My father calls and says he can’t come over today, the coward. Mum will go without me, he says, and he gives a strange, snorty sort of laugh. He says he drank his own contact lenses yesterday. He’s been keeping them in a glass by the bathroom sink because he read an article about contact lens solution being a scam but then he got thirsty in the middle of the night and grabbed the first cup he saw. He snorts-laughs again like the lenses might be flapping around in his oesophagus. Dad says he can wear his glasses today and not to worry, he can just poop the lenses out later, like he did that bottle cap that one time. Remember the bottle cap, Louise? And I agree vigorously, like yes, obviously, of course, I think about it all the time, because no one wants to start their day with a story like that.
Wednesday is the day he comes in for his weekly sessions, but first I have to get through Mrs Orland. Mrs Orland has murderous urges towards her husband’s obnoxious pet parakeet and wonders when it will just die already and laments that it’s one of those exotic kinds, you know, with a floppy neck. I want to say that Mr Orland probably just likes things with floppy necks, he married Mrs Orland after all. But instead I start nodding and can’t quite stop nodding because I’ve had enough coffee by now to drown a normal human even though I’ve been doing this long enough to know there are no normal humans. Mrs Orland thinks maybe she should bring the parakeet to future sessions, since I’ve said she can bring along family members on certain days and I begin to hope it’ll die off soon too.
My mother has brought my sister for back-up and the atmosphere feels unnatural, or else it’s just that my sister has dressed her three young kids to match, like a dinner set. The toddler is climbing up my curtains while the baby tries to ride my dog. The eldest is so deep in his handheld video game device he looks like he’s been decapitated. My sister and I wait for my mother to finish sighing deeply in a way that suggests she has practised sighing in front of a mirror, and finally Mum turns to me and says have you heard of a thing called an intervention?
And I say yes Mum, I’m a therapist.
And she says, no need to get smart with me, Lou, because it’s used when someone is addicted, you know, to drugs, and the whole family goes into this person’s house to make death threats if they don’t change their behaviour! And I reply that it’s kind of like that, but you don’t make death threats. Not typically anyway.
My sister states solemnly that interventions have become all the rage. I say that I’m pretty sure they’ve been around for a while. No, no, she says, interventions are everywhere now, in fact there’s this one little boy she knows called Ronny who won’t stop eating the woodchips in the playground and his parents held one, invited all the other families round to educate him about why woodchips aren’t nutritional, and the other children were full of great ideas. One creative kid, she says, even suggested turning the playground into a volcano, where the ground surface would be hot lava, and, well, Ronny wouldn’t eat that, would he? I nod like wow clearly this one kid has a bright future, but if there’s such a thing as sarcastic nodding I must be doing that, because my sister challenges me to come up with something better. I say they could tape Ronny’s mouth shut.
My mother huffs and says, see, this is why you ought to get married and have kids, Louise, so you can develop your compassion for living things, as she slaps down a housefly with her purse.
Is that what this intervention is about? I ask.
What this intervention is about, says my mother, is the fact that it worries me that you’re this old and alone.
Okay, maybe, I say, but it’s a little different than being addicted to crystal meth isn’t it?
She sighs deeply again like maybe crystal meth she could get behind.
Sometimes during our one-hour sessions on Wednesdays he flexes a bicep by accident and I notice myself starting to drool, just tiny, ladylike drops, not gloppy strings, not slobber, but I still have to yank my tongue back in. He usually brings lunch and I’ll let him eat even though crumbs on sofa cushions make me break out in hives, and even though his sandwich always looks like something that just crawled out of the primordial ooze. It’s bleeding mayo and the tomato is fleeing for its life and all I want to do is ask who, who made this garbage sandwich for you? Like were they blindfolded? Were they wasted? Do they hate you the way Mrs Orland hates loose-necked parakeets? I secretly hope it’s the last one because it’s his wife who made it, but nobody hates him, he’s hotter than a hydrothermal vent. Nobody except him of course, that’s why he has to see me.
I am saying something to my mother when my sister cuts me off again. I think there was once my sister and I had a fight as teenagers where I was trying to talk to somebody on the telephone and she kept butting in and I ended up screaming that if the conversation were my period then she would be a tampon. My sister says how can you not want to have kids by now, Lou? I say it’s a little ironic she would ask me that, since she used to yell at me that she hoped I was sterile because then nobody has to inherit your ugly face that I hate so much.
My mother demands to know if it’s because I don’t like kids, and is it because I worked as a childminder that one summer for that weird German family? And I say they weren’t weird Mum they were just German and she mutters something about how if you’re wearing shoes inside the house they’re still shoes even if you call them house-shoes.
