Stranger than fiction

March 8, 2011

Here’s this week’s writing workshop exercise… Influenced by a patient… Just a little…

The most terrifying person in the world was named Dora. The first time Anton heard Dora was in 2003. Her voice came to him, first as a soft whisper – seductive and breezy. She loved him like a son, she cooed. He would make her daughter Lila so happy, if only he would agree to marry her. But Anton did not want to get married, and the longer he resisted the angrier Dora got. Her cooing changed to a brassy nag, until, after years, it became loud and angry and shrill. When things were at their worst, she yelled at him, “Go Fuck Yourself!” and “Why don’t you just walk into traffic, you son of a bitch?” Through tears, she screamed, “How could you do this to us? To Lila! You’ve dishonored our whole family! I hate you I hate you, go rot in hell.” By the time Anton was released from prison, he was terrified of Dora. She would not be silenced. He needed quiet.

In prison, Anton listened to other men – murderers like him, or rapists, or drug dealers – talk to the air. If he closed his eyes, it reminded him of what it was like to ride a public bus years ago. Half-conversations. Whether they were men talking on their phones or men talking with their minds, didn’t make much of a difference to him. Besides, the only alternative was to have his own conversation with Dora’s horrible voice, which would cry that he had ruined her life and he should kill himself.

The psychiatrist listened while Anton described Dora. They sat in the interview room, a closet with a mirrored wall (clearly for observers on the other side).  The doctor’s facial expression did not change. He nodded. He spoke slowly. His voice sounded soothing like a folk singer’s. He wanted to know about Dora

“Does she sound like anyone famous?”

“Yes.” Anton said hesitantly. “She sounds like Betty White from the Golden Girls. She has a southern accent sort of.”

“Mhmmm,” said the doctor, never losing eye contact. “And, tell me Anton, when Dora talks to you, where does it sound like she is standing?”

“Behind me.”


“Did they tell you I was raped six hundred times in jail? Did they tell you I got HIV from the showers in there?” Anton blurted angrily. He was tired of talking about Dora. She hadn’t bothered him for 3 days, and if he talked about her, she would come back. He knew it.

“Yes, you told me about that yesterday. Anton, we tested you for HIV, and it was negative.  Do you remember when I explained that? I’m sure prison was very difficult for you. And, I’m so sorry if you ever suffered while you were there,” he sang. The psychiatrists’ ballad was the same everywhere: in jail; in the county hospital; and now, in this forsaken transitional program. Their relentless empathy never ceased to annoy him.

“So, you were telling me about Dora.”

“I already told you.” He said flatly.  He was ready to leave.


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