Who’s counseling the counselor? | Fiction | Fresh Soup
I’m writing the intro to this post in a memo on my phone. I hate writing phone memos, but last week a bitter dispute erupted between the L3 and L4 vertebrae in my spine, and until things calm down, sitting on a chair at a computer screen is more than I can handle. Meanwhile, to avoid getting depressed by the orthopedic situation, I’m digging out an old sketch I wrote years ago, which no one has ever read before.
In an office, a counselor and a very tall patient sit on either side of a wooden desk.
Counselor: Avner, you’re not a midget.
Patient: Then what am I? Just so extremely short that it’s beyond normal?
Counselor: No, you are a tall man.
Patient: Really? You really mean it?
Counselor: Absolutely. You’re…
(Patient gives a dismissive “you’re just saying that” wave.)
Counselor: …towering, lofty, skyscraping, high in stature. You’re lanky, a beanpole, a hulk. You are… how can I put this? You’re very, very tall.
(The more adjectives the counselor lists, the more upset the patient gets, until finally he bursts into tears.)
Patient: Then why do people always look down on me? It’s like I’m nothing but an ant to them.
Counselor: I can’t answer that yet, Avner, we’ve only just begun our work. But it might be something you project, or…and I say this without any criticism…it might be something you’re imagining. (He glances at his watch.) But I’m afraid our time is up for today. So we’ll pick up this issue next week.
Patient (trying to hold back his tears): Okay, Dr., I’m sorry about the… (points to his damp cheeks)… Thank you.
Counselor: You’re welcome. And Avner, remember: in order to be tall, you have to think tall. (He pulls himself up higher.)
Patient (sitting up straighter): Think tall. Okay, Dr., thank you.
The patient drops to his knees and crawls to the door on all four, but makes a point of looking very erect. After he leaves, Patient B enters the office. Another man is slung over his back, fast asleep and snoring.
Patient B: May I?
Counselor: (staring at the man sleeping on Patient B’s shoulders): Yes, please come in, Mr.… (looks at his appointment book) Mitzinmacher.
Patient B (sitting down): Tziki. You can call me Tziki.
Counselor: Well, Tziki, this is our first meeting. And what I like to do at the first meeting—
Patient B: I’m not spending the night.
Counselor: Excuse me?
Patient B: I’m not going to sleep over. It’s… Well, never mind, that was supposed to be a joke. I was trying to break the ice. (He sees that the counselor is not amused; the counselor writes something in his notebook). Bad joke. Never mind. I’m sorry I interrupted.
The man on Patient B’s shoulders starts talking in his sleep.
Man on Shoulders (to himself, drowsily): What do you mean, murder? How is that murder? It’s just making schnitzel. Honey, you have to stop watching those Netflix documentaries…
Patient B: I’m sorry, I interrupted you.
Counselor: Yes. I was saying that for our first meeting, I’d just like to hear a little more about you, about your issues, what made you seek treatment.
Patient B: Honestly, Dr., it’s a little tricky to explain. How can I put this? I feel…
Counselor: Like something’s weighing on you?
Patient B: You’re sharp, Dr., I like that. You have a good eye. Because, you know, I’ve been feeling for a long time like I’m carrying a heavy load. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I’m choked up, like I’ve been crying all night. I try talking to people about it…
As Patient B talks, a cell phone rings. The counselor reacts, but the patient keeps talking. The man on Patient B’s shoulders answers the phone.
Man on Shoulders (sleepily): Hello… Yeah. No, you didn’t wake me. What time is it? Great, great, so when’s the car going to be ready? Great… How much? Two grand?! For a carburetor?! What do you think I am? You think I was born yesterday?
Patient B: …but people don’t listen to me. Like you.
The counselor is still riveted by the man on Patient B’s shoulders.
Man on Shoulders: …what is a carburetor anyway? It’s a piece of metal. A drainpipe. Are you seriously asking me to pay two thousand for a drainpipe? I don’t care if you’re… Then tell your boss to call me back ASAP. On my cell. (He hangs up)
The counselor, having ignored Patient B for several moments, notices his hurt look.
Counselor: I’m sorry. You were saying…?
Patient B: That people don’t listen to me. Like you.
Counselor: I apologize. A momentary lapse of attention. Won’t happen again.
Man on Shoulders turns on a little transistor radio and starts eating peanuts, dropping the shells everywhere.
Patient B: And the other thing is, I find it very difficult to build intimacy with people. Especially women. I somehow always feel they’re a little…
Counselor (watching, transfixed, as Man on Shoulders hocks a loogie on the rug): Standoffish?
Patient B: Yes. It’s like we’re at the mall instead of in my bedroom. And you know what else bothers me?
Man on Shoulders (glances at his watch): Come on, how long do I have to wait for that loser to call me back?
Counselor: No I don’t, Tziki. Tell me.
Patient B: That they never look me in the eye.
Counselor (looks back at Patient B): I’m sorry, please forgive me.
