Coward V2.

You can read the first version here: Coward.

What if he’d turned to look at her, and seen the truth etched into the lines of her face?


 

“You’re a chicken-shit coward, you know that, right?” He says.

“Yes, I’m very aware of that.” She says.

“And somehow that’s okay with you? No qualms with that?” He asks, befuddled.

“Nope. None.” She says, then adds, “Not a one.”

He shakes his head, bewildered. “How can you say that? How can you be okay with being a coward?” And before she can respond, “I would hate myself.”

She smiles. It’s a wintry smile, it turns her blue eyes into ice chips. “I never said I didn’t.” She says.

Silence spirals out between them for a long, tense moment. He opens his mouth to speak, appears to think better of it, and closes his mouth again. He takes a sip of his beer instead, and wipes the foam from his upper lip. Instead of carrying on the conversation, he glances around the bar and sees everyone else talking and laughing easily. His eyes settle upon a game of pool, where a group of friends are chatting and laughing as if everything in the world isn’t going to hell just outside the bar’s front door. He becomes engrossed in watching them, longing to be a part of that group. Anything would be better than sitting at this table.

She’s watching him watching the other patrons. If he looked at her right now, he’d see the same longing look in her own eyes that he has while gazing at the pool players. If he turns back to her right now, she’ll have betrayed everything she came here to do, everything her brain tells her must happen if they both are to go on with their own lives. Her heart screams against it, however. She’s got him in her crosshairs, but she doesn’t want to take the shot, even though she knows she must. A single tear escapes her lashes, and it’s at that exact moment when he unexpectedly turns back to face her.

They are both instantly disarmed; he by her tears, and she because she never expected to be caught showing emotion. She hurriedly wipes away the tear, and takes a large gulp of her vodka. In her desire to look anywhere and do anything other than face the reality they both just witnessed, she chokes on her drink. It burns for multiple reasons on the way down. Her eyes water, and he mistakes her discomfort for an emotional response. He opens his mouth to speak, but there are no words. Absolutely none. Bewilderment has left his mind a blank canvas. Eventually rational thought will resume, but not before she excuses herself from the table and disappears in the women’s restroom.

His gaze falls upon the scratched wooden table as the wheels in his mind begin turning again, slowly at first, then faster and faster—until his brain feels like an engine cycling up to speed. Had she really been crying? It was a single tear, don’t read into it! Sheesh! But it was real, wasn’t it? Of course, it was. So, she’s not a heartless bitch? How could you ever think that about someone? Do you know he shit she’s done to us? Yes, but—but nothing! She’s the frigid ice queen, remember!? Don’t be fooled by a single crocodile tear! But you aren’t even certain that’s what that was! Oh, boy, you’ve got it bad for her still, don’t you? Poor fool. Poor, defenseless fool. She’s a walking, talking cunt; nothing more! Stop thinking of her as such!

Oh, the arguments we have inside our heads. The cruel voices we pretend we don’t hear. The things polite society would chastise us for.

She hurries to the restroom, head down, and nearly gets brained by the restroom door as a woman comes out at the same time she’s reaching for the door. They exchange apologies, and once she’s safely tucked behind the restroom door, she feels safe. Of course, first she must take stock of anyone lurking in the restroom. No one. She’s alone. Good. Standing before the water-stained mirror, she takes a mental inventory of herself.

He saw it, don’t try to deny it! He saw you defenseless! How could you let that happen? What happened to having the upper hand? Is there an upper hand to be had in this situation? Is there really? Yes! Of course, there is! There always is! Get it together, girl! You came to win this one last final battle! Don’t let this destroy your resolve! You know what you must do, so do it! But she couldn’t, not yet. She closed her eyes, meditating on shutting down the cacophony inside her head. She was succeeding when the restroom door burst open, breaking her concentration. Go get ‘im, a voice in her mind growled. She put her battle mask on, and went.

When she returns to their table, everyone is wearing their armor again. “Sorry about that,” she says.

“No problem,” he says. “So, where were we?” he asks, gently smiling, as if they were simply two old friends who’d been in the middle of a lively conversation about a recent television program, rather than scorned lovers.

She looks from her drink across the table at him, her ice chip eyes confirming his not-so-secret assumptions about her. That look wipes the smile from his face as succinctly as the bartender wiping down the counter after someone has spilled their drink—absently and without ceremony.

“We’re done,” she says. Two simple words, packed with powder and lit like a cannon—blasting through his war-time defenses as easily as cutting through bread.

“That’s it, then?” He asks, his jaw tense, clipping each word off neatly—like severing wires with the snip of scissors.

“That’s it.” She says succinctly, her mind in total agreement while her heart rails against the bars of its prison, screaming to be let out, screaming to be set free. Don’t let me die down here!

He polishes off the last of his beer, and she takes little hurried sips of her vodka. Now that the nasty business is finished, they both want to be out of this bar as quickly as possible. It’s better to be outside in the city, blending in with all the other digits—anonymous. He pulls out his wallet and slaps his money down on the table. She’s digging through her purse deliberately while he takes his leather jacket from the back of his chair and puts it on. She’s giving him time to make his exit before her. The only thing exchanging more words can do now is irreparable damage.

