“First Session” by Bruce Costello

We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Welcome page for more information about us. In this week’s story, we discover the first step in healing.

We present our Feature Story: “First Session” by Bruce Costello.


The woman glared at the counselor. He was bald. His face was blank. He was reading the doctor’s referral letter.

 Good. He’s looking down. I don’t want his eyes on my face. Or anywhere else on me. What sort of a picture will he get? Of me? And my body? And I, a teacher, how can this be me, here? What will he see if he sees into me? Oh God, he’s looking up, smiling. Eyes are blue. Seems uneasy. Fidgeting, like he doesn’t know what to say.

“Is there anything you’d like to ask me before we begin, any burning questions?”

He seems decent enough, ordinary, like someone’s grandfather, got dog hairs on his trousers. Why should I inflict my crap on him?

She leaned forward, her mouth agape, like a little girl.

“Do you do this for a living?”

“Yes, I do.”

She brushed sweat from her forehead, swallowed and moistened her lips.

“How long have you been doing it?”

 Can he pick up my vibes? What signals am I sending out?

“Twenty-four years.”

Oh my God. Is this how he gets his kicks?

“Are you married. Do you have a family?”

“You’re wondering what sort of a person I am?”

The woman shrugged.

“That’s understandable. But it wouldn’t be helpful if I talked about myself. This is about you, not about me.”

He spoke firmly. She gaped at him. There was something about his refusal to talk about himself that was somehow reassuring.

“There is no reason why you should trust me,” he continued, “a man you have never met before, after what you’ve just been through with another man.”

“No.”

“This is an assessment session. It’s more about you assessing me than the other way round, because for you there’s so much at stake. After a while, you may start to feel okay with me. Or you may not.”

She shrugged. “And if I don’t?”

“Simple. You ask your doctor to refer you to another counselor.

That’s the standard procedure. I wouldn’t be offended.”

The woman smiled slightly, then averted her eyes and gazed around the room. It was sparsely furnished. Just two chairs, a desk with a photo on it, facing away from her. Two certificates on the wall and a painting of a sunlit beach with a bare-footed woman standing alone, peering out to sea with crying eyes, arms outstretched to embrace the universe.

She turned to face the man.

“Where do we start?” she said.

“What do you feel okay to talk about at this stage?” He lowered his eyes and seemed to examine the back of his hand.

She folded her arms across her chest.

“It would be easier if you could ask me things,” she said.

“Ok. Would you like to tell me about your dog?”

“How’d you know I’ve got a dog?”

“Didn’t. Just guessing. Is it a Great Dane?”

“Dachshund.”

“Sausage dog. Two dogs long, half a dog high.” 

Is he for real? she thought, and asked: “What sort of a dog have you got?”

“How did you know I’ve got a dog?” he replied.

“Dog hairs on your trouser legs.”

The man chuckled, and his face seemed to lighten. “A Jack Russell. But he thinks he’s a German Shepherd. So we called him Siegfried.”

He smiled at her, then held up the letter from her doctor.

“It says here you’ve got 33 children.”

“What!”

“Must be a typo.” He grinned. “I thought it sounded a bit unlikely.”

She gave a little laugh. “I’ve got 3 children. Jane, she’s five, started school last week. Marie, just turned seven. And John’s nine.

“And your partner’s called…?”

“Frank.” She tossed her head. “He’s freaking out about me just now… the night after it happened, I took an overdose.”

“I’m so pleased you didn’t succeed.”

He was watching her intently, seriously, concern and anxiety on his face.

“Otherwise, I’d be here talking to myself and that’d be pretty silly.”

He reached out to her with a box of tissues.

“It’s alright. I‘m just tired, that’s all. I haven’t been able to cry since… it happened.” She rolled her eyes.

He waited.

She began to talk and he listened in silence. She spoke hesitantly at first, head down, pausing to clear her throat, peeping up at him from time to time. His face was kind and attentive. After a few minutes, the words began to tumble from her mouth, taking on a life of their own.

He raised a hand. She stared at him. His eyes were soft.

“Lots of strong emotion there,” he said, simply. “Let’s take things slowly.”

“You’re right. It’s all a bit much.”

“Bit by bit is better; just as much as you can cope with.” He leaned back in his chair and stretched out his legs, hands behind his head.

“You’ve lost your hope,” he pronounced, “and you’ve felt so alone, but I have hope for you. I will put it on cotton wool, keep it safe inside a matchbox, and you can have it when you’re ready.”

She pondered this in a kind of daze, her face flushed. A few minutes passed. She turned to him.

“Why did you say your Jack Russell thinks he’s a German Shepherd?”

“He’s brave. Never stops to consider the odds. If we’re out for a walk and we meet three pitbulls on their leashes, his shackles go up and he wants to attack them, presumably to protect me.”

“Shackles?”

“I meant hackles.”

They both laughed. She knew it had been a deliberate mistake and was pleased. Neither spoke for a time. Sun streamed through the half-open blinds. She yawned and wanted to let her head droop and close her eyes.

“How are you feeling?”

“Buggered.”

“You look buggered. Maybe we’ve done enough for today. Would you feel okay about making an appointment for next week?”

She took a deep breath.

“Okay,” she said.

***

The children were still at school when the woman arrived home. She made a hottie and went to bed, the man’s words ringing in her ears. His image flashed into her mind. He was standing at a work bench, a small dog playing around his feet. His bald head was gleaming, his blue eyes twinkling and his lips twitching in a smile. With a pair of tweezers, he placed a tiny object onto a wad of cotton wool, which he then put with infinite care into a matchbox.

She laid her head on the pillow and cried.


After studying foreign languages and literature in the late sixties, New Zealander Bruce Costello spent a few years selling used cars. Then he worked as a radio creative writer for seventeen years, before training in psychoanalytically-oriented psychotherapy and spending 24 years in private practice as a counselor. Nearing retirement age, he recently closed his practice, retreated to the North Otago seaside village of Hampden, and started to write short stories. He has three times won the HER Magazine bi-monthly short story contest and been published in issues. Another of his stories features in Pink Magazine 2012. He has had ten stories accepted by overseas literary magazines. He was shortlisted in the 2012 Victoria Cancer Council Art Awards.


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