Pagliacci

My own take on the Western myth of “Clown goes to Doctor”

 

The doctor gazed into the mirror at the man he no longer knew. Splashing ice-water onto his face reminded him, though, that his feet were still planted on firm ground. He could practically smell the funeral in his breath, but that fateful day was still months away.

“It’s damn aggressive, Thomas. It’s metastasized beyond your lungs and liver, and even if we were to . . .”

The messenger’s voice grew small. Insignificant. Once more, Thomas was a young boy, holding his grandmother’s hand as they walked through the garden of marigolds and primrose, laughing at the clumsy bumblebees, listening to the old woman’s lullaby.

 

I’m just a kid again,
doing what I did again . . .

 

He grew impatient holding his hands under the air dryer. Wiping them against his corduroy pants, the doctor left the bathroom to see the very last patient of his thirty-nine-year career.

He knocked twice on the door and entered.

“Joseph Tristero? I’m Doctor Mortimer,” he said, extending his arm for a handshake. “Nice to meet you.”

“Oh . . . hi. Nice to meet you.”

“What brings you in today? I’m seeing here . . . fatigue?” The doctor sat on the rolling chair, flipping through the pages of Mr. Tristero’s medical history.

“Yeah, Doc. I just . . . always feel sick. Everything looks gray. I ache all over . . . sometimes, it’s difficult to speak . . .”

“How long have these symptoms been present?”

“Months, Doc.”

“Alright. Fever? Cough? Chills?”

“No, none of those.”

The doctor wasn’t a psychologist. Many years ago, when he began his studies, he saw the Woodstock crowd flocking to Psychology in droves. Before his mentors’ eyes, the discipline became a pseudoscience begging to be rendered obsolete. Sure, he had considered it. To cure invisible ailments which cripple the mind, he thought, is a remarkable thing. Yet, a general practitioner of medicine he became, relegating the shrinks to a lonely corner of absurdity as age stalked him in the dark.

“OK. No vitamin D deficiency? I’m not seeing anything like that here . . .”

“No. Not that I know of.”

“Alright. That very well could be the issue here. Winter is right around the corner. We’ll take a blood sample, and send —”

Tristero shook his head. “No needles.”

“Oh, the staff here is experienced, and you won’t feel —”

“No needles. It isn’t Vitamin D, Doc . . .”

Somehow, as if the entire world was suspicious with therapists’ peculiar remedies and the cleanliness of the leather couches which furnish their offices, Dr. Mortimer received patients, almost daily, whom required psychological counseling. He learned to shut up, check for vitamin deficiencies, and take their co-pay. This Tristero, though — he was the last patient the doctor would ever see before the sandy Long Island dirt was thrown on top of his pine coffin. Mortimer had no children, no wife. His marriage lasted three years. Beth cheated. Twice. They sought counseling, but she was gone six months later. He didn’t cry. He signed the papers, watched television, and went to bed. Yet his interaction with Tristero had weight. It had purpose, although it could’ve been anybody sitting on the treatment table. In this respect, he was connected more to a total stranger than his own wife. Death is a strange matchmaker.

He gingerly set the medical records aside, next to the sink, below the cabinets.

“It’s rough, kid.”

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s rough out there. Especially for you young guys. The world isn’t the same . . .”

“. . .”

“I don’t have the tools to properly diagnose you. But I don’t want to send you elsewhere. Do you have a wife? Kids?”

“No.”

“Well . . . regardless, it’s a beautiful night. I suggest you get outside. Go to the boardwalk. See the carnival lights. Maybe the ocean is still warm at this time of the year. I wouldn’t know. I haven’t swam in ages. Eat a hot dog. In fact . . . what’s his name? The great Pagliacci, ‘the Teller of Jokes, the Merrymaker of Men’. That’s his stage name, at least. Last of his kind. Fantastic comedian. He’ll be performing at eight o’clock, on the dot, in the circus tent. It’s late in the year, but they still have it up. I think I’ll be there tonight. You may enjoy the show. Maybe you’ll meet a young woman. Join me, if you like. I could use the company.”

“But, Doctor,” Tristero confessed, “I am the great Pagliacci, the Teller of Jokes, the Merrymaker of Men.”

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