He takes a final swig from his mostly empty beer bottle. He doesn’t know why he’s stalling, but his own heart is screaming not to let it end this way, but what else can be done? They’ve agreed it’s over. He looks at her one last time as she’s rummaging through her purse, knowing that she too is stalling, there’s not enough room in that purse for her to lose anything, especially not a wallet. She feels his gaze fall upon her, and looks up unconsciously. For the briefest of moments, he sees her prisoner heart clearly in those clear, blue eyes. For a single second, he sees the woman he fell in love with, but then she’s gone; swatted back into her prison cell by the woman she’s become, and he feels his heart crack along a fault line. There will always be earthquakes now when he merely thinks her name.

He starts to say something, then once again thinks better of it, turns, and walks toward the door, through the throng of bar patrons. She watches his retreating back, a tsunami of conflicting emotions. She starts to call him back, but then decides the damage is done—let it all be done, her mind insists. As he opens the door she pulls her wallet from her purse and pulls out her change. While she’s looking down at her money, he looks back over his shoulder one last time. In the glow of the bar lights her blonde hair resonates with light, just like it did the first time he met her. He takes that final image of her with him as he leaves.

She looks back at the door just as it closes, and thinks, I am a terrible coward.

 

Advertisements

Therapy, Again.

You can read previous sections here: Never HappyExpression is Therapy, & Therapy.

 

Back on the sofa, like always and forever. Somehow, time and again, she found herself on various different sofas, all in the same kind of cozy, barely-lit room; an office, really. A therapist’s office. A new one every six months or so. She couldn’t stop fucking them, and that’s why she kept therapist hopping. What choice did she have?

 

And once again, here she is, sitting on a plush, red sofa—the kind of sofa meant to put the client at ease, but no one has a sofa with pillow arms like this in their home. And no one’s home is this dimly lit, except maybe at night, when you leave the bedside lamp on after watching a scary movie, and are afraid to sleep in the dark. The room—correction, office— is a lie.

 

You aren’t safe here. This isn’t a safe space, where you can spill your darkest secrets and the contents of your heart like a child dumping toys from a cardboard box. This is a place of rational logic and science, even if it’s meant to look like someone’s home with the faux plant on the end table at the other end of the couch. No one’s home is this neat, and forcibly sterile. Home is a familiar, chaotic mess; never orderly.

 

“You’ve been here fifteen minutes and haven’t said a word,” the therapist spoke, breaking the patient from her reverie.

 

She looked up into her new therapists face, and for a moment pined for the previous one. He’d been an older gentlemen with a defined, but caring face. That face was an easy read, as was his feelings towards her. He consistently had to hide them by crossing his legs. A small smile curved the corners of her mouth at this thought.

 

“What are you thinking about? Her new therapist asked.

 

The new therapist was a stern woman who looked to be in her mid-fifties. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun, and she wore thick rimmed glasses that gave her eyes an insectile look.

 

“I was just musing about my previous therapist,” she said, leaning back against the comfy sofa. It was incredibly soft; a good napping couch. Not designed for sharing one’s inner most thoughts, she thought.

 

“Yes, I see you’ve had several of those,” the therapist said, consulting the page from the notepad before her. “Why is that?” She asked.

 

The patient shrugged.

 

“You don’t know?” The therapist asked.

 

“Oh, I do, I just don’t think it bears weight to this conversation,” she said, smiling.

 

“And why do you think that?” The therapist asked, peering at her from above the rims of her glasses.

 

“We’ve only just begun to get to know one another. We’ll get there, in time.” she said.

 

“I believe that’s supposed to be my line,” the therapist said.

 

“Like you said, I’ve been to many therapists. I’ve learned the lines.”

 

“Is that your goal here?” The therapist asked.

 

She shrugged.

 

“You don’t like talking, do you?” The therapist asked, leaning back in her own chair, and putting her pen down; realizing this had become a battle of wills. “You know, therapy isn’t any use to you if you won’t talk,” she said after her question failed to illicit a response.

 

“I’ve been told that before,” she said.

 

“And still you keep visiting therapists. Why?”

 

She shrugged. “I think I like the company.”

 

“You can find someone to keep you company at any bar in town,” the therapist replied.

 

“Not the kind of company you get with a therapist,” she said, smiling. It was a devious little grin; the grin of an adolescent who knows she’s done wrong, but doesn’t mind the consequences.

 

“I’m not here to be your friend,” the therapist said. “My job is to help you gain insight to what brought you here, and help give you the tools to conquer that.”

 

“There’s nothing wrong with me,” she said, a haughty look of contempt upon her face.

 

“If that were true, you wouldn’t be here.” The therapist said, sitting rigidly in her chair.

 

To that, the patient did not reply. The therapist had had stubborn, difficult patients before. None like this, however. There was something different about this woman; something unsettling—perhaps it was the sheer number of different therapists she’d been to in just the last year alone—seven. Something about the patient had her on edge.

 

“Why are you here?” The therapist finally asked, after listening to the clock ticking away the seconds on the wall.

 

The patient appeared to be thinking over her answer as she stared at her hands. It was a difficult thing to learn, to be patient while waiting for an answer—sometimes you got one, and sometimes you didn’t. With most patients, she could usually gage whether they’d communicate or not, but this one didn’t fit the mold of most patients—or people, she thought.

 

Finally, the patient lifted her gaze, and folded her hands in her lap. “I’m here to prove that some people don’t have worth.”

 

That was not even in the ball park of what the therapist had expected. The patient could tell she’d been floored. It made her smile.

 

“Didn’t expect that, did you?” she asked.

 

“No, I did not.” The therapist admitted.

 

“What do you think?” she asked.

 

“I’m the one who’s supposed to ask the questions,” the therapist said, sternly. “I see what you’re trying to do.”

 

“What am I trying to do?” the patient said, feigning innocence.

 

“You think that you’re the first patient to try flipping the script on me; that if you ask the questions I’ll be dismantled, and you’ll have won. What you don’t understand is that this isn’t a battle—we’re not fighting, because we’re not foes. You may make me your enemy, because it’s my job to help you, but that’s you’re doing, not mine.” The therapist said.

 

“And why do you want to help me?” the patient asked.

 

The therapist sighed, “because I took an oath, and because I made it my life’s work to help people, whether you believe me or not—I do care.”

 

“That’s generous of you,” she said.

 

The therapist did not reply.

 

“So, I assume you believe people are inherently worthwhile?” The patient asked.

 

“I’m not going down this conversational path with you,” the therapist said.

 

“Why?” she challenged.

 

“Because it’s a waste of time. You want to argue semantics, and I’m here to help you, but you clearly don’t want help; I’m not sure what it is you really want, perhaps a chance to feel superior—look at me, I outsmarted the therapist! But that kind of behavior will only provide you with a temporary high. This is why you’ve been moving from therapist to therapist.”

 

“I’m not difficult to figure out,” the patient said smugly.

 

“No, you’re not, but you’re dangerous—to yourself and others—because you think you’re beyond your illness. You’re not.” The therapist said.

 

“That’s a bit presumptuous, don’t you think?” The patient asked, insincerity hiding the hurt.

 

“No, I don’t. I’ve seen several patients like you—patients who think they’re too smart for their illness. You can’t logic your way out of emotional distress; I’m sorry, but you just can’t.”

 

“Never hurts to try,” the patient said, laughing with her eyes.

 

“We’re done here,” the therapist said, getting to her feet.

 

“But the sessions only half begun,” the patient said, looking bewildered at this turn of events.

 

“I’m not going to waste my time on someone who doesn’t really want help; there are plenty of other therapists who will gladly take you on—I’m not one of them.” The therapist said, opening the door.

The patient looked out into the empty lobby, and loneliness overwhelmed her. She looked up at the therapist with tears in her eyes.

 

“You can’t just turn me away,” she said.

 

“I can, and I am.” The therapist replied with finality.

 

The patient scrambled for something to say, something smart, something witty—anything, any reason to keep the session going. She came up with nothing.

 

“Please leave my office,” the therapist said, feigning kindness.

 

“Would it change your mind if I said I wanted to die?” she asked.

 

“Only if you were serious,” the therapist replied after a moment’s hesitation.

 

Silence spiraled out between them while the therapist stood at the door, waiting to see if the patient would stay or go.

 

“I’m not,” the patient finally said, and with that she rose from the plush sofa, and left without a glance back. On to the next therapist, she supposed.

Liar (alone & lonely)

In a room, all alone, but never lonely. No, never lonely. Not for as long as I have His presence waiting at the back of my mind; always waiting there to catch me when I fall. Oh, but what I didn’t understand then when I sold Him my soul. What I didn’t understand was what I was running from. I didn’t have a conscious understanding of what was causing my pain, and so, assuming I could never escape the inescapable, I sold Him my heart and soul, because He promised to protect me. He never lied, not about that, but He knew why I was running; what truth I was running from. He knew but He never told me.

 

“You could have told me, you know.” She says, watching her reflection in the mirror. He, her One Whole & True, appears over her shoulder hooded in black, and puts his hands upon her shoulders. His fingers are long, pale, and skeletal; the skin stretched over the knuckles like a tarp pulled taut over a machine too large to be covered.

“You didn’t want to know,” He says. His lips don’t move when he speaks. His ruby lips and prominent chin are all she can see from inside the darkness of His hooded cloak.

“You had no way of knowing that,” she says, her shoulders tensing beneath His fingers.

“But I did, love.” He says, massaging her shoulders. She shrugs out of His grip, and turns to face Him. His hands are held up in a ‘don’t shoot!’ gesture.

“No, you didn’t, because I never told you,” she says.

“Not with your words, no,” He says, lowering His hands to His sides.

“What does that mean?” She asks, glowering.

’You know me better than I know myself’” He quoted, “Do you remember saying that?” He asks.

“I never said that to you,” she says, the frown line on her forehead deepening.

“No, you didn’t, but you said it; only you meant it towards me.” He says.

“If I never said it to you, then I never meant it towards you!” she shouts.

“I have known you all your life. I know you better than you’ve ever known yourself. I kept your secret to protect you from yourself,” He says, attempting to take her hands. She pulls away from Him, and walks across the room, thinking hard.

“I understand your anger—” He starts to say, but she cuts him off.

“Don’t!” she says, turning back around to face Him, anger burning inside her eyes. “Don’t pretend to know me—to understand me! You don’t know anything about me!” She yells.

He steps forward, and she holds out a hand to keep Him in his place.

“You lied to me,” she says, her voice and arm shaking slightly.

“To protect you from—” He says, but she cuts him off again.

“Don’t justify it!” She yells, “You lied! YOU LIED!” She screams. Her voice cracks and tears spring from her eyes. She wipes them away hurriedly, with disgust.

He steps forward again, and she jerks back in response. He stops, holding His hands up in surrender.

“I’m sorry,” He says. Words she never thought she’d hear coming from a demon.

“Go away,” she says, wrapping her arms about herself.

“What?” He asks, perplexed. A tone of voice she never expected would come from a demon.

“I said go away! I need to think!” She yells.

“Let me comfort you,” He says, and she pulls farther away from Him.

“I don’t want you near me,” she says, tears coursing down her face freely now. What a fool she’s been. Oh, what a terrible, stupid fool. Trusting a devil. Trusting anyone.

“Let me hold you,” He says, raising His arms, the black feathered wings unfolding from His back at the same time.

“GO AWAY!” she screams, and in a puff of black smoke, He does.

Now, she’s in a room, alone & lonely.

Coward

“You’re a chicken-shit coward, you know that, right?” He says.

“Yes, I’m very aware of that.” She says.

“And somehow that’s okay with you? No qualms with that?” He asks, befuddled.

“Nope. None.” She says, then adds, “Not a one.”

He shakes his head, bewildered. “How can you say that? How can you be okay with being a coward?” And before she can respond, “I would hate myself.”

She smiles. It’s a wintry smile, it turns her blue eyes into ice chips. “I never said I didn’t.” She says.

Silence spirals out between them for a long, tense moment. He opens his mouth to speak, appears to think better of it, and closes his mouth again. He takes a sip of his beer instead, and wipes the foam from his upper lip. Instead of carrying on the conversation, he glances around the bar and sees everyone else talking and laughing easily. His eyes settle upon a game of pool, where a group of friends are chatting and laughing as if everything in the world isn’t going to hell just outside the bar’s front door. He becomes engrossed in watching them, longing to be a part of that group. Anything would be better than sitting at this table.

She’s watching him watching the other patrons. If he looked at her right now, he’d see the same longing look in her own eyes that he has while gazing at the pool players. If he turns back to her right now, she’ll have betrayed everything she came here to do, everything her brain tells her must happen if they both are to go on with their own lives. Her heart screams against it, however. She’s got him in her crosshairs, but she doesn’t want to take the shot, even though she knows she must. A single tear escapes her lashes, and she brushes it away hurriedly with the heel of her palm. She takes a sip of her vodka to steady her nerves and steel her spine against the inevitable.

He turns his attention back to her just as she’s setting down her glass of vodka. She’s composed herself again, and there’s no trace of that longing look lingering in her eyes. They’re blue ice again. She’s the frigid bitch he’s accused her of being in more than one argument. It hardens his heart against her further. Somewhere deep in his subconscious he can hear a thick, wooden door slamming shut, and the click of a deadbolt. He’ll never let her in again, and he’ll struggle the rest of his life to let in others. He will always sit in bars and glance around the room, feeling envious of everyone else and the ease with which they trust.

“That’s it, then?” He asks, his jaw tense, clipping each word off neatly—like severing wires with the snip of scissors.

“That’s it.” She says succinctly, her mind in total agreement while her heart rails against the bars of its prison, screaming to be let out, screaming to be set free. Don’t let me die down here!

He polishes off the last of his beer, and she takes little hurried sips of her vodka. Now that the nasty business is finished, they both want to be out of this bar as quickly as possible. It’s better to be outside in the city, blending in with all the other digits—anonymous. He pulls out his wallet and slaps his money down on the table. She’s digging through her purse deliberately while he takes his leather jacket from the back of his chair and puts it on. She’s giving him time to make his exit before her. The only thing exchanging more words can do now is irreparable damage.

He takes a final swig from his mostly empty beer bottle. He doesn’t know why he’s stalling, but his own heart is screaming not to let it end this way, but what else can be done? They’ve agreed it’s over. He looks at her one last time as she’s rummaging through her purse, knowing that she too is stalling, there’s not enough room in that purse for her to lose anything, especially not a wallet. She feels his gaze fall upon her, and looks up unconsciously. For the briefest of moments, he sees her prisoner heart clearly in those clear, blue eyes. For a single second, he sees the woman he fell in love with, but then she’s gone; swatted back into her prison cell by the woman she’s become, and he feels his heart crack along a fault line. There will always be earthquakes now when he merely thinks her name.

He starts to say something, then once again thinks better of it, turns, and walks toward the door, through the throng of bar patrons. She watches his retreating back, a tsunami of conflicting emotions. She starts to call him back, but then decides the damage is done—let it all be done, her mind insists. As he opens the door she pulls her wallet from her purse and pulls out her change. While she’s looking down at her money, he looks back over his shoulder one last time. In the glow of the bar lights her blonde hair resonates with light, just like it did the first time he met her. He takes that final image of her with him as he leaves.

She looks back at the door just as it closes, and thinks, I am a terrible coward.

Never Happy

Here are the previous two parts to the series, if you want a refresher: TherapyExpression is Therapy.

 

All around them was the drunken chatter of singles hoping to get laid, and from the jukebox came the latest pop hit, but in their small part of the bar conversation had ceased. She stared into the amber depths of her bourbon as he took sips of his vodka tonic between furtive glances in her direction. Her conscious mind kept count of every time he looked at her, but her unconscious mind couldn’t be bothered with him, and it was in those unconscious waters that she was drowning.

 

“We can take this to my office, if you’d be more comfortable there.” He said trying to open conversation once again. Twenty minutes ago he’d been furious when he’d walked in and found her sitting at the bar in his usual spot, but the look she’d turned to him had silenced that anger in an instant. He’d seen several patients over the years with that haunted look, and it never bode well.

 

She finished her bourbon in one gulp and turned to face him. “Let’s do that,” she said now properly inebriated for conversing. She slipped from her stool and stumbled. He reached for her and grasped her by the elbow but she shook him off and steadied herself. He finished off his vodka tonic with a grimace and then followed her out into the busy night air.

