perpetual motion to maintain the large property with this single piece of equipment, and yet the lawns were immaculate.
Tuck is unsure where he might be expected to park. Two small lanes lead off from the circle and wend their way to the back of the building on either side. The available parking in the small lot between the lake and the buildings portico seems painfully small for such a large facility. His question is answered as he follows the curve around to the front of the building and spots a well dressed man smiling and waving him on, indicating he should simply park under the archway. Tuck wonders if this might be the very person who inspected him unseen as he sat at the gate. For some inexplicable reason, the man makes him nervous. “You’re a trained fucking professional for fuck sake.”, he mumbles to himself. “You can do this.” Nevertheless, he ignores the mans direction, passing under the portico and turning into the small lot next to the lake. He takes the only open space there, relieved there is no sign of it being reserved for the handicapped or otherwise. He faces the building entrance from this spot and notices the man that had waved him in is quickly walking toward him. Tucker takes a deep breath, counts to 3, and lets it out slowly. He gets out of the car and stretches his legs.
The approaching man looks to be in his mid fifties Tuck guesses. He’s a slim man with a wispy weak mustache that goes well with his thinning hair. He is smiling broadly but Tuck suspects the smile is the result of some barely contained nervous energy. The man seems to almost vibrate. He holds a file in his left hand and extends his right hand to Tuck while still a dozen paces off, approaching rapidly. “Dale Nichols” he says, his hand almost comically stretching even further. “You must be Mister Tucker.”
“Maxwell” Tucker replies, “Tucker Maxwell”. He firmly grips Dale’s hand and gives it a firm shake.
Dale frowns, releases Tuck’s hand and looks at his file in confusion. His mind races. He had seen the name. Shit, he had been reviewing the file for the umpteenth time even while waiting for the car to arrive from the gate. He needed this to go right. He could feel that terrible sense of spinning already starting deep in his stomach. He knew it began as soon as the man had ignored his parking instruction. Tuck’s voice cut through the building fog of his thoughts and stopped his descent.
“Tucker is my given name. Maxwell is my surname.” Tucker had found his sweet spot and his voice was firm, calm, and natural. As always happened, his fears and doubts fell away when he was engaged in whatever the source of trepidation had been. He wonders for a moment if this is the man he is supposed to interview with or an escaped patient that managed to steal his file.
Dale’s worry disappears with the confident and assuring voice. His face lights with delight. All is well in his world again and his eyes practically beam. “Ah, so Tuck, is it?”
“To my friends.”
“Friends, yes, of course!” Dale replies. “I certainly hope we can become that. Friends, I mean.” Dale gestures for Tuck to follow and sets off back toward the building at a much more relaxed pace. “I was starting to worry you wouldn’t get here today. There’s a bugger of a storm moving in.”
Tuck glances at the sky and is surprised to see it has darkened considerably. Heavy dark clouds roll closer from the east. Normally very much aware of any change to his surroundings, he mentally chastises himself for his inattention.
“Did you have any problems finding us?” Dale asks, turning his head slightly to peer at Tuck, to his right and a step or two behind.
“None at all. I used Waze.”
“It’s a GPS app that gives directions.”
“Ahh, I see. I don’t use those. Too many horror stories about those things leading people into lakes.”
Tuck smiles. It’s a slightly crooked smile that women in particular have found deviously charming. “I don’t close my eyes when using it.”
“Well, no, of course not.” Dale replies, obviously missing the gist of the answer. “That would make it even more prone to accident wouldn’t it?”
Tuck made a mental note that Dale was just the sort of person who would in fact drive into a lake because a device instructed him to.
Making their way under the portico and approaching the deep set doors, Tuck is again impressed by the scale and architecture of the building. He suspects the clientele, or their families, are likely in the ‘upper crust’ of society; that is to say, rich. Tuck had already completed almost 3 years as an intern in two different New York institutions, one public and one private. He knew Shepard was a privately funded facility and expected it to be nicer than the sardine processing plants that passed for public facilities, but this was much grander than expected. He imagined most patients here were seeking rest and relaxation more than therapy. The thing is, in such cases, the rest and relaxation is for the one paying for the treatment, rather than the one receiving it. What better way to deal with a problematic relation than soothing your own conscience by providing the best of care for them. The irony of becoming a psychiatric doctor was not lost on him when he had these thoughts.
The doors slid open before them with a swift whoosh as they approached. Dale glanced over his shoulder to make sure Tuck was still following. He shared a quick grin and subtly nodded toward a hallway veering left from the entrance lobby. “Follow me and we’ll get you situated.”
Dale increases his speed, as if the floors somehow energized his feet. Tuck had to quicken his own pace to keep up. He wished he could take in more of his surroundings. The lobby looked like that of a grand hotel rather than a medical facility. Two young women manned the circular front desk and Tuck saw both of them checking him out carefully. Behind them a floor length window overlooked an exposed court with a pool and tropical landscaping. The feeling he was at an exclusive resort intensified. Dale had begun to again examine the file he carried, his eyes focused on the papers within. Be careful not to drive into a pond, Tuck thought.
On this floor at least, there were few doors. Instead there were wide hallways and in places, archways into larger areas. Tuck managed to identify a library area, a game room, and a gym area as they passed by quickly. Replaying the proceedings thus far, Tuck wondered exactly what getting situated might mean. It sounded like he already had
the job. He had never been invited to ‘get situated’ at an interview
before and for just an instant he thought maybe Dale was a patient here.
“Eight years in special forces!” Dale said, stopping abruptly and looking back at Tuck with questioning eyes that ran over him as if to discover if this was a possibility he had only just discovered. Tuck stops short, narrowly avoiding a collision. It is unlikely we will ever become good friends, he thinks.
“Anger issues” Tuck says simply.
“Resolved I hope” Dale responds, a note of suspicion in his voice.
“Mostly.” Tuck deadpans. Dale, unsure, studies Tuck’s face for a long moment before smiling and turning to the first real door they have encountered along the hallway. “Mostly” he repeats quietly. “That’s a good one.” He opens the door and enters.
Tuck follows him inside the massive office, noting the signage engraved on the door; “Dale Nichols “, and below that, “Administrator”