“The Closer”

Dr. Morris Klozer had to tell another patient that he was dying.  It was his third of the afternoon.

About a year earlier, an orderly had started calling him “The Closer,” and it made sense, so it caught on.  Morris was like the pitcher you bring in bottom of the final inning to throw nine strikes and seal the win.  Unerring. Intimidating.  Fast.

The staff didn’t know at first how Morris would take to the name, but then someone found out that he liked it.  Now everyone openly called him “The Closer.” They delighted in shouting, “Hey, Closer! Go get’em!” as he walked the seventh floor like a slinger looking for the dugout door so that he could trot onto the field under bright lights to save the big game.  But if Morris was on the seventh floor, he was visiting a terminal patient who did not know, until The Closer did the consult, that he was in fact a terminal patient.

Health care givers in stressful settings must do things like that to stay sane.  They reveled in the irony that Morris’s last name actually was pronounced “Closer” even though it was spelled differently, and that nobody—patients and their families—knew the difference, or got the pun.  The nurses and orderlies on the seventh floor knew what it meant when they heard someone greeting The Closer during rounds.  Not that a patient was going to die, because all patients are going to die, and most of them on the seventh floor quite soon.  The nurses and the orderlies already knew who was going to die.  Not that.  But if Morris was there, the dying patient was about to receive The Closer’s prognostication.  The dying patient was about to see into the future.

There were only three ways to die on the seventh floor.  Quietly, slipping away in your sleep.  Quietly, slipping away after the family had agreed to put you on “comfort care” so that the morphine drip amounted to a lethal injection.  Or crashing, with seizures, stains, and bloody hassle.  It was rare that The Closer saw the latter kind of patient, because they were out before he was needed.  And he usually saw the first two kinds at a point before they got to their comas, when the gravity of their situations was just materializing.  He would get a call, get the chart, read what he needed in the diagnostics, prognostics, and bios, close, and get back to his office.

That’s when patient behavior got interesting on the seventh floor.  There were many more than three possible reactions to The Closer’s performance, which was designed to minimize friction.  Let the patient know what’s coming in a way that makes life easier for the nurses and orderlies.

Lately Morris’s favorite reaction was denial.  That made things easiest.  Stark, bald-faced psychological rejection of having heard what he’d just said.  Sometimes he worried that, in prepping for the game, he introduced elements that were unconsciously designed to produce denial.  The truth was that Morris wanted his coworkers to respect his ability to tell people to their faces over and over and over again day after day after day, “You’re going to die.”  He wanted them to envy the fact that it looked easy for him, and that he was capable of making things easier for them.  The truth was that it was not all that easy.  Well, much easier than for other doctors.  However easy Morris made it seem, most of his colleagues just couldn’t do it.  Some of them fell apart even thinking about it.  That’s where he came in.  He was The Closer that the team turned their sweat-streaked hopeful faces toward, praying he’d do the job right and make everything fine.  Morris Klozer was a doctor you could depend on.

Of course it was hard when dying patients started arguing with him about his qualifications, or about why they were talking to him instead of their own doctors.  “Who the hell are you anyway,” they’d spit.  So often he wanted to say, “I’m the fucking Closer.  Your doctor doesn’t have the guts to do this, so they brought me in.”  But he never did.

When he first started closing years ago, that was the worst reaction: anger.  But then, after he became a veteran closer, the worst was hysteria.  In the beginning, hysteria made sense, and helped him maintain a human connection with his (well, other people’s) patients.  They were his victims, in a sense.  Like the three poor batters sent up to face a Big League Closer.  No chance they’d be staying in the game.  He even thought of hysteria as something more benign.  Sadness.  Disappointment.  After a while, it was hard, seeing it on a daily basis, not to see it for what it was.  You hear you’re going to die and you blubber like a drunk, so sad for all the bad things you’ve done, and how you wished you could change if you just had more time.  The tear choked back in the desperation of self-control was completely forgivable, but hysteria he could no longer abide.

This time he was pretty sure he’d get anger or denial, so he felt ok going in.  The chart said that the 67-year-old almost dead man had been a career Marine, enlisted (now retired).  No way that guy was going to cry.  He’d fall back on his training and either tear Morris’s head off and skull fuck his eye hole, or accept his orders with the courage of denial that allows a man to walk straight into the horror of war without question.

