Joyland

The Midwest |

Happy Face

by Brandon Graham

Chapter 1: Perhaps a bit of an Overreaction For the hundredth time in ten minutes Flip cinches the terry cloth belt of his forest green bathrobe. He's convinced his belt is mocking him. He had considered changing into grubby clothes before starting his 'honey do'; but he knew none of his clothes would come close to fitting. He and his body were not on speaking terms. He had gained two or three pounds a week for each week of past eight months. It had finally gotten to the point that all he felt comfortable wearing were boxer shorts and this threadbare bathrobe, both of which were Christmas gifts from his wife.       Flip takes a wide stance and leans awkwardly over the paint can he's just placed on the old sheet he's using as a drop cloth. He breathes heavily at the mild exertion. His gut forces the belt loose again and his robe hangs open at his sides like impotent wings; revealing his corpulent, furry mid-section. He picks-up a putty knife and wiggles the corner of it around the gummy edge of the paint lid. Slowly the lid begins to pry loose. He cranks on it harder. The putty knife slips and the sharp point painfully gouges a chunk meat out of the heel of his right hand.       "Fuckin' figures!" His voice rises to a squeal. He flaps his hand, sucks at the wound, dances in place and flaps his hand a little more. He looks at the flesh divot hanging by a piece of skin and his blood welling-up thick and red. He pumps his fingers and watches the blood gather into a widening pool in the palm of his hand. Then he tips his hand up and lets the blood run over his wrist and drip onto the floor. He looks down where the red soaks into the carpet, just beside the drop cloth he'd been aiming for.       "Shit," he says. He wraps his hand in one of the rags Lynn left out for him. He ties it off using his teeth to pull the knot tight and then rushes a second rag into the hall bathroom and wets it in the sink.       Earlier that morning Flip had been happy to hear his wife calling his name.       "Flip," she said "Flip. You need to wake up." In his dreamy stupor her voice moved like a warm spring breeze gently caressing him with lilac kisses. He wanted to hold her and tell her how much he loved her; breath her in and hold her essence deep in his lungs. He reached for her and his hand came down on the empty pizza box he'd been sleeping beside.       "Flip," as he woke, it became clear Lynn was not a spring breeze. "Will you wake the hell up. It's nearly ten o'clock. Dylan woke me up at five-thirty because he needed me to wipe his butt. I've been up ever since. Sarah's in one of her moods and I want to throttle her." Through half-open eyes he could see she stood in the doorway of what used to be their bedroom. She didn't come in. Weeks earlier she'd started sleeping in the guest room in the addition and had slowly been moving all her belongings to that end of the house.       "Okay. Sorry. I guess I was up late again," he said. Flip had slept slumped awkwardly across the comforter, his neck torqued at a painful angle on the pillows he'd propped behind him as he watched the Tarzan Theater Marathon the night before. "Yesterday was a stressful day," he added. The truth was the previous day Flip had only ventured out of the bedroom long enough to take delivery of his Pizza Pizza; then he'd returned to the serious business of flipping channels. It was the only thing he felt good about doing.       "Do you remember three weeks ago when I asked you to please paint the office?" She didn't wait for a reply. "Do you remember that you said 'Sure honey. No prob.' and then you proceeded to do nothing?"       "Um-yeah," he said. He tried to sit up. His body ached and his head throbbed painfully. He rubbed at a sore spot on the back of his neck under his hairline. He wondered if he had herniated a disk.       "Well, two weeks ago, in an effort to encourage you--and not to nag or be impatient--God forbid I sound unsupportive, I paid Sarah and her boyfriend to help me move the furniture away from the walls. That way it would be easy for you to get to everything. Do you remember that?"       He remembered. He shifted around some more on the bed and pulled the TV remote out from the small of his back.       "Did you really need to pay Sarah and her boyfriend?" he asked, trying to change the subject.       "Well, yes."       "Did they ask you to pay them or did you volunteer to pay them?"       "What does it matter? I volunteered. I needed the help," she was annoyed.       "Yeah, but Sarah lives here rent free. I'd think that she could help out without you needing to pay her...And the boy should have refused to take your money. I would have refused if I were him. It's not right. Doesn't he have any pride."       She said nothing. Instead she crossed her arms under her once magnificent breasts and made her lips tight. Then she tilted her head as if to say All good points. But I find them somewhat ironic given your current situation. He knew she was right. He had known what she was thinking as he spoke. But it just got under his skin and he couldn't stop himself.       "My situation is completely different," he said.       "So the room was all ready for you last weekend," she ignored him. "But apparently the task of gathering the painting supplies was too taxing for you because you did dick around the house during the entire week. The kids were at school. I was at work. So I know it wasn't fear of interruption." She paused to give him a chance to argue. He had nothing to say. "So last weekend, in an effort to make it as easy for you as I can-short of moving your body through the motions needed to paint a room--I bought a new roller pad and paint pan; I bought blue tape and a new angle brush. I dug out drop clothes and old sheets and paint rags and I even found the leftover paint from the remodel and I placed it all in the office."       "I told you thank you," he said. He jerked his open robe closed over his lap and adjusted the belt.       "Yes. I know you told me 'thank you.' It was the most you'd said to me in weeks so I remember that you said 'thank you.' Her voice was getting progressively higher. He knew this as a bad sign.       "I've been having a tough time," he explained.       "Really? Have you? I hadn't noticed. Oh wait--is that the reason you've been completely useless for the past . . .what is it now? Six months? Because you had a touch of the blues? Flip--grow a pair, will you? Your family needs you to snap out of it." She was hissing the words at him in an attempt to yell quietly. She didn't like the kids to hear them disagree. As if the kids hadn't already noticed their relationship was circling the toilet.       "What do you want me to do? No one is hiring right now. I've networked and put in my application and paid for resume services and called in old favors. I contacted three headhunters. I don't know what else to do. The market is bad. No one is hiring right now. It's not my fault." He swung his legs over the side of the bed. He didn't look at her as he spoke. He noticed he was wearing only one black sock. "I looked through the want ads yesterday," he lied. "And there was nothing new. I've applied for everything."       "Do you understand that we are putting the house up for sale next week? We have an open house in nine days. That room has to be painted so we can move the furniture back. Your legs still work. The downturn in the market hasn't crippled you has it? You can still do some dishes or laundry can't you? You could help the kids with homework or pick them up from school. You could get outside and mow the yard so we don't have to hire that stoner boy from next door." He was certain the "yard work comment" was her way of calling him fat. She was so sickened by him she had moved out of their room. She said it was his snoring. But he knew it was disgust.       "That 'stoner boy' is named Kev and he is not a stoner. He's a drummer. I shook his hand and said he could have our business. I can't go back on a deal," his heart wasn't in the rebuttal. As he spoke he was aware that Lynn knew he hadn't actually paid Kev in a month.       She stopped hissing, threw her hands up and started screaming. "Fuck it. Look I've made arrangements for me and Mom to take the kids to the amusement park for the day so you can crawl out of your cave and do this one fucking thing for your family. Do it. Don't do it. Let your conscience be your guide. But if you don't get it done you need to find somewhere else to be." She turned and scrambled down the steps and yelled for the kids.       "I understand," he said to no one. He had sat on the edge of the bed listening to his family tromp across the kitchen floor and head out the back door. He'd heard the sliding door on the minivan slam closed. He'd heard his family drive away. And still he'd just sat. Until finally he wiggled his foot out of its sock and wandered into the bathroom to take a leak.       "Dab don't rub. Dab don't rub," he told himself as he leaned over the bloody stain. Lynn took housework seriously. And with the house going on sale the room needed to look impeccable when he was done. He was determined not to jack this up. Lynn was right. He'd been worthless.       This was one little baby step that could be the first step back to having some control over his life.       When it came to painting Flip had a system. First use a four-inch angle brush to cut-in along the ceiling and down the corners. Then cut-in along the baseboards and up the corners. Then slowly roll the spaces in between. He didn't use the tape. It was a waste of time. He just needed to go slow and steady.       It felt good to have a plan. He felt directed and motivated; once he had a plan successful implementation was a foregone conclusion. He'd earned a break. Food sounded good, but he was determined that tomorrow he'd wake-up lighter than he had been this morning. So he walked to the kitchen and looked for something healthy. The fruit basket only had bananas, and bananas weren't his favorite. So he looked in pantry for cereal. Lynn's Special K seemed like the best choice. He went for a handful of Lucky Charms instead. He let the desiccated little marshmallows swell with moisture in his mouth before swallowing. The Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream was calling his name, but he ignored it. He was proud of his will power. He figured that since he'd only had a fistful of cereal he could reward himself with a beer while he painted. So he twisted the cap off a Sam Adams, winced at the twinge of pain in his hand, and meandered back into the office.       