Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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Short Story
4715 words
SHJ Issue 9
Spring 2014


by Arthur Davis

“Her name is Angeline. Great puffs of dark curly hair and passionate, simmering green eyes. A sight.”

Russell noted it was the first time he referred to Angeline as, “a sight.” Osborne liked the ring of the phrase, using it often to describe his conquests. “You really like her.”

“Of course I do. She lets me do whatever I like to her. I simply show up and it’s all right.”

“How long have you known her?”

“A long time,” Osborne insisted. “Weeks.”

He was uncomfortable with the dialogue, but it was impossible to tell. He preferred it when he offered information freely, rather than responding to Warren Russell’s harassing questions. Whoever thought to name a shrink, Warren? Not like his parents who had blessed him with a strong, reliable name. And really loved him. Osborne half expected that Russell would ask why, if he had met her so long ago, he hadn’t mentioned the girl in previous sessions. He was prepared for the possibility of that infringement too.

Russell continued making notes. Recalling the first time the boy insisted he be referred to by the family name, as though that way he could constantly reaffirm the continuity of his lineage. “Why do you like her?”

That’s what Osborne meant. He already told him why. Sometimes Russell didn’t listen. Most of the time nobody listened. God knows what kind of notes he was making on that fucking pad of his. For all he knew, Russell was drawing pictures of naked women on the pages. Maybe one of Angeline. That would be horrible. How could he know what she looked like? How was he able to find out? Unless, of course, he already knew her, where she lived, how she moved, in ways that made Osborne’s skin crawl with disgust and warm with speculation.

“She lets me do what I want to her,” he said in the voice of a young man who had established a clear and unambiguous connection with women and his own capacities.

Russell studied the tall lanky boy with dusty blond hair. “Do you let her do what she wants to do to you?”

Sometimes Osborne didn’t like Russell. He understood he had a job. And that the conservators of his parent’s estate insisted on some form of therapy in order to keep track of his behavior. But privacy should be respected. It should not be the target of gratuitous, salacious inquiry. He wanted to take a stand here. But he also wanted to talk about Angeline. How she touched and caressed him. What she said just before he entered her. How completely she was fulfilled by their lovemaking. He would expend the tale of Angeline in small, measured doses, as would the connoisseur of any fine vintage. The story of Angeline deserved thought and consideration. She was a marvel of sexual desire and dependency. And she was his.

“That’s not important.”

Russell looked up. His expression hardened to the defensive, taunting, unpredictable upwelling of rancor. “Well anyway, I’m glad you like her.”

“Why?” A question that didn’t necessarily demand an answer as it opened room for more probing dialogue.

“Don’t you want to have a relationship?”

Impatiently. “It’s important for her to do what I like.”

“Do you consider her your friend?”

“I have no friends. You know that. I prefer to be alone. Always have. It’s in my nature. You should know at least that after ten months.”

“Does she know about your visions?”

Clever man. Clever, devious doctor with a supercilious attitude and a notepad filled with pictures of my girlfriend posing and bending and contorting her body for him. For his perverse purposes. Maybe for the sport of Russell’s close friends. “No. I didn’t tell her. If I did, you know I would have had to kill her.”

“Why do you have to kill everybody you tell? Aren’t you trusting them by telling them? Shouldn’t you want to keep those whom you can trust alive?”

“That’s the problem. At first, I trust them and sooner or later they all betray me. And leave me. All of them. So you see I have to do away with them first.”

“But you don’t even give them a chance to betray you. You’ve told me that.”

“You see, it doesn’t matter,” Osborne said in a somewhat more tolerant tone. “Since I know they’re going to do it, I have to stop them before they leave me or talk to the wrong people about me.”

“So by telling them, it’s like a death sentence,” Russell said reading from his notes as if he were making a case. During each session, he tried to probe one issue a little deeper, fleshing out more detail, making the boy dig within himself for the truth.

