Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Frenchman.

Mr. Staples wobbled alarming as he stood on the wrong side of the window.

“We just want to help you, sir.” Constable Dan Knebworth had seen it all before.

“I don’t want any help.” Bob Staples shouted back.

Bob’s eyes, white and terrified, rolled over and he took a quick look. Twenty-five stories, straight down.

“Can you tell us what the problem is?” Constable Janine Knox wanted to help. “Maybe we can help you with it.”

Bob looked down again.

“No one can help me.”

He seemed quite lucid, and he wasn’t ranting and raving, or threatening anyone. They might be able to talk him down.

“Well, at least tell us what’s going on.” Constable Knebworth was known for patience.

“You’ll just laugh, and say it’s nothing, but it’s not nothing.” Mister Staples, white knuckles visible as he clung there, shouted hysterically.

“See, now you’re not making any sense.” Knebworth kept trying.

“We promise we won’t laugh.” Janine was very empathetic. “Can you tell us what’s going on? Why are you doing this? Surely nothing can be that bad, why, there’s nothing so bad that you can’t deal with it…”

“Fuck you.” The subject was extremely upset about something.

“There’s still time to think about it. My name is Dan. Can you call me Dan? If nothing else?”

Mister Staples uttered a deep sigh, closed his eyes, and he was going to do it. At some risk to his own safety, Dan reached over and grabbed the man’s jacket, thankful that it was thick and strong and properly fastened.

“In you go, sir.”

Janine clung to his belt as he gave a good heave.


Once they had him in the hospital ward, locked in solitary for three days of observation, they had a brief chat with the senior nurse.

“He says he’s turning into a Frenchman.” Janine snorted. “He doesn’t look doped up.”

“Suicide attempt, eh?” Nurse Henrietta Endercott filled in a form. “Must be some deep underlying issues…”

“He’s all yours.” The pair of cops had done their duty.

Henrietta glanced at the clock and the reports lined up in a row on the countertop. Doctor Chickadee would be in momentarily.

In the monitor, Robert Staples was lying on the bed, on his left side. He was weeping. He had made no effort to resist, did not lash out with hands and feet, and in general was polite but upset.


“So, tell me your troubles.” Dr. Chickadee was a West African with the most cultured Oxford accent.

A pet phrase, one he stumbled upon just out of school. He had hung onto it ever since.

“Somehow, I am morphing into a Frenchman.” Bob was miserable.

“What makes you say that?”

“Listen to me! Look at me!”

“Well, a little bit of an accent maybe…” Dr. Chickadee’s admission came readily. “We’ve never met, so…”

“Look at all these gestures. I’ve never been to Quebec in my life!”

“I find that hard to believe.”

“You see! Now you’re doing it.” Bob was getting angry, with the red creeping up his face and neck.

“Okay, okay. So you are not French, then?”

“No!” Bob bellowed at him. “I’m not French, I have never been French, and I don’t want to be French! It’s not going to happen.”

“So you want my help.”

“No, I want you to kill me, you stupid bastard.”

“I see. That’s very strange, but you seem remarkably French to me…”

In a trice, Bob dove across the table and had his hands around Chickadee’s throat.


“He claims that he is an ‘Anglo,’ which is a word I have never actually heard used before.” Dr. Chickadee explained as best he could. “He was born in Toronto, but there are French speakers in Toronto.”

Dr. Pelman was reading about his parents, Robert senior, and his mother, Mrs. Betty Staples.

“These personality-displacement disorders are nothing new.” Doctor Davis Pelman was a mentor. “For some reason he can’t stand being himself.”

“On the face of it, he was having a pretty nice life before. Good job, wife and three kids. Nice home. He insists there was nothing wrong in his life and he wants it back, which is a good sign.”

“They are usually sophisticated enough to lie.” Davis had seen much in twenty-five years, as he went poring over every little bit of information in the file. “So your patient is six-foot one? Interesting.”


“In the original report he is listed as six-foot-one, yet my examination shows him to be five- eleven…it’s not unheard of to take a wrong measurement, but usually it’s the other way around—people turn out to be a half inch or an inch taller than the record.”


“Well…it occurs to me that the average height of a person living in France probably is somewhat shorter…but it probably is just a mistake. I mean you could never prove it, either way, to anyone’s satisfaction.”

Davis had an odd, disbelieving grin on his face, noted Chickadee.

Dr. Chickadee knew this was due to people slouching, for in some ways to be measured and documented was very demeaning to the average person. They were just trying to help them, and no one really liked it, but accurate records must be kept in order for the staff to cover their backsides in the event of a successful suicide attempt. Unkempt records were alarming to the liability insurance people and their lawyers.

“I’ll speak to the senior nurse about that.” Chickadee added to his case notes. “He says he thinks like a Frenchman now, and he says that he even thinks in French. But, in a nation where every product is labeled in two languages, he probably has some kind of subconscious database of knowledge. His pronunciation seems fine to me, but then, I don’t speak French.”

The other just nodded, studying the file.

“All right, I’ll take him on for a while.” Davis smiled in reassurance. “I don’t know how helpful I can be, but I will try.”

“Thank you. Honestly, I think he’s still a threat to himself and others.”

Davis nodded in appreciation of the facts.


Bob sat across the desk from Dr. Davis Pelman.

“Have you ever been to France?”

“Non!” Then his face flushed. “I mean, no.”

