The Skeleton's Handshake

The Skeleton's Handshake

A Story by Daniel Affsprung

All dialogue story between a doctor of internal medicine and his psychologist, on the subject of the doctor's wife, and his dreams.


...and the risk with a procedure like that is obviously very high.”

Well, of course.”

Neither option is perfect, surgery almost always has side effects, and the therapy is very taxing. You understand why the decision is so stressful for me.”

Is your other work suffering?”

I'm sure it is. I just wish she hadn't requested that I be her doctor. I can't place her with someone else, that would be a sign of weakness from me, and it would make her worry all the more about the seriousness of her condition, I'm sure.”

Well, just how serious is it?”

Rather, and worsening with each day of my inaction. You can't understand. If someone dies on your patient list, they did it to themselves for the most part, you tried your best. For me there's such terrible doubt and guilt.”

My talks with you are easier than yours with her, I'm sure.”

Psychology is important too, though. Kind of a silly notion when you think about it. A doctor coming to see another doctor.”

I'm here to help you help others.”

That's what I thought you'd say.”

Tell me more about these dreams.”

- - -

They're all the same. As soon as I really close my eyes to sleep, I hear a loud snap, like poker chips clacking together. Very sharp, you know, not like a normal person's fingers. I open my eyes again, and I'm sitting at a card table. It's always so startling, to be nearly asleep, and then awake again instantly somewhere unfamiliar. At the table, I'm in my lab coat, and Mary's chart is in front of me, next to a square, shallow glass which I don't touch. There are three other chairs there, the two at my sides are always occupied, and a skeleton is facing me.”

Who are the others? At your sides I mean.”

They change. The first night, maybe, 4 days ago now, they were just men in suits, with briefcases you know. The other night they were kings, maybe Wednesday night that was. Last night they were giant, hideous bugs. A cockroach and an ant.”

What happens next?”

The skeleton talks with me, asks me how I am. He talks with an almost familiar voice, but sinister, like he already knows what I'm going to do, and it amuses him secretly each time he addresses me. He's a frightening figure, his bones are white like paper, they command attention in the darkness all around the table.”

Do you think the skeleton represents this decision you must make?”

Maybe, although he doesn't really talk much about the decision.”

What does he talk about?”

He asks me about Mary's condition, and listens like he already knows. He looks right at me, his eye-sockets are so big and dark, they're like dice markings. I try looking away, at the table, but there's an hourglass there, and I can't look at that, it makes me feel despair.”

Your deadline of sorts?”

That's right.”

Go on.”

He asks me what I'm going to do, and I always just say I don't know. He says he's 'here to help' and he leans forward onto the table towards me.”

How do you feel when he does that?”

It's frightening. It's so strange, as a doctor especially, to see him move. When he talks, his cigarette hangs out of his mouth, if one could call it that. He holds it way back where the wisdom teeth come in, as if to remind me that he has no cheeks or face. The smoke floats up out of his nose and eye-holes”

So you're afraid of him?”

I suppose so.”

I think that fear is the fear of the choice you have to make.”


What does he say next?”

He explains to me why I should give the decision to someone else. He says I'm to close, tells me to 'Calm down, take a drink. There are better doctors, better consults.' he says, 'Someone else can take a better stand on this.' When he talks, he gestures to me like a person would. I feel like I'm becoming more inclined to take his position. He always seems to know this is happening, and he leans back from the table”

This same thing happens every night?”

Every night.”

Does anything change at all?”

Just the two at my sides. And the hourglass.”

It's draining out?”

That's right.”

Do you think this is your subconscious telling you to do the right thing?”

I was going to ask you that.”

- - -

What do you think of, when you think of a skeleton, what does that mean to you?”

Death, but that's obvious.”

What's not obvious?”

I don't know, you asked me what I thought.”

Something else, anything.”

Fate, I suppose.”

Well there we are, if the skeleton is Fate, than somewhere deep down, you know he's right.”

But what if he's not Fate, what if he's Death?”

That's a good question, but I can't answer it for you, you have to do that.”

Well, what would distinguish the two?”