 

Thirty minutes and one eerily quiet cab ride later he was unlocking the frosted glass door to the outer office. He held the door for her and glanced into the corner where he was spied by the round red circular light of the surveillance system. He latched the front door and then made his way past her to unlock the inner office and turned on the lamp beside the couch. There was an overhead fluorescent, but he liked to keep the office feeling homey, and less like a doctor’s office. He took his seat in the plush and overstuffed arm chair as she flopped into her usual spot on the couch and stared at the floor.

 

He considered going to his desk for a writing pad, but his gut told him to keep this one off the books. They sat in tense silence for a moment with him watching her watch the floor. He felt a crazy urge to start laughing. Nothing about this situation he found particularly funny, but all the same he felt the laughter burning in the back of his throat.

 

“I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me,” he said after composing himself.

 

Slowly she turned her gaze to meet his eyes, and he felt himself locked into place, as if her gaze commanded attention. “Talking won’t help,” she said as she began to unbutton her blouse.

 

“What are you doing?” He asked simultaneously panic-stricken and aroused.

 

She cast her blouse aside and stood up so she could unzip her skirt. “We both know this is what we want,” she said standing before him in her bra and panties. She yanked on her ponytail and her long, wavy brunette hair came tumbling free, brushing against the soft skin of her shoulders.

 

He sat dumbstruck as she crossed the distance between them and climbed into his lap and took his face in her palms. She kissed him once, closed mouth, and then he found himself responding despite the accusations his brain was screaming at him from his subconscious. After a while that voice disappeared entirely.

 

Afterwards they lie on the floor, arms and legs entangled. She was beginning to doze off with her head resting on his chest when he spoke.

 

“I’ll have to erase the tape,” he said anxiety filling his voice now that the blood had returned to his brain, and the acrimonious voice of reason had begun shouting in the center of his head once again. She responded with a low sound like a throaty hum and nestled closer to his warmth. They had nothing to cover them but the clothes they came in so body heat would have to do.

 

“Are you happy now?” He asked bitterly. “You’ve compromised me.”

 

She turned her head up to face him, and those eyes caught him like a bug in amber. She smiled softly. “I’ll never be happy,” she mumbled and then kissed him.

Expression is Therapy

He was in the middle of a session when his secretary lightly knocked upon the door and poked her head in. He and his patient, a plump, brunette woman in her late forties, turned to look at her. The woman on the couch was wiping away silent tears. His secretary turned a light shade of tomato.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but we have a problem out here,” his secretary began, and then the door was being pushed open and she came barging in, the only patient who ever challenged everything he believed as a therapist.

“I need to talk to you,” she said authoritatively, then glanced at his patient on the couch. “Sorry to interrupt,” she said. Her tone said she wasn’t really sorry at all. His blood was up, but not just because he was frustrated. However, he sounded calm, cool, and collected when he spoke.

“Then go back out to the lobby and make an appointment with Martha,” he said.

“No,” she challenged, her eyes dancing. “I need to talk to you now.”

“I’m in the middle of an appointment, it’s going to have to wait,” he said.

She sat down beside the plump woman on the couch and said, “I can wait.”

A serious of conflicting emotions ran through him at the same time: frustration, appall, humor. He fought to keep his features composed. “Please, go wait in the lobby. I’ll be with you shortly.”

“But you have other patients to see—“ his assistant began, but quit when he silenced her with a quick, dark look.

“Yes, right this way,” Martha said grabbing her by her elbow, and ushering her into the lobby. She let herself be led, but she gave him an unreadable look as she walked sideways out the door.

Fifteen minutes later she was back in his office and sitting across from him on his couch. Now that she had his attention she didn’t quite know how to begin. Funny how what seems so urgent can get clogged up in the throat when it really needs to come out.

“So what is so important that you had to talk to me right now, today, and couldn’t make an appointment with my assistant?” he asked twiddling with his pen.

She looked at him and smiled. It was a broken, humorless grin. Any hope he’d had at the initial sight of her vanished.

“Well, after our last session I knew I didn’t need therapy, but I needed to come tell you why,” she said.

He put his pen down in anger and laced his fingers together in his lap, to keep from doing anything rash with them, she supposed.

“And why don’t you need therapy? Since I have other paying patients waiting on their own appointments because of you,” he said icily.

“That’s not my fault,” she said, eyes widening in defense, “you could have refused to see me.”

“You barged through my fucking door!” He said angrily, leaning forward, before he was even aware of what he was going to say. After the words were out he was certain his secretary and waiting patients had probably heard him. His face flushed with color. God, she was aggravating.

She was smiling at his outburst, and leaning forward. “I like you when you’re angry,” she said with a chuckle.

“Get out!” he said pointing to the door. “Get out and don’t come back.”

She laughed, “You can’t send me away, because I’m leaving on my own, after I tell you why I don’t need therapy.”

He looked at her stunned. He’d never faced someone so baldly, blatantly difficult before. It was crazy, insane, but he found it attractive. A terrible thought to be having about a patient, or former patient, or whatever she was to him.

“Then tell me why you don’t need therapy so you can leave,” he said resigned, sitting back in his chair, and taking up his pen again.

She looked at him, chin lifted, as if she had some amazing revelation to share, and said: “I don’t need therapy because expression is therapy.”

Silence lengthened between them for a moment.

“That’s it?” he asked in disbelief. “That’s why you came all the way out here? You could have e-mailed that to me!” he said finding anger and latching onto it again. It was an easy crutch to keep within reaching distance, once you got the habit.