“Are any of your relatives French?” Doctor Pelman realized it sounded like a stupid question. “I mean like a grandmother, or some other relative by marriage?”

“No.” Bob enunciated very carefully.

“Are you sure?”

Bob let out a breath.

“I don’t recall anyting like dat.” He started turning beet red again.

“What are you going to do if we can’t help you?”

“You better be able to help me.” Bob scowled. “You fucking bastards keep me in here long enough…”

“Yes?” Doctor Pelman inquired politely, suspecting the answer before it came.

“I fuckin’ kill you.”


“Can you tell me what you had for breakfast this morning?”


“No, Robert, you know that’s not right.”

“I didn’t eat nothing.”

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Doctor Pelman was finding it hard going.

“That’s why I won’t eat it. I don’t want your stinking, fucking shit breakfast. I want to be me.”

“I admit the food isn’t too palatable, and it’s never very hot, but you really must eat something once in a while.” Doctor Pelman had concerns. “We’ll force-feed you if necessary.”

“I rather die than a be a somebody else. I bite you’re a-fuckin’ hand off. Tabernac.”


Dr. Chickadee and Dr. Pelman went over the case notes.

“Wow.” Doctor Pelman was definitely intrigued. “We’ve got ourselves a real humdinger here.”

“His weight has stabilized. Holy shit! His height is now five-nine?” Chickadee’s jaw dropped.

Davis Pelman nodded shortly.

“Fascinating, simply fascinating.” Pelman muttered. “Now, if you sort of asked me if one could prove the loss of height, in an otherwise physically healthy, otherwise normal male of thirty-seven…holy, crap.”

“We’ve been at it long enough. How about some dinner?” Davis had a good idea there.

Chickadee was single and Davis was divorced, and it was no big thing to phone up a chic local restaurant and make reservations.


While the Staples case was interesting enough to dominate dinner-table conversation, the pair talked about other subjects as well.

Doctor Chickadee realized just how hard he had been working and that he needed a night off once in while.

It was an enjoyable meal, in nice surroundings, such a change after the cafeteria! Or frozen dinners and stuff eaten off the coffee table.

The next morning dawned bright and clear. It was a fine day in the neighbourhood.

Stepping out to get the morning paper from the mailbox, he saw Mary-Ann, his neighbour.

“Hello, Doctor Chickadee.” She called over brightly, waving as she put the kids in the car.

“Bonjour.” Chickadee spoke the word, much to his own surprise, but she just gave him a happy look and went on with her business.

Yes, this patient was definitely getting to him!

“Oh, golly, I have been working much too hard.” Doctor Chickadee gave a Gallic shrug.


“Maybe it's infectious.” Doctor Chickadee was at a complete loss to explain it.

“Nonsense.” Doctor Pelman was firm.

He had to admit, it felt a little queer to examine a fellow physician. Although they all had other doctors on their patient lists, the people never seemed to come in for an appointment. It was like they feared periodic checkups by a fellow professional, but considering the stress of the job, maybe that was understandable.

“Nom de Dieu! What in the fuckin’ hell are we going to do?”

“I would like to know what causes this. In the meantime, we should take full prophylactic measures.”

“What does that mean?” Of course, Chickadee already knew the answer.


For lack of a better plan, Doctor Chickadee took a room after some persuasion, in the mental wing of their very own hospital.

Oddly enough, the Doctor had never spent any time in an isolation cell, and he was surprised by how hard on a person it was. Why, if he were to be kept in here long enough, he was certain that he would go mad, and perhaps even become violent. Thank Christ, but it was just for the overnight hours, and that they let him out during the day.

It shocked the doctor, the fact the place had no books, or magazines, or anything but one TV set for eighty people, a TV set inevitably tuned and then locked to the most mindless programming, stuff like Regis and Kelly, Heartland, and Fox News.

At some theoretical level, now he knew how abusive it was to place a person in there…it felt like punishment. He had to admit. People saying otherwise just sort of riled him up. When he got out, he planned to write a paper on the subject. If nothing else, as part of their training, doctors, nurses, and police officers really should spend a few days in there…it might smarten them up.

The worst thing was, that Doctor Chickadee continued turning into a Frenchman, albeit a black and very well educated one. But he was becoming a Frenchman nevertheless.


“I have good news.” Doctor Pelman regarded Chickadee.

“Oh, nom de Dieu.” The doctor turned patient was pretty desperate by this point.

Davis was silent.

“What’s the bad news?” Davis just lowered his eyes and looked at the papers.

“We think that you and Mister Staples consumed pate from a radioactive goose. You and a few others, actually.”

“Others?” Chickadee gasped in dismay. “How many others?”

“Everyone who had that fuckin’ pate, you know?” Doctor Pelman made a Gallic shrug and a gave a flounce of the head.

Doctor Pelman looked very sad.

“You were pretty fuckin’ hungry,” He answered Chickadee’s unspoken question. “I only had one little fuckin’ cracker!”

“Eh? So…?”

“Tabernac! With me, maybe it take a little longer, eh?” Davis Pelman’s eyes smouldered. “Moudzie! By gar, and I don’ like this one liddle beet.”

Mouth open, Doctor Chickadee stared across the table, rendered speechless by this revelation.

“What’r you gonna do?” Davis shrugged. “Maybe it’s only, like, temporary, eh?”

Upon this revelation, Doctor Chickadee slumped onto his arms, folded on the tabletop in front of him and put his head down and cried.


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