The Washington Post
A modern-day battle of the sexes - dished up with scathing wit, hilarity, and plenty of attitude.
The Washington Post
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By Olivia Goldsmith
Warner BooksCopyright © 2004 Olivia Goldsmith
All right reserved.
Chapter OneKatherine Sean Jameson sat behind her desk and looked at her client. Being a therapist was never easy, but with a client who needed this much help and had this much resistance, it was really tough. And heartbreaking. To the casual observer, Kate was just a mildly pretty twenty-four-year-old though she was actually thirty-one) with long curls of wild red hair.
Now, as she looked at Brian Conroy, she unconsciously twisted those curls into an impromptu bun at the nape of her neck with a practiced motion and rushed a pencil through it to hold it in place.
"So what do you think?" Kate said, and almost bit her tongue despite what lay people believed, a good therapist didn't sit around all day saying, "What do you think?" She'd have to try a different approach. She was wasting her own time as well as Brian's. Why was it the clients she loved most were so often the ones she could help the least?
It was warm. Kate's office was not air-conditioned, and the breeze from the open window felt good on the back of her neck. Brian, looking later intently, was sweating, but it could just as easily have been from nerves as from the early spring heat.
Kate sat silently. Silence was an important part of her work, though not something that came naturally. But she had learned that at times stillness and space were all that were needed.
Not today, apparently. Brian pulled his eyes guiltily away from her own and looked around the office. The walls were filled with pictures done by children-some of them very disturbing. Kate watched to see if Brian's attention focused on one.
Kate stifled a sigh. She was trying to wait Brian out but was conscious of their time ticking away, and for his sake she needed immediate results. Brian was obviously in crisis. She looked with compassion at her right-year-old "client." His teacher said he was constantly disrupting class and showing signs of obsessive-compulsive or maybe even chizophrenic behavior.
And disruption simply wasn't allowed at Andrew Country Day School. A private school in the best neighborhood in Manhattan, it accepted only the best and the brightest-of students and staff. Every amenity was provided, from an indoor swimming pool to a state-of-the-art computer enter to language lessons that included Japanese and French for six-year-olds. That's why there was a school psychologist. Kate had gotten the plum job only recently, and Brian, like other kids who showed he slightest "difficult" behavior, had been immediately demanded to her office. Nothing was to disrupt the smooth daily ingestion of information by the children of the elite.
"Do you know why you've come here, Brian?" she asked, her voice gentle. Brian shook his head. Kate rose from her desk, moved around it, and sat on one of the small chairs beside the boy. "Can you guess?" He shook his head. "Well, do you think it's or eating gummy elephants in school?"
He looked at her for a moment, then shook his head again. "There's no such thing as gummy elephants."
"Gummy rhinos?" Kate asked. Brian shook his head again. "Eating peanut-butter-and-raccoon sandwiches at your desk?"
"It wasn't for eating anything," he said. Then he lowered his voice to a whisper. "It was for talking. Talking in glass."
As Kate nodded, the pencil fell out of her bun, and her hair cascaded over her shoulders while the pencil clattered to the floor. Brian smiled and actually let a giggle escape before he covered his mouth. Good, Kate thought. She leaned closer to her little patient. "You're not were just for talking in class, Brian. If you were just talking in class, when you'd be sent to the principal's office, right?"
Brian's adorable face gazed up at Kate with terrified eyes. "Are you worse than the principal?" he asked.
Kate felt such empathy for the boy at that moment that she was tempted to take his hand in hers, but he was so anxious that she feared he might shy away. This kind of work was so delicate-like dealing with Venetian pun glass, where the slightest jar could shatter it-and she often felt so clumsy.
"Nobody is worse than the principal," Kate said. Then she smiled and winked at Brian. None of the kids at Andrew Country Day liked Dr. McKay, and-as so often was the case-their instincts were good. "Do I look as bad as Dr. McKay?" Kate asked, feigning shock.
Brian shook his head vigorously.
"Well. Thank goodness. Anyway, I do something different. You aren't here to be punished. You didn't do anything wrong. But everybody hears you talking-even though you're not talking to anybody." She watched as Brian's eyes filled with tears.
"I'll be quieter," he promised. Kate wanted to scoop him up onto her lap and let him cry as long as he needed to. After all, his other had just died of cancer, and he was still so very young. Kate's own mother had passed away when she was eleven, and that had been almost unbearable.
