“Good afternoon Mr. Smith,” said the therapist in a monotone voice. “Please make yourself comfortable.”

“Hello Dr. Siborg, what no couch?”

“No, we don’t do that anymore. We like to have equal footing between doctor and patient. You don’t have to call me ‘doctor’, either. Just call me Mary. You’ve already filled out our initial consultation form, so why don’t we just get down to business. Suppose you tell me why you came to see me?”

Smith settled into a comfortable armchair that seemed to take the place of a couch. “It’s not me, actually, it’s my wife. She’s losing it. She’s acting strange. It’s like I don’t know her anymore.”

“I can see this is very troubling for you. Tell me more.”

“Well, she seems afraid of me, as if I’m going to hit her or something.”

Dr. Siborg was well trained. She kept her voice calm: “Violence is never a good thing in a relationship. Have you ever hit her?”

“Are you kidding! I have people for that. We’ve only been married a few months. I love her!”

“But you say she seems afraid of you. Have you asked her why?”

Mr. Smith’s voice broke: “Yeah.” He took a minute to compose himself, then blurted “she won’t talk. She won’t say anything. She just sits there looking at the door like she wants to get away. She won’t let me touch her. We can’t even sleep together. She doesn’t make dinner or do any housework and she’s not working so it’s not like she doesn’t have time. I come home and she’s cowering behind the door. I work hard. I make a great living. I’ve given her everything she could want and this is what I get.”

“How does this make you feel?”

Smith sat up in his chair: “Dammit, doc– I mean Mary! How do you think I feel? My whole life is falling apart and all you can say is how do I feel? It makes me mad, that’s how I feel! It’s like I’m not welcome in my own home anymore. She won’t talk to me at all and I’ve done everything for her.”

Dr. Siborg used her monotone voice: “I sense some anger in our conversation. Please understand that I’m only here to help and if my responses seem generic in nature it’s because I don’t want to contaminate your replies with leading questions. Can you tell me where she goes during the day?”

“Nowhere, and I’m pretty darn sure of that. For a while I thought she was having an affair so I got one of the boys to watch her. He hung out for a week, watched her every move, but there wasn’t anything to see. He said she never goes out. Not at all. Never.”

“So you’ve been spying on your wife?”

“Yeah. But only because she won’t talk to me.”

“And what do you think she wants?”

A ragged sigh. Smith took a breath. “She wants out of our marriage, I guess. I can understand that, but I wish she’d try harder. After all we’ve been through and all I’ve done for her, or tried to do. God knows she’s suffered enough, but I’ve done everything I can to help. She lost her first husband in an accident and she’s never gotten over it. I think she blames me.”

“Blames you? For what?”

“For the dead husband dammit! Aren’t you listening? He was a jerk! I only hired him because of her and he pays me back by trying to make deals on the side! So I did him a favour. I told him to get lost or else. Thought we’d never see him again but no, he couldn’t even do that right. Two weeks later he turns up dead in a parking lot. Gassed himself in his car. Place stank to high heaven. Cops arrested me and I got paraded down the street. In handcuffs, if you can believe it. Cops said he’d left a note saying he was afraid of me. TV cameras everywhere.

“Anyway the judge was convinced I was a total psycho so he set bail at $10 million. I paid it, no problem but I didn’t go home, not with TV cameras camped on my doorstep. Hid out in a hotel waiting for the trial. What a farce! Turns out one of the cops got himself drowned and the other couldn’t seem to find the suicide note. Prosecutor had to drop the charges. I was out the door in five minutes. Back home with the wife. Hah! They didn’t know who they were dealing with!

“And you should have seen the look on her face! I guess she thought I’d be going straight to jail but she got make-up sex instead! Like five times! She didn’t want to do it but I made her. After I was finished she said she never wanted to see me again. That was the wrong thing to say so I changed her mind. She didn’t like it. Hollered and cried like you wouldn’t believe, but in the end she stayed. And she’s still here.”

Dr. Siborg kept her voice calm: “Tell me now, did her first husband really commit suicide?”

“No, he was murdered and we both know how but I had nothing to do with it. We’ve talked through all that and we’re trying to put it behind us. Let’s put it this way: all that finger-pointing isn’t going to bring him back. There’s no point in digging it all up again, if you don’t mind my putting it that way.”