A death sentence. He liked that. It had the ring of power, control. It accurately described one who possessed the absolute authority to change or end the lives of others while his went unscathed. One whose judgment was final. Osborne never thought of it that way before. But it was true. “There you have it,” he agreed smugly.

Russell made some additional notes. He liked Osborne. The boy was quick, outspoken with an unusual command of descriptive prose. Quite different from when he was first brought to his office. Then the boy was withdrawn, given to vicious outbursts, accusing everybody of ruining his life and demanding that he be the one to ask questions rather than be the subject of the session. “You’re very bright, Peter.”

Damn fucking right I am, you simple skull jockey. Got your number good. You and the band of crooks my father hired from the bank aren’t going to dump me in the loony bin. Get me out of the way and take my money.

“I get it from my father. Brightest guy you will ever meet. We talk every day.”

Osborne had a recurring dream that carried itself through waking hours; stalked him, turned corners as he did, hovered over his head, was waiting near his lips for passage into his heart with the very next breath. He hadn’t told Russell about it. It was too deep, too personal. Too easy to misinterpret or misunderstand.

It was a dream about an apple. An up-close image of a fattened red apple. Once bright and pungent with life, exposed in time lapse photography, being devoured by a swarm of ravenous red ants. Every few seconds the camera would jump ahead and shoot another frame of film. The jacket of ants would thicken as the apple would get smaller and more misshapen in each succeeding frame, until the ants devoured every morsel or took what was left back to the colony so others could partake of the spoils. Well, Peter Osborne of the Osborne meat-packing legacy had no intentions of becoming the spoils of someone else’s maddening greed.

“Do you mind talking about Angeline?”

“What do you want to know about her?” Osborne was interested in discussing Angeline, but, as with everything, on his terms. The bankers and shysters had already seen his temper. His intemperance. They played their hand and lost and now could only save face by insisting that this two-hundred-pound flunky with the unkempt red beard and suspenders keep an eye on him.

His parents would be proud of him. The way he was acquitting himself against such a devious adversary. Not that there weren’t times when they had interesting, enlightened conversations, not about him, but society, human nature, politics at which Russell was both astute and informed. But Osborne knew he had to be on his guard. He had to fend off the doctor’s thrusts. He wanted to make his parents proud.

“Well, for starters, how would you describe her to strangers?”

“Like you.”

“Like me, or anybody else,” Russell answered without taking offense.

“I already did.”

Russell set down his pad and poured himself another cup of coffee. He sat back and watched Osborne attentively. He knew that taking his eyes from the boy was unsettling and made Osborne lose his concentration, as if without being watched, the twenty-three-year-old simply did not exist.

It was that way with some patients. The alcoholics and substance abusers demanded different capacities than the depressives and obsessive-compulsives, or those suffering from anorexia nervosa, bulimia, anxiety disorders, or schizophrenia. The list of human suffering was as endless as the changeable, unrelenting crush of society. Each required a different skill and range of compassion and insight. Russell loved his work. He enjoyed meeting and solving mysteries. His work allowed success by increments. You had to work for it. To return every grain of sanity to your patients. Then there was no guarantee they would be able to hold onto it.

In some, Russell’s efforts engendered respect. In others, admiration and gratitude. In a patient like Peter Osborne, it was too early to predict the outcome of psychotherapy. And where grief-induced trauma was involved, prediction became a mercurial art.

“Where did you meet her?”

“In the museum,” Osborne said proudly. That should get red-beard going.

“The museum?”

“The Metropolitan Museum of Art. On Fifth Avenue.”

“Well done, Peter. I didn’t know you liked that museum.”

“The Met is one of my favorites.”

“She was there?”

“With her husband.”

“She’s married?”

“And two children.”

“Okay, Peter,” Russell said, relaxing back into his chair in anticipation of the story. “You have my undivided attention.”

