“Yes, much better, thank you,” Gus told Dr. Salam. Dr. Salam wasn’t his regular doctor. His regular doctor, Dr. Ramsey, had sold his practice and moved to the Bahamas. It was odd but everybody that Gus knew had sold his or her properties and moved to the Bahamas. Everybody but Gus.
“Any bad dreams?” Dr. Salam asked, and deep in thought Gus’s eyes settled on a shiny patch of scalp where the fluorescent lights had magnified the doctor’s empty hair sockets into canyons. Inside the depths of a canyon, Gus spied traces of pebbly green. It reminded him of the rough, sandy hide of his pet iguana, Iggy. Iggy’s tongue was pink and sticky as cotton candy, similar to Dr. Salam’s tongue, only Iggy’s was smaller. Much smaller. “Any bad dreams?” Dr. Salam repeated.
“No,” Gus said. “None that I can remember.”
“Any feelings of unreality?”
“Sometimes,” he said, and Dr. Salam nodded and noted his answer. Gus hated when Dr. Salam nodded as he took notes. The combination was a self-affirmation exercise conducted at the expense of the patient’s feelings. What if Gus started nodding and writing in front of him? How would he like it?
“I wouldn’t care one way or the other,” Dr. Salam said.
“I said, ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you.’ ”
“Stop taking your medication. Why did you stop taking it?”
“It made me feel funny.”
Gus thought immediately of Joe Pesci’s gangster character, Tommy, from Goodfellas.
How was he funny?
Funny like a clown, like Tommy was here to amuse Gus and Iggy by flapping a big pink tongue in the face of Henry (played by Ray Liotta) and slapping Henry so hard that he fell out of his chair laughing, the Tiki-themed restaurant up for grabs, peals and shrieks of reptilian amusement renting the torpid jungle air, air reprocessed to match the listless metabolisms of coldblooded rock dwellers accustomed to baking their thick leathery carapaces under relentless starshine?
“I can’t say,” Gus said. “Just…funny.”
Dr. Salam noted that as well and then handed Gus a clipboard holding not a document but a thin bloody slice of well-marbled pink meat, meat slightly warm to the touch, as if less than a minute ago the source of the meat had been running for its ever-loving life, to no avail evidently.
“Please sign on the dotted line and initial in the corner,” Dr. Salam explained as if that explained everything. “Standard release form. Permission to forward your case history to a colleague.”
Gus’s hand trembled as he signed where he imagined a dotted line would be and initialed in the corner where he imagined an initialing box would be. “Which colleague?” he asked.
“A specialist in the field.”
“A field particular to your case.”
“Does your colleague’s field have a title?”
“Yes,” Dr. Salam said.
“Can you tell me what it is?”
“I just did.” Dr. Salam tried to sigh but it came out as more of a sinister hiss. Gus’s sister-in-law had a cat that hissed whenever anybody used the bathroom, because the cat’s litter box was in the corner. It was a minor territorial dispute, not a fight for survival of the species or anything else laced with high drama. “You really must stay on your meds, human swine!”
“I said, ‘You really must stay on your meds, Mr. Vine.’ ” Dr. Salam took the clipboard from Gus. The slice of meat was crawling with buzzing black flies which Dr. Salam snapped out of the air, fwap! fwap! with his sticky pink tongue. “Your reality slippage is more pronounced than last week’s.”
“How many flies have you caught today?”
A perturbed glower simmered in Dr. Salam’s nictitating amber lenses. “I do not eat juicy, scrumptious flies!” he protested, and a glistening rope of saliva spluttered through his jagged fangs and spilled onto Gus’s bare leg. Gus wiped the saliva off with the hem of his checkered hospital gown. He should have been freezing his balls off in that skimpy thing, but he wasn’t, not with the Earth’s brand new temperature set at a ubiquitous year-round ninety-six degrees, like the Bahamas but without tourist traps and crowds of pale vacationers trying to get a tan in a minute. As a matter of fact, never again would crowds be a problem, there or anywhere. Not traditional crowds anyway.
“Iggy liked flies, too,” Gus said.
“Who was Iggy?”
“My pet iguana. Wish I had something more than a handful of sketchy, half-faded memories of our time together. I miss him real bad.”
“So bad I sometimes wish the world was full of Iggys instead of people.”
Dr. Salam hissed as he raked off the thin mask of well-marbled human meat to reveal what Gus thought of as Iggy’s face if he’d grown up big and strong like Dr. Salam. “Be careful what you wish for,” Dr. Salam’s tongue lashed out to lick the tears rolling down Gus’s left cheek, “it might come true.”
R.A. Roth has accumulated a few notable writing credits, including recently winning two of the three cash prizes in The Molotov Cocktail Flash Fool contest and securing a political column, “Pantagruel,” at Noble / Gas Qtrly. Two pieces forthcoming in Helen: A Literary Magazine. No animals were harmed in the making of this bio. R.A. Roth tweets under the handle @fantagor.