Oh, I don't know, the hourglass makes me think Fate, but the cigarette makes me think Death.”

Wouldn't you be more afraid of Death?”

I'm a doctor, we're not allowed to be afraid of Death.”

What does that mean?”

I don't know. This choice I have to make is inevitable, so if he's the choice, isn't he Fate?”

Good! Very good, now we're getting somewhere. What happens next?”

He offers me a deal, says he can take the weight off my shoulders.”

Is there a weight?”

Yes, I think so. My lab coat feels like it holds me in my chair.”

So that would be the responsibility, and your obligation as a doctor.”



He offers to take my wife's chart, and he reaches across the table and puts his hand on it.”

How does it feel when he does that?”

I feel angry I guess.”

Well, what's your side of the deal?”

He says he'll help me give her up, help me to pass her on to another doctor, if I promise to do that the next chance I have.”

Now, let me stop and remind you how important it is to remember that this is in your mind, and all that skeleton can do is change how you think and feel. He can't send another doctor to take her.”

Yes, you're right of course. I would have no trouble procedurally, to pass her on as a patient, the dilemma is in telling her and coping with not being in control of her condition as much.”

Do you think you would need help to give her up?”

Yes, I don't know how I could tell her.”

She really believes in you.”

I think so.”

If she asked to be your patient, that means she would respect your choice, no matter what it may be.”

That's probably true.”

- - -

What happens next?”

I remember not knowing what to do. He looks at me unblinkingly, of course. He just stares and I can't stand to look at him. I can't think when I look at him, it's like a sound is playing in my ears when I do, to stop my mind and keep me from deciding.”

Does he say anything more?”

No, he points to the hourglass.”

Is that right?”

Yes, it scares me some, I get more nervous and I don't know what I can say to him. After a while, I simply try to stand up to leave, but the weight of my lab coat is too great, and I pass out.”

That's when you wake up?”

That's right.”

You remember these dreams very well.”

It's like I'm never asleep.”

Where is the hourglass now?”

It was past halfway last night.”

- - -

What will you say tonight?”

I don't know.”

You don't think you could do this on your own?”

I just don't think I'm committed enough to really do it.”

Are you sure you'll have the dream?”

Yes, I don't see why I shouldn't. Maybe I'll just agree.”

Your subconscious clearly wants you to.”

Mary will have to respect my decision, she put her trust in me.”

Is there another doctor you have in mind?”

Yes, I know just the one. She won't even know we're married, no conflicts there.”

If you're set with that choice than we've come rather far today.”

That's true. Do you think I'm doing the right think?”

Only God knows that.”

Come on doctor, be realistic.”

I really don't know.”

Well, thank you anyways.”

It's why I'm here.”

Do you think I'll remember my commitment even while I'm asleep?”

You said it was just like being awake.”

It is, that's right. I'm sure I will.”

You can tell me how this all goes next week then.”

Yes, of course. Thanks again doctor.”



- - -

The psychologist had seen cases like this before. The thousands of hours he'd spent facing the couch, holding his notepad, told him one thing, he could simply not bring himself to tell the doctor. The symbolism, the emotions, the denial the doctor held in his mannerisms, everything pointed towards one conclusion. His subconscious was trying to protect him as long as it could, from the inevitable truth that it almost revealed to him in his dreams. The psychologist felt total despair as he knew that deep in the doctor's mind, with anger and fear, experience was telling him the same thing. For this most important of patients, Death and Fate are one and the same.


© 2011 Daniel Affsprung

Author's Note

Daniel Affsprung
I'd like to know:
What you thought overall
Is it too hard to follow who's speaking?
Is it too long or boring?


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follow the speaker easily and the length is good ..but the length got me thinking and I figured out the ending..if thats your goal works ..if not shorten it..good write

Posted 9 Years Ago

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Added on August 11, 2011
Last Updated on August 11, 2011
Tags: Doctor, psychology, dreams, skeleton, deal, psychiatry, dream


Daniel Affsprung
Daniel Affsprung

Lewisburg, PA

Interested in what people think of my writing, and what to do with it. Please contact me with your opinions, ideas, or questions. Pennsylvania more..

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