installments when you start working.'

She choked back a sob, nodded, then wiped the tears from her eyes and looked up into my face. 'Does this mean I'm. . doing all right? You'll let me stay here a little while longer, until I get my job and apartment?'

'Let's take one day at a time, Margaret. Up to now, I'd say you're doing wonderfully. I'll be back to pick you up at two.'

The Gentle Peacock was on Restaurant Row on 46th Street, not far from the Manhattan Chess Club. The sight of a middle-aged woman in bag-lady clothes accompanied by a middle-aged dwarf would have turned heads in most expensive restaurants around the country, but this was New York City, and people barely glanced in our direction as Peter Dak, the owner, escorted us to our seats at a table by the window and personally took our drink orders. I ordered a scotch on the rocks, and Margaret asked for iced tea.

'Oooh,' Margaret sighed, closing her eyes and breathing deeply through her nose. 'There are so many wonderful smells in here!'

'This is a Thai restaurant, the best, and Thai cooking is all about spices. Their special Thanksgiving dinner isn't exactly the traditional turkey and stuffing with all the trimmings, but I think you'll enjoy it.'

'Oh, I know I will. I've never eaten Thai food before, at least not that I can remember. I can't remember too much, but I think I'd know if I'd ever eaten food that smelled this good.'

'What kinds of food do you remember eating, Margaret? Where do you originally come from?'

She stared out the window for a few moments, as if searching for her past in the ghostly reflections in the glass, then turned back to me and said, 'Down South. Atlanta. My parents died, and I think that's when I came to New York City. . Lord, it must have been twenty or twenty-five years ago. Then I got sick. This kind of thing runs in my family. The state couldn't find any of my relatives, so they put me in a hospital. The doctors there put me on some kind of medication that helped me to get my thoughts straight, and then they let me go. But the medication made me sick to my stomach, and my mouth was dry all the time, so I stopped taking it. The rest of my life during all those years is just kind of a blurry soup with bright spots of color and sounds floating around in it. I remember terrible things happening to me in the shelters, and I remember feeling this awful rage in me all of the time. I remember living on that grate, and cursing at people. . and, of course, I remember you. But it's impossible for me to describe how I felt, other than angry all the time, or how I saw things that were going on around me. Most of the time I couldn't tell whether what I saw was real or imagined. I'm still not sure what was real and what was imagined. I heard voices. Now I know the voices were only in my mind, because they're not there any longer, but they certainly seemed real at the time.'

'I understand.'

'I guess maybe I don't really want to remember, because most of what I do remember makes me hurt and feel ashamed.'

'Then we won't talk about it. You said the state couldn't find any of your relatives; that doesn't mean you don't have any. Do you think you might still have some family living?'

'I suppose so, back down South.'

'Maybe they can help you now.'

'I don't think so. I went to live with an aunt and uncle right after my folks died, but we didn't get along. They were the ones who suggested I move away in the first place. I've probably got cousins, or whatever, but I don't see how they'd want to help me after all these years. Besides, I don't think I want to ask. I'll be all right, Mr. Mongo.'

'Just Mongo, Margaret.'

'All I need is a little time to get myself started. I know I can be a very capable person when I'm not out of my head.'

'I believe that. You're also a remarkable person. I've spent some time around mentally ill people-my brother, Garth, once suffered a psychotic episode, and he was put in a hospital. With most outpatients, you can tell they're on some kind of medication, but you don't show any of the usual side-'

'Oh, I'm not on any medication,' Margaret Dutton said quickly- perhaps, I thought, too quickly.

'You're not? Your doctor. .?'

'I'm not seeing any doctor,' she interrupted tersely, averting her gaze. Suddenly she seemed tense and uncomfortable.

'Margaret, what's wrong?'

'Nothing. I'm just not seeing any doctor or taking any medication.'

'How could that be, Margaret?' I pressed gently. 'How else would you be able to function like you are? You've been living on a grate, dressed in rags, for the better part of the past two years. Now, suddenly, here you are, cleaned up and attractive, conversing with me in a perfectly rational manner. I've never heard of a person suffering the kinds of symptoms you showed making such a remarkable recovery without medication, and it's even more remarkable that it happened in such a short time. How do you explain it?'

I waited. Finally she looked back up at me, and in her pale violet eyes there was a kind of naked plea. And fear. 'I can't explain it, Mongo,' she said very softly, in a frightened child's voice. 'I woke up yesterday morning and I. . just felt better. The voices had stopped, and I just suddenly seemed to be able to think clearly. I knew I had to get up off the sidewalk, go someplace to get cleaned up, and start taking care of myself. That's all. The rest is like I told you. I went to the Salvation Army, and they let me take a shower and gave me these clothes. Then I left, not really knowing where I would go or what I planned to do; the only thing I knew for certain was that I didn't want to go to any shelter. Then night came, and I got cold and afraid. The only person I could think of who might help me was you. Your lights weren't on, so I sat on your stoop and waited for you to come home.'

'So all of this-the silencing of the voices and your ability to think rationally-just happened to you overnight?'

'Yes. I know it sounds odd.'

It sounded not only odd but totally unbelievable; her story bore no resemblance to any of the anecdotal reports of remission in schizophrenics I'd read in the psychiatric literature I'd perused when Garth was sick. But I certainly wasn't prepared to call Margaret Dutton a liar, and the anxiety and plea for belief and understanding in her eyes were so strong that I decided I wasn't going to ruin her mood and meal, which I was clearly threatening to do, by pressing her any harder. I changed the subject, complimenting her on how nice her hair looked.

I ordered the same thing for both of us, and the first course arrived almost immediately. It was a clear soup with a mint leaf floating on top and a few tiny pieces of chicken paddling around near the bottom. But the fact that you could see the bottom of the bowl was the only clear thing about this soup, which contained a dozen ingredients, required hours of simmering for proper preparation, and produced on the palate a slowly unfolding, silent explosion of subtly blended flavors.

'Oooh,' she exclaimed once again after she had first smelled the bouquet, then taken her first taste of the soup. 'There are so many wonderful things in this-I mean, besides the chicken.'

'You've got that right. Like it?'

'Oh, yes.' She took another sip, closed her eyes, slowly swallowed. 'Besides the chicken, I can taste the basil, pork, at least three different kinds of fish, and maybe nineteen or twenty spices I don't know the names of.'

I blinked, set down my soup spoon, leaned back in my chair, and studied her. In the soup there were indeed chicken, basil, pork, at least three different kinds of fish, and nineteen or twenty spices I didn't know the names of either. I was suitably impressed. 'Margaret, you can actually smell and taste all those things separately?'

'Well, Mongo, I just did, didn't I?' she replied in a strong voice as she beamed proudly. 'I can smell all sorts of things. For instance, your friend who owns this place is wearing an aftershave lotion that's very strong. I don't know what it's called, but it smells like lemons and limes. He must like citrus smells, because the soap he uses smells like oranges. When you came in to see me this morning, I could tell that you'd showered with Dial soap and used witch hazel as an aftershave.'

Well, now. I hadn't smelled anything on Peter, and I was surprised she could pick out anything as banal as aftershave lotion among all the pungent, exotic aromas in the restaurant-but I did use witch hazel as an aftershave, precisely because its bouquet didn't linger long, and I didn't like to smell like a perfume factory. And I had washed with Dial soap. I said, 'That's very impressive, Margaret. You've got quite a sniffer on you.'

She nodded in agreement, then brushed back a strand of gray hair that had fallen across her eyes. 'I know.

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