“Good afternoon, Top,” Morris said as he walked through the door.  “I’m Doctor Klozer.”  And he extended a hand in greeting.

His game plan this time was deference.  He had countless variations on a finite set of scenarios, and the overall strategy he had decided to go with here included deferring to the patient’s sense of self worth and importance.  Even though I am a Doctor, Morris’s demeanor was intended to convey, I respect the authority that you once possessed. With this tone established, he’d close following his typical template.  An introduction that established rapport.  Delivery of the bad news either directly or indirectly depending upon the patient profile. A close that redirected the patient’s attention away from death to a pleasant remembrance dictated by the patient bio.  That’s slider, fast ball or curve, change up.  Batter out.  Batter up.

Top looked anxious, as did his wife and son.  They’d been waiting patiently for a report after surgery.  Here it was.

Morris explained that the surgeon had found an astrocytoma, which is to say a glioma, which the doctors call a glioblastoma multiforme, which is a grade IV astrocytoma, aka a glioblastoma, or GBM.  “You know how we like those acronyms,” he smiled.

“Now, Top,” he went on.  “This is the most invasive type of glial tumor.  It has spread to the nearby tissue, and that’s why the surgeon could not remove it.  It has tentacles that have rooted down throughout the brain.  Sometimes we can just scoop them out, but this one has attached itself pretty well.

“It’s growing rapidly, although it might have gotten started in there 30 years ago.  It might have been waiting all that time, waiting to grow.

“It’s common in both men and women aged 50 to 70 and accounts for almost a quarter of all primary brain tumors, so you are not alone.

“You’re probably wondering what we do next.  Well, that’s for your primary oncologist to decide, in consultation with you, of course.  You’ve had the surgery, which unfortunately could not get more than a biopsy.  I would guess that he’ll prescribe some combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. In a case like this, targeted radiation therapy can be effective.

“What they’ll do, Top, now that they know exactly where the tumor is located . . .” and at this point Morris went to the patient’s bedside and adjusted the bandage around his head, to give the comfort of human touch “. . . they’ll put an X to mark the spot.”  And he drew an “x” in the air over where the surgery scar hid underneath the bandage.  “They’ll take you in and point a laser beam of radiation right at the tumor.  We have the latest equipment for doing intensity-modulated radiation therapy and image-guided radiation therapy.  That’s IMRT and IGRT if you prefer.”  And he smiled.  “This is much more effective than the older PET programs, because the radiation doesn’t directly invade other parts of your body and cause as many side effects.  What you’d call ‘collateral damage.’”  Morris was winding up, and here came the close.

“We know of cases like yours where there’ll be a good year or two, even three, of remission before the cancer comes back.”

He let that sink in.

“At that point, there’ll be nothing we can do about it.”

Pause again.

“So this is very serious.”

And, end.

Quiet.

The Top Sergeant was staring into space.  The wife slash mother had a blank look.  At least the son had heard what Morris had said, and that was enough family cognizance for now.  Morris could tell that the son understood him, though he wasn’t saying anything either.

Then Morris deflected the conversation, which was really a monologue anyway.

“I see you were a Drill Instructor at Parris Island,” he said.  “Man, I know about that.  Did that course myself when I was 30 just to see if I could make it.  It’s nothing these days like it was in your time, I know.  Back then you could put your hands on the recruits, couldn’t you?  Kick ‘em in the pants.  Not like today.”

Morris could tell that this was comforting, the shared experience and the deference.  The old marine took it all in and finally said, “Well, thanks, Doc.”  And then he said, “Well, I guess you’ve gotta die of something.”  And Morris knew that he had won.  The wife slash mother chose not to hear what the dead man said, but the son heard it.  Morris knew that his purpose was accomplished.  He shook the patients’ hands, thanked them for being patient patients, and left the room.

Score!

Morris had never been in the military.  Everything he knew about Parris Island and the Marine Corps, like calling the head sergeant “Top,” he’d learned from a 1957 Jack Webb movie called The D.I.  That’s when he found out that D.I. stands for Drill Instructor, the sergeant who trains the newly enlisted marines at “boot camp,” which takes place at Parris Island, South Carolina.  He’d never been to South Carolina. He’d learned about it on the late-late show on his office t.v. just last week.  It was funny how things worked out like that.  He had no idea why he’d been so interested in the movie, but then here came this close, and he was able to use the information to do a beautiful job.

