“So he decided to proselytize it” Malcolm said to her with both hands in his pockets and wild eyes. “He traveled around, absolutely sure that he was doing the right thing, and he would perform his surgeries for free. Then he gave a lobotomy to JFK’s sister, Rosemary.”
Malcolm Steadman had just seen his file.
“And he did it with little more than an icepick.”
It was break time, and once again Karen found herself beside the man she had somehow come to call friend. She had no Taser in her pocket that day. It had been a full week since she last thought to carry it. She listened in on her distressed friend as she picked at the stringy bits of her banana with an absent mind. She had no appetite for her breakfast that day.
Malcolm had somehow seemed like he was getting better. He seemed like he was happier, or at least far less depressed. She had done little except offer her ear to him, and listened without showing any external judgement. Somehow, she even began to look forward to his eccentric rants, and took pleasure in his odd company. Malcolm had somehow seemed like he was getting better, but today? Today he was incredibly on edge.
She wished that she had her Taser.
Malcolm began blinking profusely, and though he was facing her it seemed as if he was staring behind her, rather than at. “Can you believe that?” he asked with his hands still in his pockets. “Dr. Walter Freeman invented the transorbital lobotomy, which is basically just shoving an icepick up some dude’s nose or behind the eyes and scrambling the front of their brains.” This was actually the second time Malcolm had brought Dr. Freeman up to her. “He believed that it fixed basically everything. Depression? Scramble their brains. Disobedient or over active child? Well, they just need their brain scrambled.” Malcolm said as he quickly looked behind him. “He thought he had found the miracle cure.”
Karen nodded her head at this, allowing Malcolm to continue, not out of interest, but maybe out of safety. Malcolm looked behind him once more.
He had brought this up weeks ago, though it was with less fervor. He had talked about it with humor then, like it was a fun trivia fact to drop at parties. Now he spoke of it with the fever of a prophet.
“So he drove around in a van, rumor says he called it the Lobotomobile” Malcolm continued. “He’d just show up in your neighborhood, pull right up to your picket white fence, and open shop. He was extremely proud at how quick he could do it.”
She had stopped him from going too far into it the first time. She had actually learned about Walter Freeman in her psychology class. Did he not remember? He had somehow seemed like he was getting better…
Karen stopped picking at the banana. She had peeled it, there was no going back now, she had to make some effort to eat it. She took a small bite as Malcolm continued on, and found herself annoyed that once again a man had decided to explain something to her she already knew.
“Some of his victims are still alive” he said. “This did not happen in the distant past.” And, to her surprise, Malcolm did not continue to rant. His eyes darted to the ground, and he kicked at the pavement with a listless effort. His shoulders heaved upward and then down as his lungs carried the burden of a deep breath. Then he fell silent. He avoided eye contact.
It was moments like these that guilted Karen. When Malcolm was clearly depressed, when he shut himself away from others. It was moments like these that made her feel terrible for thinking that he was a danger to her… to others. She had decided to help him, had decided to lend an ear. But now, as his friend, didn’t she have a duty to do more?
She knew that she did.
Malcolm kicked the concrete once more.
“Hey” he said, just moments before she worked up the courage to speak “I uh, I saw my file today.” He was answered with a thick silence and Karen’s stifled breath. “Kind of a big elephant in the room, huh?”
The was no way to hyperbolize that last statement. Karen took a bite out of her banana to buy her some time.
“Saw your name on it” Malcolm said bringing his pocketed hand up and placed it behind his head, then a gave humorless chuckle. “I don’t know if that’s serendipitous or cruel. Maybe it can be both.”
Karen swallowed nervously, but was happy to find that the banana masked her inward feelings. All the chips were at the table, and Karen? Well, she’s bad at bluffing. She decided to be honest. “I thought you got this job for a bizarre fetish” she said. Malcolm laughed earnestly at that.
“This was the last place I could apply to that I had experience doing” he said. The ball was in her court.
“What did you get out of it Mal? Why did you call?”
“I dunno” he said with a kick to the ground and a time check on his phone. “I ah, I just needed someone to talk to, you know? It was cheaper than therapy.”
She was nervous, frightened, empathetic, annoyed, even worried. But that? That was funny as hell. Her bottled emotions rang out with earnest laughter. “What?” she asked between laughing. “That is so crazy!”
Malcolm joined in tepidly with a few empty chuckles. “Yeah” he said with relaxed shoulders. “I also tried therapy.”
Karen stopped laughing. “Did it help?” she asked, hoping that it sounded as empathetic as she had felt. Malcolm knew that she was attending school for psychology, she hoped that he did not think that the question was merely out of her own selfish interests.
Malcolm took his hands out of his pockets. He looked at her, not past her like he had been doing earlier. She wanted to tell him that it was okay to need therapy, she wanted to tell him that she did not think that was a negative thing. She wanted to tell him, that no matter what he thought of himself that she thought that he was brilliant, witty, and kind. She wanted to tell him that he was going to be okay, that she was his friend and was there for him.
But Malcolm looked at his phone. “Break time’s over” he said.
Karen did not finish her banana.
You are caught up. There is no more to read. Don’t panic! Because I lied there is more…
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