“Would you mind terribly much if I asked you to stop eating those meal worms in my presence? It’s the crunching, you see. The shattered corners, the kaleidoscopic shadows that lunge and retreat. They’ve put me off my own meals and my weight, or so my sisters tell me, is so dreadfully low. I really must start eating again.”
Alyss spins a lock of hair around her left index finger. It’s not her hair. In fact Alyss is quite without hair at the moment. Her sisters, the dears, have volunteered considerable locks of their own and have had it all fashioned into a wig of sorts. Not a proper wig, not fitted. More of a mat that Alyss must tie securely beneath her chin. The twine is flesh colored, dyed with ocher from North Worthingham, one in the same as the providers of fine porcelain clay, so it blends well. Some say it can hardly be seen at all, the twine beneath her chin, that is.
Doctors Smithson and Bowery sit in dueling leather highbacks and while Smithson, older, with great landscaped sideburns, takes notes, Bowery, younger, with a twitch of a mustache and somewhat droopy eyelids, snacks incessantly on tiny biscuits, crackers really, that resemble Her Majesty’s crown jewels, some octagonal, others diamond shaped.
“Meal worms, Alyss?” Bowery swears he chews as quietly as possible, however, Alyss has, more than once, requested he cease.
“Hedgehogs love them,” she says, adjusting her partially brunette, partially blonde wig.
“Rightly so, rightly so.” Doctor Smithson comes equipped with his own echo.
“But,” Bowery begins as he inspects the cracker he holds before his face. “This is not a meal worm, and I am not a hedgehog.”
Alyss titters into her frail hand, the right one, previously idle. “Doctor Smithson, is Doctor Bowery unaware of his current physical condition? One would think that with so many mirrors here in your office that he would have caught a glimpse, you know, of his beady eyes and darling, prehensile nose.”
“Prehensile, hmm. Prehensile nose. Yes, I see.” Smithson jots down three words, and then six more for a total of nine words. “And Alyss,” He uncrosses his legs and, with elbows to knees, leans in to hear her answer. “What, pray-tell, am I?”
“Oh, dear. Has everyone neglected their medication today?” Alyss leaps up as if unsprung and begins to shuffle, left foot forward like a cantering horse, around the patient’s settee. Upon her forth revolution she quits for her wig has slipped down to cover her face. With it shifted back into place, she spins around scanning the room remarking that she now realizes there are no mirrors at all in the office. “But, how do you comb your hair and tie your ties and press away the wrinkles from around your eyes?”
“Alyss?” Smithson continues to wait for an answer.
“Yes, Doctor? Oh, of course. You asked Alyss a question and she, I, failed to provide an adequate response.” Alyss returns to her seat and now attempts to smooth the pleats in her periwinkle-blue dress. “However, now that our discussion has drifted into that purplely bog where my brother was thought to have vanished, I… Um, I… Oh!”
She claps her hands loud enough to startle Bowery whose hand has been burrowing into the biscuit jar, thereby sending the whole affair onto the carpeted floor where, though remaining intact, the contents of the jar explode like a party favor—one of Alyss’ favorites.
“A badger,” she cries aloud. “You’re a badger. A doctor badger, Doctor Smithson.”
“A badger? A doctor badger, indeed. I can see how you might…” Smithson strokes the furry shrubs beneath his ears.
“But don’t badgers eat hedgehogs?” Bowery looks up from crawling about on all fours picking up crackers and returning them to the jar. Every fifth selection, however, he pops into his mouth.
“Oh, don’t eat Doctor Bowery, Doctor Smithson.”
“What? What? Of course not.”
At the psychiatrists’ door, a knock, like a thick headed woodpecker, comes as Bowery finishes his clean-up. Mrs. Freeble enters without leave and stares suspiciously at the droopy-eyed Bowery still on the floor.
Alyss’ eyes flash in surprise. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Magpie,” she says with a bow. With the motion, Alyss’ wig slips off and lands upside down over top of a missed cracker. As she scoops it up, her bald head gleams in the gas-lamplight that burns in sconces positioned at the center of each wall.
Mrs. Freeble gasps at the sight of Alyss’ naked pate.
“Won’t you come in,” Alyss invites.
The woman wears a black nurse’s gown with a white apron and turned up white sleeves.
Alyss gives herself a warm embrace and performs a pirouette. “A magpie, a badger and a hedgehog, what a lovely party we’re going to have.”