CD Reiss

Songs of Submission – Book Seven

Take my hand, my love.

On sinews of air we tread

Aught but distance our guide

With no tempo to our gait

No endpoint drawn

Neither plot nor plan

By the thorns of a compass rose

We bound toward the horizon



Dr. Thorensen had put up his Christmas lights on December first, two weeks ago, decorating his wood detailing and redwood fence with tiny multicolored dots. No fat inflatable snowmen. No Santas. No elves, just classy little spots hanging around the edges of his property like a joyful little fucking aura.

I rang the bell again. The house was the biggest on my incline of a block. The door itself was four feet wide, deep mahogany, set in with a lead glass window.

It was too early in the morning to ring Dr. Thorensen’s bell. He was a single guy in his mid-thirties, and it was Tuesday morning. He should be at his office, or the hospital. Maybe nuzzling one of the women I saw come around periodically. But I was losing my shit. I couldn’t wait another minute, and I’d noticed he kept odd hours.

I saw him through the glass in a polo and jeans, carrying a coffee cup. When the door opened, he looked grave.

“Monica,” he said. “Am I blocking your driveway?” Then he looked at me. I must have been a sight. “Are you okay?”

“Not really?”

“What happened?”

Suddenly, I felt silly, as if I’d become a story he’d tell his friends. I’d become the annoying girl next door. He’d told me once that he didn’t put an MD license plate on his car or hang out a shingle because he wanted to avoid random advice-seekers and neighbors with a sniffle. I’d laughed with him at the story of the Montessori mother two doors down who wanted him to look at her son’s scraped knee. This was why I’d avoided ringing his bell for five long, lonely, friendless days.

But he was a cardiologist, and when Santa brought me a gift, I figured I shouldn’t try to cram it back up the chimney.

One long sentence poured out. “I didn’t want to bother you, I mean it’s not like he can’t afford the best doctors in the world, but I’m afraid to tell them what I think or I’ll look crazy so I was wondering if you had privileges at Sequoia?”

“I do.”

He paused for a second, and I feared he’d say something like, “sorry, I’m not working right now. I deserve to be at home in peace as much as the next person, and the fact that I spent a quarter million dollars on school doesn’t make me public property.” But he stepped aside and said, “Come in.”

I’d never been inside his house, and though I’d always been curious, when I finally did see it, my curiosity was dulled. I’d been blind to details for a week, my brain had somehow narrowed out what it thought important to three things. Breathing. Worrying about Jonathan. Desire to kill Jessica. But when I passed the living room, the flashing lights caught my eye. Three huge flatscreen TVs were up, with a leather chair set to see all of them. I recognized the steampunk settings and the particular burnished brass and wood finishes from a party I’d attended before Jonathan. In another life.

“You play City of Dis?” I asked. The online multiplayer game was highly competitive, complex to a fault, and if you had the brain power to keep up with it, more addicting than crack.

“Yeah.” He seemed a little embarrassed. “Need to wind down sometimes, you know.”

“I know this guy who wears Depends when he plays so he doesn’t have to get up to go to the bathroom.”

“I’m potty trained, even in character. Coffee?” he asked as I followed him to the marble and glass kitchen.

“No, thanks. I’m more of a tea person.”

“So,” he refreshed his cup. “If it’s not the driveway, and you’re asking about Sequoia, must be a medical call?”

“I’m so sorry to bother you.”

“You’re fine. Sit.” He pulled out a tall chair by the marble kitchen bar.

I sat, feet wrapped around the legs, a coiled tension in my hips.

“You did the place nice,” I said. “It’s probably the best house on the block.”

“It’s an investment.” He put a pot of water on the stove. “Coulda got something in Beverly Hills or Palisades for twice the price and half the aggravation, but where’s the fun in that?”

“It’s quieter and cleaner?”

“No potential, though. Nowhere to go but down. This neighborhood’s going to be Beverly Hills in ten years. And I get to live next to people like you. Interesting people. It’s all lawyers over there.” He glanced at me quickly, as if checking on me. “So, what brings you?”

“You’re a cardiologist. I’m sorry but—“

“Stop apologizing.”

“My...I guess you’d call him a boyfriend? He’s at Sequoia.”

“A patient, I assume.”

“They say he has a heart problem. That he damaged his valves when he was younger and he...”

Was I betraying a confidence? There had been so much talk of his suicide attempt that it seemed like old news already, but the talk had been within the confines of his family and doctors.

Dr. Thorensen waited, leaning on the counter, cup warming his hands.

“He took too much Adderall once when he was a teenager.”

“This is Jonathan Drazen?”

I felt a tingle of shock, like an adrenaline rush, that he knew, and that he mentioned his name right there in the kitchen, as if Jonathan’s condition and how he came to be so sick, was public knowledge.

He must have seen it on my face. He put his cup down and opened a chrome canister on the counter. It was full of teabags.

“That explains the car.”

Was I just being sensitive? Because it sounded like he thought I couldn’t possibly have bought a Jaguar without fucking someone. I didn’t have time to decide if I was mad, because Dr. Thorensen continued as if he knew he’d implied something that could twist my knickers in a knot and wanted me to forget it.

