On the southern banks of the Mississippi, the pinkish shades of the sky splash the cold water. No jazz is heard, nothing but the whistling of insects. Black clouds of insects. A young girl has dipped her feet in the water, she cries that the water is too cold. The color of her eyes resembles the flower of the indigo tree, her smile makes me float on a cotton bridge. But she is only a dream. For, I have just finished my day. I saw a couple tearing each other apart, the woman had bruises on her face. I tried to reassure a madman who had taken refuge in the back room of a candy store. I feel exhausted, I look at the stars, they give me courage.
Katrina made 30% of our city flee. A thousand kilometers from my apartment, the voluptuous Miami is sleeping. I am afraid that the hurricane will come back tonight from the Gulf of Mexico. I turn on the television, they don’t talk about a storm, but I have a bad feeling. I cross and uncross my hands. I close the windows, checking several times that they are well closed. Then I finally breathe, I pour myself a grenadine that I mix with lemonade. I lower the sound of the television. The weather girl has the pinched look of one of my great-aunts, on my mother’s side.
I’m on my bed, listening to electronic music while watching the ceiling ripple. I’ve taken a line of coke, I regret it. I want to go back and check if the window is closed. My heart tightens. I think of Theresa’s face that I like to see floating in my dreams when I am alone. Yes, I know she will never love me. I’m just a police officer who has been ruined by years of work. I am just one of the bugs of the Mississippi River.
Suddenly, as the night has finally decided to plunge the room in the dark, as a clarinet music reaches me from the closed window, three violent knocks are knocked on my door. Sweating, I widen my eyes and sit up on the white sheets. The window opens suddenly. I hastily put on my slippers and go towards the peephole. But the person is too close, I do not distinguish his face.
I hear the bells of the St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square. Or maybe I am dreaming. The door swings open as I twist the handle. The man has the build of the devil, his hair could use some careful trimming. He glares at me. I greet him, after all, we have known each other for a long time. He shakes his broad jaw from front to back, I have the impression to attend the entry of a bear possessed by Satan. Then he shakes my hand, as if nothing had happened.
— I knew you were home, Tartt.
— You know my life well.
— I do.
What my shrink is doing in my bachelor apartment in a bathrobe, I can’t explain to myself, not at the time, nor in the seconds that follow. I offer him a glass of whisky (without the ice cubes), sit him down respectfully.
— It’s good to see you, Tartt.
I expect an explanation, but he stares out the window.
— Your window…
— It’s not closed properly.
I sigh, hurrying to close the window. When will this lunatic admit to me why he knocked on my door like a ghost chased by God.
— I must confess that I feel very bad to come without warning, so late, at your place…
He continues his speech
— I am your shrink and our relationship has always been very cordial.
I shrug my shoulders. Professor Sanders takes twice as much as most psychiatrists. But my ex-wife, who had seen him sporadically, recommended him highly.Why you, here, now? I swallow.
— I like you, kid.
I wonder if this is really the psychiatrist I see every week. No, a doctor would never allow himself to wake up his patient in the middle of the night, especially an insomniac patient. He would never, ever allow himself to do that; he would spare his clients’ sleep crumbs. But now I have some doubts about the doctor’s professionalism. Who knows if he didn’t take advantage of the fact that he knows I am an insomniac (and of the address I gave him) to pay me a little unexpected visit for a reason that only he knows?
His glass of whisky is almost empty. He looks at it with despair. Again, I hear bells ringing in the distance in the Louisiana night sky. I shudder from head to toe. What if this is a nightmare? Or worse, what if this disheveled man was the devil himself? Just as I was wondering if I was in the midst of a manic delirium, my evening companion spoke up again.
—I need your help, Tartt. Urgently.
I thought about what Theresa would say if she saw me and the doctor having a conversation after midnight. I suspected that Theresa was avoiding me because I was bipolar. I sighed. Life is just a show put on by actors crazier than me.
— My help?
— You’re a policeman.
I got up and went to get a glass of whiskey. I didn’t offer my doctor one. He was probably already drunk, or he would never have taken the liberty of coming to besiege my peace.
— I am…
He laughed out loud.
— Look, I know this sounds crazy, but… You really need to help me.
He wiped his fat, soft lips with his index finger. Behind him, a picture frame with a photograph of my parents was starting to come down. I closed my eyes.
— You have no right to use the information I gave you to come to my home in the middle of the night.
— You have no right to be a police officer with your bipolar disorder.
So this damned soul of a psychiatrist had come to disturb me in my romantic reveries about Theresa to remind me that I had been living for years in illegality, lies and complete dissimulation. Yes, I’m a psychically unstable cop, but a good cop, I give more to society the more I know what I’m hiding from it. I gritted my teeth. What time was it? I was about to chase the impudent visitor away with a bang, but he suddenly made me feel sorry. What if he really had a problem? After all, policemen are like doctors and their Hippocratic oath. They owe assistance to the first person they meet, even if they’d rather be tanning in the sun.
— Tell me everything.
The frame came off and fell to the ground with a loud noise. No sound could be heard except our conversation. The night had sucked out all the sounds of New Orleans.
—I’m being chased.
— I beg your pardon?