“She’s French. Very pretty. She was with her husband and children. I was on a gallery walk. It was on abstract expressionists after the war. The Second World War. You know—Newman, Rothko, Pollack, Stamos. Not my favorites, but interesting nonetheless. She came by. We made eye contact. I followed her. She managed to get away. Told her husband she was going to the bathroom and I followed her.”

Osborne laughed like a child who had stolen a handful of goodies from the cookie jar His instincts for devious childlike behavior were unimpeachable. He existed within a broad emotional band, fluctuating as his memory of the incident catapulted him deeper into darkness. Only time brought him back from his encounters with the abyss.

“Pretty aggressive.”

“I could see her lips.”

“Is that unusual?” Russell asked absently as he made notations.

“Between her legs. She was wearing jeans so damn tight you could see how deeply they cut into her crotch. You could see the outline of her lips. And she knew I was staring at her pussy. It was great.”

“You like that.”

“I’m a man, aren’t I?”

“You’re very observant.”

“Hey, I don’t miss a thing. Especially when it comes to good-looking women.”


“I asked her if we could see each other. She said that she’d love to have lunch with me. That she thought I was one of the most handsome men she’d ever seen.”

“She said that.”

“Right up front. No crap. No dance. This woman knows what she likes.”

The passion and energy with which Peter Osborne talked about his women gave Russell some margin for both hope and concern. Sometime he was going to have to face the truth of his life and circumstances. It was only then that there would be reason for optimism. “What does she look like?”

This was one of those intrusive, impertinent questions that ground away at Osborne’s sensibilities.

“Why?” He wasn’t so much defensive as resentful of the imposition.

“Imagery can be very helpful. I also want to hear what was so attractive about her to you. You don’t have to tell me. It’s not critical, though I recall you were very descriptive about Marcy and Edna.”

Osborne was suspicious. He had reason to be. Russell often asked questionable questions. “She’s tall. Brunette. A soft round face with bright blue eyes. Fine wide hips. Small, firm breasts. Terrific sense of humor. She finds me witty and charming.”

“About thirty-five or forty?”

Osborne grinned. “You know, I like older women.”

“Smart? Argumentative? Compassionate? Thoughtful? Wise? Outspoken?”

“You ask a lot of questions.”

“Only because I need to know a lot of answers.”


“So you can stop coming and move along with your life. The more answers I get, the better off the both of us are.”

“You said that the first time I came to your office.”

“It’s been almost a year. You have an excellent memory.”

“Then you know her eyes were green.”

“I know you like to test me.”

“It’s a hobby.”

“So, what’s the attraction between you two? Besides the fact that you’re very handsome I mean.”

“She can learn from me.”

The process of mourning had certain well-defined, linear characteristics. After the loss, patients traditionally responded by feeling shocked, fearful, and disbelieving. There was anger, then hopefully coming to terms with the loss. A salutary process of grieving goes from recognition of the loss to the eventual acceptance of it. Because the relationship with his parents was so troubled and unresolved, the outlook was less clear. Osborne’s tone, which flipped the narrow range between bitterness and braggadocio, only made Russell more resolved not to let himself get caught up in the possibility of failure.

“What if her husband does the learning?”

“He travels. Computers or something. He doesn’t love her. She doesn’t love him.”

“Do you mind if I ask if she said she loves you?”

“She told me last night. Interesting you asked.”

Russell knew the answer would be positive. “You were with her last night?”

“She slept over,” Osborne said proudly, exuding a confidence a man gets when he has made a conquest, or wants to give the impression of an unexpected achievement.

Russell picked up his pad and made notes he would add to the transcript of the tape that ran in the wall behind the bookshelf. It was necessary, in this litigious society, and for reasons of accuracy, to keep this catalog of commentary. Both to protect his patients and himself. This was part of the updated report the trustees representing the estate would receive. At first, Russell did not want to give any representation of Peter’s condition to the lawyers. His initial instinct was to protect his patient’s privacy. But when he met with them, their concern for Osborne’s welfare became apparent. Without the ongoing input of a qualified psychoanalyst, they would not be able to make informed decisions regarding his future.