The phone rings again. Man on Shoulders flicks a lit cigarette onto the rug and answers the call.
Man on Shoulders: Hello? Muhammad? Yeah, so this kid I talked to before said it’s going to be two-thousand…
Counselor: Tell me, Tziki, are there any other issues troubling you?
Patient B: The loneliness.
Man on Shoulders: What? Can you repeat that? No, I couldn’t hear you, it’s super-noisy here. Oh, come on, don’t start with the hubcaps. You didn’t even touch the hubcaps. Seriously, Muhammad, show some respect. That’s all I ask. Show some respect for my intelligence.
Patient B: These silences…
Counselor: Excuse me?
Patient B: Like now, between you and me. That’s the story of my life, in fact.
Man on Shoulders: What is the deal with you people? Can’t you go for five seconds without lying? Who do I mean by ‘you people’? (angrily) No, no, I wasn’t talking about your background, I just meant auto-mechanics in general… I can’t believe I found the one guy who overcharges and has an inferiority complex.
Patient B: My living room is about sixteen-hundred square feet, with really high ceilings, and when you’re silent in a space like that, the acoustics are different. All the shhhhh (puts his finger to his lips) sits on you (touches his own shoulder) like a ton of bricks.
Man on Shoulder: Hello? I can’t hear you. There’s people talking here. No, I’m not at home. Tell me again? Okay… Done. But I’ll pay you the whole thing with post-dated checks, yeah? Come on, Muhammad, what do you want from me? Would you rather I write the check for today and have it bounce?
Counselor: It sounds as if you don’t get out much. Why not go and see a movie instead of sitting at home on your own?
Man on Shoulders: Okay, catch you later then. (He hangs up and dials another number.)
Patient B: You’ll laugh, Dr., but people get weird with me at the movies.
Counselor: Weird how?
Patient B: They say I’m blocking their view.
Man on Shoulders (on the phone, shelling peanuts again): Hi, Rinat? No, I’m out. Listen, I need you to pop over and pick up the car from the shop for me… Why? What do you mean why? ‘Cause I can’t do it.
Counselor: And how do you respond when they say that?
Patient B: I slouch down in my seat like everyone else does. But it doesn’t help. They won’t stop. They just won’t stop.
Man on Shoulders: If I could do it myself, do you think I’d be calling you? Ah, the lightbulb went on! Okay, so go get the car and I’ll pick it up from you… Oh for god’s sake, now I have to listen to you crying, first thing in the morning?
Man on Shoulders drops a peanut shell on Patient B’s cheek.
Patient B: So I just stopped going to the movies. It’s not easy at the theater either, you know. But at least there people are a little more civilized.
Counselor (points to Patient B’s cheek): You have some… right there, a piece of…
Man on Shoulders: I didn’t say you were a ditz… Okay, so I said ‘the lightbulb went on,’ but I meant it affectionately, don’t be such a ditz. Ugh… No, that ‘ditz’ was also affectionate. Seriously, talking to you is like walking on eggshells… Yes, eggshells. Hey, did I tell you I had a dream about you?
Patient B (having waited all this time for the Counselor to respond): So what do you think, Dr.? You think I’m screwed up?
Man on Shoulders: Of course it was a good dream. You think I’m going to waste you on a bad dream? Okay thanks, babe, I really super-appreciate it. (Hangs up and mutters to himself): Such a ditz. (Brushes his teeth)
Counselor: No, Tziki, I don’t think you’re screwed up, but I do think you have a problem. (Glances at his watch) Our time is up for today. But next week we can start discussing…
Man on Shoulders swishes mouthwash and spits it out on the rug.
Counselor: ….everything you’ve brought up here today, which I should point out must have taken a lot of courage.
Patient B: Thank you, Dr. (He shakes the counselor’s hand and stands up.) See you next week.
Man on Shoulders (answers another call on the way out): Hey, Assi? I need you to help me get something through customs. (snorts) Obviously. If it was legal, you think I’d be calling you?
The pair leave, and the counselor writes his notes.
Counselor: Acute lack of confidence… Minor schizoid tendencies… (looks at the rug where Man on Shoulders tossed his cigarette and spat.) Buy stain remover.
The counselor shuts his notebook and stands up behind the desk, revealing another human being beneath him, supporting him on his shoulders. As he gets up, the bottom man’s cell phone rings. They both move toward the door.
Man Under Counselor (in a high-pitched voice): Hey, Memmo? Great to hear from you! No, I’m just leaving. Casino? Now? You’re crazy, I already owe five grand… What’s that? You had a dream about Dama?... No, if it’s a diamond then it’s good luck… No, if she spat in your face then maybe not… Hey, wanna grab some chicken wings? No, I hate the celery sticks, what am I, a rabbit? Just some of that hot sauce, and…
The counselor removes a coat from the hook and puts it on: it’s long enough to cover them both. He turns off the light and they leave the office.