Isaac Ivinsen sighed and turned from his computer. “I’ll be right there.” He seized a pad of paper and pen from his immaculately organized desk and rolled his eyes to the heavens. “Why me?” he asked. Then, having received no answer, he exited his office and walked through the lobby of his prestigious practice. The secretary winked at him as he passed her and he gave her a wry grimace in return. There was only one patient in the lobby, but he was too engrossed in a magazine quiz to pay Isaac any attention.
The bright sun dazzled Isaac’s eyes, briefly blinding him. Mariella was already calling out his name even as his eyes adjusted to bring her into focus. She was a rather small woman, just over five feet tall, with a musculature that hinted toward her athletic abilities. She was dwarfed further by the horse that was her pride and joy.
“Mariella,” Isaac greeted her, hand outstretched. “So good to see you.”
She gripped his hand tightly and give it one firm shake. “Dr. Ivinsen, I feel much worse today than I have ever felt before.”
Now Isaac turned to the massive creature standing beside Mariella. It had taken almost a year, but he had learned to address the horse directly and not the woman who translated the equine tongue into comprehensible English. Or so she claimed. At the very least, Isaac could hardly deny that everything she had told him had enabled him to successfully diagnose Melvin as bipolar and deal with his colon issues.
“Have you taken your medicine today, Melvin?”
The horse whickered. “I have,” Mariella translated. “Mariella was prompt as ever with my pills. I watched her measure them out myself.”
“How long ago was that?” Isaac queried, making notes.
“Six hours ago,” Mariella translated from an equine snort. It was an odd system and it always took some time, but eventually, Isaac forgot that Mariella was there and just had his conversation with Melvin.
“Hmmm, that would have been nine o’clock this morning. That should have been more than enough time to prevent such a crash. What would you say your pain is?”
“At least an eight, Doctor.”
“Is there anything unusual that might have happened in the last few hours that would cause such a steep decline?”
The horse hesitated, earning him a sharp look from Mariella. Isaac took note.
“Melvin? Is there something you want to tell me?”
Melvin continued his silence and Mariella shot him another glare.
“Melvin?” Isaac prompted.
The horse gave a great shake of his head. “Oh, very well, very well! It’s about Kentucky.”
“I know you’ve been somewhat anxious about the race,” Isaac said.
“It’s not a ‘race’, Doctor.” Melvin sounded scandalized. “It’s the Kentucky Derby!”
“I apologize,” said Isaac in his most sincere tone. “I know you’ve been anxious about the Kentucky Derby and you have every right to be. It’s a huge deal.”
“The hugest,” Melvin agreed, “but it looks like I may not be able to participate.”
“Because of your colostomy bag? I thought that was all sorted with the officials.” Melvin had almost been disqualified because of the condition, but Mariella fought for his right to be in the competition and one simply didn’t refuse Mariella Commington something she wanted.
“It was. In fact, the other participants were more than happy to have me in the race. They said my condition was a liability and it just lessened the competition.” He snorted in defiance of the statement, but great tears welled up in his eyes. These were echoed in Mariella’s.
Isaac watched the two sorrowful creatures before him and, as always, marveled at the synchronicity of their movements and emotions. Their patterns were almost identical and it was hard to believe that they were not the same creature, let alone the same species. “If the officials granted you the right to participate in the ra- the Kentucky Derby, then why are you so sad?”
“Knickers.” The word was whispered.
“Knickers.” The word was spoken loudly and clearly this time.
“What about knickers?” Isaac asked, confused.
“I’m not allowed to wear them during the Derby,” said Melvin.
“Why would you want to wear knickers?” Isaac wanted to know.
The came no response, but Isaac saw Melvin’s eyes and ears flick slightly towards his left flank where the colostomy bag was affixed. That was all he needed.
“You want to cover up the bag.”
Melvin nodded. “I don’t want anyone looking at it flapping in the wind and laughing at me. It’s bad enough that I have to wear it.”
“I know that’s a bad situation, Melvin, but remember that the doctors weren’t even sure this was going to work. In other studies…”
“I know, I know. The results were tragic,” said Melvin with a touch of impatience. “I know that I’m lucky to have survived, but all that did was make me more determined to live out my dream of racing in the Kentucky Derby. I don’t have to win; I just want to be there.” He paused. “At least I thought I did. Maybe I’m just not meant to be a part of it.”
“That’s the depression talking,” said Isaac.
“Well, maybe it was the euphoria that signed me up for this!” Melvin flared.
“You signed up for it, Melvin, and you should see it through,” said Isaac. “I believe you can do it.”
“But what about the…bag?” Melvin asked.
“If the public knows…”
“The public doesn’t know. That’s the problem. I don’t want to show up that day and become the laughingstock of the whole Derby!”
“And you don’t think people will notice and wonder about a horse running in knickers?” Isaac asked.
“I can control that,” said Melvin. “It’s not as bad as my body not working. The knickers are my choice.”
“Part of a costume, you mean,” said Isaac. “If they make fun of you for your bag, they’re making fun of you directly; if they make fun of your knickers, they’re making fun of your clothing.”
“Exactly. It’s not the same.”
“It’s not as personal,” Isaac agreed, “and you’ll have control over it. I think I understand.”
“Well, I’m glad you do because the officials won’t agree to it unless I have a note from a professional with good reason for the uniform. Mariella already tried talking to them, but they wouldn’t listen to her.” Indeed, Mariella’s face was red with frustration and fury. “Isn’t there anything you can do, Dr. Ivinsen?”
Isaac thought about it. “I suppose I can speak to the officials about it. I could claim that your medication makes you cold and the knickers would be the best method for keeping warm while not impeding your running ability.”
“Do you think that would work?” Melvin asked hopefully.
“I think it’s worth a try.”
“Oh, thank you!”
Isaac ended the session and shook his head in wonder at the oddness of the psychiatric profession. He made his way back inside. It wasn’t until dinnertime that he was able to get in touch with the Kentucky Derby officials and explain Melvin’s case. They were skeptical at first, but he utilized as much psychological jargon as he could include and by the end of the call, they were willing to allow the unusual circumstances. Isaac thanked them and called to inform Mariella and Melvin of the decision. Melvin whinnied in grateful joy and Mariella translated that into profuse gratitude.
The real show of appreciation came weeks later when a wreath of roses was delivered to Isaac’s office. Stunned, Isaac promptly called Melvin.
“Melvin, I just received-”
“My winner’s wreath?” Melvin interrupted. “It’s all yours, Doctor. You earned it.”
“Hardly,” Isaac protested. “I can’t accept this! I didn’t run the race!”
“It’s not a race,” Melvin chided him, but there was amusement and forgiveness in the tone Mariella used. “You made it possible for me to participate. Without you, I would have never been there and I wouldn’t have fought so hard to come out ahead of all of the other competitors. I owe my win to you.”
“But this is yours! You ran. You won.”
“I won it for you. Before, I didn’t care whether I won or not, but you were willing to fight to keep me in the Derby, so I decided to win it for you. It’s my thank you for the past year of support.”
“I took my medication this morning,” said Melvin anticipating his question, “just as I did on the day I sent the roses to you. I know what I’m doing. Enjoy them and know that you have a very thankful patient.”
Not knowing what else to say, Isaac simply said, “Thank you, Melvin. I will treasure them.”
“I’m glad. I’ll see you for our usual appointment in two weeks?”
“Nothing about our appointments are usual, Melvin, but I’ll be here. Three o’clock.”
“I’ll wear my knickers.” He hung up.
Isaac had to smile.