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Thursday, May 13

Doctor's Orders

"Doctor's Orders"
Flash Fiction
by Linda Courtland

My date enters the restaurant, meets my eyes, smiles. I look for a seat against the wall, hoping to disguise the small hump on my back. He surveys my legs, my lips, my breasts. If only he could see inside of me.

Sometimes I wish I'd been born with a tail, or six fingers, or any abnormality that would be immediately apparent. Instead, I hide my shame deep inside. A tiny second head is attached to my upper spine, sitting right under the skin, just above my shoulder blades.

"Is he handsome?" the head whispers directly into my auditory canal.

I rarely answer the head, especially in public. The only person who talks to the head is my internist. At each visit, the doctor presses a cold stethoscope against my upper back and giggles conspiratorially with whatever the head is telling him.

"What's so funny?" I say.

"Sorry, can't violate patient confidentiality," he says, handing me a prescription for the head.

My date moves closer when the entrees arrive. We sip wine with dinner and make small talk. The head gets tipsy and starts making off-color jokes that no one can hear but me. I smile at my date and listen to his stories, suffering my inner torment in silence.

I wish I could tell my date about the head. I'd hold his big, protective hand and run each finger over my hideous hump. My date would appreciate my uniqueness. He'd think I was special and precious. He'd listen to me whine about how hard it is to have an extra head. He'd take my side when the head got drunk and argumentative.

But even before dessert, I knew I'd never tell him. The shame runs too deep. I've hidden the head since childhood, and my carefree personality is now a permanent disguise.

My date and I discuss dessert. The head is rallying for chocolate mousse but I order the cheesecake. The head whispers death threats while I’m eating. The violent fantasies escalate with each bite. My date asks if something's wrong. I tell him I'm not feeling well. The head screams obscenities that echo inside of me. I hurry home, where I can scream too.

The next day, I go back to the doctor's office.

"When did the head go off its meds?" the doctor says.

"I swallowed all the pills that you prescribed," I say. "It's the head's responsibility to get them in its mouth."

The doctor listens to the head's side of the story through the same chilly stethoscope.

"It's upset about having to take this medicine," the doctor says. "It just wanted to feel normal for once."

I'm struck with a pang of empathy.

"But bi-head depressive disorder needs to be treated medically." The doctor fills a syringe with psychotropic drugs and attaches a very long needle. "Turn around," he says to me. "The head's having a breakdown. It needs to be sedated."

"I should've been more sympathetic to its pain," I say.

The doctor looks at me kindly.

"I'm a terrible two-headed person," I say, opening the back of my gown.

"We all have our challenges." The doctor jabs the needle deep inside my upper back. "Start the oral medication again in six hours. The head will take it now."

I follow the doctor to the exit. He casually rolls up a sleeve, revealing an unnatural bulge on his bicep. "It's okay to be different, you know."

I recognize the familiar cephalic shape, and for the first time, I feel like I'm not alone with my head. I reach for his arm.

"Just keep this little secret between us," he says, closing the door. "Doctor's orders."

Linda’s new book, Somewhere to Turn, is available on Amazon. Read the first story free at www.LindaCourtland.com