Monday, February 9, 1998

The Demon Within

Her name is Miss Mildred Minnow, and in all her fifty-eight years, nobody has ever called her Millie.  She lies now on the examining table.

"All my life, all alone," she says, "I have chased rainbows, never learning the trick of finding the gold.  Damn the leprechauns!  You can bet they won't share the pot with me...ever!  Even if I do find it."

"Umm," Dr. Snyder says.  When first he became her primary-care physician, he tried to make sense of her ramblings.  Now accustomed to them, he tunes them out.  How she ever lasted thirty-six years in the public school system is more than he can imagine.  "Nutty as the proverbial fruitcake," he thinks and wordlessly continues with the physical examination.

"The other trick I never learned," she says, "is to be free.  All my life I have slaved for others...never pleasing them...never impressing them...never being appreciated.  Well, I can tell you, Doctor, servitude dies hard, but today I turned in my resignation."

"Umm," he says again.  He takes the stethoscope from around his neck and, turning, lays it on the supply table behind him.  

"Well," he says, "physically, everything looks pretty normal.  What exactly is your complaint, Miss Minnow?  Why did you insist on an appointment?"

"What did you find when you looked into my eyes with that instrument...what do you call it?"


"Well, what did you?"

"What did I what?"

Miss Mildred Minnow sighs in exasperation.  "What did you find?"

He shrugs.  "Nothing unusual," he says.

"No devil within?"

"Devil within?"

"Look, Doctor," she says.  "Over the past two months or so I have come to realize that I have the power to give the Evil Eye."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

She pulls herself to a sitting position on the examining table and arranges the cotton blanket so that it covers her lap and legs.  "I resigned today," she says.  "I told Mr. Hawkins, the principal, that I had to, before I did one of my students real harm.  You see, among my many problem students, Johnnie Firsten has always been my worst.  Never a day goes by that he doesn't have the whole class laughing at me."

Dr. Snyder steals a glance at his wristwatch.  "It's going to be a long one," he thinks, visualizing his waiting room full of patients.  He pulls the one chair in the room closer to the examining table and sits down.  "Tell me," he says.

She takes a deep breath and folds her hands, placing them in the depression of the blanket.  "He really got to me yesterday," she says.  "Johnnie, that is.  It was all I could do to resist giving him my long stare."

"Your long stare?"

"Yes.  You know, the Evil long, malevolent stare.  I gave it once to a man who had boldly and rudely stepped in front of me in a teller line.  As he was leaving the bank, he stumbled and fell down a flight of cement steps.  He must have hit his head very hard, because an ambulance was summoned for him.  I never did get his name.  Another time it was to my mother.  She never did anything but belittle me and demand things of me, and ask me why no one has ever wanted to marry me.  One day I could take it no longer.  I gave her my long, malevolent stare.  I was called out of class that very day.  She had suffered a massive stroke and was dead."

Out of respect for the departed, Miss Mildred Minnow is silent a moment, and then, seeing she holds the doctor's complete attention, she continues.  "Are you sure, absolutely sure, Doctor, that you saw nothing with horns through that...that...

ophthalmoscope?  No hate devil?  Tell me the truth, Doctor; I can take it."

Dr. Snyder looks at her for a long moment.  Finally he turns and takes a prescription pad from the supply table and scribbles on it.  "Here," he says, ripping off the top sheet and handing it to her.  "This is the name and phone number of Dr. Konrad Pfeivel.  I want you to make an appointment with him.  I will clear it with your insurance carrier.  I think Dr. Pfeivel will help you far more than I can."

She reads what he has written.  "Pfievel?  What kind of doctor is he, an ophthamologist?"

Dr. Snyder gets up and pushes the chair back against the wall.  "Psychiatrist.  You need help, Miss Minnow."  He taps his forehead.

A sudden flush of deep scarlet rage covers her face and neck, but  he does not see it.   Neither does he hear, as she does, the wild pounding of her heart.   As he turns the doorknob to leave, she fixes a long, malevolent stare at his back.   He shudders, not knowing why. 

Miss Mildred Minnow, already contrite, gets up and quickly dresses.  Gathering her coat and purse in her arms, she, too, leaves the room, and hurries from the office, hearing the click-click of the thick heels of her oxford shoes echo through the hallway as she makes her way out of the Medical Arts Building.