So it was me who was being treated by a psychiatrist for antisocial disorders, but the psychiatrist seemed to be completely out of touch. I remained silent for a few moments. Then, more out of politeness than out of any real desire to bring the conversation to a conclusion, I whispered between my white teeth (the result of years of dentistry):
— Are you being chased ? By a client?
—By a woman.
I spit out my sip of whiskey.
— Can you host me tonight and protect me? You see, I know from what you’ve told me that this is your daily routine. Protecting the public. And in a way, I am a prominent member of that population.
I was shaking with rage. He had no right to use me like that.
— I don’t know, I…
— I beg you. I will make as many certificates as you want. I’ll sell my blood to make sure you’re not publicly suffering from any mental disorder.
— But I don’t want to lie anymore! I’ve had enough! You know how much it hurts me to stay silent!
I jumped to my feet. The psychiatrist frowned in his seat.Please help me. One night, that’s all I ask. One night and then…
— And then?
— And then I could go to the police. The police station opens at 9:00. One night, and that’s it.
— I can’t host you here. You can hear everything. It’s too small. I don’t have another bed.
— In your country house, then.
— How do you know I have a country house?
— You told me. Can we leave now?
— And take your gun!
I rubbed my eyes, finding it hard to believe the scene that was unfolding before my eyes without my being able to stop it. Finally, exhausted by my day, still high on coke, I grabbed the keys to the country house, pushed the fat doctor out of the apartment. I closed the door, making sure that none of the neighbors had noticed us.
— Where’s your car? » asked Dr. Sanders. He had definitely planned ahead.
— We’ll have to walk. I parked it a few yards from here.
We left the building. I wondered if this story about a woman chasing him was real. But I had to admit that I was looking forward to having a way to blackmail my psychiatrist in the near future.
So we walked side by side, like two mangy dogs, into the golden night of New Orleans. What time was it? A beggar spat at us from a darkened alley. Then he ran away and I had the impression that the beggar was a child. I shrugged my shoulders. I saw the crime unfold before my eyes every day like an old movie I had produced. It seemed to me that the psychiatrist was shaking.
— Are you cold?
— I’m afraid of her, you know. She’s completely mad.
— Tell me about her.
— She is my wife.
— Your wife.I mean my wife is dead.
— I beg your pardon?
I was now convinced that the psychiatrist was mad. I chew a chewing gum, thinking about how I could get rid of him, when, with Lake Ponchartrain at our backs, the moon began to shine brighter than it had in the previous hours. I breathed in the scent of embers in the air – surely a fire – but tonight I was a plainclothes cop escorting his doctor through the deserted streets of the Jazz Capital.
— My wife died last year. But her ghost haunts me. There! Can’t you see it? It is everywhere in the folds of the walls. It occupies every space in the sky, it haunts every dust that falls to the ground, it is devilishly clever, for it knows that I have spotted it.
— Does she want to hurt you?
— She wants me dead.
— Come on.
I spit my chewing gum into an obscure trash can.
— I killed her.
I remained silent. The psychiatrist stopped under the purple neon lights of a fashion store that were still on. He took his head in his big sweaty hands.
—I killed her. My work killed her. My patients killed her.
— And she haunts you?
I almost felt remorse at using my doctor’s insanity to get those certificates he had told me about. I was like a doctor without a Hippocratic oath, I had to help my fellow man. And just then, we had arrived in front of a small church. I put my hand on the doctor’s arm, and although I never liked physical contact very much, I reassured him.
—You didn’t kill her.
— I never loved her. She haunts me now. I spent all those years giving molecules to people like you, to make them a little more acceptable in society. But I never loved her. I never liked it. I regret it now; now that she’s gone.
He began to cry loudly. The last night streetcar was coming at full speed and almost ran me over. I saw that the figure of the psychiatrist was moving away in the cold mist of the city. I tried to catch up with him.
— Come on, let’s go back to my apartment.
— What about the car? Aren’t we going to your country house?
— I don’t think your wife will be picking you up in my apartment. We should have stayed at my place. I’ll give you my bed, you’ll sleep, and we’ll talk about this again in the morning.
Exhausted by this surreal walk with the doctor, I slumped into the chair he had occupied a few hours earlier. I woke up all of a sudden. My alarm clock had not gone off, but someone was knocking frantically at the door.
I opened the door for my next-door neighbor.
—I wondered if everything was all right, Mr. Policeman.
I closed the door, panting, and rushed into the room.
The psychiatrist was lying like a big puddle of humanity, all over. On his forehead shone two red holes. I felt dizzy, grabbed the doorframe and went out.
He didn’t look suicidal yesterday. Then a shadowy shape shone in front of the window. I reached out to grab it with my full hand, but a handful of dust escaped from my fingers.
I don’t know if it was my scream or the noise of the vase breaking behind me that made the most noise, but I passed out. When I woke up, the doctor’s body was gone. I was shaking with all my limbs.
I opened the window and heard the bells of New Orleans. Then a stork flew from the roof before my stunned eyes. It reached the sun and disappeared in wisps of black smoke. I opened my eyes and tried to close the window but could not. Suddenly, the clouds before my eyes dissipated. The hurricane was coming. Behind the curtain of rain, golden drops that formed the hair of a woman, waved. It seemed to me that I could see the smile of a stranger against the glowing sky. I put my hand to my chest and thought of my love for Theresa. I resolved to call another shrink the next day.