Issue #17 |

So My Friend Tells Me a Story

She tells me that she is sitting in her office chair on a spring afternoon, and the windows are warm and yellow from the sun and the vinyl is cold on her neck. There is a tiffany lamp on her desk, lit, and underneath her feet are bare. Her client is on the couch with his arms crossed tight around his chest and he is telling her about his sister, about a game they used to play on their lawn that involved sling-shots and a very large soccer ball. It is their third session. She has spoken with him enough to know that he has a high school education, is a former meth head, has four children with two different women, neither of whom he’s wifed. And my friend, well, she is attracted to him. Deeply attracted, she tells me, like she can feel it in her vagina (her words. Her exact words: it feels the way it does when I use Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap to wash my pussy.).

My friend, you understand, she has three advanced degrees. She speaks four languages, spent six years in Africa doing humanitarian work, was a Churchill and a Rhodes scholar. She plowed through her twenties going balls to the wall trying to prove something. She thought she was going to change the world, but, and these are her words, too, she realized she was just another white girl driving a red Mini Cooper with a Boston College decal on the back. So it wasn’t that she was trying to fix something as much as she was trying to prove herself worthy of  the things she already had. That is why she is attracted to certain types of men. She calls them Off the Beaten Path men. I call them Manipulative Losers.

My friend calls to tell me this story on a weekday morning when I have just gotten my children out of the house, when I am walking around downstairs, picking their socks and pajamas off the floor, sweeping cheerios into neat piles. My friend is calling from the privacy of her office, a space so pristine, so childless I can feel its quiet.

I yelp when I step on the wavy plastic hairline of a small figurine.

Can you hear me? she asks.

Go on, I say, go on.

So she tells me that the client has his boots up on her coffee table, on top of her copy of You Are A Badass, next to her sage soy wax candle. She has her notebook open in her lap and is underlining his sister’s name in purple ink, back and forth, back and forth, trying to return to listening mode, but she can’t.  She looks up at the clock over the client’s head, even though she hates it when her own therapist looks at the clock over her head while she’s speaking, past her face into the little minute hands and then stifles a yawn.

I’m having trouble deciding if you’re listening to me, her client is saying, and the way he says it makes it sound more like a lover’s quarrel than a professional complaint.

So my friend, she uncrosses her legs, spider veins up her thighs below the jeans, folds her tiny fingers in her lap and says, I’m not going to charge you for this session.

She clears her throat a little, and I know that her breath smells like coffee, because when we were in high school she was already up to three cups a day.

The truth is, she says, I’m not listening to you as carefully as I should be, and I think it’s best if we terminate the relationship. I hope you understand.

She tells me that she knows he understands. The attraction was instant, chemical. During their first session, he eyed her while she walked around the room, flipping on the light switches and settling into her chair, dipping below the seat to take out her notepad, and it wasn’t just eyeing, it was open staring, almost hostile. It was animalistic. He’s not even attractive, she says, like objectively. And she knows that, but it doesn’t help. She says she was blushing that first time they met, so he should know now that he needs to go. But she says that her client wiggles his toes in his boots a little bit, then takes them off the table.

Terminate the relationship? he asks.

She nods gravely. Grave looks wrong on her, because she has a goofy face—a puffy blowfish mouth that’s covering up a shit-eating grin.  Grave comes across as condescending, smirky.

Her client cocks his head to the side, considering this, and it seems to have the unintended consequence of making him pleased rather than displeased. He doesn’t say anything else, she says. He just walks out of the room, and she doesn’t know what to do, so she calls out Take care! after him, as if she is signing a very cordial email, and she can’t help looking at his butt as he leaves.

He waits a day, maybe two days, then he emails her. Can I get your cell number?

 

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Shari Astalos received her MFA in creative writing from Rutgers-Newark, where she was also a lecturer in the English department. She was a semi-finalist for the 2021 American Short(er) Fiction Prize and an alternate for a 2022 Fulbright in the creative arts to Spain. She has spent the past year in Barcelona with her husband …

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