The next day, Lisa was busily scrubbing the floor of one of the inmates’ hallways when she heard slow footsteps approaching. Looking up, she saw a familiar face she hadn’t seen since he went to Mondrago to continue his recovery. “Sir!” she exclaimed, standing up.
“Hello, Lisa,” Dr. Thaddeus Solsen said, leaning heavily on his cane. “It’s been some time.”
She nodded. “How have you been, sir?”
“Recovery has been unkind to me,” he replied. “It’s taken me nearly a year to move freely.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, sir.” Lisa was genuinely distressed to hear that, considering how kind he’d been to her when she first started at the asylum.
“All the same,” he continued, “Canergak has requested that you undergo an evaluation. I thought it best that I handle that… formality.”
Lisa nodded with a touch of reluctance. While she was certainly glad it was Dr. Solsen examining her, rather than Professor Vartanian, she still didn’t want him finding out the truth about her. As she followed him to his office, though, she told herself there was no sense in borrowing trouble. Their conversation might not touch on anything related to her past. And if it did… well, she’d prevaricate as much as she could.
“Go ahead and sit down here,” Dr. Solsen said, gesturing to a chair. She settled gingerly into it. “So, Lisa,” he continued. “How have you been feeling?”
“Fine, sir,” she replied. “Though I’ve been very busy. I haven’t been able to keep up on my lessons.”
“You were exhausted. Given the changes in this facility, it was inevitable for one person to fall behind in the duties.”
Lisa nodded slowly. It was difficult to admit weakness, but she really couldn’t deny the truth of it.
“That is why I think that our employer may be right for once. Are you sure you are not in need of time off? In the entire time you have worked here, you have rarely asked for personal time, let alone a full day off.”
“Time off? Like Beryl?”
Dr. Solsen laughed. “Heavens, no. Arnold… Beryl was a special case.” As Lisa smiled a little at that, he continued, “What do you do when you are not working here? Do you sleep restfully? Do you relax?”
“My sleep at night is… mostly restful.” She saw no need to tell him how busy her nights were in the Dreamfields, as her studies with the feline Master Old-singers continued.
Dr. Solsen smiled wryly. “You often seem exhausted, Lisa.”
“I’ve had much to do.” She shrugged. “But I think things will be easier now.”
“For now, then, I simply suggest a day off. We now have enough helpers that each of you could have one, at the least.”
“Thank you, sir,” she replied, both startled and grateful.
“Now, about… the patient Moundshroud. How did you react to that?”
“I–err… I got sick, sir. So did Jane, poor girl.”
Dr. Solsen nodded. “That was a normal human reaction, Lisa. I have much higher concerns about those that didn’t.”
Lisa nodded once, hiding a wry smile. Ironic that the one with the cat’s brain reacted more like a human than those who were completely human.
“For that and the fact that you have been working here nearly every day for almost a year…” He paused, thinking. “You are to take at least the next two days off. The place won’t fall apart if you aren’t here.” He grinned. “I used to tell Arnold that often.”
Lisa smiled back, remembering those words from Beryl’s mouth. She also realized that tonight was a full moon, so she’d be able to attend a Gathering of her cat friends and family for the first time in months.
“During these two days you are supposed to see Dr. Viper for your physical. Today, in fact.” At those words from Dr. Solsen, though, Lisa’s smile faded, and she stiffened. Before Dr. Solsen could notice, though, Angel appeared in the doorway. “Ahh, Angel. Come in. I was just finishing with Lisa.”
“Good afternoon,” the girl said, entering the room.
“Well, Lisa, you are dismissed. I have an appointment with Angel now.” He turned to the other girl as Lisa stood up and stepped aside. “Go ahead and take a seat.”
“Yes, sir,” Angel replied, seating herself composedly.
“Thank you, sir, for my time off,” Lisa said as she went to his office door. Dr. Solsen nodded, and said, “Have a good day.”