“That’s profound!” she said angrily, rising from her seat. She looked down at him like a petulant child, and did that pouty look turn him on? Of course it did. He had to cross his legs to keep that fact from becoming apparent.

Her eyes darted to his crotch and his crossed legs. Both of them pretended they hadn’t noticed. “Fine. I’m leaving, and never coming back,” she said childishly, and turned and walked from his office, slamming the door behind her as she went. He heaved a sigh of relief after she left, but was there also disappointment there? Of course there was.

After a moment Martha poked her head in. “Are you ready to see Ms. Smithson now?”

He smiled wanly, “Yes, send her in.”

Credit where credit is due: my thanks to ohellino for the line “expression is therapy.”

Therapy

Therapy

They sat in the office listening to the clock tick away the hour. She sat on the plush couch by the door, gently tapping her foot and fidgeting with her hands. He sat across from her with his right leg crossed over his left at the knee, casually leaning back into the armchair he sat in. He studied her over the tops of his eyeglasses. Her eyes were downcast so she could stare at the floor. There wasn’t a speck of dust or dirt, and she found this fascinating, but maybe that was only because she was supposed to be talking.

“We can spend the hour in silence, but the only way therapy helps is if you’re willing to talk,” he said.

She looked up at him slowly, her jaw tense against whatever she really wanted to say. He noticed this, noted it on the pad in his lap, but waited patiently. They looked at one another for a tense, silent moment—he knew she was weighing his words against everything life had taught her, especially about the usefulness of therapy. She looked back down at the floor and her feet before speaking.

“I don’t know where to begin,” she said.

“How about answering the question I asked you,” he said, pencil poised and ready to take notes. He was hopeful.

She glanced at him again, “that’s the problem; I don’t know where to begin with the question you asked.”

“It’s a simple question,” he said.

She shook her head as she looked back at the floor. “No, it isn’t.”

“I asked you to tell me about yourself,” he said, a little exasperated. He didn’t want to be, and he hated that he heard it in his voice, but he couldn’t help himself. Unlike his other patients she frustrated him. That was new.

She laughed, it was cynical and jaded, there was no real humor in it. “It should be simple, yes,” she said, and he could see her building steam. Maybe this wouldn’t be exactly what she needed, but it would be a start. “but it’s not simple; it’s never simple. Do you have any idea how many people, after twenty-five years, have asked me that question? That’s the basis of every first date; ‘tell me who you are’, and do you have any idea how difficult that is? I should know myself better than anyone else, but I’m the one who struggles with introducing myself. I can’t write an “about me” section on a dating or social website without agonizing over it first, and usually I settle for something basic: ‘I’m 5’3”, brunette, and I enjoy writing’ or something along those lines. And that only covers a few aspects of who I really am, but that’s the trouble isn’t it? That we can never succinctly describe ourselves, and we try so hard…” she said trailing off.

After a moment of silence where he studied her studying the floor, he said: “What do you think makes it so difficult?”

She pulled herself from her reverie and looked at him incredulously. A sad, humorless smile cracked her lips. “The most important things are the hardest to say…for want of an understanding ear,” she said, “I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of what he said.”

“What who said?” he asked.

“Stephen King,” she said.

“You’re a writer, so of course you read a lot,” he said, “how do you think that affects you?” he asked.

Her face broke into another humorless grin. She was keeping eye contact with him now. “How should I know? You’re the therapist. You tell me,” she said.

He faltered at that. It wasn’t the first time a patient had been difficult, or turned on him. That was par for the course, but he found it difficult to find his usual response under her gaze.

“It’s only your first session, part of therapy is first getting to know one another, and learning that we can trust one another,” he said.

She barked laughter to the ceiling at that; it was as cynical and jaded and humorless as her smile. “I’ll never trust you,” she said.

Her laughter and her dead-pan response angered him. How was she getting such a rise from him when other patients couldn’t? “Then therapy will never work for you,” he heard himself say before he was even aware he meant to say it.

She smiled her humorless grin again. “That’s all I needed to hear, doc,” she said as she rose to leave.

“I didn’t mean that,” he said rising in response, absently casting aside his notepad (there weren’t many notes on it, she absorbed his attention and made him forget to write anything down), and reaching for her.

Her grin attached to her face like a lioness attaches to a gazelle that’s going to be dinner. “No, you did. It’s the first honest word you’ve spoken since I walked through that door, shook your hand, and you told me your name,” she said and walked out the door.

He stayed where he was listening to her discuss payment with his secretary. His knees felt weak, but also locked in place. He felt dizzy. It was odd. He couldn’t move until he heard the front door close behind her. Slowly, like a man waking from a dream, he went out into the lobby. His receptionist turned to him, expecting him to speak. When he didn’t she returned to her computer. He stood in the doorway of his office and stared at the glass front door through which she’d left.

“Did she set up another appointment?” he asked after a moment of silence.

His assistant turned to him, “No, she didn’t. She left early, as well. Is everything okay?”

“Fine,” he said automatically, and turned back to his office and shut the door.

 Author’s Note: Maybe I need to write about not writing in order to write. Hmm.

Lonesome in a Crowded Club

It’s Friday night, but instead of finding herself at the bar again, she’s at a club, and she’s wearing her cherry dress. There’s a DJ who keeps the beat jumping. He’s played club mix after club mix and she’s danced her feet raw in a new pair of heels she bought (these for cheap) before the night began. She’s not a fan of the music the DJ has been playing all night, but the more she drinks the less the cares. She’s dancing alone, again, but at least this time she’s surrounded by people looking as desperate as she feels.