It occurred to Morris that the reason he was so good at his job was imagination.  Yes, the power of imagination.  People talked about imagination when they spoke about artists and writers.  But that was the faculty that made Morris Klozer The Closer.  His imagination allowed him to adapt to his patients and seamlessly blend into their lives like an old acquaintance you’d remember you’d met somewhere before 15 minutes after he’d gone.

That was the third close of the day.  He was practically skipping back down the seventh floor corridor toward the elevator that would return him to his office when he heard his name being called.

Mooor-ris.  Mooor-ris.

It was coming from a patient’s room.  He thought a nurse must be calling him and wondered about the informality.  The only nurse who’d have the guts to call a doctor by his first name without permission in earshot of patients was the Head Nurse.  But she was also the last nurse in the world who’d violate protocol like that.

The treatment curtain was drawn shut though the door was open.  He could hear his name but couldn’t see inside.  He hesitated at the door.  Did he really hear his name?

Mooor-ris!

Yes.

He stepped inside and swatted back the curtain.  A bunch of Indians were congregated around the bed, where the venerable Grandfather was lying with a destroyed liver.  They all looked at Morris like a ghost had entered the room.  He didn’t know whether or not they recognized him, but he had seen them before.  He’d closed on the Chief’s cirrhosis over three months ago.  He was surprised the old guy had made it this long.  He was in complete shut down now and must have just been admitted for his final stay.

Morris called him “The Chief.”  He was clearly the head of a devoted clan.  There was his grandson again, a twenty-something Indian brave whom Morris had named “Fuck You Man.”  Morris knew to keep an eye on him.  There was the old younger brother, “Never Goes Bald,” because he had two tightly wound grey braids that reached all the way down past his waist.  There was the head woman, “Seen It All with a Sigh.”  And the miscellaneous familial entourage of people who breed more than they earn.

“I’m Doctor Klozer,” Morris said to whoever had called his name.  “How can I help?” He wavered just a little, looking from one incredulous face to the next.  Maybe someone wanted to thank him for his earlier kindness, now that they saw the things he had spoken of coming to pass.

“Mooor-ris.  Noozhis.”  It was the Chief talking.

“Yes, I’m Doctor Klozer,” Morris said again.  “What can I do for you?”

Morris tossed a puzzled look back at the startled Indians.  Finally Fuck You Man snapped, “That’s the first thing he’s said in three days.”

Morris simply nodded.  Sometimes there was no explaining the behavior of the dying.

“Noozhis,” the old man said.  “Whatchoo doing here?”  It was all he could do to breathe, let alone put words on the brittle stream of air.

“Ah, I’m here to help,” Morris said.  He could tell Fuck You Man thought he sounded condescending.  But this was not about Fuck You Man’s concern that his ancient grandfather chose to impart his dying words to Morris, not him.  This was about the Chief.  Morris was feeling frisky from closing so well with the marine.  So he stepped a little further into the room, so that the family had to part way for him to advance.

“Noozhis,” wheezed the Chief.

“What’s that he’s saying?” Morris asked generally to anyone who wanted to explain.

Disbelievingly, a woman said, “He’s calling you ‘grandson.’”

“Ah.”  Morris nodded.  Delusions happen, as much hurt as they might bring the family.  Morris would have felt worse about it if Fuck You Man hadn’t copped such an attitude at the bedside, hovering as if it was his job to protect the old man’s spirit from one more Witch Doctor before it journeyed to the happy hunting grounds.  So Morris didn’t leave.  He stepped closer.

“Yes,” he said, in the most soothing voice he could manage.  Then he looked around the room.  He didn’t know why, but he announced softly, “My great-great-grandmother was a Cherokee Princess.”

Seen It All with a Sigh looked unsettled, as if Morris had just farted.  Fuck You Man glowered.  Before he could say something to clarify what these people clearly mistook for an insult, the old man laughed.  That was more shocking than anything Morris could have said or done.

“Yeah,” said the Chief, “And your great-great-granddaddy ate her!”

