Read Old Man Scanlon

Crime Wave

05 January 2017

I ease like a sardine into the last empty chair in Dr. X’s waiting room and kiss my chances for a quick in-and-out visit goodbye. The television is dead—a sign, if ever there were one, that God loves us and wants us to be happy—so I anticipate peaceful, undistracted time to myself. Should that pale, I will be able to people-watch, without my specimens anesthetized into a slack-jawed stupor.

As fond as I am of my own company, some days a little of it goes a long way. I carefully look around the cramped room, making no loud noises, no sudden movements, adjusting my video and audio brain circuits for optimum performance. A two-year-old waits on a bench in the hallway, his babble and gurgle the counterpoint to his mother’s murmurs. With graceful seamless transitions, a conversation to my left interleaves paragraphs of Spanish and English. Sometimes the granularity is finer—one sentence starts in Spanish and ends with “you have that option.”

My sidelong gaze to the right is arrested by a plain grey woman of preternatural expressionlessness, her hair pulled back severely, almost to the snapping point. It is obvious at first glance that she is an axe murderer, quite likely serial. I have seen that inhuman face on a hundred wanted posters, responsible for heinous crimes.

It’s no big thing to share a room with a killer; nevertheless I am relieved when my theory collapses. The woman plays peek-a-boo with the tyke in the hallway, just as if she were a normal human being, and starts a conversation with another of my neighbors, who had dropped a twenty-two pound frozen turkey on her foot. She also has piercings at the distal ends of her eyebrows, and probably hidden tattoos, so God only knows what unspeakable depravity she’s capable of.

How provisional, indeed how dangerous, are first impressions. Obvious outward appearances, whether they’re superficial or reflect deep qualities, confer useful and unfair power, though their reliability is sketchy. It intrigues me that a state of detached stillness struck me as reptilian and psychopathic rather than as the attainment of enviable inner calm. Little wonder we chide friends and strangers alike, trying to compel a smile.