“We have a weekly meeting on the high risk cardiology patients,” he said. “Just to check diagnoses and make sure we’re on the same page about treatment. I’ve seen him.” He held up a hand as if the reassure me. “I’m not his doctor or anything. Dr. Emerson is with him. He’s highly qualified.”

“And you agreed a sixteen year-old overdose gave him a heart attack? That makes no sense.”

“Adderall is basically legalized speed,” he continued. “Taking a fistful will damage your valves, and the slightest blockage will give you a heart attack. No question. It’s a miracle he made it this far.”

He handed me my cup. I didn’t want it, but found my hands clasping it anyway.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

He raised an eyebrow, but said nothing in his own defense.

“I don’t mean to question you,” I said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t go to medical school. But before it happened, we were at a party, and he was gone a long time. I think...” I felt so stupid even saying it. I’d only told Margie my theory, and she’d dismissed it. “I think he was poisoned.”

I stared into my teacup.

“That’s a pretty broad accusation.” He said it softly and kindly, but under it all was a hint of condescension, as if what he really wanted to say was that I was crazy.

“He has enemies,” I said.


“His ex-wife was mad at him.”


“He was fine just before.”

“No, he wasn’t.”

“I was there, you weren’t. I’m sorry, but he was fine.”

He put his cup down, and I felt the weight of my intrusion. He was playing a video game at eight in the morning, getting a moment’s peace from a high pressure job, and here I was dragging his work into his kitchen. And he didn’t believe me. I wanted him to believe me, even as I was feeling crazier and crazier.

“There was nothing on his tox screen. I sat with his attending for two hours looking at EKGs. He had a massive coronary event. There’s a pretty good chance he’d been having small heart attacks in the days previous. His valves are shot.”

He stopped his sentence as if catching himself. He’d been talking about a man’s heart like it was a carburetor.

“I should go.”

“He has a very good prognosis.”

“Thanks for the tea.” I put it on the counter.

“Monica, listen—”

“Dr. Thorensen—“

“I’m Brad.”

“Brad, it’s been a rough five days. He’s got seven sisters and a mother and they...most of them...act like I’m no one to him. I’m on his list, so I’m told everything, but I’m surrounded by strangers. And seeing him like that, with the IV and the tubes and just waiting to get cut open. Everyone’s worried and no one wants to listen.”

“I understand the desire to blame someone, but he wasn’t poisoned. I promise you.”

He was right, of course. There had been no evidence of poisoning, and Jessica had been in my sights, or in the bathroom most of the time, but I was looking for a ten second interval where she could have...What? Fed him something? Slyly injected him? Did I think I was living in an Agatha Christie novel where conceptual artists moonlit as chemists?

“Yeah,” I said. “I guess.”

“Tell you what. This is fun. Why don’t you play City of Dis with me for a little while? I’m in the eighth circle. I’ll build you a character from my profile. You’re not getting an opportunity to play at that level anywhere else. All your problems go away.” He snapped his fingers. “Magic. Come on.”

“I can’t.”

“An hour.”

“I haven’t done laundry in two weeks and I have to go to work.”

He put his cup down. “Rain check?”

“Yes, and thank you, Brad.” His short name sounded, at once, overly familiar and coldly detached in my mouth.

“Any time.”

He walked me out and I went home to wrestle with the laundry. Maybe I’d hang out a Christmas light myself.

There was a letter taped to my screen door. No envelope, just an open sheet.


The rest was legal bullshit, but I scanned the page for the handwritten parts. My address. Thirty days. Non-payment.


I looked at my house as if there might be an answer there, but it was just a dark wooden box with a crumbling foundation. I still hadn’t gotten the papers signed to fix it, but if the permits had been opened, my mother had gotten the notice in the mail. So she knew something was going down. Now, this, which must have been the result of my failure to send her a check two months running.

I had to call her.

I didn’t want to call her.

I stared at my phone. The number was right there. I’d missed the rent twice before. Once when Kevin and I broke up, and once when Gabby had tried to commit suicide. Both times, I’d just sent two month’s rent in an envelope with a thank you note. So when Gabby died and I was short, I just figured I’d make it up. And I could have, except I was in Vancouver December first and forgot and then I stopped working when Jonathan collapsed into my arms, so honestly, even if I’d had the cash in there, I was too preoccupied to manage any practical aspect of my life.

That’s what I get for living in her house. Really. How long could I mooch off someone I wasn’t speaking to anyway? How old was I?

I hit her number while I unlocked my front door. It was easier to do difficult things if I multitasked through them.

My house was exactly the same every time I went into it to shower or grab something, as if it was a museum of my life. Nothing moved. The blanket on the couch was rumpled in the shape of an opening rose. The curtains draped over the back of the chair like perfectly-trimmed bangs. The dishes in the rack were filed and waiting for archiving in the cabinets.

The phone stopped ringing and there was a click. Mom’s voice still had the slight Brazilian accent that had been carefully chipped away, but never smoothed off completely. My heart skipped a beat, an adrenaline rush in preparation for the confrontation.

It was a message.

“Hi, Mom. I got a notice the bank is auctioning off the house? Should we talk about it?”

God that was stupid. I hung up. Shoulda paid the fucking rent. Shoulda called her to let her know I was in a pinch. Shoulda had Darren move in. One more stupid shit thing in a long line of other stupid shit things. I folded the notice and wedged into the corner of my notebook. Fuck the Christmas lights.