Then he laughed like a demon in a dream.  The laughing ripped the tubes out of his nose.  Nobody knew what to do.

Morris hit the nurse’s call button.  The old man was still hysterical when she came, and Morris left.

Imagination is a dangerous power.  It can let you do amazing things.  But it is porous.  The membrane that allows your mind’s eye to outwardly enact its performances as works of art in the world can also let the imagination of another penetrate you and work its way down deep inside.  And that might just be what happened to Doctor Morris Klozer.  Somewhere in the back of his mind, he got the thought that an old Indian shaman had just put a voodoo curse on him.

The chief died that night.  Then nobody died on the seventh floor for days.  Morris stayed in his office waiting.  One of the nurses asked him why he didn’t go home.

“It’s cold out there,” Morris explained.  And it was.  Michigan in February.  Morris stayed in his office, ate at the 24-hour hospital cafeteria, watched the 13” Zenith television, slept on the couch.

Finally, a phone call.  But it wasn’t from the seventh floor.  Never Goes Bald wanted to see him.

They met in the post-op waiting area.  Morris was a bit disheveled, but he had the sense to realize they might be saying the words “die, dying, dead” a lot, so he took Never Goes Bald out into the hallway so that the anxious friends and family members of other patients wouldn’t overhear.

This old Indian had cleaned up nice.  He wore ribbons in his braids and on his shirt.  He explained that he’d just come from his brother’s funeral.

“That’s nice,” Morris said.  He wanted to get to what was coming and let that inanity slip without thinking.  He was surprised when Never Goes Bald didn’t react badly.

“Yes.  Yes, it was nice,” he said.  He stuck out his hand.  Morris hesitated.  “I’m Joe.  Joe Morris,” he said.

“Morris?” Morris asked.  Moooor-ris.  He remembered the coincidence now.  Same last name as Morris’s first name.  “I’m Doctor Morris Klozer.”

“Yes. Yes, I know who you are.”

Of course, Morris thought.  Of course you do.  Now, why are you here?

“I’m here because it was my brother’s last wish,” Injun Joe Morris said.

Morris allowed himself to look puzzled, but not incredulous.

At that, Injun Joe Morris bent over double and sucked in a huge breath.  Might as well get right to it, his body language said.  And it weren’t gonna be pretty.

“My brother said you are a Windigo.  That was the message he told me to give you.”

“A what?”  Morris knew perfectly well what a Windigo was.  He just wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly.

“A Windigo, like your great-great grandfather.  Did you know that you were a Windigo?”

Morris wanted to protest, but he couldn’t because he didn’t know who his great-great grandfather was.  He glanced around to see where another staff member might be.  An orderly.  A nurse.  Anybody.

“I beg your pardon?”  He could tell this wasn’t easy for Injun Joe.

“A Windigo.  My brother had a vision.  You was eatin babies.  He says it’s got to stop.  It’s got to stop with you.”

Patients often say ridiculous things under stress, and Morris was used to ignoring them.  So that’s what he did. He would say something polite and get through the moment.

“Well,” he said.  “I’ll certainly take that under advisement.”

Injun Joe Morris said, “All right then.  I’ve done what I came here to do.”  He nodded a goodbye at Morris Klozer, the magna cum laude Cannibal from U-M Medical.

“My great-great-grandfather was German.  Dutch-German, I think,” Morris said.  I think? Why the hell had he said any of that, but why I think?

Injun Joe stuck out his hand one more time.  Now Morris got the body language.  Injun Joe was afraid of pulling back a stump.  But he had stuck out his hand anyway, so he didn’t believe any of it either.

Morris stuck out his hand.  “Goodbye, then.  Sorry for your loss.”

But Injun Joe Morris wasn’t offering to shake.  He was handing Morris a piece of paper.

“It’s all written down there,” he said.  “My nephew wrote it down for us.”

Well.  Morris could just imagine that.  What a time Fuck You Man would have had.  Morris took the paper.

The Indian said “Nindoozhim,” turned his back, and walked down the hall.

Windigo psychosis is a mental disorder of rare occurrence, and mainly the stuff of legend to scare little children from playing too late in the woods.  That was its probable function.  To prevent children from putting themselves in danger, parents introduced a boogey man monster.  Don’t go into them woods after dark, or the Windigo will get you.

