Authors: Lynne Raimondo
Published 2014 by Seventh Street Books
, an imprint of Prometheus Books
. Copyright Â© 2014 by Lynne Raimondo. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
The characters, organizations, companies, products, and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, or organizations or companies, currently or previously existing, or existing product names is coincidental and not intended by the author.
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The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:
Raimondo, Lynne, 1957â
Dante's poison : a Mark Angelotti novel / by Lynne Raimondo.
ISBN 978-1-61614-879-9 (pbk.)
ISBN 978-1-61614-880-5 (ebook)
1. PsychiatristsâFiction. 2. Blind medical personnelâFiction. 3. Chicago (Ill.)âFiction. 4. Psychological fiction. I. Title.
Printed in the United States of America
ALSO BY LYNNE RAIMONDO
For Louise and Sandy
With apologies to Dorothy Sayers
“Tant' eran li occhi miei fissi e attenti
a disbramarsi la decenne sete,
che li altri sensi m'eran tutti spenti.”
(My eyes were fixed and so intent
to satisfy ten years of thirst,
that all my other senses were undone.)
(Translated by Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander,
Melissa Singh was good at her job. In my dealings with her so far she had proved both mercilessly inquisitive and a shade less friendly than a Rottweiler. The interview was now in its second hour, and I was feeling the strain. Once I would have given my right testicle for this opportunity. Now I was having second thoughts.
“When did you first notice the symptoms?”
“Two years ago. In the fall.”
It wasn't one I was likely to forget. “September sixth.”
Melissa spoke in the clipped, efficient tones of a BBC newscaster, without a hint of her native Hindi. I figured she'd lost the accent while doing her postdoc at Cambridge. Nurse Ratched didn't square with the surname, so I'd conjured up something more Bollywood. Dark hair, kohl-lined eyes, combat boots peeking out from under her sari. Either way, I was sure she was scowling at me.
“In the morning, when I woke up.”
She took this down, tapping rapidly on a tablet. “What were you seeing then?”
“When I looked out my left eye, there was a blurred area in the center. A scotoma, to use the technical term.”
“And you'd never had a problem like it before?”
“Yet you didn't seek help immediately.”
“It didn't seem all that serious at first.”
“Really?” Melissa said. I imagined an arched eyebrow and pursed, plum-colored lips. “What happened to make you change your mind?”
“Later, that evening I, uh . . . almost got into a traffic accident.”
“Yes. It says in your application that you didn't notice a traffic light turning red.”
“So that was your first red flag.”
“Well, to be accurate, at the time I thought it was green.”
She didn't seem to find this funny. “So the next day you went to see Dr. Turner.”
I nodded and took a sip of water from the paper cup to my right. I'd been through this routine before, but always on Melissa's side of the table. I was starting to understand what it felt like to be a laboratory ratâexcept that rats didn't have to cough up their entire life stories. The night before, I'd listened once more to the information packet Melissa had sent me in the mail. The number of cheerily dispensed lies was breathtaking.
Before being accepted into the study, you will be asked a number of questions. These questions are not meant to intrude upon your privacy.
It depended on how you defined privacy.
Their purpose is to provide you with the information you need to make an informed choice.
Anyone who believed that should invest all their money in savings bonds.
“Doctor, are you listening?” Melissa asked impatiently.
I snapped back to attention. “Sorry. I was just remembering something I have to do today. Back at the office.”
The hint was wasted on her. “I was asking about your vision at that point,” she said.
“The right eye was still fine. The left was almost completely clouded over.”
“That's an unusually rapid progression,” Melissa observed.
Turner, my neuro-ophthalmologist, had thought so too. He'd acted like he couldn't wait to write me up in a journal article: “An Atypical Late Onset Case of Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON)” featuring lurid color slides and a menu of nonexistent treatment options.
“All right then,” Melissa continued. “It says here that Dr. Turner administered blood tests. Do you recall the results?”
“They revealed a homoplastic DNA mutation at G11778.” In other words, a defective gene I'd inherited from my mother, one of several associated with a sudden shutdown of the nerves that channel information from the eye to the brain. When it strikes, which isn't always, it tends to afflict males in their twenties, though I had managed to pull off the feat at the ripe old age of forty-six.
“Did you question that finding?” Melissa asked.
“No, is there any reason I should have?”
“Only that when I spoke to him Dr. Turner thought you reacted rather strangely. According to him, you exhibited âunnatural calm' upon hearing the results.”
“I was in shock.” That was true to a degree. I probably would have fainted dead away if I hadn't been busy concocting my own differential diagnosis, which assuredly did not include living out the rest of my days like Long John Silver's crewmate in
“What did you do then?”
“I went home. To rest.”
In fact, I'd gone straight to my usual watering hole, the Lucky Leprechaun, and gotten blind drunk, a warm-up I was to repeat many times over the following weeks. Luckily, the barkeep knew me well enough to sound the alarm, and my colleague, Josh Goldman, had come to collect me before I succeeded in passing out.
“Did you tell anyone about the diagnosis?”
“A friend.” After I'd puked all over the interior of his new BMW 3 Series, it seemed only fair to let Josh in on the breaking story. It was the only time I'd seen him genuinely depressed.
“Is that all?”
“Well, naturally, my boss. I didn't think I'd be able to work for a while.” Septimus Brennan, my department head, had listened unhappily but with the brass-tacks efficiency of a shrink in his fifth decade of practice. He wanted to hook me up immediately with a dozen specialists, but except for the obligatory second opinion, I turned down all of his proffered interventions. Too risky.
“No family members?” Melissa pressed.
“None that I'm close enough to,” I said, fingers crossed.
It apparently worked. “Tell me about what was going on in your life immediately before,” Melissa asked. “Were you eating and sleeping normally?”
“As normally as anyone in our line of work.”
“Did you smoke?”
I shook my head.
“I consider myself a social drinker.”
“Were you under any stress at home or at work?”