He took stock of the job ahead. He imagined Lynn's glee when she got home and saw what a great job he'd done: the room looking fresh and crisp, all the furniture moved back in place. The kids would tell him how good it looked and Lynn would kiss him for the first time in a long time. Hell, maybe she would even invite him down to her new bedroom. This office would be his fresh start. The room had been Sarah's before the remodel. It was smallish for a bedroom but plenty big for an office. Sarah and that jerk she was dating had moved the desk, filing cabinets, and bookcases haphazardly into the middle of the room. So first things first: get a screwdriver and take the faceplates off the outlets and switches.       He took a long swig of beer and set it on one of the bookcases. He returned from the kitchen with a screwdriver and started on the switch plate next to the door. He placed the screw and plate on the desk and began to crawl around the room and take off outlet covers. His robe was in the way so Flip shucked it off and whipped it onto the desk. The robe's belt smacked his beer and the bottle glugged its contents onto the top shelf of books. Flip just stood a watched the foamy liquid do its damage.       "Perfect," he said. He picked up the bottle and pitched it in the kitchen garbage. He came back with a roll of paper towels and sopped up all he could. The books would always smell like beer. In a fit, he cleared the whole shelf with one sweep of his arm. An oversized, hardbound, self-help tome his wife had recently purchased for him fell directly on his bare foot. He hopped around among the damp books. "Fuck fuck fuck fuck," he said. He was pretty sure he'd broken a bone.       He limped over to the outlet he had already started, hunkered down on all fours and continued his circuit of the room. He noticed that something smelled sour. He wondered if there was a dead mouse in wall. Then he realized the smell was coming from him. He'd have to take a shower when he was done so as to better charm his wife. When he was finished with the outlets he went down to the basement to look for a paint pot. He couldn't find what he was looking for. Lynn must have thrown it out not knowing it was the perfect tool for this specific job. In the kitchen he found of piece of Lynn's Tupperware that would do the trick. He'd have to be sure and dispose of the evidence before she got back. Otherwise she'd be pissed. She loved her Tupperware.       He poured about enough paint into the bowl to make one trip around the perimeter of the ceiling. The paint was a warm beige; a little too pink. Flip tried to read the label but paint had drizzled over the printing. He decided to call the color "caucasian." He set the bowl down and came back a minute later with a step stool. He grabbed his angle brush and stood on the stool. He dabbed the tip of his brush in the paint and wiped it on the edge of the bowl. He felt cold. He was standing around in his boxer shorts for Christ's sake. He went down the hall to turn off the A.C.       He was still thirsty, and he'd spilled his first beer so he decided it'd be a good time to go ahead and have that drink. He stood in the kitchen and worked his way through the last Sam Adams. From where he stood he could see Kev and Kev's girlfriend lying out on the deck. They were shielding their eyes with bent arms and squinting at one another as they talked and laughed. The muscles of their firm little abdomens popped as they giggled. Flip absently picked something hard out of his belly button as he killed the beer.       Back in the office Flip mounted the stool, brush in hand, and laid the first line of flesh-colored paint along the top of the wall. He stepped down, nudged the stool along and stepped back up. About halfway around, his neck and shoulders started killing him. He needed to take something or he'd have a raging headache. He left the paint on the desk with the brush balanced carefully across the mouth of the bowl. In the hall linen closet he fished through half-empty prescription bottles until he found the muscle relaxant he'd been given when he hurt his low back the year before. He thought it'd be a good idea to take it with alcohol, just to get the full effect. He dragged a kitchen chair over and rummaged in the little cabinet over the fridge until he found some whisky they'd used for Irish coffee at their neighborhood Christmas gala. He popped the pill and knocked back some whisky. He screwed the lid back on but left the bottle out, just in case his neck and shoulders kept hurting.       In the office the brush had fallen off the bowl and left a huge paint blob on Lynn's desk. Flip leaned over to grab the damp cloth he'd used on the blood stain and his boxer shorts tore in the back. He felt his cold fleshy ass through the rip with the tips of his fingers. "Damn it all," he said. He snagged the rag and wiped at the paint. Most of it came up, but the wood grain had soaked up the pink hue and it wouldn't come out no matter how hard he rubbed it. There was no way Lynn wouldn't notice.       Flip stood on the stool and finished cutting around the ceiling. He'd done a decent job; could have been steadier, but not bad. He was feeling light headed from the paint fumes, or the drugs and booze. He set the bowl and brush down and flipped on the ceiling fan. He needed to give it a few minutes to air out before he got back to work. His neck still hurt. He rubbed it, tried to pop it, and stretched it side to side and front to back. In the bathroom he looked through the cabinet for aspirin. He found sleeping pills, Pepto Bismal, and sunscreen. He thought about searching through the linen closet again, but decided more whisky would be as good as aspirin. After dosing himself thoroughly and pouring more paint in his bowl, he started cutting in along the baseboards.       As he leaned over with his rump in the air he felt a draft. It was his favorite pair of boxer shorts too. He'd have to sew them. He wanted to ask Lynn to do it for him, but he doubted she'd be receptive. Maybe after she saw the room and he sexed her up good. She was always more agreeable after sex. Christmas night was the last time he'd gotten laid, and nearly the last time Lynn had been agreeable. But he couldn't blame her. The rug had been jerked out from under them.       Last Christmas Lynn had opened her gift from him last.       "What's this?" she said, giving the small box a little shake.       "Don't know. It's from Santa," Flip answered.       "How did Santa know I liked small presents?" she asked.       "Don't get too excited. It might be a lump of coal."       "I doubt that," she said as she tore the little silver bow off the top and went at the silver paper. "I've been a very good girl this year."       "Maybe Santa saves the best gifts for bad girls," he joked.       "Gross," Sarah said.       "What's gross?" Dylan asked from over his huge pile of fresh toys.       "Dad's being a perv with Mom," she explained.       "Gross," Dylan agreed. "What's a perv?"       "Don't listen to your sister Dyl. Just play with your toys," Flip said.       Lynn pulled the little black felt box out and held it close to her face. She pulled back the lid and gasped. Then she licked her ring finger and pulled her wedding band off. She slipped the new ring on and held her and out as far as she could. "I love it," she said. She crawled over and knocked him onto his back as she hugged him and planted wet smackers all over his face.       "Gross," Sarah had said.       Flip finished cutting-in around the floorboards without incident. He stood and stretched his low back; it ached. He surveyed the room, looking pretty good. He went in the kitchen and twisted the lid off the whiskey. He took a long swig. The hard part was done. It was all down hill from here. The clock on the microwave said 3:30. It had taken longer than he thought.       He filled the paint pan and got the roller ready. Then he started rolling the walls. The roller made its wet whir. He was cold again. He flipped the ceiling fan off, walked back and stepped right in the middle of the full paint pan. He lifted his foot and dangled it over the drop cloth.       Tendrils of paint made an action painting. He began to loose his balance and stepped right on the Pollack he'd just made and slid along in the paint slick. His other foot moved to keep him from falling and stepped onto the paint roller. It rolled under his weight and he fell gut first onto the paint pan. He lay there a long time with most of the air knocked out of him.       He could feel that the pan had cut his side. He worried he'd broken a rib. He got up on all fours and watched under him as the paint drooled off his soft sagging belly. He backed himself onto his feet and stood. Pink cold paint slowly rolled over the front of his boxer shorts. The baseboard was splashed with pink, the rug was soaking with pink, and his torso was dripping paint onto the tops of his hairy toes and yellowed toenails. This was horrible. This was what he was afraid of. This was exactly why he'd avoided this job for weeks. Disaster was an inevitable outcome to everything he tried to do lately.       Flip reached back to steady himself against the desk. His hand came down on the edge of the round-bottomed Tupperware bowl; the bowl tipped up and spattered paint onto the top of Lynn's desk. "Oh no," Flip said. Then he knelt down where he stood and cried into his hands for a long, long time, the edge of his bandaged hand leaving smears of paint on the stubble of his unshaven face.       