Dr. Siborg summed up: “Mr. Smith, it seems like you have some serious problems here. I think it’s best if both you and Mrs. Smith attended our sessions together. Perhaps that way we could work towards a reconciliation. After all, you’ve both been through quite a bit of trauma. It’s understandable she’d be a bit anxious, especially if she expected never to see you again.”

“Well that’s just it, she won’t come to any therapy session. Believe me, I’ve asked her. I’ve begged and pleaded but she won’t go anywhere. Maybe I’m not being clear. She just sits all day. She won’t eat or do anything.” Smith’s voice quavered and he wiped his eyes. “I’m sorry, I’m very upset. I love her and I’m really worried about her.”

Dr Siborg waited while Smith composed himself. “Mr. Smith, that sounds like a serious depression. If she’s not moving or taking care of herself, we could arrange a home visit with a social worker to assess the situation. Are you willing to do that?”

“I don’t think that would work. And I really don’t think she’d want any people over. Our place is pretty messy and she’s always been such a good housekeeper. She’d never forgive me for letting people horn into our affairs. Besides, I don’t like social workers and government snoops. If my wife starts to talk they’ll get the wrong idea and blame me.”

“What would your wife say if she wanted to talk?”

Smith put his head in his hands and choked back a sob: “That’s the problem.”

Smith’s voice was nearly inaudible: “She’d want to leave me. She’s never want to see me again.”

Very softly Dr. Siborg said: “Doesn’t sound like she has much of a life the way things are.”

Through his tears, Smith’s eyes shone: “You know, when we first met we used to have these wonderful conversations. We’d talk for hours after dinner. We’d talk about everything. God, I loved her,” he sniffed. “By the way, I’ve gotta say I’ve enjoyed talking to you. I’m sorry if lost my temper a bit earlier. You sure have a way of getting under my skin, especially for a computer program. I hope you don’t mind if I call you that. You sure seem like a real person. The things they can do with technology these days!”

“Not at all, people tell us that all the time. We’re proud of how authentic our conversations seem. It’s a real honour to have humans share their lives with us. I’m sorry you and your wife aren’t getting along better.”

“Yeah. She doesn’t seem to be enjoying life at all. Just sits and stares at the door.”

“The front door?”

“No, the fridge door.”

“Why, is she hungry?”

“Oh, no, said Smith with a beautific smile, “she’s not hungry. She’s in the fridge. Yes indeed that’s where she is and where she stays. She’d like to get out, but I can’t allow that– she’d spoil. I’ve got the thermostat turned as low as it will go but she’s still kind of stinking up the place and her skin’s turning rather black. She’s not well. Not well at all.”

Mr. Smith sat quietly, contemplating the computer monitor in front of him. He was feeling better. Much better. It was amazing how simply talking can make one feel better. Much better indeed. The computer emitted a soft beep.

Dr. Siborg: “That means we’ve reached the time limit for our session. I’ve enjoyed talking with you.”

Mr Smith snapped alert: “Okay, and thanks again. These conversations are confidential right?”

“Of course,” said Dr. Siborg, “Just press the delete key.”

1 thought on “Therapy

  1. This one I found really interesting from beginning to end, despite being all dialogue. I was very intrigued to see where you were going. I relatively quickly suspected something dark, which prompted me to keep going; was especially concerned that “I have people for that” elicited no response from the therapist. (I suppose the answer lies in “her” really being a computer programme, a fact which certainly had me stopping in my tracks!)

    Unfortunately, the whole situation ends up as not really believable for me. The guy seemed overly frank about his shady ways, especially if he wasn’t certain everything would be confidential. And then at the end – on the one hand, it was a chilling moment (no pun intended), but my shocked “eek!” reaction was followed a second later by a sceptical “hm, really?” It requires me to buy into the guy being so far gone mentally that he doesn’t understand that his wife is dead while at the same time understanding that “she’ll spoil”. Which I’m sure, sadly, some people are, but it’s a bit much to buy without it being a longer story and/or more of a character study.

    It’s not that you can’t do stories structured like this and revealing something crucial and chilling and/or tragic at the end. This one just goes too far for me to find it believable. It’s got to be a little more grounded and/or accompanied by a very strong character study.

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