“Did you enjoy making love to her?”

“She was very experienced. Most men are intimidated by that. It doesn’t bother me at all.”

“It’s a real advantage to a young man, no matter how experienced he is, to have an older woman early in his life. Or do you mind me saying that?”

“I’m experienced enough to be telling that bitch a thing or two, Doc.”

Russell let the agitation subside before he proceeded. “You referred to Marcy Layton, four months ago,” he said flipping back through his notebook, “as a bitch too. And yet you said you loved her. Do you feel the same about Angeline?”

“Losing Marcy,” Osborne said thoughtfully, “yeah, that hurt.”

“I’m sorry, Peter. I didn’t mean to probe that deeply. There are other things we can discuss.” He looked at the clock on the wall. The one his wife gave him. He loved to look at it, both as a reminder of her love and the limits of his craft. “Would you like to take a break?” Sometimes, when he saw that Peter became unsettled, he offered him a five-minute rest period. They meditated together or talked about hockey or basketball. It was comforting for both who, at times, were worn out halfway through the twisting, torturous double session.

“Marcy and I were not meant to be,” he said staring up at the ceiling. “Just not a happening thing.” He paused, as he often did. Not simply to recoup his thoughts but to refocus his concentration. It was always vulnerable to the flashback—the lights, the high-pitched whine, the heads floating overhead. Osborne reaching out but not moving. Calling out without hearing the familiarity of his own voice. The eyes looking down at him. Wanting to tell him something but unsure of his ability to withstand the truth. The deep numbness. The lights. The terrible cold smell. The fear that he was now alone. His worst childhood dread. To be left alone, abandoned. To be orphaned.

“This Angeline. You seem quite taken by her.”

“This Angeline?” Peter protested bitterly as the reality of his situation broke through the sweltering shadow of his past. “This An-gel-eene. You make her sound like a goddamn specimen in one of your fucking lab experiments. She is no lab rat you can poke and prod and torture and peel back her scalp and drive electrodes into her brain so she will do a dance for you so you can publish a paper and become a fucking big deal. This is a woman. A beautiful, sensitive, loving woman. With two children. She’s a loving mother who would never let anything happen to her child. Who would never abandon him. Not something you would find under a microscope. Un-fucking-be-lieveable!”

Russell wished Peter had taken the break. When he did, the balance of the sessions was predictable, reasonably productive, and went on without incident. Without the respite, he was too caught up defending and explaining himself to let the moment pass. Foolish, as it almost invariably made the balance of the hour-and-a-half meaningless. He wanted to get the session back on track. He also wanted the day to be over.

Russell had read the accident report. Had seen the pictures taken by the state police. A half-roll of film by a spectator. A man and his family on vacation from Oxford, England, touring a hundred miles south of Paris. Two miles north of the town of Limoges, when they came upon the smoldering wreckage. They were among the first to arrive. Two adults were being pulled from the car. Their bodies were broken and bloody, especially the man’s. The woman’s scalp had been peeled back revealing part of the crushed right frontal lobe of her brain. A foot-long sliver of metal was protruding from her husband’s chest. Russell had a copy of the autopsy report. He had a comprehensive file on the case. On the son. On what seemed to be a classic case of severe post-traumatic stress disorder. He was more sympathetic to the boy than might be expected. At times giving himself over to compassion, other times actually believing he could make a difference in the boy’s life by sticking to therapeutic principles that had already saved others.

Russell had lost his brother in a car accident when he was eleven. He had discussed whether the conservator actually knew this well-publicized incident as a reason for selecting him. His wife dissuaded him from focusing on the coincidence. “You’ve treated patients like this before. You’ve published and they know how good you are. And I know how much you care.” She was partially right and equally wrong. Few doctors have ever treated a patient as steeped in the piety of his own consuming despair as Peter Franklin Osborne.