The mob requires some strength to get through, but her cherry dress works like Moses’ staff and parts the sea of people so she can escape to the bar. She leans against the bar, breathing heavy, as the bartender walks over. Before he can strike up a conversation she orders a fruity cocktail. She stares at her reflection in the mirror behind the bar as the bartender blends her drink. Her face is a pallid dot in the sea of colors pulsing behind her.  The electric lights flashing around the club, threatening seizures, throws her face in stark contrast to the throng behind her.

The bartender comes over with her drink and leans across the bar as he slides it to her. He reaches for her hand as he goes to whisper in her ear, but she’s too quick for him. She plucks her drink from the bar, and turns and disappears into the throng sucking down her alcohol like a vampire sucking blood from a Capri-Sun pouch. She gets lost in the crowd and begins to sway with them. Her drink tastes like raspberries and leaves a bitter taste in her mouth. She has an urge to share the taste on her tongue with someone. She grabs the nearest person and turns him around. She wraps her right hand around his neck and pulls his face down to hers. She slides her tongue inside his mouth and he reciprocates surprisingly. The kiss is brief but wonderful and his dance partner is the one who pulls them apart. The look on her face is incredulous. She’s yelling obscenities at the top of her lungs, but over the DJ she can’t be heard.

She laughs and continues sipping her drink as she dances her way through the throng to the other side of the club. She extricates herself from the throng and finds herself by the restrooms. Figuring what the hell she enters the women’s restroom. The door swings shut behind her and the harsh light from the fluorescent above causes her to squint. Her eyes have adjusted to the darkness of the club behind her, and this bright light is too much to bear. She staggers to the sink and sets her cocktail down beside the sink. Her eyes have begun to adjust as she takes in her appearance in the mirror. Behind her in the middle stall are two pairs of feet. She can hear heavy panting coming from that stall. She quickly changes her mind about the bathroom, picks up her drink, and exits.

Back out in the club her eyes have to readjust. She kicks herself for having spent any time in the bathroom at all because now she can’t hardly see anything. She leans against the wall outside the bathroom for a moment as her eyes adjust. She’s not the only one leaning against the wall, she observes, and one of these others observes her and makes a bee-line straight for her. She pushes off the wall and heads toward the throng before he can accost her and force her to make small talk. She pushes her way through the throng again until she reaches the bar again. She sets her empty cocktail glass on the counter and turns to leave, but the bartender calls her back. She turns to him apprehensively and makes a show of pretending that she can’t hear him, and then disappears into the throng again.

Outside the club and on the street she breathes in the fresh night air. A taxi pulls up to the curb and two drunk couples stumble out and into the club. She watches them with distaste. She’s barely buzzed, and she never paid for a single drink; thank the bartender for small favors, no thank the dress. She climbs into the back of the cab that the couples just vacated and gives the driver her address. As he pulls away from the curb she gets a better idea and tells him to head to central park. She leans her head against the cool glass and watches the city pass by as the taxi drives. The taxi driver is an Indian man who tries to engage her in conversation a few times, but she ignores him completely. Conversation is not her forte.

The taxi pulls up to the curb at central park and she pays him what she owes, pulling the money from her bra, and gets out. She stands outside the gates of central park and simply stares into the darkness as she listens to the city thrive around her. There’s a homeless woman sitting to the right of the gate who watches her suspiciously. She ignores the woman, takes off her heels, and walks into the park. Against her better judgment she walks barefoot through the grass. She’s likely to step on shards of broken glass or a nail or something that requires a tetanus shot, but she doesn’t care. She relishes in the feeling of the grass beneath her feet, and the way it sticks between her toes. She walks to the lake in the center of the park and wades into the icy water up to her knees. A breeze skims across the surface of the lake and wraps itself around her, chilling her to the bone. She enjoys the feeling because it reminds her she’s alive. It makes the thumping of her heart seem more real than ever before.

She spends roughly half an hour at the park before starting home. Her apartment is sixteen blocks away, and instead of taking a cab (she doesn’t have enough money left), she’s resolved to walking barefoot all the way. It doesn’t bother her, she likes the thrill of walking around the city at night knowing anything could go wrong at any minute and she’d be helpless to ward off an attacker.

Release

She tosses wonderland across the coffee table where it flips over the edge and lands with a ruffling plop on the wooden floor. She sits in the middle of the couch with her arms crossed over her chest. Her face is red with rage and tears she can’t even feel. Some memories are better left dead, she thinks savagely and stomps over to the kitchen. She rips open the fridge door and pulls out a bottle of Jack. It’s been opened before and there’s only a third of the bottle left, but it will do. She has to numb the rage lest she react, and god forbid, express emotion.

She tips the bottle back and drains it. It burns down her esophagus, and she relishes in the heat like demons languish in the fiery pits of hell. She grimaces as she swallows the last bit down, and mourns the loss of the last of her alcohol, but for what other occasion was it meant for? She considers the empty bottle in the light of the fridge and grins impishly. She walks over to the window, pushes it up, and leans out into the cool night. The city is alive away from this sleepy apartment complex. She can hear the cars and the people just a few blocks over enjoying their lives, and she honestly hates them. It’s not their fault she’s unhappy, and that’s exactly why she hates them—it should be their fault.

