Dr. Henry looks down at the file on his desk and jots down a few notes. It’s so obvious he’s trying to mask a grin with that Mr. Serious Psychoanalyst expression. As Mom continues down her standard list of rants, I give Dr. Henry my best please-cut-this-short stare. To emphasize my point, I make the Kelsee puppet strangle the Mom puppet, who collapses in melodramatic death throes on my lap.
“Ms. Lewis, it’s obvious you’re very concerned,” Dr. Henry says, taking my subtle cue. “Would you excuse us for the last part of the session? I’d like to talk to Kelsee alone.”
Mom hesitates. For her, it’s all about calling the show. She doesn’t take direction very well.
“I’ll wait for you in the car,” she finally says. After she gathers her purse and jacket, she lingers at the door like she thinks he’ll change his mind and invite her to stay. No one says a word until she turns around and lets herself out. As soon as the door closes, Dr. Henry lets out a chuckle. He’s really not half-bad for a shrink. I think it’s hilarious that he looks like a cross between Tommy Chong and Steve Martin. I’ll have to ask him if he’s ever smoked weed or played the banjo. Or smoked weed while playing the banjo. Ten bucks says he has.
“Are you still having the panic attacks, Kelsee?” he says.
Our little secret. I work on curling my left shoe strap some more. I don’t know how to talk about what happens to me without sounding like a brain case. I don’t do angst very well, either. I’m more into comedy, laughter as the best medicine, smile through the tears, you know? I’m only here because Mom insisted we start therapy together during the divorce. A year later, she’s still dominating every session. The last time Dr. Henry dismissed her early from a session I told him about the panic attacks, with his express agreement that he would not say anything to her. I even made him sign a piece of paper to that effect. Dad taught me the importance of contracts.
“What are you thinking about?” Dr. Henry says when I don’t answer.
“I really don’t have that many,” I say. “They bore me, anyway. I need an affliction that will really launch my career. A wicked case of OCD would work.”
He refuses to play. “You should talk about them with your mother. Remember, this is a neutral place to discuss issues that are difficult to address at home. She might be more understanding than you think.”
I snort and then cover it with a snicker. “Or not. You know how she is. Neutral is not the precise word I would use.”
He comes around the desk to sit in the chair Mom vacated, giving me a quick pat on the knee like Dad used to do before he moved out last October. “You’re a perceptive young woman. You know that your mother is still struggling with the changes in your lives. That’s not unusual. But if you give her the chance to focus on something outside of her own worries, though, you might be surprised at her reaction.”
I think her reaction would be to jerk up on those puppet strings until the tiny bit of slack I have left is gone. No, I’m pretty sure it would be better to let her stew in her self-absorbed state for as long as possible.
“We’ll see how I feel about that next Friday, okay?” I say.
“You know a secret like this is not healthy,” Dr. Henry says. “Telling her might even help alleviate the attacks.”
“I’ll think about it,” I say. For about two seconds, I want to add.
The clock chimes its digital melody. Time’s up.
Keira Lea released her debut novel in April 2011. She is a devoted fan of the TV show FRINGE, a card-carrying member of the Apple cult, and a mother to two human children and three feline ones. She is working on a sequel to Replay.