897 words (3 minute read)

excerpt from chapter 5

“My life is flashing before my eyes,” I say, riffling through my calendar book. Angela’s sad, beatific face—the one she always wears at the end of our session—shines from the couch. “Same time next week?”

She nods, hands me a check. “Thanks again, Dr. Karl.”

“Always a pleasure, Angela.” I slip the check into my appointment book as she slips out the door.

I watch through the window as she navigates through the parking lot. My next appointment, Dougy sits in his mother’s big old Pontiac. He tracks Angela crossing the blacktop. Truly, she is a heavenly creature, drawing the eye irresistibly as nature intended.

“Succumb to the evolutionary will of the Universe you male lords of death.” I laugh, amusing myself with meaningless trifles.

Angela’s departure has left a vacuum in Doctor Karl’s Krazy Emporium. Inhaling deeply, her scent lingers. A hint of feminine musk spiked with the acrid and all too familiar smell of her particular brand of anxiety.

Checking my voicemail, Bob wants to cancel his Wednesday nine o’clock. Where does the time go? Hopefully he’ll fold under pressure with a call back to re-schedule. He needs the therapy. End of story.

Margo wants to re-schedule the weekly dinner roundup, our self-help-each-other session where we mix a little recreation with business being careful to avoid traversing the ethical boundary issues of patient confidentiality. Usually.

And why not?

It’s a tax write-off for whoever picks up the check. Or should that be whomever? Guess I could ask the Grammar Goddess herself at dinner.

I straighten the couch cushions, crack the window behind my chair to drain the toxic air that’s been thickening the inner sanctum since last Monday. Last Monday, in the year of our lord and the goddess of the moon, ten years deep.

I’m conscious of a letting loose a deep sigh. It also feels ten years deep. Where does the time go?

In the reception room, Dougy has a finger in the blinds cracking a peephole, peering out.

“Hello, Douglas,” I say. “What are you doing?”

Dougy glances sideways with squinty eyes, his pupils black pinpoints. His hand drops from the blinds but he doesn’t answer.

“Coming inside?” I say and start to turn, hesitate, not wanting to turn my back on him, realize my response, and promptly turn my back on him. They say you should do something everyday that scares you. I can check that off my list today.

We settle into our respective seats, our respective roles. He’s brought his sketchbook. He likes to show me the fruit of his recent interest in an artistic lifestyle. I encourage him, like I do all my creative types.

“You seem especially chipper today, Douglas.” In fact, he’s grinning like a crocodile.

Settling back on the overstuffed pillows, propping his booted feet on the armrest, he says, “I feel great.” He fusses with the bill of his ball cap, snuggling it down over lank, greasy hair. I want to tell him he’ll feel even better after a shower—he smells ripe—but I’m a therapist, not a hygienist.

“That’s wonderful news. So, what’s changed in your life?”

Dougy points to my notebook, “Do you take notes of these sessions?”

“What? This?” I close the notebook, eyeballing it like I’d never seen it before. “It’s a prop. My doodle book. I don’t take session notes. But I scribble. I’m a kinetic listener.”

“Really?” His eyes go squinty again, like he’s trying to divine the truth of my response. “Helps you focus, huh?”

I smile my wise therapeutic smile, inviting him to continue.

“I thought you was taking notes all this time.” Dougy tips back, stares at the ceiling, snugs the cap again. “No notes, huh?”

I show him a few pages of scribbles. Not my sketches. Those are for my eyes only. “See? Nothing to subpoena,” I say. “And you know how I feel about evading questions with questions.”

“…Ah. So, how does that, uh, that patient confidentiality thing work, I mean, really?”

He was ignoring my questioning of his questions to my questions, Curiouser and curiouser. “Well…in this state? It works quite well. We, you and I, share privileged communication, unless special circumstances arise.”

“Special circumstances? What’s that?”

“Well, I have a duty to inform the authorities if I believe you are a danger to yourself. Or to others. Or in the event you were abusing children or seniors. You know, someone like your mother.”

“Dear old mom. It’s always the old mama with you.”

Your dear old mother, Dougy, whom you still live with at thirty-something, pays for your weekly sessions, so there is definitely something there. I take a deep calming breath and say, “Well, lets not forget the father.”

“Hmph,” he says, dismissing that line of inquiry. He has something else on his mind. “But, what if I’d already, like, done something bad. Or illegal?”

“Well, my obligation to inform involves present or future danger, not necessarily past behavior.” And it’s all subject to interpretation. My interpretation, but he doesn’t need to know that.

“Ah, that’s good, because I already killed her.”