A person suffering from Windigo psychosis develops an unhealthy appetite for human flesh.  That’s stupid, thought Morris.  What would a healthy appetite for human flesh look like?  And it was more than just an appetite.  It was an insatiable craving.  The legend came about no doubt on long winter nights all over North America, when food became scarce, and people had to resort to cannibalism to stay alive.  A Windigo was a person who butchered and ate other people, usually his own family.  Probably because they were handy, thought Morris.  And once the person went that way, there was no turning back. He needed more human flesh. He had to eat and eat and eat and could never eat enough to stop his hunger.  There were true stories of trappers who slaughtered and ate their wives and children even when they could have made it to food supplies at a nearby Hudson’s Bay outpost.  And for all he ate, Windigo was a skeletal bag of bones.  The more he ate, the more ravenous he became, and the more ravenous, the more wasted.

So, the old Indian had cursed him.  He’d turned Doctor Morris Klozer into an Indian voodoo zombie.

Morris didn’t read the paper the Indian had given him right away.  It sat unevenly folded on his desk for a few days.  But since the seventh floor wasn’t calling, Morris couldn’t get it off his mind.  He knew precisely where it was, and imagined its posture on the pile of miscellaneous papers that Morris always had stacked in the same place, the pile that he planned to get to but knew he never would, not until enough time had passed and their relevance was out of date, so that he could throw them all out in one bunch in order to start a new, similar pile.

Finally he got tired of ignoring the paper and unfolded it.  Handwritten, it said:

Jack Morris

Jack Morris    →          Jack Clore

Maynard Clore  →  KLOZER

William Klozer

Morris Klozer

A family tree.  Presumably Morris’s family tree.  Presumptuous, Morris thought.  And then he wondered why he was reacting spitefully.  The truth was that Morris didn’t know much about his family.  His parents were dead.  They’d been local people, and no ancestors of consequence had been worth mentioning.  There was just something about Klozer being a German name, like Kaiser, or Kleiner.  There were rumors of Dutch traders somewhere in time, and the great-great-Indian grandmother.

But the idea that Morris was in fact related to the Indian who had just died of liver failure was like an infection he couldn’t scratch.  Many times over the years, the dying had mistaken him for a long lost loved one.  Sometimes they even thought he was an Angel of God, and even Death Itself dragging his scythe down the seventh floor hall.  There was no explaining the hallucinations of patients delirious on morphine and pre-posthumous beta-endorphins.  It was equally true that bizarre things sometimes happened at the close of life, how suffering might cease, and the perfect light of beatitude cascade over a patient’s final moments.  The Chief knew Morris’s name and called it out when he could not possibly have seen him in the hall.  And the Chief hadn’t said another word in three days.  And the Chief’s last name was Morris’s first name.  The last shall be first, Morris thought.  He called me “son or grandson or something.”  That’s what one of the women said.

The next morning, Morris risked the cold.  He took a cab from the hospital to the County courthouse and asked to look at census records.  The clerk was used to ancestry hunters.  It happened all the time.  Since Morris produced a physician’s credentials, he got good treatment.  Arrangements were made, and the search was on.  But it was futile.  He found his own birth, his father William’s birth, and his mother’s birth.  The Klozer name stopped right there.  His mother’s maiden name, Jonquil, went way back, and he gave up trying to find anything interesting in the transparently unbroken lineage that spiraled out of control in his mind.  No.  It was his father’s line that obsessed him.  Something was not right.  Morris Klozer.  Father William Klozer.  Then nothing.  It was as if his father had dropped into the world from parts unknown, deposited his extraterrestrial seed in a transplanted French-Canadian country girl, used the German-Dutch-Cherokee legerdemain as a cover story, then jetted off to wherever he’d come from.  What kind of name was Klozer, anyway?

Morris became consumed with finding his patriarchal origins.  He refused to believe that a dying Indian recognized him as a relative and knew more about where he came from than Morris himself did.

One day his cell phone rang while he was investigating.  It was the hospital.  They needed him on the seventh floor again.

“Can it wait?” he asked.  Of course it couldn’t.  “Well, can’t somebody else do it?”  Of course nobody else could do it.

