By Ekta R. Garg
Flash Fiction Friday: Write a simple fiction about a piece that always brings about interesting conversations.
Dr. Grant stared at the painting critically. His receptionist, Lois, waited for his verdict.
“I’m not sure, Lois. Do you think it’s tilting too far to the right?”
“I can adjust it for you, Doctor, if you’d like.”
She stepped forward, pushed up the lower right-hand corner of the painting more for show than anything else, and then stepped back.
Dr. Grant narrowed his eyes in thought, and after a few moments his face relaxed.
“Yes, that’s fine. I think this is going to make a distinct addition to the waiting room, don’t you?”
Lois nodded. “I agree. Your patients will certainly think so too, I’m sure.”
“Speaking of which, who is my first patient today?”
She went to her desk and ran her finger down the patient list for that day. Lois had managed her boss’ schedule since he launched his private solo practice 15 years earlier, and they had fallen into an easy working rhythm. That rhythm had given Dr. Grant the idea to employ Lois’ help with the painting when he’d decided to purchase it and place it in the waiting room. It hung facing the sofas where patients sat and pressed their knees together in mild anxiety before they saw him.
“It’s Mrs. Barnes, Doctor. She should be here in 30 minutes.”
“Fine. I’ll just go into my office and get my files in order.”
She sat down and logged on to the computer, opening her web browser and then minimizing it when Dr. Grant walked past her. She didn’t want him to see the home page she’d chosen. True, it was just a silly celebrity gossip page, but Lois felt like Dr. Grant would have thought less of her if he’d known just how closely she followed the pursuits of Brad, Angelina, Miley, and the rest of their ilk.
Following her daily routine, Lois spent about 10 minutes surfing the site and catching up on the previous night’s celebrity exploits. Then she checked her email, and after hopping up to start the first pot of coffee for the morning, Lois opened the electronic version of the patient schedule and waited.
Right on cue, Mrs. Barnes walked in at 9:00 a.m. Five minutes before she walked in the phone rang, so when Mrs. Barnes finally arrived Lois waved her to the sofa with a friendly smile and continued discussing with the party on the phone the process of paperwork involved when becoming Dr. Grant’s patient for the first time. As Lois talked she noticed Mrs. Barnes’ reaction to the painting.
She looked taken aback at first, and then she tried to act casual while she waited on the sofa across from it. After waiting for about seven or eight minutes, however, the painting had forced her into some serious introspection. By the time Lois greeted her and told her Dr. Grant was ready, Mrs. Barnes clearly had the painting on her mind.
As per her instructions, Lois made a note of the reaction in the electronic chart.
Mr. Harper came in next, and he did a double take too. While he sat and waited his turn, however, something about the painting seemed to bother him. By the time Dr. Grant asked Lois to lead him in, Mr. Harper almost seemed angry. Lois calmly walked to her computer, sat down, and typed in her observations of his reaction.
The most interesting reaction that morning came from Ms. Baxter. She saw the painting and stared at it for a few moments. She backed into the sofa, and it interrupted her train of thought as she sat down hard on it. The quick bounce on the sofa jolted Ms. Baxter for a moment, but then she blinked and stared at the painting again. Something akin to remorse seemed to cross her face when Lois led her back. Once again, Lois made sure to record the reaction.
The parade of patients continued throughout the day, and while a couple of them sharply drew in their breath at seeing the painting—one actually gasped—no one asked Lois about it. No one asked her why Dr. Grant had wanted it hung or where it came from. And certainly no one asked what it meant.
Two years later Arthur Grant, M.D., practicing psychiatrist, instructed his receptionist that the time had come to take the painting down.
“I believe I’ve gathered enough material for my paper,” he told Lois. “We won’t need it anymore.”
Lois nodded calmly. “Will you be replacing it with anything, Doctor?”
“I’m not sure,” Dr. Grant mused aloud. He stared at the spot, trying to picture it with another wall hanging. “Maybe this time we should record their reactions to a blank space. It’s possible that the power of suggestion in this piece will fill in the white wall in their minds.”
Doctor and receptionist shared a long last look at the large canvas. The 3’x5’ plain white board had a single word on it, and Dr. Grant felt incredibly pleased with his results. Who knew that a simple word could turn into a suggestion on its own in people’s minds and that they would enrich his research with so much material?
“By the way, Lois,” Dr. Grant said, suddenly turning to her, “I never asked you whether the painting had any effect on you whatsoever.”
She glanced back at her computer but then smiled and shook her head. “Not at all, Doctor, although I have to say I’ve found it interesting to watch people react to it.”
He nodded as if in agreement but doubted that she had told him the full truth. If he wanted to be honest with himself, he’d felt a slight twinge every time he’d walked by it. After all who could sit across from the word “Guilty” on the wall and not feel a little of the accusation in the word?