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Concise Prose. Enough Said.
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Spring To Fall

By Susan O'Doherty

Amy stares up at the standard-issue hospital light fixture, willing back the pooling tears. She is aware that she is not an alluring weeper. Her tears and associated nasal excretions have in the past frightened certain men, and moved others to a fraternal sort of compassion, but they have never inspired anyone to put his arms around her and attempt to kiss them away.

She has rubbed her nose and eyelids raw, and the sodden tissue she keeps wadding and unfolding is gray with the mascara she applied so carefully this morning in anticipation of this meeting. She imagines that her eyes are ringed and her blusher is smeared, and she is right. She considers heading for the washroom, even shifts her weight in the lounge to lower her feet to the floor, but she doesn’t go anywhere. All she needs is for Karina, who tends to hover in the hallways during Amy’s supervision sessions, to catch her running out of Alan’s office in tears and set the gossip machine in motion. She is already known as the most fragile psychology intern, the temperamental one. She reaches for another tissue, and when she blows her nose, she honks. She imagines folding herself up inside the lounge and refusing to come out.

Alan’s soft, insistent therapist’s voice pushes into her fantasy of flight. “Can you talk and cry at the same time?”

Amy tries to say, “Sure,” but it comes out as a gurgly croak. She clears her throat. “Yes.” She tries to meet his eyes, but looks instead at his oversized lips, framed by his springy, graying beard.

“Try to tell me, then—who are the tears for?”

Amy does push her feet to the floor then. “You want me to say he’s like my father or something.”

“I want you to say that?”

She sighs. There is no way to argue with psychotherapeutic smugness. “Frank is just a thoroughly decent person, a good guy. I didn’t know there were people like that, in real life.”

Alan nods, but she can see he’s not buying it. His long, manicured fingers play with his fountain pen, an annual gift from his wife, he told her. Every Christmas she gives me one, and by October I’ve managed to lose it.

“I mean, he’s not a case. We’re not working on his issues. He’s a person with a life, a family, and he’s dying, and I’m sad and worried. This conversation is not about my pathology.

Alan looks around the room. “Did someone mention your pathology?”

“Oh, please.” She starts to rise.

“Sit down, Amy.”

She sits. “You’re the boss.”

“Where is all this hostility coming from?”

“Fuck you,” she says, and does walk out. She half hopes he will follow her, but he doesn’t. She makes her way to the women’s room, where Karina is combing her already perfect hair.

“Tough supervision session?” Karina catches Amy’s eye in the mirror. She looks hungry.

Amy shrugs. “Tough rotation. All the thanatology patients are dying. Big surprise.” She splashes cold water on her face. The paper towel scratches her blotchy, irritated skin.

Karina lays a hand on her arm. “I know you’re having a hard time. If you ever want to talk….”

Amy tries to match her exaggerated sincerity. “Thanks. I’ll remember that, Karina.”

One night, drunk with grief and cheap beer, Amy and the third intern, Darnelle, composed a Dylan-esque “ode” to Karina. It was brilliant, and Amy wishes she could remember some of it. Something to do with her open competitiveness. Oh, right: “Karina, Karina, Queen of Psychologee/Karina, Karina, step right over meeeee….” All right, the brilliance was in the beer. But it still makes Amy smile.

Karina takes a step back. “Did I say something funny?”

“Not at all. It cheers me up just to talk to you.” Amy exits while Karina ponders a response.

The fact is, Alan was right. Or, Amy was right. Her feelings for Frank are tied up with her feelings about her father. As are her feelings for Alan, for that matter. Not that these men are anything like her real father, who is an abusive, alcoholic asshole, but each in his way evokes the pretend dads of her childhood—Mr. Rogers, her friend Catherine’s father, Amy’s own maternal grandfather, whose loss she still hasn’t metabolized. In fact, the whole department has come to resemble some hallucinatory extended family, with Darnelle the good sister and Karina the bratty competitive one; Christine the nurturing mom and Marilyn her evil alter-ego.

Amy knows that this is how she should have responded to Alan’s probing, by delineating and exploring the various transferential relationships. And if Alan had not, on Amy’s leaving last week, given her a parting fatherly hug that lasted, or may have lasted, a little too long, if he hadn’t run his lips lightly over Amy’s cheek and hair, leading to vivid dreams and late-night awakenings, she would doubtless have done so. She would be in there now, spilling her guts. Alan would be nodding and encouraging her, and not only would she feel better, but she wouldn’t have blown her evaluation. Crap. Now God only knows what he will write about her. She is already on Marilyn’s shit list. She’d better make some reparations.

Alan’s door is still open, and he doesn’t look surprised to see her. She hovers in the doorway and says, “I’m sorry. That was inappropriate.”

He ushers her in. She spies Karina, around the corner, as he shuts the door. “I’m not the enemy, Amy.”

“I know.”

“Then who is? Death?”

She is crying again. “Damn it.”

He puts his arms around her, holds her. “Just let it out. Talk to me.”

“It’s not death, this isn’t a Bergman movie. It’s me. I mean, here he is, eaten up with cancer, and his big concern is not to put his wife out.”

“Ah. And that makes you feel….”

“Like I’m the one who should die.” She is sobbing now, her stomach heaving.

“Oh, my dear. Beginner’s grandiosity.”

She stiffens, resists the urge to stalk out again. “I guess so. It’s just—he, and then, I—you—” She collapses against his soft sweater, inhales his spicy scent.

“Yes. I know. I you, too.” His beard scratches her forehead; his lips are once again on her hair.

She tells herself she is surprised. Her pager beeps. Brendan. She turns it off.

“Who’s that?”

“Nobody.”

He disengages from her to lock the door. As he starts to lower the blinds, she catches a momentary glimpse in the darkened window of exactly what it is that she mourns for.

 

Susan O'Doherty has had work featured in Northwest Review, Appalachee Review, Style & Sense, and  Ballyhoo Stories, among other publications. New work has been accepted by Phoebe, Carve, Eclectica, and the forthcoming anthologies It's a Boy! (Seal Press) and About What Was Lost (Chamberlain Brothers).

Her last work for VerbSap was At Fairlawn.

 

Photo "Exodus" courtesy of Bjorn de Leeuw.

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