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The Psychologist sits in the corner of a little room. The room is painted a mandatory cheerful yellow. The psychologist’s dress is yellow, too. The room is an abyss of happiness.
The Psychologist was once a blonde, before that began scaring the patients. Now she’s a light brown, with curls that dance limply around the corners of her face. The Psychologist wasn’t supposed to be blonde or brown. No one really remembers that.
The door opens. The Psychologist doesn’t jump or turn round quickly like people do when someone walks into an empty room without knocking. She doesn’t even say hello.
The person who sits down has been here before. He’s middle-aged, but if the huffing that accompanies his walk up the six stairs outside is any indicator, he’s seen well more than half his lifespan. He collapses on the nearest plush chair. The Psychologist doesn’t even have to inhale to know that he smells of sweat and not-for-drinking alcohol. He starts talking.
The Psychologist is holding a pad of paper (yellow) and a pen, but no one has noticed that the pen has been fused to her hand with dried blood. Or that it’s nearly out of ink.
The Psychologist scribbles things in an illegible shorthand. She’s not really listening. She hates this man, hates him enough that she never bothered learning his name. Minutes pass. Or maybe hours.
The man finishes, “an’ my first wife, she’s sayin’ I’m unfaithful, just cause I hit my other wives too. I says if I’m mad enough, I can hit whoever I like. Am I right?”
There’s a long silence. The Psychologist purses her lips. They have holes all around them, top and bottom, from where the staples were. They’ve all rusted and fallen away years ago, but she still knows better than to open her mouth too much.
“I think,” she says in a too-loud voice. “That it might help if you started beating them all less.”
“Ya know, you may be right!” The man roars. Not-safe-for-consumption cleaning product fumes waft from his mouth. The Psychologist’s pen spears through five sheets of yellow paper. “An I’m gonna tell her that! I’ll beat em all less if that’s how she’ll be! I’ll beat it into her skull!”
The Psychologist gives a grunt that might be disapproval, if one was looking for it. “No,” she says, very softly, without opening her mouth wider that the staples would have allowed.
The man says “D**m right, I’ll get another drink first.”
He leaves. The Psychologist is not sorry. She’s not going to advise him not to drink poisons. He didn’t ask her.
The Psychologist flips a page in her pad of paper. She waits for someone more enjoyable to come in.
There’s a clock in front of her. It doesn’t work, but she used to use it. When a patient would drone on endlessly, she could look knowingly at the clock through her great, round, dirtied glasses and say “why look at the time, your appointment’s over. I have to see someone else in just a few minutes,” when they would stop to take a breath. Then she would sit for half an hour in her old yellow chair and wait.
Now when she tries that her patients will pull out their own digital time-keepers and say “ no, I’ve still got half an hour. You should fix your clock.”
She doesn’t try that anymore.
Someone knocks. The Psychologist says nothing. Maybe they’re at the wrong room and will go away. There is a pause as the knocker looks at the room number and determines it is the right one. The knock comes again.
“It’s open!” says the Psychologist, her voice cracking. She glares for a split second at the door before resuming her placid smile.
The door opens. A man comes in. He’s never been here before, she can tell that. He looks around, squinting. “It’s awfully yellow in here.”
“Yes it is,” says the Psychologist.
The man laughs. “The only time I like to wear yellow is to a funeral,” he says. When the Psychologist doesn’t respond, he says, “that was a joke.”
The Psychologist opens her mouth and shuts it again. “You sit down, and talk,” she says. “That’s how it works.” She smiles calmly to make up for the crossness in her voice.
The man sits down. He’s walked all the way across the room to the chair by the window. The window was bricked in years ago, about the time when the staples were inserted. The Psychologist feels obligated to turn and face him.
The man is handsome. He’s got black hair and black eyes. The Psychologist hasn’t had a handsome patient in years. They all have messy brown hair and crazed eyes, each one a different color. The Psychologist thinks she will like this man. He hasn’t introduced himself. She thinks she’ll call him Benny.
The man stares at the Psychologist. He stares for a long time, until she’s sure he’ll ask about the punctures around her mouth. “I used to have staples in. They kept me from talking,” she’ll say. “They hurt at first, and then again when they fell out. The rust tasted bad.”
The man doesn’t ask. What he does ask is “I just talk now?”
“Yes,” says the Psychologist.
The man talks for a long time. He talks about how he was the youngest of ten kids, and never got to do anything. He talks about how his girlfriend has a close-knit group of friends, and he feels like he’s intruding. He talks about how his best friend has just moved to Florida to get married.
“I feel like no one needs me,” he says. “I want, just once, to be the first person someone turns to.”
There is a long silence. The Psychologist is thinking. Her broken clock says two minutes to twelve. Or maybe hours. She thinks about leaving the room with this man. She thinks about him leaving his girlfriend. She opens her mouth.
“I think I have an idea,” she says, her voice still too loud, but shaking this time. “I think I know someone...”
The man doesn’t seem to have heard her. “I know what you’ll say,” he says, before she’s finished her thought. “I should adopt a pet from a shelter. I’ve always wanted a dog.” He grins up at the Psychologist. “You’re a great help. I’ve never been able to tell anyone this before.”
“That’s my job,” she says. Her lips feel too light without the staples. Maybe she’ll need new ones.
“I’ll let you know if it doesn’t work out,” he says. He walks out the door, and closes it quietly. Everyone else lets it slam.
The Psychologist tears out the page in her yellow pad. She walks to the bricked-in window and finds a gap. The paper is already forced into a little yellow ball. She shoves it outside, and goes back to her old yellow chair.
Her pen has fallen to the floor. She picks it up again as though nothing has happened.
The door opens again.