Beyond the intrusive recollections, distressing dreams, feelings of detachment, exaggerated startled responses, the level of survivor guilt was pronounced, when you consider that it was at Peter’s insistence that his family took this vacation. Since high school, his relationship with his parents, especially his father, was estranged, tenuous at best. With constant mediation, dealing with the shortcomings of her son and husband, Peter’s mother had managed to take her son’s suggestion and turn it into an event. An occasion that ended in tragedy.

“I don’t have to stay here you know.”

“I know how difficult it is for you.”

“Fuck! You don’t have the least fucking idea how it is for me. No one knows. Least of all a red-bearded smart-ass like you.”

“Why don’t we just call it a day,” Russell said, putting aside his notepad. He was tired. He already suspected the rest of the session was about to become inflammatory, counterproductive. He could not allow it to become bitter with recriminations that would take most of the next session to undo.

“No,” Peter demanded. “Not yet. I want to talk about Angeline. Not like a patient.” He was strident, exhibiting only the slightest dependence or gratitude.

“I don’t follow?”

“I need your advice. You’re a doctor. That’s what you do, isn’t it?”

“Advice from a friend or doctor?”

Finally, his anger temporarily lessened. “A friend, who just happens to be a doctor.”

“I am flattered you think so highly of me,” Russell said, hoping the boy wasn’t baiting him. “Go ahead, if there is anything I can do to help you along, of course.”

Osborne lay on the couch. Motionless. No matter the topic or intensity, he never turned to Russell. However, he always seemed to know if his doctor was looking at him or writing about him or, and this was most interesting, when his concentration wavered. As would a small child, the moment you turned your attention away from him, he reacted as though you might never return.

“She wants me to have oral sex with her.”

Russell did not respond.

“I know she wants me to,” he said sounding genuinely distressed. “I think I would like to.”

“I can’t tell you what to do.”

“I know. I know,” he said, getting agitated again. “A lot of shit going around. A man who travels with women has to be real careful.”

“I know she is very pretty from what you said. But what do you feel about her? Do you think she would be hurt if you didn’t?”

“Well, she isn’t going to give me a blow job too many more times if I don’t stick my tongue between her legs. She’s no fool.”

Osborne finally reached the heart of the puzzle. It wasn’t that he feared what the girl might want or like, it was simply to declare indirectly, rather than summarily announce, that he was getting fellatio.

A van door opened and slammed shut on the street. Russell looked at his watch. Ten minutes left. It was one of those sessions he felt neither glad it began nor glad it was over. It just was. You didn’t judge progress in this business by days or weeks, and in Peter’s case, possibly never.

Osborne lay there with his hands at his sides, as if he had not a care in the world, fixated with rage, anger, internalizing, boasting, outbursts of cursing and infantile behavior and mood swings. Then there was Angeline, and Marcy Layton. And Edna three months earlier. Except that Peter Osborne had no girlfriend. He had not had sex, fellatio or otherwise, including masturbation, and besides the more obvious physical limitations was so socially inept no woman would approach him unless it was for directions.

“We have a few minutes left. You want to continue with Angeline or discuss something else?”

“You don’t approve of her, do you?”

“It’s not what I think that counts here, Peter. It’s whether you like her. The way she treats you.”

“She treats me like a man,” he said. “She respects me. She would marry me if she had her way. I know how hard it is for her to be without me.”

“Would you like to get married?”

They had discussed marriage early in their sessions. Russell thought it unproductive at first, but Osborne viewed much through the success his parents had with their relationship, so Russell kept the positive subject alive. It wasn’t that the boy did or didn’t want to get married, to any girl in particular. He believed in the institution because of the efficacy of his parent’s relationship and continually gave examples of how they expressed their love and how they were a role model for him.

“Angeline is great. The girl can’t do without me.” There was a knock at the door. “Why can’t those goddamn assholes wait? You’d think their problem was more important than mine.”