Morris went back to work but the gallows-humor joy had gone out of the job.  He was tired of telling people they were going to die.  He didn’t like it anymore, and he realized that he never did.  He felt tricked into it by people who were too weak to do their own dirty work.  Now when his shift ended, he went back to looking up his family tree.  The daddy branch bent close to the ground, then above it, only sky.

Finally he screwed up the courage to go see the Indians.

The family lived on the reservation in Saginaw.  Never Goes Bald volunteered part-time for the Anishinabe Ogitchedaw Veteran and Warrior Society helping people understand government paperwork so that they could file for their benefits.  Morris walked up the steps of the Tribal Operations Office during the time the receptionist had said Never Goes Bald would be there.  Morris hoped that nobody knew that he called Joe Morris “Never Goes Bald” in the privacy of his thoughts.

Joe Morris didn’t seem surprised to see him.

“Welcome home, Nindoozhim,” he said.  “Thought you’d never come back.”  And he smiled.  Morris had the feeling that he was being made fun of.

“Mr. Morris,” Morris said.  “I’ve got some questions about the paper you gave me.”

“Just a minute,” Joe Morris said.  He got up and got his coat.  “Let’s go get some coffee.  Peggy,” he yelled down the hall to the receptionist.  “We’ll be over at the diner in case a bunch of those greedy Indian veterans of foreign wars get to looking for me.”

“Ok, Joe,” Peggy called back.

Joe winked at Morris and said, “Come along.”

At the diner, after the coffee had been poured and the waitress had retreated, Joe Morris laid everything out.  Morris realized that the old man hadn’t wanted to be overheard in the Tribal Office.  “Everybody knows about it,” Joe Morris said.  “You can’t keep a thing like that hidden.  But still we don’t talk about it much.”

So Doctor Morris Klozer’s father William Klozer was the son of Maynard Clore whose father Jack Morris had changed to his mother’s family name after his father Jack Morris became a Windigo and ate the family one winter.  Jack Jr. somehow survived the meal but couldn’t overcome the stigma of having a demonic cannibal for a father, so he moved to another town and sought to obscure his identity.  Clore was supposedly of French-Canadian derivation on his mother’s side.  It’s “clos” in the imperative, and was used ancestrally by someone who didn’t like Jack’s great-great-grandmother reading so much and always shouted at her to close her book.  But even this name change was not subtle enough for Maynard, the grandson of the Windigo, who mangled clore and the present imperative verb form clos into “Klozer.”  Next came William, whose willful ignorance helped the story’s popularity subside.  They had become black sheep, stayed to themselves, and certainly didn’t repeat the transgressions of preceding generations.  Nevertheless, William named his son Morris as an homage to the ancestral moniker.  And little Morris became a doctor.  “We can all be proud of that,” declared Morris’s uncle, Injun Joe.  And he winked that wink again.

“But listen,” he said.  “All kiddin aside.  I believe what my brother said.  He had powers.  Everyone knows that.  So if he said you’re a Morris, I believe it.”

Morris was sitting dumbfounded as steam waves from the coffee cup delicately slapped his chin.

“And that other thing.” Injun Joe leaned a little closer and lowered his voice even further.  “If my brother said it, I believe it too.”

Back at the hospital, the nurses and orderlies noticed that a change had come over Doctor Klozer.  His visits produced more negative excitation in the patients and families than ever before.  They figured he was just in a slump, and that things would improve.  But they didn’t.  One day, an irate young family member came rushing out of a hospital room right behind Morris.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” he shouted.  Morris kept on walking.  “Hey, I’m talking to you!”

One of the orderlies came up behind the young man and tried to calm him.  A nurse came over.  Morris kept walking, and the young man switched from shouting at him to shouting about him.

“Who the hell does that asshole think he is!”

Goodness, thought the Head Nurse.  There wasn’t anything she hadn’t handled a hundred times before, but this was among the most juvenile reactions to bad news ever.  She hoped she wouldn’t have to call Security and thought about getting a “benzo-hype” ready in case he needed sedation.

“Sir!  Sir!” she said.  “I can understand why you’re upset, but please.  This is a hospital.  Please try to calm yourself.”

The young man tried to calm himself.