When Flip was done sobbing he formed a new plan. First, he marched into the kitchen with his body still dripping paint and took long pulls of whiskey. After a few minutes he began to feel courageous. He made his way into the bathroom and washed down the bottle of sleeping pills with Pepto Bismal. It tasted worse than he could have imagined. He didn’t want that to be the last thing he ever tasted so he went to the freezer, dug around and stood at the sink pounding down Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream with an oversized serving spoon.       He realized he was drunk when he opened his mouth wide and poked himself in the left eye with the spoon. He wiped ice cream off his eyelashes and kept at it. He liked to finish what he started. Eventually he polished it off and left the carton and spoon in the sink. As he walked away his belly smeared paint along the edge of the counter and the door jam when he stumbled.       In the office he found the belt of his robe and made a noose in one end. His paint-spattered toes found purchase on the middle shelf of the bookcase and he teetered there drunkenly, periodically throwing out his arms for balance as he tried to tie the other end of the belt around the engine of the ceiling fan. When he was satisfied with his work he stuck his head in the noose and tightened it. He was ready.       He didn’t know what proper protocol was, but he assumed he should leave a note. He didn't know what he could say. "Sorry" was all he could come up with and it seemed like a lot of effort to go write a note that only said 'sorry.' Finally he realized it would be inconsiderate not to make an effort to explain his actions, so he dug his fingers into the knot and started to loosen it. Then he lost his balance and the bookcase half-full of self-help books tumbled onto the floor.       He dangled there looking up the short piece of terrycloth toward the ceiling fan. He was surprised the fall hadn't broken his neck; in fact the fall had made his neck feel better. He was also surprised he could still breath, and that the tips of his toes could just touch the floor. He was worried about the way the fan was cocked sideways over his head. It could fall and give him a nasty concussion.       Then he heard the garage door opening. His ass was cold. How embarrassing would it be for his family to find him hanging there dead with his boxer shorts ripped. He tried to reach around and close the gap. The movement caused Flip to twist slowly on-point and as he did his eyes drifted around the paint drenched room, at the floor and baseboards, at the trail of spatters and footprints leading in and out of the room, and at the half-painted walls.       House keys rattled at the back door and the voices of his children bickering came to him. He heard his mother-in-law’s voice too. He thought of the whisky bottle, the ice cream carton, and stench of beer. As the door came open his eyes finally rested on Lynn's desk and her Tupperware bowl.       "Oh Shit," he thought. Then he tried as hard as he could to be dead. Chapter 2: Doctor Scruffy Face       Flip’s nose is runny and he’s convinced he’s allergic to some spore that has leached its way through the floor from the flowers shop below. He wipes his nose with the side of his hand and snorts. Then he wipes his hand on his XXXL Hawiian shirt. It’s new. One of the purchases Lynn made on the way home from the amusement park. He is also wearing new khaki shorts from the Big and Tall men’s store. The clothes make him feel short and broad, like a tropical cinderblock.       Flip looks over at Lynn. She’s snapping pages of an Architectural Digest at the opposite side of the tiny waiting room. He coughs, clears his throat, and snorts again. Lynn refuses to look his direction. He drops the copy of Golf Digest onto the side table and cruises the room looking for Kleenex. There are none.       “What kind of shrink doesn’t supply his clients with Kleenex?” He says.       Lynn looks at him out of the top of her eyes, her face still aimed at the magazine on her lap.       Flip takes that as encouragement. “I mean, don’t you think with all the blubbering that goes on in this type of place he should have Kleenex everywhere? I think it shows a lack of consideration if not a lack of professionalism.” Lynn licks a finger and snaps a page. She exhales heavily and concentrates on reading an ad for designer replacement windows.       The “he” Flip is referring to is Dr. Hawkins. Flip has a deep dislike for Dr. Scruffy Face already. On the day of The Recent Unpleasantness, as Flip likes to think of it, after the ambulance arrived, it rushed Flip to the emergency room. His stomach was emptied with a combination of ipacack, liquid charcoal plunged through a nose tube that ran directly to his stomach, and some kind of medicine that emptied his bowels in a horrible and violent black-licorice-smelling rush. Then, because he was deemed a threat to himself, his wrists and ankles were strapped to the bed rails and he was kept under observation for hours while the doctor took his sweet time getting there for the mandatory psyccological assessment.       “You’ve had quite a day,” he had said as he looked through Flip’s chart.       “Yes,” Flip replied. The Dr. didn’t introduce himself or shake Flip’s hand. Flip felt insulted by that. Plus he was fit, youngish and fashionably un-shaven. This pissed Flip off.       “So what happened?” The Doctor asked.       “I woke up with a headache and took some medicine. Then I had a couple of drinks. I guess there was a bad reaction. That’s all; Just a flukey thing. I won’t do that again I can tell you.” Flip tried to gesture as he spoke causing his hands to jangle in their straps.       “Well, that is good to hear,” Said the Doc. He made some notes, dropped a fancy pen in the pocket of his casually rumpled lab coat and tucked the manila file folder under one arm. “Listen. I need to ask you some questions,” He started un-strapping Flip’s wrists. “I just want you to be honest with me. Then we can see about getting you out of here.” Once Flip’s hands were loose the doctor reached over and pumped Flip's hand once, hard and firm. Flip missed the Doc’s grip and ended up just getting his fingers squeezed. “I’m Doctor Hawkins. Good to meet you.”       “Doc. I appreciate your concern. But I’m super good. This was embarrassing. An I’m tired and hungry. Also my ass is raw and I need to get home. So if you could just, you know, hurry the hell up. I’ve been waiting here, tied up like a criminal for hours. I think those straps gave me a rash,” he said rubbing his wrists. Flip had more to say and Dr. Hawkins just let him talk himself out. “I would like to get home, be with my family,” he said finally.       The Doc leaned in close to Flip and said “I don’t think you understand your situation. You are under my care. If I think you are likely to attempt suicide again, then I will have you committed to an institution.” His breath smelled delightful.       “Well that is B.S. because I’m fine. I am not a criminal. I have rights. I’m fine. I’m getting out of here and going home.” Flip started to get up.       Dr. Hawkins put his hand on Flip’s chest and pushed him back into the bed. “You’re wrong Mr. Mellis. You may not be a criminal. But you have no rights. You gave up your rights when you stuck your head in that noose and tried to hang yourself. I will strap you down and leave you here until a space opens up at a long-term mental health facility unless you cooperate with me. Fully. I ask questions. You answer them. It takes as long as it takes. You cooperate and maybe you get to go home.” The Doctor didn’t remove his hand from Flip’s chest. Then he said “Do you understand the situation?”       Flip had just said “Yes, sir.”       A door opens and Dr. Hawkins is standing there. “Hello,” he says. “Mr. Mellis,” he nods once to Flip. “ And Miss. Mellis,” He nods again in Lynn’s direction. He doesn’t say MRS. Mellis. He says MISS Mellis. He gives her a slight smile. “Why don’t you come in and let’s get started.” He is dressed in slim slacks and a tailored sport coat all in soothing earth tones. His beard is exactly the same length as it had been at the hospital. His hair is wavy and thick and slightly unkempt in a devil-may-care, rough-and-ready-way that Flip pulled-off once when he was twenty-two, but has never been able to replicate. Doctor Hawkins continues to hold the door. Lynn stands up quick, flashes her long legs as she crosses the room and passes by the Doc closer than is necessary. The Doctor smiles at her again and watches her after she has passes.       “You should have some Kleenex in this place,” Flip says. He wipes his drippy nose on his wrist.       The office looks like a Room and Board catalog. There is a big wooden desk in a dark, rich wood flanked by many framed deplomas and tasteful black and white photos. They sit in comfortable leather armchairs placed in a circle and arrange equidistance apart. Dr. Hawkins crosses his legs at the knee and bobs is long, zipper-booted foot casually. “So, I would like to do this in two parts. First, though, how are you feeling today Flip?”       “Great,” Flip says. Flip’s ass barely fits between the arms of the chair, and he is holding a square box of Kleenex on what is left of his lap.       “Well good,” the doctor says. He nods thoughtfully and makes notes on a yellow legal pad with his fancy pen. He shakes the expensive looking watch on his wrist and checks it, then makes more notes. He looks at Lynn. “Is that true Miss. Mellis? Is Flip feeling great?”       “No,” She says. “He needs help. He won’t talk to me about what happened.”       “Why are you asking her how I feel? I just told you I feel great. Know why? ‘Cause I feel great; that’s why. I have had a good mornin . . . ah!” Flip opens his mouth, closes his eyes and sneezes loudly, spraying a fine mist of snot and saliva and knocking the box of Kleenex into the center of their circle. “Sorry,” he says. “That one snuck up on me.” He stands, pushing hard on the arms of the chair to get himself up. He bends deep at the knees, takes a wide stance and scoops up the Kleenex. Then he wedges his ass back in place and blows his nose more loudly than he intended. “As I was saying, I have had a great morning with my family. I’m feeling good. I think things are really turning around.”       “Okay, Mr. Mellis. Let me get back to what I started to say a moment ago. I would like to do this in two parts. First, I want to talk with both of you. I want to be certain you and Miss Mellis are practicing good communication strategies, I want to understand the conditions you will be returning to. Then I will speak with you alone Mr. Mellis.” He turned to Lynn. Miss Mellis?” he smiled encouragingly. “May I call you Lynn?”       “Of course,” she says.       “Great. Lynn, when I ask you how Mr. Mellis is feeling, I am interested in your impression. Clearly you care for him. You know him well. Your observations and opinion could be valuable to me. Plus Mr. Mellis, Lynn needs the opportunity to be heard. You need to listen to how she feels about you trying to take your own life.”       “It was just an accident,” Flip says. “And I know how she feels. We are married. Also you may call me Flip if you would like.” Lynn snorts. Flip gives her a look. Dr. Hawkins scratches at the legal pad with his pen.       “The point, Mr. Mellis, is for Lynn to talk to you about things in a safe environment in which she feels supported and respected. Lynn, I know from our conversation at the hospital what happened. I wonder if you have told Mr. Mellis how you felt when you found him?”       Lynn crosses her legs at the knee in a mirror of the doctor’s pose. She folds her arms across her chest and exhales. “I was scared,” she says to Dr. Hawkins.       “Good, Lynn. Of course you were. But you need to tell Mr. Mellis. Not me. Turn and face him. Tell him how you felt.”       She turnes to face Flip. “When I found you there I was scared. Frantic. I saw the mess all over the kitchen. I knew something was wrong. I was getting angry. I was trying to keep the kids out of the paint and set down the bags and keep my Mom from barging in because I was afraid of what she might find. And then when I turned the corner…” Her voice was getting higher and louder as she went. “I saw you there. With that belt around your neck. Twisting.” She was yelling, having trouble catching her breath, tears and snot her making her face slick. She sobbed and shuddered and held her hands over her face.       “Are you hearing this, Mr. Mellis?”       “Yes.”       “Why don’t you offer your wife a Kleenex, Mr. Mellis?”       Flip dropped the Kleenex again. He started to extract himself from the chair again, but the doctor was out of his chair and beside Lynn offering tissues, a comforting hand on her back, and speaking to her reassuringly before Flip had a chance to react.       “Okay Lynn. I know it’s been hard. I understand your concern for your children and your husband and your Mother. All the emotions of thinking your husband might be dead. Finding out he tried to kill himself. You’ve had so much to deal with. You’ve been so strong. It’s okay to let it out now.” The Doctor continued to rub Lynn’s back and speak soothingly as her breathing slowed and her tears subsided.       “Yeah,” Flip says. “It’s okay.”       Lynn sits up and gives Flip a cold look through red wet eyes. The Doctor returns to his chair and writes some more. Flip reaches his hand toward his wife. He wiggles his fingers so she will take his hand. She looks away and straightens her clothes, fluffs her hair with her hands.       “Lynn,” the doctor says. “Do you have anything you’d like to say to Flip?”       “I would like to say something,” Flip says.       “Let’s let Lynn finish, Mr. Mellis. You will have you chance in a moment. But your wife is making good progress here.”       Flip nods. He looks back at his wife. Lynn looks so beautiful. He loves her so much. He wants to make things right for her. He wants to get things back on track. He wants to tell her that right now. But he waits. He can see the doctor is right. She needs to talk.       “Flip,” she says. She blots the inside corners of her eyes. Then she gently wipes the tip of her nose. “I can’t deal with seeing you like this anymore. I can’t handle it. I can’t handle it and keep the family rolling. I just can’t handle it.”       “I know, baby,” Flip says.       “Shush,” she says. “Let me finish.” He nods again. “ I think you need to move out until you get your life together. I can’t take care of you, the house, the kids. It’s too much. I think you need to move out.”       “But,” Flip says.       “I have been thinking about this a lot. I talked it over with the kids. They understand.”       “What? Can’t we talk about this? I really think things are going to be better now. I really do.” He tries to stand and go to her but the chair still has him by the hips and he tumbles sideways onto the floor. He knee-walks toward her. “Don’t do this. Please. Not now. Please. Things are going to be better. I promise.”       The doctor sets Flip's chair back up. “Mr. Mellis. Please. Return to your chair. Let her finish. It’s her turn. You will have your say in a moment.” He tries to steer Flip by his shoulders. Flip pushes his head into Lynns lap and starts to blubber.       “No. No. No. No. No.” he says.