The Prodigal Parents, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 32

In all innocence and glee, Fred was playing poker at the residence of his friend and lawyer, Edward McTavish Appletree, and the conversation was hearty with humour:

‘By me.’ ‘I’ll whoop you two.’ Knock, knock. ‘What’re you trying to do with that hooch, Ed — save it for your grandchildren?’

But he was also present, though not physically, in his own house, where Hazel, Sara, Howard, Annabel and Dr. Kamerkink were sitting as comfortably as possible, which wasn’t very comfortably, on Louis Quinze. Sara was holding forth:

‘You may think I’m absolutely silly, maybe a little melodramatic, in asking you to meet, but we’ve really got to be serious and practical. I don’t mean Father is the least bit insane, of course, but I do feel he’s got some pretty queer ideas that might make him do things that, afterward, he’d be the first to regret.’

‘Oh, come down to cases. What’s so queer?’ fretted Hazel.

‘These ideas about going off and being some kind of a John Ruskin, wandering around Europe studying art. Father’s one of the dearest, most dependable men living — or at least he has been — but even you, Mother, have got to admit that he can never be anything except a completely unimaginative small-city merchant; and with all affection, we ought to keep him from making himself ridiculous.’

They spoke together:

‘Only one of the whole lot of us that HAS imagination!’ from Annabel.

‘I think there’s a lot to what Sara says,’ from Howard.

‘He’s never even pretended he wanted to go Ruskining around Europe,’ from Hazel.

‘His euphoria does kind of puzzle me,’ from Dr. Kamerkink.

‘His what? Is that one of these things you take this to your druggist now and he’ll fill it, take three times daily just before meals?’ from Annabel.

‘Euphoria. State of gaiety and well-being. I don’t,’ said the doctor resentfully, ‘see what the dickens Fred has got to be cheerful about!’

Sara took over the debate again:

‘I don’t want to be an alarmist. I suppose Father is perfectly all right, really. But you all know of cases where a man who has been a reliable husband and father has suddenly gone haywire, and at just about Father’s age, and started gambling or drinking or chasing women, and left his family . . .’

(‘With all their gimmes,’ murmured Annabel.)

‘ . . . unprovided for. Of course Father has built up a good business, but you know what can happen to any business, these days, if the responsible head starts neglecting it. So far as I know, the only real safeguard any of his family has is Father’s fifty-thousand-dollar life insurance. Now I’m the last person in the world to be grasping or dependent. I belong to the new race of women who want to carve out their own destinies, but at the same time, I have to make a start. It’s not my fault if I have to have lots more training before I can achieve a great position and get my own shop. I’m simply not going to let Father let me down! Considering that we are, after all, the only people that Father depends on, if we stick together, he’ll just have to give up any ideas of ditching us . . . And of course Howard’s career also, I suppose, and your child coming, Annabel.’

(‘Howard, is this true? Why didn’t you tell me?’)

(‘Oh, shut up, Bell.’)

(‘Do you belong to the new race of men, beautiful?’)

‘Now I’m sure Dr. Kamerkink will back me up in saying that the comparatively new science of psychiatry has developed to a point where they can cure a twisted mind just as they cure a twisted foot, and I happen to know slightly the most wonderful psychiatrist in New York: Dr. George Janissary. His patients look up to him with absolute reverence — and, mind you, they’re not a bunch of hysterical spinsters, but a lot of them are brokers and engineers and college professors and doctors, too. Why, ever so many of them come back to him every year.’

Annabel snorted: ‘If a doctor cured my twisted foot but I had to go back every year, I’d think he was a bum untwister.’

‘For heaven’s sake, Annabel, will you please permit ME, at least, to be serious?’

(‘Butting in again . . . Gimmes.’ Annabel’s mutter was like the muted bark of a small dog that has been told to dry up.)

‘I ventured to talk over all this with Dr. Janissary when I was in New York on my last buying trip, and he says it would be a cinch — very common psychosis, mild delusions of grandeur — and he says he can easily guide Father into getting well.’

Through it all, though she had not glibly interrupted like Annabel, Hazel had looked shocked. She stammered now, ‘B-but did this doctor make a diagnosis just from what you told him?’

‘After all, a daughter, and living right in the same house with her father, ought to understand him, if she’s reasonably intelligent.’

(‘If!’ from Annabel.)

Hazel struggled on, ‘I’m perfectly certain you’re wrong. I’ve never known your father clearer-headed.’

‘But you’ll admit, Mother, it wouldn’t hurt Father to SEE Dr. Janissary? Weren’t you glad when he had his general physical examination?’

‘Ye-es . . . though he did crow so, afterwards!’

‘And what do you think, Doctor?’

Dr. Kamerkink said benignly, ‘Well, I don’t suppose it would hurt Fred any, though I certainly don’t see any need,’ but he barely got it out, so vigorously did Hazel take over the conference:

‘Sara! Listen to me for a moment — even if I am only your mother! Strikes me this all comes down to how honest a man your Janissary person is. I’m not so behind-the-times that I don’t know that psychiatry, or however you pronounce it, does do wonders; helps ever so many people get straight what it is that’s worrying them. But to a lot of folks, and I confess I’m one of ’em, it still seems a little like magic, and if they depended on a psychiatrist that was money-grabbing, and if they thought he was an all-powerful medicine man, wouldn’t it be dangerous? Seems to me I have heard about American women going to Europe and getting into the clutches of fancy psychologists . . .’

(‘With whiskers!’)

‘ . . . that got them all confused and milked ’em.’

‘Foreigners? Yes, possibly. Foreigners are often crooked. But Dr. Janissary is a real American. And he speaks five languages and plays the violin and goes trout fishing.’

‘The fishing part sounds fine,’ said Dr. Kamerkink.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38