‘Good day, indeed,’ she thought wryly, as she went and collected her abandoned bucket. Still, there wasn’t much sense in putting it off. She did continue working, though, until she saw that Angel had finished her own session with Dr. Solsen and was back at work. She got her leave to go to the hospital and went outside, noting, as she crossed the courtyard to the gates, that a few last leaves had sprinkled the walkway.
She went north, toward the canal and the imposing entrance of the large hospital. Her hand on the door handle, she took a shaky breath, trying to calm herself, and slowly pushed it open, looking in hesitantly. She saw a figure busy by a nearby desk. “He–hello?”
The figure turned around and revealed not Dr. Viper, but Dr. Sonnerstein. “Good evening, Lisa,” he said with a soft smile. “It’s good to see you again.”
“Good evening, sir,” Lisa replied.
“You must be my appointment this evening. They sent you over from the asylum for a physical, yes?”
Lisa stared at him. “I… I thought it was with Dr. Viper.”
“Dr. Viper is out this evening. It’s just me. I hope that’s all right with you?”
Lisa sighed with relief. “Oh, yes, sir. It is.”
Dr. Sonnerstein chuckled. “I take it the reptilian countenance puts a few ill at ease?” Lisa nodded. “Well, come this way, please.” He led the way to a room off the main hallway, containing several tables and cabinets. “Just hop up on the exam table.” Dr. Sonnerstein gestured to the largest table against the wall. Lisa scrambled up on it, feeling dread beginning to gnaw at her.
Dr. Sonnerstein was rummaging for a stethoscope. “No colds yet this season, I hope?”
“Ah, that’s promising. Hopefully it holds up through the season.” He slipped the stethoscope into his ears and leaned in, resting the end against her chest. Lisa could feel her heart beating more quickly, as she couldn’t help but remember all the times Ambrose had done the same thing.
Dr. Sonnerstein moved it across her chest, listening to her heart and lungs. “Nervous?”
She nodded. “I’m sorry, sir–I can’t help it.”
He reached the stethoscope around behind to her back. “Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.” She followed his directions, and he smiled, straightening up and taking the stethoscope off. “Sounds nice and clear.” He reached for a small rubber mallet to test her knee reflexes. “None of the urchins you hang around with have come down with any coughs yet, have they?”
Lisa pondered the question a moment. “I think a few have, but no one who’s… well, closer to me.”
“Bad season for a cough,” he replied, nodding. “I do hope they’ll recover all right.”
“It won’t be easy, sir–they’ve lost so much of what they saved over the spring and summer.” Lisa sighed, remembering her own money, her wages from her work, that she’d given to Tepic for safekeeping and to help with the urchins’ expenses. That money was now lost at the bottom of the canal, though she had been paid for her Salon work.
Dr. Sonnerstein continued the examination, chatting with her the whole time to try to help put her a little at ease. Finally, he finished making his last notations. “Well, you seem in perfect health,” he said satisfactorily.
Lisa smiled at that news, hoping that this, and her talk with Dr. Solsen yesterday, would satisfy Canergak. A step in the hallway caught her attention, and she looked over to see Dr. Viper standing in the doorway. “Doctor,” the reptilian man said.
Dr. Sonnerstein looked around. “Good evening, Dr. Viper. I’ve just finished Lisa’s physical. She seems in perfect health.”
“Good,” Dr. Viper replied with a nod. “Turn in the medical file to me later.”
“Certainly.” Dr. Sonnerstein nodded to Lisa. “You may go now if you wish. If you ever need to talk or need help, you know where to find me, yes?”
Lisa nodded, slipping off the table and ready to vacate the premises as swiftly as possible. Dr. Sonnerstein smiled and patted her shoulder. “Have a good night, then.”
“Good night, sir,” she replied. Nodding once to Dr. Viper, she quickly slipped out the doorway and went outside. The sun had set while she was inside, so she was officially on her time off now. Smiling, she began trotting north, ready to spend the night with a collection of cats.