She lives on the thirty-first floor and leans far out of the window with the empty bottle in her right hand. For a moment she contemplates throwing herself out the window instead of the bottle. The drop would be sufficient for killing her, she’s sure of it, but all the same she talks herself away from that idea. Instead she holds the bottle out into the open air as she listens to the city-folk blocks away and funnels all her rage and hatred and pain into that empty bottle, and then she lets it go.

The bottle falls thirty-one stories and shatters upon the concrete below. She smiles at the sound, imagining the chaos scattered upon the concrete below like a murder scene. She climbs back into her apartment chuckling to herself and closes the window. She prances through the kitchen and past her notebook of awful memories and into the bedroom, shutting off the living room light as she goes; can’t afford the electric bill as it is most months. She closes the bedroom door behind her and turns on the ceiling fan. It paddles through the thick, stuffy air as she shimmies out of her cherry dress. The dress hugs her curves, but she no longer finds it sexy, only clinging like a leech. She gets out of the dress and hangs it in her closet. The window on the opposite wall lets in city light that bathes the bed and her body in radiance. She’s wearing nothing but a strapless white bra and matching lacy panties as she flops down on the bed. She doesn’t bother crawling under the covers, the room is too warm for the comforter.

She lays there in the dark watching the fan paddle in an endless circle. When she gets bored of that she studies the shafts of light streaking across her skin. She admires the fragmented way it breaks apart her body into pieces. She prefers pieces to a whole. Pieces can be replaced, the whole cannot. She rolls over on her left side, away from the window, and stares into her mostly empty closet. The cherry dress sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s the most colorful piece of clothing she owns, and even in the dark it radiates. She smiles as she remembers the day she bought it. It was a revenge gift to herself, and yet she’d never used it to pick anyone up. That was the hell of it, and she didn’t want to think on it.

She rolled over on her stomach and buried her face in her pillow. She inhaled sharply and exhaled her own breath in her face. It was warm, like this room, and she didn’t like it so she turned her head to the right, facing the window. She closed her eyes and tried to re-imagine the sound of the bottle shattering upon the concrete thirty-one stories below. She smiled as she conjured up the memory, but then a sick thought occurred to her: what if someone had been down there? Her eyes jerked open instantly in response as fear trilled down her spine. That’s nonsense, she told herself. Horrible things like that only happen in the movies where people can redeem themselves. Nothing like that ever happens in real life. That thought calmed her slightly, but it didn’t ease the tension from her spine’s nervous crawling. She turned her head back towards the closet as if the movement could ward away the thoughts and closed her eyes, insisting to herself that she needed to get some sleep before the next day.

Despite her insistence upon sleep she remained awake for several hours after that mulling over the horrendous implications of what might be when she awoke the next morning and went outside and around the left side of the apartment complex. Would she find a homeless person with shards of glass stuck in his jugular? Her mind instantly put the homeless man she gave her twenties to in that scenario and she felt sick, but not sick enough to actually vomit; no, she was a lady and her stomach was much tougher than that. She was only being paranoid after all. Eventually she fell asleep but it wasn’t until shortly before dawn rose over the horizon and she slept fretfully.

Review

She closes the notebook and stares off to the left, thinking nothing in particular. She feels nothing and for a change that is good. She prefers to feel nothing. She spends too much time letting emotions build like blocks inside her chest until the wall threatens to crumble and expose the broken bird beneath the rubble. She turns back to the green cover of her notebook. The edges are frayed and there’s coffee and ink stains upon its surface. This notebook has seen a wealth of years, tears, and fears. She caresses it lovingly, like she would a beloved cat. She knows the gesture is stupid, even tells herself the gesture is stupid, but it doesn’t stop her when she’s sitting inside her own apartment where no one can see her in her natural state.

She starts to pick up the notebook, thinking she’s done with writing for the night, but something tugs at the back of her heart and she leaves it sitting on the coffee table. She wanders to the kitchen and opens the fridge. She stares at the relatively bare shelves looking for nothing in particular. She’s not really hungry, but that’s never stopped her from eating before. She decides she’ll find nothing delectable inside the fridge and opens the freezer instead. There’s a pint of Ben and Jerry’s in there. She debates it momentarily chewing on her bottom lip, and then decides what the hell, and pulls it out anyway. She rips off the lid, tosses it haphazardly across the island counter, yanks open a drawer and blindly reaches for a spoon as she eyes the ice cream she intends to consume until she hates herself more. She begins shoveling spoonfuls of ice-cold creamy goodness into her mouth as she walks back to the couch.

She plops down in the middle of the couch and leans back into the cushions as she savors her late night snack. She eats every last bit of ice cream, even going so far as to scrape the last bits off the bottom of the pint, and savors the last bite on her spoon. She makes a sound in her throat that’s the equivalent of a cat purring as she slowly pulls the spoon from her lips. Her tongue cleans the scoop completely. She drops the spoon inside the empty pint and sets it on the coffee table beside her notebook, which she’s forgotten in her ice-cream ecstasy.

She picks the notebook up gingerly as if it’s an ancient artifact she’s just unearthed in the sands of Egypt. She sees it differently now; not just as a worn and frayed old friend that holds her darkest secrets, but as an outsider might see it: a journey. She flips open the cover and begins reading the first page. She cringes as she reads, remembering the emotions and the circumstances that brought forth such rage and pain. The feelings are distant now, ghost limbs of what they used to be, but the clarity is still there, and will always be there. She will never forget entirely of what compelled her to compose these words on this page in that particular hour. She turns the page and carries on down the rabbit hole into wonderland.