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6th Act

The Roses


The garden of the institute. Flowerbeds and trees along a pathway. Lybel in white coat. Mary Steinfeld with bandages all over her body. She limps. Together they are taking a stroll.


Lybel: These flowers I’ve had planted only a year ago and just look how well they are doing.


Mary Steinfeld (nods): Very nice.


Lybel: My secretary looks after them. Once she has brewed my coffee, received her instructions and made her phone calls she comes here to look after the flowers. Do you like flowers, Mrs. Steinfeld?


Mary Steinfeld (nods): Of course I do.


Lybel: They lend this place an ambience of peace and beauty which undoubtedly contributes to the wellbeing of our patients. We don’t want the institute to look like a prison. I’d rather see it as a place of human encounter and betterment.


Mary Steinfeld: I can see that.


Lybel: This is why we encourage our patients to interact. We don’t divide them into groups at random. My predecessor had an altogether different concept. He used to divide the patients into categories as if they were files and not human beings in need of psychotherapeutic assistance. The Christian messiahs in department A. The Jewish ones in department B. The prophets in department C. The religious paranoics in department D. And so on. Unfortunately my predecessor had to resign after a most regrettable sexual affair with a female patient claiming to be the Virgin Mary. He of course claimed it was part of the therapy. It didn’t work, by the way. The woman kept on believing she was the virgin Mary though she actually became pregnant.


Mary Steinfeld: What happened to the child?


Lybel (lightly dismissing gesture): Aborted. As the whole system was aborted the day I became director of this clinic. Until then there would be fights among the patients every day. Now, under my leadership, we were able to reduce the number of security personnel and spend the money thus saved for beautification measures.


Mary Steinfeld: I see.


Lybel (checking his watch): Doctor Lake should be with us in a moment. Sorry to keep you waiting. By the way: How are you doing?


Mary Steinfeld: I’m doing fine.


Lybel: How much did the hospital charge you?


Mary Steinfeld: I haven’t checked the bill yet.


Lybel: You should. They are terrible cheaters. They reckon that one is ready to pay anything to get well again. True enough. Heed my warning and check the bill twice. They will probably try to charge a heart transplant and when you discover it they will say: Oh, sorry, that must have been the computer. They blame everything on computers these days. Don’t let that happen to you, Mrs. Virgin.


Mary Steinfeld: Steinfeld.


Lybel: These roses (points towards a flower bed) were about to die miserably last winter which was unusually dry and cold. They say the climate changes. But don’t humans complain about any change anyway? Didn’t the people of Israel complain once they had gotten out of Egypt because they didn’t like the desert? The same desert they flock to nowadays as tourists and can’t get enough of?


Mary Steinfeld (wearily pointing towards a bench): Doctor, would you excuse me sitting down here for a moment?


Lybel: Of course, of course. I just thought you should see what you get for your money. We really take care of this place, you see. At home the little time my professional and personal responsibilities leave me I spend writing a book about roses. Did you know there are more books written about roses than about the ozone hole?


Mary Steinfeld (sits down, glances at Lybel in bewilderment): No, I didn’t know.


Lybel: Mankind is more interested in roses which proves that things are not as bad as they sometimes appear. You see: Roses are a positive symbol and the ozone hole is the symbol of senseless worry.


Mary Steinfeld: They say it exists.


Lybel: Whenever newspapers have space to fill it exists. Whenever travel agents have to sell a journey to sunny beaches, it does not. It’s all a matter of viewpoint. The truth itself has become a market commodity. A matter of profit or damage. A question of consequence. Do you believe in global warming?


Mary Steinfeld: I don’t see…


Lybel: The point is: If you live more than two meters above sea level you simply don’t care. Why should you? The poles melt, the sea level rises, but never two meters in your lifetime. In psychiatry it is the same. Each human being has its breaking point. Everybody is a potential maniac. But why should you worry about it before it actually happens? And when it finally happens – let the professionals take care of it. This is what they’re here for, this is what they get paid for. The free market will take care of it.


Mary Steinfeld: I would like to see Doctor Lake.


Lybel: He will be here in just a second. I just wanted you to enjoy the results of our beautification program.


Mary Steinfeld: That’s very kind of you, doctor.


Lybel (sits down beside her, glancing at his watch): Did you have television in your room?


Mary Steinfeld: I don’t remember.


Lybel (laughs): You will – once they show you the bill.


Mary Steinfeld: I have other things to worry about.


Lybel: Those days must have been difficult for you, Mrs. Virgin.


Mary Steinfeld (a bit annoyed): My name is Mary Steinfeld, sir.


Lybel: Strange name.


Mary Steinfeld (now getting very annoyed): I am sorry about that.


Lybel (totally unimpressed by her reactions): No, I mean, it sounds so very catholic and jewish at the same time. Mary Steinfeld. Must be difficult to maintain cultural identity. But you have, as you very correctly pointed out, other things to worry about.


Lake (arriving in a haste): I am so sorry to have kept you waiting, Mrs. Steinfeld.


Lybel (assuming seriousness, getting up): This is Dr. Lake who will explain to us at once why he is late.


Mary Steinfeld (shaking hands with Lake): Nice meeting you, doctor.


Lake: My pleasure, Mrs. Steinfeld.


Lybel: Lake!


Lake: I was waiting for you in the conference room. You secretary told me to meet you there.


Lybel (screaming): What a stupid bitch! (towards Mary Steinfeld) I am sorry, Mrs. Steinfeld. I didn’t mean to get angry. It’s just – I told her. I really told her.


Lake: She has a lot of work to do. Mrs. Steinfeld, how are you doing?


Mary: Well enough, thank you, doctor.


Lybel: I assure you I told her. First I told her we would meet in the conference room, then I changed my mind, thinking: What a beautiful day, why not show Mrs. Steinfeld our roses, because I was sure you would like roses, Mrs. Steinfeld, and then, somehow, this…


Lake: Would you like something to drink, Mrs. Steinfeld?


Mary Steinfeld: You are too kind, doctor. No, thank you.


Lybel (screaming): Stupid bitch! I told her.


Mary Steinfeld: Please, I don’t mind. So I had more time to enjoy the roses.


Lybel: Yes, yes, yes, yes. The roses. I assure you I told her. It is her fault. She is very bright sometimes, but when she has troubles with her boyfriend she is not quite herself any more.



© Thomas Fitzner, 1995