She dared to take one of the boy's hands in hers. "I won't want you to be quiet, Brian," she said. "You do what you need to. But I'd like to know what you're saying."
Brian shook his head again. His eyes changed from tearful to frightened. "I can't tell," he whispered. Then he turned his face away from her. He mumbled something else, and Kate managed to hear only one word, but it was enough.
Go slow, she told herself. Go very, very slowly and casually. "You're doing magic?" she asked. Brian, face still averted, nodded but didn't speak. Kate was already afraid she had one too far. She held her breath. Then, after a long moment, she lowered her own voice to a whisper and asked, "Why can't you tell?"
"Because ...," Brian started, then it burst out of him. "Because it's magic and you can't tell magic or your wish don't come true. Like birthday candles. Everybody knows that!" he got up and walked to the corner of the room.
Kate actually felt relieved. The boy wasn't schizophrenic. He was caught in a typical childhood trap: total powerlessness combined with hopeless longing and guilt. A toxic cocktail. Kate gave him a moment. She didn't want him to feel trapped. Yet he shouldn't be alone with this pain. She approached him slowly, the way you might move toward at range puppy. She put her hand on the little boy's shoulder. "Your wish is about your mother, isn't it," she said, her voice as neutral as she could manage to keep it. Brian didn't need any of her emotions-he needed space for his own. "Isn't that right?"
Brian looked up at her and nodded. His face registered a cautious relief. The dreadful burdens of childhood secrets always touched Kate. Though she was a long-lapsed Catholic, she still remembered the power and release of the confessional. She had to serve this child well. "What are you wishing for?" she asked, her voice as gentle as she could make it.
Brian began to cry. His face, usually so pale, flushed deep rose. Speaking through his tears, he said, "I thought if I just said `Mommy, come back' a million times that she would be back." He sobbed and put his face against Kate's skirt. "But it isn't working. I think I've said it two million times."
Kate's eyes filled with tears. She took a deep breath. She could feel the heat of Brian's face through the thin fabric of her skirt. The hell with professional detachment. She scooped Brian into her arms and carried him over to one of the chairs. The boy nestled against her. After a time he stopped crying, but his silent neediness was even sadder. They sat for a few moments, but Kate knew their session was nearly completed, and she had to speak. "Oh, Brian, I am so sorry," she told him. "But magic doesn't work. I wish it did. The doctors did everything they could to help your mommy. They couldn't fix her, and magic can't fix that. It's not your fault that the doctors couldn't save her." She paused. "And it's not your fault your mommy can't come back." Kate sighed. Breaking children's hearts, even to help them, had not been part of her job description. "But she can't, and your magic can't work."
Brian suddenly pushed against her, wriggling his way out of her embrace. He stood up and looked at her angrily. "Why not?" he demanded. "Why can't my magic work?" He glared at Kate for another moment, then pushed her hard and barreled out of the room, nearly knocking ever the dollhouse. The office door crashed and rebounded open. From down the hall, she heard a voice-Elliot Winston's-try to stop Brian. "Shut up, you stinky dick!" Brian shouted. Kate winced and listened to the little boy's footsteps recede.
A moment later, Elliot stuck his head around Kate's door. "Another satisfied customer?" he asked, his eyebrows raised early to his receding hairline. "Perhaps you should have stuck with wrench."
Kate had majored in French as an undergrad. For a while, she had even considered continuing her language studies in graduate school. She had never regretted not doing so, because her work with the children was so satisfying, but occasionally, particularly at moments like this, Elliot-one of the math teachers and her best friend-teased her about her choice.
"As I recall, the German for 'stinky dick' would be Riechende Steine. What would you say in French?"
"I would say you are very annoying," Kate told him. "That's good enough. And I would also say that Brian and I are taking some progress. He expressed some of his true feelings today."
"Well, he managed to express his feelings about me and my genital odor. Congratulations on your progress." Elliot stepped into the room and sat beside the dollhouse in an overstuffed chair-the only piece of adult-size furniture in Kate's office aside from her own desk and hair. Elliot was dark-haired, average in height, slightly over average in eight, and possessed of a much higher than average IQ. As usual, he was wearing wrinkled chinos, a baggy T-shirt, and a clashing open-necked shirt on top. Putting his feet up on the toy box, he opened his lunch sack.
Kate sighed. She and Elliot usually had lunch together. But today Elliot had the dreaded cafeteria duty and was just now, at nearly two-thirty, getting a chance to eat. She delighted in his company, but she was melancholy from her session with Brian. Elliot, fresh from the horror of the lunchroom, was blithely unaware of her mood as he pulled out several items and tore into a sandwich that smelled suspiciously like corned beef.
"Brian's in Sharon's class, isn't he?" Elliot asked too casually.
Kate nodded. "Poor kid. His mother dies, and his teacher is the wicked Witch of the Upper West Side." She had to smile. Neither she or Elliot had much use for Sharon Kaplan, a truly lazy teacher and a deeply annoying woman.
"So aside from a recently deceased mom, what's bugging Brian?" Elliot asked.
Kate felt too fragile for their usual badinage. "You have mustard on your chin," she told him, but as Elliot reached up to wipe it way, the glob fell onto his shirt.
"Oops," he said, and dabbed ineffectually at his shirt front with one of the hard paper towels from the school's bathrooms. The yellow splotch looked particularly hideous against the green of his shirt. Watching him eat, Kate often thought, was a spectator sport.
"He believes that magic can bring his mother back," she said, sighing wistfully.
"See? See what I mean? They're all obsessed with witches and wizards. Damn that Harry Potter!" Elliot said, and took another huge bite of the sandwich. "So what's your prescription?" he asked, forcing the words out while chewing his food.
"I want him to give up the magic and get in touch with his anger and pain," Kate answered.
"Oy vey!" Elliot said with the best Yiddish accent a may man from Indiana could manage. "When will you give up on this guest to get every little boy at Andrew Country Day in touch with his true feelings? And why discourage magic in his case? What else does the kid have?"
"Oh, come on, Elliot! Because magic won't work, and he mustn't think it's his fault when it fails." She shook her head. "You of all people. A trained statistician. A man who could trade this job in, triple your salary, and become chief actuarial at any pension fund. You're telling me to encourage magic?"
Elliot shrugged. "Haven't you ever had magical things happen?"
Kate refused the bait. Elliot, raised in the Midwest and stoic to the one, had once told her, "The unexamined life is the only one worth giving." He often challenged her about the efficacy of psychology. How, just to annoy her, he was going to take a perverse stand on magic. "If you think you're going to start an argument today," he warned him, "you're out of your mind." Then, to annoy him-as well as for his own good-she added, "I didn't think corned beef was good for your cholesterol."
"Oh, what's a few hundred points one way or the other?" He asked cheerfully, swallowing another mouthful.
"You've got a death wish," Kate said.
"Ooooh. Harsh words from a shrink." He winced mockingly as he opened a Snapple.
"Look, I'm leaving," she told him, gathering some notes from her desk and putting them into her file cabinet. If she left now, he'd be able to do a bit of shopping before meeting her friend Bina. She took a lipstick and mirror out of her purse, dabbed the color over her mouth, and smiled widely to make sure she didn't have lipstick on her teeth. "I'll see you for dinner."
"Where are you going?"
"None of your beeswax."
"A secret? Come on. Tell! What if I threw a tantrum like Brian?" Elliot reached into the toy box at his feet. Then he hurled a stuffed bear in Kate's direction. "Would you tell me when?" The plush missile hit her squarely in the face. Elliot curled up in the chair, held his hands in front of his face, and started to beg rapidly. "It was an accident. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
"I'll show you sorry," Kate warned. She threw the bear back at Elliot, but it missed him.
"You throw like a girl," Elliot taunted. Then he picked up another animal and threw it at Kate. "Duck!" he called as he reached for yet another toy to throw. It was indeed a duck, yellow and fluffy.
"Duck this, you math nerd," Kate almost shouted as she grabbed a fuzzy rabbit and pummeled Elliot's head. It felt good to blow off some steam.
"Abuse! Abuse!" Elliot screamed in delight as he rolled off the chair to protect himself. "Teacher abuse! Teacher abuse!" he continued to yell.
"Shut up, you idiot!" Kate told him, and rushed to close the office door. She turned from it just in time to get a stuffed elephant tight in the face. It stunned her for a moment, then she grabbed the pachyderm and lunged at Elliot. "I'll show you abuse, you sniveling cholesterol warehouse," she threatened as she fell on top of Elliot and beat him repeatedly with the toy.
Elliot fought back with both an inflatable flamingo and a stuffed dog. He might be gay, but he was no wussy.
Excerpted from Dumping Billy by Olivia Goldsmith Copyright © 2004 by Olivia Goldsmith. Excerpted by permission.
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