If you had to choose his very best characteristic (and there were so, so many), he would tell you that it had to be his ironic sense of humor. He was perhaps the most talked about, infamous representation of all of God’s handiwork, enjoying his role in the grand scheme of things immensely. Sometimes, every now and then, all the good, important work he did threatened to bring him down. For although he was a celebrity in his own right, he did not always experience the adulation and credit that he felt was his due. At times, he was rebuffed, evaded, other times embraced and desired. It ran hot and cold, day in and day out always the same, the duality of his calling becoming more jarring to him with every passing year. If one could not find amusement in such a boring, maddening situation, really, what was the point of it all?
He considered taking a vacation, to try to “find himself,” as they say. He knew that he was too invaluable to take any time off (modesty admittedly not being one of his strong suits), so he decided to incorporate a part-time career into his busy existence.
For a while he played around with being a stand-up comedian, prowling the clubs on open mic night. The late hours got to be a little much, his famed droll sense of humor going over more than one head. Politics tickled his fancy for a bit, his peculiar talents being well suited for that bloodthirsty arena, but the sheer brutishness of it eventually repelled even him. He was, at various times and in no particular order, a journalist, divorce attorney, aspiring YouTube star, and card-carrying member of the paparazzi, the latter profession utilizing his unrivaled ability to be seen and unseen all at the same time. None of them lasted very long or ever filled the urgent longing residing in his heart.
If he were to be completely honest with himself (as he always prided himself to be), he would say that he was simply worn out. Maybe he was having a midlife crisis of some sort, searching in vain for any kind of self-fulfillment. He was never much for talking about his feelings, as much as he had any. In the end he decided to embrace the solution of the modern age. He went to therapy.
* * *
When Dr. Ethan Childs first saw the patient he came to know as Mr. Dee, he experienced a sudden feeling of deja vu, convinced that he had seen the man somewhere before. Mr. Dee assured him they had never met, that he simply evoked that reaction. “My countenance is one that captivates or repels, occasionally at the exact same moment,” the man said as he lowered his long, elegant form onto the nondescript black pleather couch in the corner.
Ethan prided himself on always putting his clients at ease, the gold standard of what a good psychotherapist should do. He was always professional, masking any random reaction to a particular client, making sure to never prejudge or make any assumptions. This time, however, Ethan had to admit he was more than a little intrigued.
Dee always wore an expensively tailored suit, usually black pinstripe with a jaunty silken red pocket square expertly perched in his left breast pocket. He was tall—well over six feet, but carried himself with such a natural grace that his height was not intimidating. He had soft and well-manicured hands, taking Ethan’s own hand warmly into his in a firm handshake upon their first meeting. Ethan couldn’t place his age, guessed him to be in early middle age due to his thick head of salt and pepper hair, but he could have just as easily been older or younger than that. The most striking thing about him was the polished black cane he always carried. It had an enormous gold knob at the top, a symbol that Ethan couldn’t quite make out, for he didn’t want to seem rude and stare. With his confident air and refined stature, Mr. Dee would have fit quite nicely into any era. There was a certain timeless, classic quality about him.
Dee’s voice had a slight lilt to it, an accent he couldn’t quite place, piquing Child’s curiosity even further. Ethan was discovering that he had to be wary; conversations with Dee were completely intoxicating. The man’s razor-sharp wit and knowledge on a variety of subjects was extensive. They had long, impassioned discussions about history, philosophy, and art, Ethan always attempting to steer Dee back to talking about himself, as the man would wax on poetically from one subject to another.
Mr. Dee had an uncanny way of turning every question or subject around so that Ethan would find himself fending off personal questions about his own life. This was something he knew was strictly forbidden, doubling his guard whenever Dee would steer the conversation in an uncomfortable direction. It was clear that Mr. Dee had experience in this kind of thing, telling Ethan, “I treasure confidences and pride myself on discretion. You can trust in me.” More than once, Ethan had to remind himself that he was the therapist, and not the other way around.
* * *
In the three months that Ethan had been working with Mr. Dee, he came to look forward to their sessions, found himself thinking about seeing the man with anticipation. Ethan tried to mentally step back and assess what was happening in his own mind. Am I attracted to this man, is that what’s going on? The question tortured him late into the night.
Ethan’s partner had died four years earlier from cancer, twenty years of life together passing by, seemingly in an instant. He felt the life drain away from his love as he sat by, day in and day out, powerless against death’s relentless assault. Ethan was angry, still grieving. The pain lived like a dull ache just under the surface, coloring every aspect of his life. He had refused to even consider dating again, much less ever develop feelings for a client. Ethan had always been extremely professional in every regard, would never dream of crossing that line. He analyzed himself relentlessly, thought about seeing his own therapist about the dilemma before deciding that there was really only one solution. Ethan would have to stop treating the fascinating Mr. Dee, no matter how painful that would be for both of them.
