A Psychiatrist and Her Receptionist
After they made love, the psychiatrist got out of bed and went to the bathroom. She came back with a towel and tossed it to Aaron. He stayed on his back, his chest rising and falling, while she returned to the bathroom. She stayed there for a while; then she came out and they redressed. He walked her down the stairs and outside.
“Would you like one?” she said.
“No,” he said. “Suzanne doesn’t like when I smoke.”
“She probably wouldn’t like you being with another woman while she’s gone either.” She smiled with the corner of her mouth for a moment and then tightened her face. They were both quiet.
“Will you leave your husband when he gets back?”
“Of course not. I love Christopher. I love my kids.”
“How long have you been married?”
“It’ll be thirteen years in November.”
She inhaled her cigarette, and Aaron looked to his feet. The ground was wet and the gravel crunched underneath his shoes as he shifted his soles around, moving his weight from one foot to the other. It had been a wet September.
“I don’t think I can stay with Suzanne.”
“I mean—how can I go back to her?”
“Are you happy?”
He didn’t answer.
“When does she get in?”
“She was supposed to get in tonight. She and her sister get in tomorrow morning.”
“Do you like her sister?”
After a pause, he said, “We get along.”
“It’s just uncomfortable sometimes; that’s all.”
“Suzanne just has an odd relationship with her sister. Sometimes she gets really jealous.”
“Why do you think she’s jealous?”
“I know why,” he said. “She thinks her sister is much prettier than she is.”
There was a brief pause.
The psychiatrist took the last drag from her cigarette and flicked the butt onto the street. To Aaron, everything moved very slowly: A fury of sparks kicked up. The end of the cigarette glowed for a bit. It lingered. Faded a little more. Then it extinguished itself on the damp concrete.
They stared at each other, and she withdrew another one.
After she lit her cigarette, he asked for one, and she lit it with the burning end of hers.
“I only smoke when my kids are out of town,” she said.
“That makes sense,” he said. He looked at her, smoking her cigarette, her elbow at her hips, her outline glowing in the street lamp. The smoke came out her mouth, floating up, dancing in the beam of light. Aaron followed the smoke’s ascension. His eyes then shifted from her smoke to the wisp floating up in front of his face. He looked back to her eyes—they looked old, and he felt immense pity for the psychiatrist.
“I guess I will see you at work on Monday,” she said. He nodded. She took a step away, ashed her cigarette on the sidewalk, and then she turned back toward him. She kissed him, her mouth open, a smokey wetness filling his. The taste disgusted him; it was revolting. After the kiss, she left, and when she was out of sight after turning onto Bank Street, he threw his lit cigarette on the ground to let it die out.
From her car, the psychiatrist called her husband, hoping he was still awake. She asked him how the kids were. They were having a wonderful time at their grandparents’ home. She asked to speak with them, but they were asleep. She asked if Chris had spoken with Madeleine recently. She told Chris that she loved him and hung up the phone. She felt lonely, but they would be back tomorrow—everything would be all right.
Aaron picked Suzanne up from BWI the next morning, bringing coffee for her sister and her. He got out of the car and hugged Suzanne very tight—kissing her neck and telling her how much he missed her. Then he hugged her sister, too. He drove them back and made breakfast for both, pancakes and more coffee. Suzanne approached Aaron from behind and hugged him around his waist.
She rested her chin on his shoulder and said, “Smells good.” Then she burrowed her nose into him, sniffed again, and said, “You smell different.”
“Do I smell bad?”
“No. Just different.”
“Maybe it’s the pancakes.”
“Maybe,” she said. That was all she could say. She took a step back, her hand still lingering on his lower back, and she looked at the side of his head. He didn’t turn to her. He just looked forward. Her sister sat at the table. The pancake batter bubbled in the pan. They all were there, still and silent, each of them afraid to move, to alter the space, to face what was next. No one said anything. No. No one said anything at all—not for a very long time.
About the author:
C. E. Covey is from just north of Boston. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in several journals, including the Smoking Poet and Metazen. He currently lives in Brooklyn.