“Now,” the Head Nurse said.  “What in the world is wrong?”

“That bastard, right there—” The young man pointed accusingly at Morris’s backside rounding a corner.  “He swaggered in, looked at my mother’s chart, and he said . . . He said.” The young man was trying to collect himself.

The nurses and the orderlies standing by couldn’t wait.  He said what?

“He said, ‘You’re going to fucking die.  The tumor’s inoperable, and you’re going to die.  Three months tops.  And it’ll be painful.’  That is what he fucking said.”

No one believed it.  They got the man to take some diazepam and sit back down in the room. His mother needed him.  She seemed to be in shock and didn’t shed much light on the story.  Not that the Head Nurse, who had taken charge of the situation fully, pressed for information.  She had an instinct.  Best to let it go.

“Keep an eye on that one,” she told the biggest, strongest orderly on duty.

And she decided to keep an eye on Doctor Klozer.

Weeks went by and things got worse.  The incidence of incidents escalated until the staff began to send a nurse along on Dr. Klozer’s consults.  The rumors turned out to be true.  Doctor Morris Klozer had abandoned his previously successful methods in favor of bald-faced truth.  He entered a room, announced explicitly and unceremoniously that the patient was going to die, exactly why, and approximately how soon.  Then he exited as perfunctorily as he had come in.  The entire appearance lasted less than one minute.

The decision was made to pull Morris Klozer off duty and send him on vacation, but before hospital administration could do it, he began telling people who weren’t patients that they, too, were going to die.  He told a nine-year-old girl in pigtails and a Hello Kitty tee-shirt standing in line at the hospital cafeteria that she was going to die.  Yes, he was a doctor, and he was certain of it.  Little girl, you are going to die.

Morris Klozer became a hard man to find after that.  He was never in his office.  He was never at his apartment.  No one knew where he ate or when he slept.  But he would materialize time and again, shouting at the top of his lungs in the emergency room, the cafeteria, the post-op waiting room, that somebody was going to die.  Like Diogenes looking for an honest man, he haunted the hospital hallways searching out the terminally living.  He would pick out a person, scuttle up to him, and explain belligerently that he was going to die.  He had a knack for disappearing before enough orderlies could show up to catch him.  The staff began imagining him as some kind of Phantom of the Opera, only in this case, of the Hospital.  Somewhere in the bowels of the hospital boiler rooms, golem-like, he curled up in a fetal position waiting for his next devilish appearance, flicking his fevered tongue in and out, whispering death in the steamy darkness.

Finally he was captured.  Two orderlies grabbed him from behind.  Terrified, he believed he’d been snatched by zombies, who were eating him alive.  He no longer saw everyone as dying.  He saw them as already dead.  He’d been hiding this whole time from zombies and was the last man on Earth.

They wrapped his sallow and emaciated body in restraining straps and took him to the local asylum.

The Head Nurse was relieved.

“Who won?” asked another nurse.

“Sally, in admitting.”  The Head Nurse unlocked the top drawer of her desk, took out an envelope, and began counting out a stack of dollar bills.  They’d started a lottery on which day Doctor Morris Klozer would finally be captured.  A modest sum had accumulated, and Sally, the admissions receptionist, was the winner.

“Good for her,” said the nurse.  “Her little boy’s autistic.”

The Head Nurse could think of no reason why the slim winnings from the lottery on capturing Morris Klozer would be of much help to Sally’s autistic son.  But over the years she had learned to let silly things like that go.

“I imagine,” she said.  “Do you want to take it to her?”

“Sure!” said the nurse.  She took the envelope stuffed with the money and pushed the seventh floor elevator button.

“Hey, I just realized,” she said, glancing back at the Head Nurse.  “I don’t have to worry that The Closer is going to pop out at me when the doors open this time!”

“No, dear, you sure don’t,” said the Head Nurse, who smiled and went back to business.

About W Tracy Dillon

W Tracy Dillon lives with his family on a farm in rural Oregon. He is a Professor of English and the Director of Professional & Technical Writing at Portland State University.  “The Closer” was inspired by the social impact game Survivance (http://www.survivance.org/), which asks us to explore our presence and create works of art as a pathway to healing. However, he’s a lot more fun than this bio would seem to indicate.