Read an Excerpt
. . . . but first, a word:
You know the way. You have the key. And it is your privilege.
Go to the home of Dr. Philip Outerbridge. Go on in - you have the key. Climb the stairs, walk to the end of the corridor, and turn left. This is Dr. Phil's study, and a very comfortable and well-appointed one it is. Books, couch, books, desk, lamp, books, books. Go to the desk - sit down; it's all right. Open the lower right drawer. It's one of those deep, double drawers. It's locked? But you have the key - go ahead.
Pull it open - more than that. All the way. That's it. See all those file-folders, a solid mass of them? Notice how they are held in a sort of box frame? Well, lift it out. (Better get up; it's heavy.) There.
Underneath, lying flat, are a half-down folders - just plain file folders. Perhaps they are there to level up the main box-frame; well, they certainly do that. Perhaps, too, they are there because they are hidden, concealed, secret. Both perhapses could be true. And perhaps they are there because they are valuable, now or later. Value is money, value is knowledge, value is entertainment . . . sentiment, nostalgia. Add that perhaps to the others. It does not destroy them. And bear in mind that of the six folders, any of six might be any or all of these things. You may look at one of them. The second one from the top. You will note that it, like the others, is marked with Dr. Outerbridge's name and, in large red capitals, PERSONAL-CONFIDENTIAL-PRIVATE. But go ahead. Go right ahead; take it out, replace the box-frame, close the drawer, light the lamp, make yourself comfortable. You may read through the papers in this folder.
But first rest your hands on the smooth cream-yellow paperboard and close your eyes and think about this folder which is marked CONFIDENTIAL and which is hidden in a drawer which is locked. Think how it was filled some years ago, when Dr. Phil was a young staff psychologist in a large military neuropsychiatric hospital. It happened that he was then two months short of the required age for a commission, so he rated as a sergeant. Yet he had, since his freshman year in college, drained and interned in psychological diagnosis and treatment at a famous university clinic, where he had earned a graduate degree in clinical psychology.
It was wartime, or something very like it. The hospital was swamped, staggered, flooded. The staff had to learn as many new tricks, cut as many unheard-of corners, work as unholy hours, as those in any other establishment that handled the goings and comings of war, be they shipbuilders or professors of Baltic languages. And some of the staff, like some builders and teachers everywhere, were burdened by too many hours, too little help, too few facilities, and too much tradition, yet found their greatest burden the constant, grinding, overriding necessity for quality. Some men in tank factories turned down each bolt really tight; some welders really cared about the joints they ran. Some doctors, then, belonged with these, and never stopped caring about what they did, whether it was dull, whether it was difficult, whether, even, the whole world suddenly turned enemy and fought back, said quit, said skip it, it doesn't matter.
So perhaps the value of these folders, and their secrecy lies in their ability to remind. Open one, relive it. Say, here was a triumph. Say, here is a tragedy. Say, here is a terrible blunder for which atonement can never be made . . . but which, because it was made, will never be made again. Say, here is the case which killed me; though I have not died, yet when I do I shall die of it. Say, here was my great insight, my inspiration, one day my book and my immortality. Say, here is failure; I think it would be anyone's failure, I - I pray God I never discover that someone else could succeed with something, some little thing I should have done and did not. Say . . . there is something to be said for each of these folders, guarded once by a lock, again by concealment, and at last by the declaration of privacy.
But open your eyes now and look at the folder before you. On the index tab at its edge is lettered
The quotation marks are heavily and carefully applied, almost like a 66 and a 99.
You know the way. You have the key. And it is your privilege. Would you like to know why? It is because you are The Reader, and this is fiction. Oh yes it is, it's fiction. As for Dr. Philip Outerbridge, he is fiction too, and he won't mind. So go on - he won't say a thing to you. You're quite safe.
It is, it is, it really is fiction . . .
Here is a typewritten letter written on paper showing signs of having been torn across the top with a straight-edge, as if to remove a letterhead. The letters O-R over the date are in ink, printed by hand, large and clear.
O-R 12 Jan.
Base Hospital HQ,
Portland Ore.: otherwise known as-
Office of the Understaff
First and foremost notice the O-R notation above. That means off the record, and I mean altogether. If and when you see it in future you don't need explanations. Anything which can be gotten across by abbreviation and in code is a blessing to me, especially since they gave me this nut factory to administer without relieving me of that bedlam of yours. You'll excuse the layman's vulgarisms, dear doctor, believe me, they do me good.
Under separate and highly official cover, and through channels, you'll find orders from me to you relative to a file AX544. I'm the colonel and you're the sergeant. I'm the administrator and you're just staff. Hence the orders. On the other hand we are old friends and you are senior to me in your specialty six times umpteen squared. The fact - not mentioned in the orders - is that we've pulled the land of blooper you don't excuse by saying oops, sorry. This soldier was yanked out of a staging area overseas and shipped back here with a "psychosis, unclassified" label and a "dangerous, violent" stencil, by a meat-headed MedCorps major. It could only have been sheer vindictiveness, deriving from the fact that the GI punched him in the nose. Criminal he may be - according to the distinctions now current - but insane he is not. Seems to me he did the right thing; but to the major's dim appreciation it appeared insane to strike an officer and so he was sent to your laughing academy instead of to a stockade.
What complicates things is that we lose this guy. What with understaffing and turnover and all-around snafu, this GI has been stuck in padded solitary for three months now without diagnosis or treatment, and if he didn't qualify as one of your charges when he got there, he sure as hell should now.
However it happened, it comes out looking like the worst kind of carelessness, to say nothing of injustice. So what "diagnose and treat" means in the official order is, please, Phil, on bended knee, get that man out of there and out of the Army in such a way that there will be no kickbacks, lawsuits or headlines. And aside from the merits of the case itself, we have to slough off these trivial cases. We need the bed. I need the bed, or will soon if this kind of thing happens again.
I trust you to sew it up tidily, Philip. Not only a sound diagnosis, but a sound-sounding one. And then a medical discharge. His remuneration, whether or not he ever appreciates it, can be that his fisticuffs on the person of that moo-minded major are on the house.
yr absentee landlord,