And I say well if I disliked kids so much I wouldn’t have taken that job in the first place, and I do like kids, but my saying this is drowned out by the sound of the baby barfing onto my dog. The dog and the baby start to paw joyfully at the vomit and both complain when my sister intervenes and meanwhile the toddler has begun to scream because she can’t fit all her crackers into her ears. I say louder this time that I do like kids, I just don’t want to have any of my own. Like how I like mountains, yeah, they’re fine but I don’t want to climb Everest.
My sister says she knows so many pitiful pathetic people looking for love just like you, Cindy-Lou-Who and she could set me up with all of them and I wonder if thousands of these interventions are happening all over town. I imagine that these people have faces like basset hounds, sad and droopy. Like the neck of Mr Orland’s parakeet. I say thanks, no, tempting offer though, pitiful and pathetic.
My mother sighs again, changes tack, says something about how Dad now likes to eat his own contact lenses at night so he has an excuse to spend the next day on the toilet. Because that’s quite the advertisement for marriage, right there.
My client right before him is a woman who dresses like Santa’s workshop exploded, all shiny baubles and loud stripes and giant bows, and she says to me that she’s having this problem, see, she fancies someone who doesn’t know she exists. And I want to say are you sure this person just doesn’t believe that you exist because you might be an elf? And is that scarf made of tinsel? But instead I give her the tips for seducing a crush whose notice you are so far beneath they might actually mistake you for a bug they stepped on the other day that I saw in a magazine when I was thirteen years old just to hurry her out of my office, because now it’s almost noon and it’s still Wednesday and he will be here any minute. He is technically the hump of my work-week but I try not to think about that too much.
My mother says, now listen, Lou, I have a made a plan for treatment because this is a proper intervention and the first step is you just have to have dinner with someone. Italian maybe? No, skip the pasta until after marriage, says my sister wisely, and comments like that are probably why I became a therapist in the first place but all I say is I don’t really care for pasta anyway. And now my mother lets out a little yelp or maybe that’s just the eldest of my sister’s children trying to strangle himself out of boredom and she says, not even my spaghetti carbonara Louise!?
I say it’s not personal, Mum, I know it feels like it is but it really isn’t, just like when my last boyfriend broke up with me because I like dogs and he preferred cats, so much so that he wished he could become a professional cat-cuddler, like there was no shame there, I admired that, and let’s face it pets are really important in a relationship, just look at Mr and Mrs Orland and the parakeet with the pendulum-neck.
My sister has cleaned up all the baby vomit and she’s pulling the toddler out of the fridge, a bit sheepishly like oh my children don’t normally do this, like it’s just that they’ve never seen a fridge before that’s all. And she says the problem is, really, not that you’re not married, Lou-lou-palooza, it’s that you’re married to your work, the only people you talk to are your clients so no wonder you are dead inside. And I say I’m really sorry everyone but this intervention is a failure. Shocking, really, because obviously the one with Ronny and his woodchips went so well.
And my mother says, if you behave like this, Louise, then we’ve come to the part of the intervention when we share the consequence, where we tell you what we will do if you refuse to change.
I’m a little annoyed by now so I say if there were going to be any intervention in this family it should involve giving Dad an enema to get rid of all the contact lenses. And my sister, who is wiping stomach acid and carrot puree off her chin, looks disgusted.
My mother pauses for effect and says she will die if I do not agree to have a meal with someone. She could die any day now, any minute, Louise, and she holds her hand to her heart like this is her chosen method of dying on the spot.
And I say oh okay, now I see what you mean by death threats. And honestly I am a little relieved.
I don’t say to my mother, I don’t say to anyone I hardly say it to myself but I know that I’m in love with him, all topsy-turvy twisted up in love. Today he tells me about how his wife wants kids but he’s afraid any kids he has will end up with his same self-esteem problems and I want to say seriously, yeah, what is with the wanting of the kids, and bloody hell aren’t we perfect for each other, but instead I keep on nodding, nodding, sipping coffee, because I know that whatever happens, whatever he says, I will still let him spray his sandwich crumbs all over my sofa, all over my floors, all over my life, and I’ll happily lick them up later because crumbs is all I will ever have of him, but at least there’s always next Wednesday, every Wednesday into eternity, no breaks, no breaths, too much coffee, can’t stop don’t stop don’t dream don’t hope and who knows, Mr Orland’s parakeet might even have died by then.
Kristen Loesch is an Asian-American writer living in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and children. She placed runner-up in the 2019 Mslexia Short Story Competition. Her flash fiction has been shortlisted for the SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction, the Lunate 500, and the Flash 500, and received Honorable Mention in the Anton Chekhov Prize for Very Short Fiction. Most recently her stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly and Timeworn Literary Journal. She is currently at work on her first novel and is represented by Zeitgeist Agency. Twitter: @KShaoling