by Tim Frank
Walking down a pathway beside a canal at night, I saw a red moon reflected in the water. In a clearing, tramps stood around a bonfire and the smell of piss and burnt rubber made me gag.
Then on the train I sat opposite a gang of chanting football fans with alcohol on their breath. I fidgeted and blushed as they all pointed and laughed at me, singing in my face.
Near home, I walked through an underpass, the sound of footsteps steadily approaching like a Hitchcock movie.
“And this sense of unease is a result of childhood trauma?” you say, with a nonchalant flick of your wrist. “The darkness that needs to be exposed to the light.”
I can’t believe I pay you two hundred pounds a session for you to toy with my febrile mind. I spill my guts and confess my sordid secrets but I get more insight from my three-year-old niece who’s obsessed with flying ants and recites Old McDonald like a mantra.
I wonder who you really are with your matte lipstick and sparse mascara that screams, ‘I’m a professional’ but drains the life from your face, making you look like Glenn Close. Do you even believe in the doctrine you spout? Jung? The duality of man? Please.
Maybe the leather-bound books on your mantle are really empty shells? And what do you really think of me? Are you as snarky and bitchy as all the rest, plotting to keep me in a pill-induced, suicidal fog – to lay a blanket gently over my mind?
I see you three times a week and we began our sessions two years ago. I try to scour my insides like an X-ray to see if there is any evidence of change, of progress, but all I can focus on is that strange green portrait nailed above your head. And yet as I stare at the painting’s anaemic color and its almost bestial outline, my mind gradually becomes quiet. I feel mindful for a moment, almost hypnotized. Then my thoughts race off again into jolting, untamed spurts.
What I really need is to get some sleep. My night time rambles through the Black Forest with the howling foxes and the rustling breeze aren’t enough to silence my inner dialogue. I haven’t slept in days and at night I stream videos of snow-capped mountaintops, filmed by drones soaring over Switzerland, to feel like I’m anyone but me.
But as if you’ve read my mind, you say, “And yet all being said, I still don’t think you realize the progress you’ve made, the tiny breakthroughs we’ve achieved every week.”
Before I can shut you down you continue, “Tomorrow I want you to try this exercise: march home along the canal with confident strides, upright, breathing deeply; stare directly at commuters on the train, truly engaging; and then walk through the dimly lit streets knowing only you can harm yourself.
Finally, as you sink into bed stare at a spot in the distance and let yourself fall into a deep sleep and dream wonderful dreams.”
These words shake me, strike me to the core, and suddenly for some reason I can picture all the pieces of the puzzle falling into place. Then I imagine calling you to say I’m quitting, once and for all, because I know I can finally make it alone, and that all the elements I need to transform myself are lying dormant, just below the surface of my mind.
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Tim Frank’s short stories have been published over sixty times in journals including Able Muse, Bourbon Penn, Intrinsick, Menacing Hedge, Literally Stories, Eunoia Review, Maudlin House and The Fiction Pool. Tim Frank has been nominated for The Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2020. Tim Frank is the associate fiction editor for Able Muse Literary Journal.