“It’s a courtesy, Peter. If it disturbs you, I won’t have them do it anymore.”

“This isn’t the first time I have been annoyed at this. If you’re so concerned with my welfare, why can’t you do something about them?”

“You told me you wanted to know when they arrived.”

“OK. OK, it’s not important.”

This was typical, the attacking, startled response. In a way, a good sign. The closer they had gotten, the more painful and dislocating being torn away at the end of the sessions had become. Russell noted this in his last report, but made no claim that it might be an indication of possible recovery. Rather a dependency that was developing, though it was important in solidifying the early stages of the patient-doctor relationship. Russell had little sense of optimism. After nearly a year, the recall of the trauma remained profound in the boy. Osborne refused to discuss his parents’ death either directly or by inference. And when he suspected Russell was alluding to the tragedy or expressing how he felt in relationship to Osborne’s loss, he either became silent, or abusive and began to curse uncontrollably.

The first three months of therapy were interrupted, inconsistent, with weeks passing when appointments weren’t kept or were shortened by hysterical, violent outbursts of anger that left Osborne in a fevered resentment. It was to be expected. Without going through the cathartic steps, there would be no release. The only step that Osborne had not come upon was expressed guilt. Guilty that he was on vacation with his parents when their car crashed. They both died and he was pulled from the crash, his back and legs broken, his chest punctured, his spleen and right eye damaged beyond repair. But he was alive.

The vacation had been at his request. A quiet present his family had given him and themselves where there were no phones and money managers or lawyers or pressing needs other than to reestablish the ties that had been worn thin by the vicissitudes of life.

“Peter, are you all right?” Russell asked, responding to the prolonged silence.

“If you mean can I walk or feed myself or look at my disfigured face or deal with the pain that torments my body, or ever lose the image of what remained of my parents all because I wanted a spin in the countryside; no. Is that what you mean?” There was no longer any anger left in his voice. It was forlorn and despairing. There was only the clarity of burning rubber and flesh before the police came.

“I meant about Angeline.”

“Angeline, the one with the great breasts who likes to suck my cock and dance naked at the foot of my bed for my pleasure? The one who lives simply to hear my voice, touch my handsome face? Feel the strength of my body? Who would have left her family and children if it had pleased me? You mean that Angeline? Or Edna the artist? Or Marcy the photographer?” A knock on the door. “You’d better let them in. Lord knows what they might think you were doing to me in here.”

Russell got up and let the two medical attendants in. They waited for a sign, then carefully lifted Peter from the leather couch and sat him back in the wheelchair.

“What do you think I’m doing here?”

“Wasting my time,” Peter said as they propped him up and strapped him into the chair.

“Besides that.”

“Wasting my money.”

“Besides that.”

Peter thought for a moment. “Kidding the both of us that I’m ever going to feel any different.”

Russell signed the authorization form releasing him into the responsibility of the transport service that would take him home. “I’m going to be here for you.”

“I don’t need your pity, Doc.”

“You’re bright enough to know that’s not what I’m about.”

“You’re about lies and denial.”

“What lies have I told you? What truths have I denied?”

“That I am worth keeping alive.”

“You think I believe you deserve to die because of a tragic accident?”

“We both know I deserve to die.”

“There is plenty of time for that,” Russell acknowledged with a shuddering sigh of relief.

—Previously published in Danse Macabre (Issue 69, August 2012)


SHJ Issue 9
Spring 2014

Arthur Davis

is a management consultant who has: been quoted in The New York Times and Crain’s New York Business, been interviewed on New York TV News Channel 1, taught at the New School University, given testimony as an expert on best practices for the U.S. Senate, and appeared as an expert witness on best practices before The New York State Commission on Corruption in Boxing.

Davis has written 11 novels and over 130 short stories. More than 40 stories have been published online and in print, in such periodicals as Allegory, Crack The Spine, Calliope, Connotation Press, Dark Moon Digest, and Eunoia Review.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury