by Ethan Kanfer
SETTING: A bar and grill
CHARACTER: BERYL, female, 40’s, British accent.
(BERYL sits at a table talking to an unseen friend. She is drinking a margarita, not her first of the evening.)
No, I don’t have a thing for him. I mean, I don’t have that kind of a thing for him. I don’t go moaning his name when Nigel and I are having sex, if that’s what you mean… Right, wouldn’t be good for the confidentiality rule, would it? Professional to the core, that’s us. Oh, yes. Faster, harder… ohhh, Patient X!! No, it’s not like that. It’s… I don’t know how to explain it. He’s gotten to me somehow. Challenges me all the time… I know, it is what it is, it’s what we do… Yeah, yeah, I’m familiar with the bloody term, thank you very much. I never liked it, sounds like something they’d sell at Home Depot. Discounts on kitchen counter-transferences, come on down… He says I make him feel like he can’t win. He opens up, I’m negative. He goes back in his shell, I give him shit about that, too… I guess he’s right, in a way. I’m always saying “I’m not your mother, not your lover, not your guru, not your friend.” …No, not in those words, obviously. But that’s the content. At least to his ears, that’s how it sounds… I thought I was setting boundaries, that’s what my supervisor said to do, but it didn’t land. The poor bastard just keeps getting more and more upset with me. You know what he said to me the other day?
(She does an American baritone, not too well.) “Where’s the blitzkrieg, Beryl? Why does everything have to be rationed?”
(Back to her normal voice.) I didn’t say anything. What is there to say? He was taunting, of course, ‘cause he knows I’m sensitive. Been here twenty-six years, and I’m still a “foreigner.” My little axe to grind… But he’s right, isn’t he? We who aren’t the wives, aren’t the kids, aren’t the co-workers. Can’t we afford to be a bit more generous? Not say “no” all the time? What have we got to lose? We don’t have to live with the buggers, do we?… And that’s where I felt something shatter inside him. It was one negative too many, one rebuff, one cheap counter-argument, and I could see in his eyes something had gone just terribly wrong. He reminded me of a burnt out light bulb. You know how you shake it and you hear the filament sort of jingling around in there. Well, if you could pick up an a one hundred a seventy-five pound man and shake him, you’d have heard his heart rattling like that, like fried filament… I knew you were going to ask me that. Yes, he does. Every Tuesday. I’ve suggested many times he go find someone else, if he doesn’t like my approach. But he won’t do it.
(She talks to an unseen server.) Yes, thank you. Peg?… Two more please…
All jargon aside, is it possible we really deliver pain and pleasure? It is possible not everything is transferred and projected, all about Mom, nothing to do with us? When he tells me he loves me, is it really just because he can’t say that to his primaries?… God, I sound like an intern. Stupid, isn’t it? Having thoughts like this at this stage of the game. Don’t mind me, I’m tipsy, exhausted… Oh my God, Peg. You didn’t just ask me that, did you? … Do you ever stop being a shrink?.. Fine, I’m no wuss. I’ll answer your bloody question.
I was out for a walk last Saturday. No dog, no errands. No sense of purpose. It wasn’t even nice out. In fact it was threatening to rain. And I wasn’t dressed properly for it and I was wandering aimlessly out by the gully. You know, back behind where all that construction is going on? It’s kind of wild back there. Overgrown. Clouds were gathering… Yes, I guess it was depressing, but that’s not what made me think of him. It was… there was something about the whole setting, the—painterliness of it. That’s what triggered it. He thought about becoming a painter once, you know. Patient X, I mean. Kicks himself for not pursuing it… They do, don’t they? Men and their encyclopedias of regrets. Shoulda coulda woulda. I find what works with him is getting him out of himself a bit. I get him to talk about Picasso, John Singer Sargent, artists he admires. What it is he like about them, color choices, composition, brush strokes. He likes being asked things like that, knows a bit of the history, the theories. Then he starts talking really quickly, feels he’s digressing, not using session time for what it’s supposed to be for. But at least he’s broken out of his cycle. Temporarily, anyway…
What was I saying?… Right, right. I was walking by the gully. And it was threatening to rain. I looked at the wildflowers and noticed how their petals were going from flaming yellow to a sort of green grey. How the shadows were dissolving and the earth seemed to be almost tightening and the asphalt cooling gradually. I looked down at my hands and noticed that even my skin was a different color. And I thought of something M— I mean Patient X said to me once. “It was one of life’s Haikus.” He said in passing, with a touch of irony in his voice, probably doesn’t even remember. But I thought it was a nice way of putting it. A haiku, seventeen syllables of is, is, is. There’s only the present and that’s it. Life never normally feels like that. It’s more like a, like a— Oh, I don’t know, a car radio with the stations overlapping, and most of them playing irritating music and adverts and shock jock drivel to begin with… But the haikus do happen, don’t they? Every now and then, and it’s precious when the moment comes. It always goes away again, and always too soon. And I thought well, what’s missing here? Husband, dog, kids, right? Mum, sister, friends. Someone to share it all with, someone to warm me as the air grew damp. But the idea struck me—and it was quickly banished, of course. Guilt’s a great eradicator of fantasy, as you well know. But for just a quick second I thought of Patient X and his little grey jacket and his little grey temples and I pictured him walking beside me and well, maybe putting his arm around me. That’s all…. Is that wrong?
copyright © 2010 Ethan Kanfer. All rights reserved. _________________________________________________
Ethan Kanfer’s plays have been produced at numerous venues throughout the world, including the New York International Fringe Festival. He has contributed theater and book reviews to The New Leader magazine, Show Business Weekly, and The Forward. Recent projects include the web series Luvumentary and the one act play, Helicopter Mom, commissioned by Coffee Black Productions.