Pam: Between Spaces
Dr. Pamela Lewis did not often think of herself as the doctor, or even a doctor. In her mind she was only Pam. And most of the time, this was enough.
As she peeled off her white coat, her hair also escaped from its confining clip and spilled over her shoulders: reddish-brown hair that fell in smooth, measured waves. Although Pam was not old, she felt old. Her feet hurt. There was a tingling, half-burning sensation running up her back from standing or stooping all day. Jostling in her purse for her keys, Pam peered into the dark tinted window of her car. The surface reflected her face back to her, in part. The glasses were what did it, she decided. They accounted for the feeling or appearance of age. When she had been really young, Pam had not worn glasses, and the frames around her eyes were still vaguely unfamiliar to her, as though they belonged to someone else. It was also true that they did not fit quite right. The glasses would predictably slide a little down Pam’s nose when she was speaking to a patient, giving her the air of an elderly librarian.
The events of that day had made Pam feel an increase even in this imagined age. Despite her valiant efforts to enter fully into her independent life, separate from all those feelings and thoughts of other people’s lives, Pam found the division more difficult than usual to accomplish. The images that seemed to swim in the rearview mirror as she sat down in the car produced in her a desire for whatever was the opposite of aloneness. As if reading her thoughts, the phone rang.
“How are you?” he asked.
The problem with this question was that Pam wasn’t sure how long an answer he expected. She had no way of knowing. Perhaps he only gave voice to The Question, which opened the script of how to hold a normal conversation. If this was the case, it was a means to get to another end (the reason he had called), and “good” alone would suffice (because “bad” would necessitate a further question). Then again, he might like a little more detail, an anecdote (or even two) of things that had happened during her day. It was also possible that what he wanted was not an account of what she had done, but to know how she really was: the simple and profound essence contained in the question.
“Good,” she said. And then: “How was your day?”
He opted for “long.”
“There was this woman who came in today with her…” After having begun the story, Pam realized that there was really no story to tell, and did not know how to express what she wanted to say. The feeling, she discovered, could not be shared merely with the sound of words.
At the exact same time that Michael said “Who?” Pam hurriedly told him to “never mind.” A brief silence followed. On the phone all the spaces were filled in by fear and not at all by intimacy. This was to do with the face, or rather the absence of it. Everything was pure speculation, and she had no way to know what he was thinking.
“I wanted to let you know I’ll be home late today.”
“Okay.” She did not ask how late.
He filled in a few of the details and after they hung up, Pam began driving home. The route from the office to the house in which she and Michael lived was short, straightforward and dotted with familiar landmarks, of which Pam no longer took notice. And yet as she drove, the signs and the buildings and trees were suddenly populated with the people she knew and the people she had seen that day, and Michael. She was surrounded by a sea of faces, each speaking to her with some distinct cry, and the only thing with which reality had left her was Michael’s disembodied voice. Without thinking of what she was doing, Pam turned the car around.
This route was less familiar. The roads were strangers, and travelled in a different direction than those that led towards the office. When she reached the parking lot, broached the distance of empty concrete and climbed three flights of stairs, she paused on the threshold to the floor. There was a vast array of almost identical desks, perfectly spaced, and each paired with a person on a chair, whose fingers were poised over the keyboard. After a few seconds, Pam saw him.
It seemed that Michael spotted Pam at the same moment, and to Pam’s surprise, his initial expression did not betray confusion but joy. There was no way to hide that sudden and unmeditated spark of joy that had appeared in his eyes. Although confusion eventually followed, and after approaching, he asked her the question of what she was doing there, the flash of joy had preceded all else and carried far more force than the words (which had been heard before).
Michael and Pam looked at each other for a while. They talked. They walked around the office and Michael filled a disposable cup with coffee that way that Pam liked it (no sugar, two milks). Not long after arriving, Pam left. And yet she felt lighter than before she had come. The feelings both of seeing and of being seen spilled into the drive home and the aloneness that followed. And the images came and they went, no longer burdensome but bearing some strange and great beauty, as Pam read and ate and did all of her usual things, and even after Michael had come home and they had both gone to sleep.