Children of the Stars, by J. Allan.

Children of the Stars

By J. Allan

~One~

On October 15th, 1997, when I was six and you weren’t around, Jackie (I think), NASA launched an unmanned spacecraft to Saturn that took seven years to get there, observing Jupiter, the heliosphere and even taking a jab at testing the Theory of General Relativity. The spacecraft consisted of two parts, a Saturn orbiter called Cassini and Huygens, a landing probe for Saturn’s largest moon Titan. In 2004, Cassini-Huygens entered Saturn’s orbit and detached from each other shortly afterward, Huygens touching down on Titan a year later. They’re both still going right now, yes, right now, as we speak and I imagine the smaller-than-a-car probe cruising down the intergalactic highway, with The Happening as mood music courtesy of The Supremes. Hey Life, look at me, I can see the reality! , that’s Cassini for sure.

And for some reason, completely illogical and laughable even in my waking thoughts, I feel reassured that Cassini is still going. I know it has no impact on my life whatsoever, I know the movement of the stars don’t have any more bearing on the events in my life than chewing on the soggy paper cup that held Scotch 48 hours ago would make me immune to bee stings. I feel reassured that there are worlds other than this one, that there are things yet to be discovered and yet to be marveled at than this endless day of uninteresting blurry shapes and drones of unfathomable conversations that has come to be called Earthly existence. There is a Saturn, there is a Cassini, there is a pulsar, there is Enceladus, there is space beyond our solar system.

There is the universe. Far more interesting and far more familiar than Facebook and the everyday ‘How do you do’ that I hear like clockwork.

I suppose you know everything about me Jackie, but I cannot remember if I have told you. Let me refresh both my memory and yours.

Let me start from a few months ago, when I knew things I don’t know now.

*****

I like George Ezra. I like whiskey (and JD does not count), vodka and Bailey’s, so you could say I’m a spirited person but I’m going to assume you’ve got a slightly better sense of humour. I like Norah Jones, (I’d mention the Beatles, the Foo Fighters and Nirvana, but who doesn’t these days?) old jazz, indie folk and astrophysics books. Especially the old ones you find in second hand bookstores in the city you happen to be in. I love Oscar Wilde, dandelions, discussing politics, Earl Grey, men who make me laugh and like it rough, and dancing on the beach.

I don’t like nationalists. I don’t like the idea of marriage. I don’t like day old bandaids. I don’t like pop numbers that all sound the same. I don’t like closed minds. I don’t like more than two pieces of cabin baggage. I don’t like Apple. I don’t like coconuts in granola. I don’t like flakes; flakey men that is. Although I don’t admit it as often as I should (or at all), I don’t like seeing my mother unhappy. I don’t like people who say they don’t get cats. I don’t like bell peppers. I absolutely despise snakes.

I don’t know where P falls.

P’s my therapist. Well, not exactly. She was my first therapist, and I don’t like assigning names to the ones that followed her, so I just call ‘em all P. I don’t hate P, but I don’t particularly like seeing P because she asks me questions that make my stomach do back flips. When I go to my parents’, I see the current P because she lives in the same city, but otherwise we’re pretty much Skype buddies.

I’m going to see P this week. Like I said, I don’t hate her, but I don’t particularly like the way she makes me feel sometimes. But I know I need to see her.

Right now I’m completely alright. On a flight from London to Bangalore, seeing my parents for a week and then packing up and heading to Santiago de Chile. I love London. It’s one of my absolute favourite cities in the world and its’ got some of my most favourite people in it. JJ and Stew, my old bosses, Sweater and Blue Eyes H. (whom I used to have a terribly huge crush on and am not ashamed to admit had a very nice ass)- my adorably laddish workmates, Haley, my dear friend and former workmate, and for the next three months, Sisi. I also met some of my closest friends in London- Peeps, Madsen, Jules and everyone else including el elefante, so I absolutely love the city. It’s always going to have a special place in my heart.

Do I have to tell P about all this? Well, if she asks I’ll mention it but I’m not bringing it up myself. The original P is still in Singapore, where I used to live, and she’d understand me in a heartbeat, but I can’t see her since I’m not a grad student with free mental health benefits anymore. She was a dear, and she got me out of my first bout of clinical depression. I’m sure she doesn’t realise it, but I think of her often. She saved my life, she did. Told me to keep away from water bodies and the like because she knew I had the tendencies. What tendencies, you ask? I can’t swim, although Jim tried to teach me how, so I’d obsessively think about throwing myself into a pool or a lake so I could end it. It seemed like the logical thing to do at the moment, but I’m so glad P talked me out of it because I now know it’s not worth throwing my life away.

Jim. Ah, Jim. He used to be my Jim, but not anymore. He says he misses me, but I don’t respond to any of his texts. I think about him all the time, but I don’t let him know, I don’t say anything. As far as he’s concerned, I don’t exist. I think I still love him, but I never want to see him or speak to him again. I know that for sure.

I think that’s partly why I need P.

I’m never going to see Jim again. Just like I’m never going to see anyone else that I’ve been involved (and I use the term loosely, in hindsight) with ever again. I called him the love of my life and I truly meant it (perhaps I still do), yet I know I never want to see him or speak to him again. He just doesn’t deserve it. There is no logical reason why I should have anything to do with him anymore.

I don’t want to talk about what he did, but if I do at some point, I apologise. He really doesn’t deserve the screen time he gets, or the credits, but Jim was a big part of my life. We lived together, we were best friends, we’d been through everything, but it just bit the dust when it came to it. Oh well, these things happen, don’t they?

That’s what I keep telling myself anyway. I think P approves.

I’ve got a picture of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field Image in my purse. Don’t worry if you don’t know what that means; nobody I’ve met to date actually knows what it is. I explained it to him, and then he understood- oh why am I talking about Jim?

P, why am I talking about Jim? Why am I asking you to put me back on SSRIs? Why am I telling you about that phase in my childhood when I pretended to be Spock?

*****

Help me get rid of it Jackie.

Help me stop feeling. I don’t need it. I don’t want it. It just makes me miserable.

Help me. Help me push feelings away.

They always lose. And then come more medication, more trips to P’s office, more anxiety and stress when people talk to me. I don’t like that last one anyway, but sometimes, in ways I can’t explain, I’m really very good at it. And sometimes, I don’t want to be good at it. I want them all to go away and leave us in peace. You, I, and you know who.

I can help myself, I know. I’m the best friend I’m ever going to have.

What do you want? Asks Jackie.

I want to remember, but not feel. I want the ability to forget how to feel.

Why?

Emotions are unnecessary. They get in the way. They make you lost sight of why you get up in the morning and make a cup of tea. They make you lose sight of why you shower, why you look up at the sky, why you listen to Rachmaninov and The Supremes, why you keep yourself planted firmly on the ground instead of curled into a ball, plummeting towards the floor of the sea.

Emotions make life meaningless.

I know. I’ve always told you that. Now, do you really want my help?

Yes, I do.

Help me forget how to feel.

************

Woke up. Monday.

Location: Parents’, the Old Country. Visiting em for a couple of days till my visa gets processed.

Playing on the 8 tracks: Resolve, by the Foo fighters.

Smell of flapjacks still on my breath, though I remember brushing my teeth violently clean ‘fore bed.

Get up, stretch. Wait length black hair tickles me. I sleep naked.

Stretch again, drink of water. Glimmer of the morning sun slips in through the old curtains.

My bags have been half unpacked. I’ll get to em today. Catch a glimpse of Jim’s face peeking out at me from my desk. I cross over, look at it, tear it into four unequal pieces and toss em in the bin.

Exercise mat , out.

Playing at the moment: Johnny Cash, ring of fire.

Not a great workout song but oh well. Crunches, 50 reps. Lunges, 20 reps.

Little sore from the flight, so I stop. Slip on the old robe lying on my bed next to that old copy of the Theory of Relativity that I found in Camden, London. Spent many a cold winter’s eve walking through the lanes and looking at the lights.

I look at the rest of my bed. Some make up, couple of eyeliner sticks, two lipsticks, couple of brushes, bronzer, and a little bit of that strawberry lip gloss Jim loved so much.

Shake him out of your head. He’s gone and you never want to see him again. You probably never will.

He lay right next to you on this very bed the last time you visited your parents, she says. I smile. I think about his big chest and how he loved placing my head on it and stroking my hair.

I shake my head.

Shake him out of your head, says Jackie. Right now, do it. You don’t need that. He probably never even loved you, and these things happen. You know that. Now shake it off, you’ve learned your lesson.

Remembering is a reflex. Classical conditioning. You see a stimulus, you remember what it is associated with, and everything comes back. The tastes, the touch, the sights, the feelings. You cannot control remembering, but you can control feeling.

Sadness is an emotion, and emotions are bad.

I know she’s right. Jackie, that is. I know she’s completely right. That Girl, on the other hand, she’s still living in the past a little and I can’t listen to her. She always does that sort of thing and it’s never gotten any of us anywhere right.

Drink of water. Shake of the head.

One Earl Grey, milk, no sugar. Syria’s been bombed again. Putin’s made a public statement issuing threats to the EU based on interference in Ukraine. Earthquake in Japan. World’s heaviest baby born in Mexico. Bill Waterson comes out of retirement. The Yankees win something to something else. 7 -11 I suppose.

‘’Will you be in for lunch?’’ asks The Mother.

“Nope, seeing a friend.”

“Alright. Bring back some wholemeal bread. The Father ran out.”

I wipe a few crumbs of bread and soggy eggs from my chin. “I will.”

The Father is off on business in another city.

I’m sure he is about 97 percent of the time, but I don’t want to think about what he does with that tiny 3 percent. I think I know, in fact I’m sure I do, but nobody else does. I haven’t even admitted it to anyone out loud. Oh well yes I did tell P.

“You think your father is gay?”

“Mmmhmm.”

“Why would you say that?”

Then I told her about why I thought so, and she made a little note of it on her pad. She never brought up my justification ever again, good old P, but she talks about it sometimes even when I don’t.

“I don’t feel ashamed, of course not. I think people’s private lives are none of my business.”

“Even if it’s your own father?”

“Yep. Nail on the head.”

I’ll pick some wholemeal bread up for The Father.

Wash my waist length hippie hair, dry it, do 50 crunches and head out to see Pip. Run down old bar where kids who think Jim Morrison is the epitome of cool hang out. Drinks are cheap, and nobody can see you because of the (voluntary) poor lighting so you won’t run the risk of bumping into someone you sat behind in Greek Philosophy 7 years ago. Music playing: Live and Let Die, The Beatles.

Pip’s going through the motions at the moment. He’s also in a rented tux.

“Because I had a posh gig yesterday.”

He doesn’t really use the words ‘posh’ or ‘gig’ all the time, so I know somethin’s off.

“What?”

“What, what?” he says, slushing the last of his Heineken around so I can hear it hit the insides of the can, one side to another. I’m on my second Jameson’s, straight.

“You know what.”

A horrible rose coloured lamp flickers on in the corner, illuminating a pair of Slacks thrashing about at the table furthest from the door. They’re thrashing about all right, one of em’s curly brown and the other, straight and black hair. Both men, a second later they’re in a headlock, but I saw Curly Brown bite the other one on the ear so there was no need for medical assistance (although Right Republican types might disagree).

“She refuses to see her doctor.”

“Still on meds?”

“Mmmhmm.”

“What do you wanna do?”

“Dad’s going to take care of it.” He finishes his beer and proceeds to take a rather dodgy looking Marlborough Lights out of the rental, smoking it between half his forefinger and his middle finger. The index finger on his left hand is a stub, he lost the other half when he fell asleep in a rather unfortunately timed forest fire. More on that later.

“But… ?”

“But nothing, he’ll take care of it.”

“Mmm, I suppose.”

“Anyway, -er-s-more-to-life-than-that,” he says, biting on the last of the Marlborough stub, and putting it out in the empty beer can. Promptly takes out contestant no.2

“Aren’t you gonna tell me to stop?”

“Have I ever?”

“Jeez, I thought you loved me and everything. You’re supposed to be my best friend.”

“Yeah, but you can do whatever the hell you like, can’t you? That’s why I don’t date smokers though, becomes my problem everytime you fellas light one up. “

“What’s your excuse for not being involved with all the other kinds of men?”

And to set the mood: I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Marvin Gaye.

“Funny. Smoke your damn cancer.”

Hadn’t heard this one in a while, was starting to lift my spirits a little more than my glass already had. Slammed it down on the table, clean as a whistle, and looked out. Slight chance of rain. Little shops huddled together as if for warmth, greying and bluing in and out of focus.

“Know what happens to Sleeping Beauty in the original fairy tale?”

“Come on Josephine, we’ve all read that paper you wrote in your last year. I was actually with you in the library when you borrowed those infernal books. Nightmares for days, I tell you.”

“Go on then.” Running my finger over the empty whisky glass. Feels nice. Light rain plops down on the bar, which is called something to the effect of Hendrix And the Swingers. Can never be bothered to remember.

“She falls asleep, and then someone…er, does naughty things in dark corners with her still body, am I right?”

“Then she gives birth to twins, one of whom sucks the splinter of wood or flax from her finger depending on which version you’re going by, resulting in her glorious awakening after a hundred years of sleep. Then she goes off to find her Baby Daddy, who is married to someone else, and they eventually do get married. Oh, and wife numero uno tries eating our heroine’s babies at one point but that doesn’t happen. Would have been far too ghastly then, wouldn’t it?”

“Yeah, that would have pushed it over the edge. Why am I friends with you again?”

“Dunno Marlborough Man, I really haven’t the slightest.”

“Off home?”

“Me- erm, in a bit I suppose. How’s your bio-hazardous roommate?”

You need to see P. Remember? You said you would, and you know exactly why. You need to see her.

Alright Jackie I will! I know, I know. I will.

“Sandy? Still hazardous, still leaving dishes on the rug.”

“Surprised there’s any rug left. When are you going to move out then Pippi Longstocking?”

“God you know I hate it when you call me that! And I don’t know!”

I left a little while later, leaving Pip to his own methods. He’d probably pick up some naïve little Skirt, take her on a walk just when the moonlight was setting in, on _____ (insert National Hero here) avenue, where it’d be a little dark so you could see the little restaurants dance through the night, and bring up some excuse to sing. Then Gabriel would whisk our unsuspecting victim off to his, do whatever it is he does when he does the deed (which my gut tells me he is not very good at) and smoke Marlborough no.7 by the window, humming ‘Lady in Red’ while his roommates clean up the remnants of the usual Uncooked Meat and Veggies dinner and watch old kung fu flicks.

I usually kept out of Pip’s escapades, and his Skirts usually hated me if they hung around long enough.

“She’s unusually close with you for a friend.”

Meh. They were probably right, but I wouldn’t dream of sleeping with Pip in a million years. He’s just not my type. He knows far too much about me than I’d like.

I get home, stare at the Abbey Road poster on my wall that was unceremoniously thrust there to hide rain damage and cracks, and sip water slowly. Old Mama Hen likes to pretend her children don’t drink, even though they’ve told her that they do. I stay in my room after a couple of whiskeys if it makes her happy, because she knows I always drink when I see Pip, sometimes out of necessity. Not like it affects me though, alcohol only starts to get to me after about eight rounds. That’s the beauty of genetics. And Happy Hour. And gender skewed bar policies.

Tonight’s entertainment: I’m Through with Love, courtesy Norma Jean Baker. I start to picture that famous black cocktail dress she wore in Some Like It Hot. Watched it for the first time with Jim- oh why do you always find some way to get inside my head- and that’s when I found out I had a huge thing for Tony Curtis. Good actor, great looker. Oh, we drank Honey Jim Beam that night.

Good girl, get him out, says Jackie. There’s a good girl. You don’t need every memory in your head to somehow find your way back to him. We don’t need him, do we? No, we decided never to see him again. We don’t need him.

You’re right Jackie. I know you are.

Yeah, but it’s only natural for you to think of Jim sometimes. After all, you did live together. You did love him very, very much. He was a big part of your life.

And one tear falls.

We don’t need him, I say with Jackie.

We don’t need him. We don’t want him.

Crying is an emotion, and emotions are bad. Say it.

Crying is an emotion, and emotions are bad.

I know she’s right, and my brain has just informed me that it is indeed half nine, so it’s time for my meds.

One melatonin, prescription strength, straight up, pop.

Two Lamictals, dosage changed as per P’s instructions, straight up, pop.

One version of Five Spot by Dave Brubeck, coming right up.

I wake up the next morning at something past 10, and see two missed calls from P’s office.

That’s right, I was supposed to see her yesterday. It completely slipped my mind. And I think a little part of me didn’t want to see her yesterday, but it’s all part of the agreement. I’m supposed to see her, no matter what. Like the clock that must wearily strike twelve every night, like the condor egg that will inevitably roll off the edge of the cliff and fall down to its Andean death, like the yellow rose that Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s desk had every morning, I had to see P whenever we had an appointment scheduled.

I didn’t like it when she asked me why I don’t make it when I don’t.

Brush my teeth, 50 reps of ab crunches, Earl Grey milk and sugar, Music: George Ezra- Blame It On Me, take the train to see P all in a hurry. Red checked shirt, light blue jeans and white vest. Hair’s messily hanging around my waist.

They let me in as soon as I walk in, the white walls and pictures of flowers everywhere that I always hate staring back at me. There’s only two other people there, Rocky Balboa who can’t stop going back and forth against the wall, and Mrs. Bernardstein who I hear puts down a suspicious white powder in the local park because she thinks all dogs are out to get her.

Mood music: Travellin’ Blues, Dave Brubeck.

I should remember to ask P why I’m slightly itchy all over, it might be a rash from the Lamictal. Pretty common side effect, but only a problem with about 0.08 per cent of users. Users makes em (I guess us) sound like we hide doobies in a pencil case and throw back after lunch hour, doesn’t it?

“Since when?” asks P. She’s got her hair smoothed back with two plain hair slides, falling to her shoulders and complementing her pine green cardigan nicely. A train sounds off in the distance. Her eyes flicker for a moment towards the source of the clear clinging, then come back to me. I like the way she chooses her clothes, beige skirt and nice flat pumps. Silver hoop bracelet completes Monday’s P, along with a considerably huge amber coloured, square cut diamond announcing its presence on her left hand.

“Mmm, a week. Is that something I need to be concerned about?”

“Is there a rash anywhere on your body, do you know?”

“Can’t see one, can’t find one.”

“Tell me if you do.” She takes a deep breath, scribbling something on her clipboard with a loud, woody noise. Like the kind you’d imagine a large rat pacing nervously through its living room would make with its tiny claws.

P’s holding a paper cone in her hand, and she sips the cool water from the cooler outside meticulously, every minute. Almost as if she’s keeping count. There are new flowers in her vase today, large honking daffodils. I don’t like em. Make me think of trumpets. Mum buys you one thinking you’re going to be the Louis Armstrong of the brass section, but it’ll rust and rot in its case until years later when she’s dead and you rummage through your old things and either keep it out of guilt or sell it as ‘slightly used’ on eBay out of necessity. Or sell it out of guilt and keep it out of necessity, can’t say which.

“So how do you feel today?” she asks me after putting the 2B pencil in her hand to rest on the table. She crosses her legs and stares straight at me. P, you know me so well.

“What do you mean?”

“How are you feeling?” she says, even though I think she really wants to say ‘We’ve been through this a thousand times.’

“Nothing outta the ordinary I suppose.”

“Mmmhmm. And what is ordinary these days?”

“Keeping my head down,” I say slowly, straightening the collar of my shirt. I feel like I’ve just bitten through a balloon- my teeth are on edge. And there it is again, that damn itch on my neck. Better not be the Lamictal. I don’t want to get onto Lithium- I mean, I don’t plan on having children but it’s got a reputation for playing ‘hide the kidney function’, so that’s a no go. My tendency to drink whiskey like water is probably going to do that in a couple of years anyway.

“Keeping your head down?”

“Yeah, just staying out of trouble. Keeping to myself, I like the quiet life you know that. Working, reading when I get the chance.”

“Seen any friends lately?”

“Just Pip.”

On cue, she writes that down. “Yeah? How is he?”

“Same as always, kinda whiny though.”

“His behavior irritated you?”

“Didn’t notice much, maybe I don’t remember, but I do know his presence wasn’t exactly calming.”

“But Pip’s one of your oldest friends, you’re usually very pleased to see him aren’t you?”

“Mm. Maybe I was just having an off day. Sammy Sosa had a bad knee perhaps, or the silicon molecules inside my phone weren’t jumping and transferring electricity. I dunno, just off. That happens sometimes, doesn’t it?”

“Of course it does.” Subtext: ‘Specially with you.’

“Anything else you’ve been doing?”

“Sleep more. Same dose of Melatonin though, no change there. What do you really want P?”

“Sharp as a nail, but keep an eye out for any changes in your circadian rhythm.”

She looked at me again, purposefully. Like she was going to ask me if I had secretly bombed that church in Alabama in the year something or the other that ended in a 7, after which they found that kid’s shoe.

“When you met Pip, what did you talk about?”

“His gigs. His failing musical career, or up and coming career based on if you’re a glass half empty kinda person.”

“I see. Anything else? I mean, he hadn’t seen you in a while since you left for London, so he didn’t ask you about what you’d been upto, how you were, nothing like that?”

“I guess.”

“You guess? You don’t remember?”

“Foggy.” I scrunched my nose. There was a progressively loud cuckoo on the tree outside. Seemed like it wanted to talk over me. You don’t know anything bird. Stop trying to cut me off.

“When was the last time you shared anything with Pip?”

“I shared a drink with him yesterday, although he’s hardly a robust drinker if he only survives on beer and turns his nose up at whiskey. Long way to go I’d say.”

“Apart from alcohol- which by the way we’ve decided you need to keep tabs on when you’re-“

“Yeah I know. Don’t worry I don’t need a discount on AA memberships. Or an AA membership for that matter.”

“When was the last time you told him anything about yourself?”

“Qualify that.” A line of bikers with flashy yellow jerseys went rattling by on the crumbling gravel outside, no sign of the loquacious bird.

“I mean, when was the last time you spoke about yourself to Pip? Or to anyone?”

“I see you every few weeks, don’t I?”

“Yes, well, apart from me. Why don’t you want to talk about yourself outside of this room?” And there it was. An uncomfortable question that made me feel like I was an unwilling participant in Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia’s Forest of The Impaled. 1461, twenty thousand Turkish prisoners on twenty thousand stakes outside the city of Tirgoviste.

“So?” asked P. She had started tapping her left foot on the un-carpeted part of the floor. I could tell she knew I was getting uncomfortable but she couldn’t get mad at me.

“Can you er… repeat the question please?”

“Alright.” She smoothened her hair, put down the clipboard and looked at me. I was probably imagining it, or it must have been the beam of sunlight that hit the back of her head at that precise moment, but her face seemed to have softened just a tiny bit. Just an infinitesimal bit.

“Why don’t you want to talk about yourself outside of this room?”

It came out before I knew it. “Because I don’t think it’s a good idea.” I half clapped my hand to my mouth. Don’t tell her that, what if she tells? whispered Jackie.

“Why?” she asked.

“I dunno. I just don’t think it’s a good idea. Can I go now?”

“No, we’re not done yet. Fifteen more minutes on the clock dear. Want a drink of water?”

“Yes please, that would be great.” She got up and swung the mahogany door on her way to the cooler, where a neatly stacked row of paper cones were waiting. Music playing (in my head of course) Rachmaninov Concerto 2, opera 18. Wasn’t that the one that Mr. Sherman plays in his fantasy in The Seven Year Itch?

Sure was. She came back with the water, and the music died down, turning down and eventually switching off. P resumed her place and looked at me.

“Thanks for the water.”

“No problem. Ready to answer the question dear?”

No.

“Erm-“

“Take your own time. Write it down first if you have to, I know you communicate better that way and that’s always been how you’ve organized your thoughts. Would you like to write it down?”

No words came out. I had finished the water and started nibbling on the damp paper cone, lips closed.

“Take all the time you need Josephine. But I’d like an answer.”

Dammit.

She continued staring at me.

Blank. Blank as the cultural heritage of reality TV, blank as that white dress I think Yoko Ono was wearing in that video for Imagine slash and/or the Love In. Blank as my criminal record, although I might be speaking a little too soon about that one.

It seemed like an eternity passed in that moment, trees bloomed and withered, the Earth passed perihelion and aphelion, twelve girls threw out their Malibu Barbies and got Pill dispensers (yes, that pill), Sherlock fell to his death at Reichenbach.

“Are you alright?”

“Ask me again P. Say it again. I promise I’ll give you something this time.”

She crossed her legs the other way, and looked right at me. “Why don’t you like talking about yourself to anyone except me? Why is that a bad idea?”

“Because it just is, isn’t it?” Lump in throat, lump in throat. Heart rate elevated, eyes burning. Rein it in, come on rein it in.

Crying is an emotion, and emotions are bad.

You can do this. You have to do this.

It passed just as strongly as it overwhelmed me, in a second it was gone, the need to cry. I breathed in, ready to cry and let it all out, and as soon as I exhaled, it was gone. I swallowed the tears and my head cleared.

Crying is an emotion and emotions are bad.

Jackie nodded.

“Say a little more.”

“People don’t like listening to each other’s problems. That’s why.”

“Really? I’m listening to yours right now. Always have, every time, for the past two years. Why do you think that is?”

“Because I’m paying you to! I mean come on, that’s the only reason therapists have jobs, don’t they? Isn’t that proof that human beings really don’t like listening to each other’s problems?”

“Why?”

“Because we’re all fundamentally selfish.”

She didn’t say anything. Took her 2b pencil and started scribbling again. I knew what she was doing, it was a trick I learned at my last job working for that magazine in London. JJ taught me, while interviewing people, if you shut up, they always say more, because-

“People just love talking about themselves.”

“Where did you get that from Josephine?”

“You know it’s true just as much as I do. It is, isn’t it? Whether that makes you happy or not, whether it’s pathetic or not, the truth is that we are an inherently selfish species that loves talking about itself but hates listening to the problems of its own members. I mean, evolution wouldn’t have been possible without a good helping of selfishness here and there.”

“Interesting. I never thought of it that way.”

“It’s true.”

“So, getting back to our discussion, the reason you don’t like talking about yourself is because you think people don’t like listening? All people?”

“’Cept the ones I pay, yes.”

“Is that the only reason? You think people don’t want to listen?”

“Uh huh.” I looked down at my un-manicured, chipped nails. There’s another question coming isn’t there? I know there is. Hear her out, it might not be so bad! Oh shut it , That Girl. What do you know?

“What if someone told you they actually want to listen? They actually want to know about the things that trouble you, they want to help you and be there for you?”

I stopped short of snorting, and throwing my head back and laughing at the same time.

“It’s a lie!” There you go, be strong. You tell her!

“Really?”

“Of course! It’s a downright lie, anyone who expects me to believe that is not only a liar but also the dullest crayon in the box.”

Man, what I wouldn’t give for a double Famous Grouse straight up right about now. And for company, Lay Down Sally, courtesy Eric Clapton. No questions, no P.

“Has anyone ever said they want to be there for you?”

Why do we have to do this? “Why do we have to do this?”

Why do we have to do this?

“I think there are a lot of things- issues- you haven’t been addressing. You haven’t been talking about them. And I think it would be very-“ she made a gesture with her hand as though she were an Italian complementing the chef-“good for you to get them out into the open.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“You haven’t even tried it. I won’t force you to, but how about we just try it? Just one step? Just once?”

“Time’s up. Also, that last bit sounded like you were trying to unload some Slim Jims and if this place is bugged I ain’t backing you up.”

Since you’ve gone I’ve been watching paint dry,

Oh since you’ve gone I’ve been watching paint dry.

Good song, That Girl. But it ain’t the time now.

She smiled, corner of her mouth, no teeth. “You’re a very funny girl, you know that? Always were.”

“Thanks. I’m going now.”

“I wish we could finish this conversation-“

“But I only paid you for an hour-“

“No, and I have some things to tend to so come back in tomorrow. Same time. Would that be ok?”

That doesn’t sound like a good idea, does it? Let’s get it over with, you know why we come here.

“Fine.”

I picked up my fake leather handbag and prepared to take in the sweet smell of magnolias and exhaust fumes.

“Any chance you’ll throw away that bit of paper you’ve been writing on today?”

She smiled again, corner of her mouth, no teeth.

“See you tomorrow Josephine. You take care now. And you’ve got my number if you need anything.”

Ah it was worth a shot. Music playing, for real this time, Blame by Collective Soul. They from Seattle , aren’t they? Must have some special sort of good music aura there, or meds in the tap water. My bet is on the second one.

I made it back home without stopping for whiskey, but it’s fair to say there weren’t any decent pubs around. Little tin shacks selling watered down barley water, and that kind of stuff was just for Pip. Not me.

Straight to my room, No Mother, no Father. They were out I suppose, but I wasn’t complaining. Clothes off, shower. Mood music-Tennessee Waltz, Norah Jones version. I got a lot of the Cocoa butter with coconut shampoo in my ears and my mouth, and it tasted of chocolate mixed with sodium laureth sulphate. Meh. Washed it off towel dried my hair and did my teeth for the usual afternoon slash early evening brush and mouthwash routine. Now playing- Reverie, Debussy. Kids playing outside in the abandoned field shrieked, and I caught wind of the word ‘grasshopper.’ Probably going to pin it to the ground using Blue Tack or tie a string around it and pull it around. Seen it before ‘round here. Kids around where my parents live are less Disney and more Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Or Donnie Darko.

Oh Donnie Darko, Donnie Donnie Darko you poor bastard. Saw it with someone Jim absolutely hated because I was mad at him and didn’t have anything better to do. He ended up not apologizing and I ended up tucking him in and saying I was sorry. I hit myself on the head. Stupid, stupid girl. You haven’t grown up at all.

Yes you have. That was in the past and it could have happened to anyone. Anyone at all. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’ve learned your lesson now, haven’t you? said That Girl.

I didn’t shut her up for once, but I didn’t like being in that moment. Wiped the mirror clean with the back of my hand and stepped out, careful not to leave a trail of dripping water from the shower to my bed.

No more Jim. No more thinking about Jim or anyone else that you don’t need in your life.

No more Jim, agreed Jackie. We don’t need him.

Now playing, Ohio by Crosby, Nash, Stills and Young. Gotta get down to it, na na na na-dadada.

Checked in on my visa status. En Esperar. Fine, I’ll wait. Can’t really do anything else at the moment can I?

I stayed in, turning down the lights when I heard ‘em come in. Guess they assumed I was asleep, which is what I was hoping for. Watched one episode of Fantomas, earphones in, and popped one Melatonin and one Lamictal at half nine like clockwork.

I fell asleep to Summer Song, Dave Brubeck and unless my memory fails me, Louie Armstrong. My hair was still damp, and I had nothing on except a fluffy yellow towel and the soft sheets.

The kids outside shrieked again, and I imagined the grasshopper flailing helplessly on the dry earth as I slipped out of consciousness.