* * *
Ethan spent the morning of their last session in a state of high anxiety. He really thought they had made some progress in the past few weeks; Mr. Dee was finally starting to open up. Dee refused to reference his childhood, even the slightest detail, except to say that he worked in a family business and had many diverse accomplishments to his name. He would never say exactly what that meant, but Childs knew that they were close to a major breakthrough—he could feel it.
Ethan rummaged through his desk, searching for his ever-present roll of Tums. His heartburn was particularly bad that day, the stress of what he had to do wreaking havoc with his body. He felt like he was coming down with something, physically sick about having to tell Mr. Dee that he would need to find another therapist. Ethan had put together a referral list for him, had it waiting on the desk as he practiced what he would say over and over again in his mind.
He had just gone over it once more when he felt a quiet presence move in directly behind him. It was eerie how Dee could enter a room in complete stealth, giving Ethan a physical shiver down his spine. He jumped to get up, completely caught off guard by the man’s sudden appearance as Dee gently placed his hand on Ethan’s shoulder, guiding him back down into his chair.
“There is no need to get up, Doctor, I already know what you are going to say.” Ethan stared up at him, noticing that the symbol on the golden head of his cane appeared to be a large, grinning skull. “You see, I was afraid of just this very thing happening. I am an irresistibly charming fellow, another of my many positive attributes. Back in the Enlightenment years, I was a highly sought after guest. I think even old Ben Franklin had a thing for me then, ladies’ man though he was, through and through.”
Ethan felt a mild, warm sensation work its way from his toes all the way up to his chest and settle there. His mind was a blank, refusing to believe what Dee had just told him was real. Maybe this was all some kind of a strange dream.
“I am sad that our acquaintance must come to an end, Doctor. I have so enjoyed conversing with you. While I appreciate your graciousness in compiling a list for me, I have no further need of therapy. No other doctor will do and I am afraid that I just got the word from headquarters this morning, you are due to be processed momentarily.” Dee pulled out an antique round timepiece on a golden chain, checking the time before clicking it shut and continuing on.
“Oh, the things you will see, Ethan! I am a bit envious, I’m afraid. It is a blessing and a curse to always be wandering the earth. Life is beautiful and violent in all of its manifestations. I do tend to get rather attached to you all. I have become worldly throughout the long centuries—it is a particular fault of mine, you see.”
Ethan felt the warmth in his chest suddenly explode, his heart seizing up as he desperately reached out, Dee placing a hand on each of Ethan’s shoulders in a fond embrace. “My dear man, you are going on a wondrous journey. Do tell Jonathan hello for me.”
In the midst of his pain and fear, Ethan jolted up at the mention of his partner, never having told Dee anything about him. He had a sudden realization of what kind of business Mr. Dee must be in, who he was; the breakthrough he had been after had finally occurred. It was his last conscious thought before the darkness began to close in around him, the sympathetic face of Mr. Dee bidding him farewell, his final sight.
* * *
Dee sighed and gently lowered his therapist’s eyelids, arranging him in a dignified fashion. Ethan’s next patient was due in about an hour; he would not be left unattended for long. Dee had really enjoyed their sessions together. It had amused him. He gripped his cane tightly, allowing his emotions to overcome him for just a moment, before leaving the office and closing the door softly behind him. Each passing both fed and diminished Dee, allowing him the sensation of approaching perfection without actually attaining it. All of life’s infinite tragic comedy swirled around him, heartbreaking and euphoric as their souls ascended, passing him by, only ever allowing him to scratch at the surface of the grand plan like some sort of metaphysical lap dog. It was maddening, frustrating. It was pure bliss.
Dee sighed in resignation. Such were the perils of his existence, had been since time immemorial. Maybe he should continue with therapy after all. He did appear to be in need of further exploration of his feelings—oh, how Dr. Childs would be pleased to hear that! A real breakthrough, if he did say so himself.
* * *
Dee stepped out into the bright sunshine. He had just over thirty minutes before his next appointment, a job interview with the local IRS office, was scheduled to begin. He was excited for this newest opportunity, knew it would be a perfect fit for him. Oh, the irony! he laughed to himself, whistling tunelessly as he sauntered down the street in pure contentment, therapy obviously agreeing with him. He was in good spirits, better than he’d felt in over a millennium.
A. Elizabeth Herting is an aspiring freelance writer and busy mother of three living in colorful Colorado. She has had short stories featured in Bewildering Stories, Cafe Aphra, Dark Fire Fiction, Edify Fiction, Fictive Dream, 50-Word Stories, Friday Fiction, Literally Stories, New Realm, Peacock Journal, Pilcrow&Dagger, Quail Bell Magazine, Speculative 66, Storyteller, The Flash Fiction Press and Under the Bed. She has also published non-fiction work in Denver Pieces Magazine and bioStories, and completed a novel called Wet Birds Don’t Fly at Night that she is hoping to find a home for. For more of her work/contact her at sites.google.com/site/aehertingwriter
Buy this writer a coffee.
Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov