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“Dr. Phlegen, why did he leave me there?”
The therapist pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, staring at the back of his client's head. This was a stressful job. You could see it in the man's face. He was only thirty-seven, but his face was already wrought with wrinkles, and his black hair graying in many places. His blue eyes bore into the blond mess aimed out the window. In spite of her dishevelment at this point, he always thought Clara's hair was the most radiant shade of blond.
“It was his time.”
“I don't believe that. He loved me. He had all the time in the world to love me...He had no reason to go...It wasn't his time. Everyone says it, but I know it's not true...” She turned around and looked at him, but with a blank look that made it seem as if she was attempting to burn a hole in his head to see through to the other side. She always had that bizarre look. Tough to believe she was once perfectly normal.
“I think we've done enough work for today, Clara.” Dr. Phlegen said, clicking his pen shut. It was true. When Clara started to repeat herself, he knew they hit the end for that session. “Go back to your room, okay?” he said softly. As she walked out, his eyes landed on the burn marks on her arms.
“I'm going home, Nancy.” Dr. Phlegen said, giving a wave to the local mental hospital's receptionist. He paused when he saw the worried look on her face. “Is there a problem? Any emergency appointments?” he said, giving her a lighthearted smile.
“How is she, Skye?” He immediately broke into a frown.
“Not much different, sorry.” Nancy always expressed vivid concern for Clara. Every time he came (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), she'd ask about her status. Unfortunately, Clara was a hard case to work with, let alone fix entirely. She sighed, looking down at the phone before going back to her work.
“Have a good night, Skye. I'll see you on Friday. Get some rest.”
“Thanks, Nan, but I'm kinda busy tonight. I'll be up late.” She pursed her lips, giving him the look a mother gave an irresponsible teenager.
“Well...take care of yourself.”
“Kyle Jerarden, please.” He followed the police officer through the winding halls, into the desolate room. He sat in the chair and waited until he saw the familiar shaved head and a tattoo of some obscure video game character on his shoulder.
“Why do you keep coming back?” The prisoner spoke first. Skye sighed and took off his glasses.
“Why did you do it, Kyle?” he asked. “Your sister is a total wreck. She's gone off the deep end. She lost her husband. The only ones she remembers are her mom and dad.” he scoffed and gave a harsh sneer to the therapist.
“You mean those people? The two who kicked me out and left me alone when they decided I wasn't representing them in the right way? Why would she want to remember them?” In his many years of his career, Skye had learned to practice patience with the seemingly unmovable, and you just may get a budge out of it. He didn't get upset on the outside, but he still frowned grimly.
“Because they're your parents. And they're her parents, too. They raised you. Nothing can replace that. What they did to you was wrong, Kyle, but you can't try to get back of them that way. That won't make it right.” The inmate's eyes narrowed, but Skye didn't flinch at the cold glare. He'd become immune to it after witnessing it so many times.
“Oh boo-hoo. Mommy and Daddy are oh-so-precious. They did me so well, Mr. Shrink. Kicked my sorry behind out into the world without a helmet. They doted on little Clara, I know. And they still do. Even more so now. Poor little Clara, all burned up and sad and clueless. She always was an airhead, she may as well have a good excuse for it now.” Skye felt a pang in his stomach. “I don't regret what I did. I watched those flames. I smiled at them. They made up for all I could never have. They took away Clara's happiness. They took away what was left of her brain. They seemed to miss out on taking one important thing, though.”
Skye gritted his teeth. “Very well, then.” he said quietly. “You had your say. But I'll be back next month, Kyle. Know this.” He sat back in his seat casually, like a child. He smiled smugly, giving the man through the glass a look of pure delight in his upset state.
“I know. And you'll get the exact same answer, buddy.”
He knew he would.
But it was always worth a try.
“No one understands me, Doc...” the young man griped to Skye. “I have no friends, and my dad thinks I'm a chump. My mom wants me to play football, but I can't stand that stuff. I like soccer, but my dad says soccer is for wusses.” Dr. Phlegen scrawled down this athletic endeavor on his paper, and looked up at the kid.
“Some people have worse problems, Dillon.” he said, pulling out his famous child method.
“I know...But...I never hear about them.” Skye sighed and put down his papers and pen.
“Sit down on the couch, Kiddo. I'll tell you about one. A very special one.” Dillon flopped down on a seat and looked to his therapist with intense interest.
“There was a woman I once knew. She was beautiful. She had a husband, and they were about to plan on having a baby. She had a brother who was extremely jealous of her, and he wanted her dead. So he burned their house. To the ground. The woman ran. She ran away from the smoke and fire, but she was too slow. Her husband as well.”
“D...did they die...?” Dillon asked, fearing a morbid moral.
“Well, her husband did. They never found his body. But the woman...she escaped with bad burns on her arms and legs. She still has them. She's insane. The stress was far too much for her. Now I visit her and talk to her almost every day in the Mental Institution. She lives in clouded misery. She doesn't remember anyone she loved but her parents.”
The teen frowned. “This sounds like a fairy tale, Doc.” He swallowed.
“All that she had before is a fairy tale now, Dillon. Not that.”
Skye studied the ring on his finger.
It looked so foreign. So meaningless.
“For better or for worse.”
Clara shook. She cried. She screamed to no one. Skye had heard it all before. He was no one. He was a ghost. “I can't go on! These marks!” she threw her arms into the air for a somewhat dramatic affect. “They're always there! When I take showers, I scrub. I go at them. But they just. Won't. Go. Away!” she thrashed. She squirmed. There was no sanity in that room besides the small inkling emanating from Skye. She was letting lose, trying to get rid of all that pent-up rage and energy, but it just seemed to come back twice as bad when she screamed louder. It was a vicious cycle, hitting her harder every time she tried to eliminate it.
“I can't take it! I want to go! I want to leave!” Skye kept calm.
“You want to leave the hospital.”
“No!” she screeched. “I want to leave here! This earth! This dark place! I miss him, God, I need him! You don't get it!”
“My wife died, Clara. I do get it.”
“No you don't! If you did, you'd be on the other side of this! You'd be just like me! Here! Screaming like this!” He sighed and rubbed his eyes. She usually wasn't this bad when she was shaken. Today was a bit different, obviously. The Friday Session usually was.
“You didn't die for a reason, Clara.”
“I know! That's why I can't leave! Not because of all the cameras and staff! I don't care about that! But...he would have wanted it that way....” her voice became slightly softer as she said this. He felt relief wash over him. She was calming down a little. “He'd be very upset if I took it upon myself to do that...I'm crazy. I'm so crazy. I was crazy about him. Now I'm just insane.”
“You're not crazy.” he said, trying to keep her from going into another high-volume tangent. “You're just in a bad state of mind is all. You'll get better.” he betrayed his own opinion.
“You don't have to lie. I know I'm crazy.” she said, and her eyes went back to the window. She raked her fingers through her blond mess. “You don't have to pity an old woman who's out of her head.”
Skye frowned. “Clara, you're only twenty-nine.” She smiled wistfully. Her moods were changing fast.
“Yes...He was six years older than me. We always joked about it. But we met when I was twenty-three...He was close to my age. Right before the fire, I told him something important. Something very important..But I can't remember. Why can't I remember?”
“You have a lot of trauma.”
“That's no excuse.” she said in a hushed voice, slightly hostile.
“My wife died in a fire, too, you know.” she nodded. “She was beautiful. I loved her to pieces. But I realized that she wanted me to move on. I know that you have a lot of difficulty remembering, but you can get the memories back if you try.” Now he was just trying to make her feel better. “I'm a lot like you. I made it out. She went away. Far away. She's dead now. She will never be what she was. Just like your husband.”
“He always wanted to be a doctor.” her mind was someplace else. “Oh, he would have been an amazing doctor...” So he'd heard. Skye clicked his pen shut. The signal.
“I think we're done for today, Clara.”
“How is she, Skye?” Same as usual. Nothing changed.
“...What a shame...Think she'll ever change?”
“For both our sakes, I hope so.”
Skye was sitting on an examination table as his physician filled out some forms. “Your burns look good, Mr. Phlegen. You've healed a lot since the accident. Shame what happened to the missus.” He nodded to the doctor.
“I miss her a lot.”
“It's a miracle you came out of that thing alive, isn't it?” More nodding on Skye's part. Same story, told a million times to the same million ears.
“Sick man that did that. He's still locked up, right?'
“Twenty-five to life, yes.”
“Good. Hope he rots in there. Doing that to people he knows, let alone strangers...God.” Skye pulled his sweater back over his head and stood up. “Anyway, all's good here. I hope everything works out.”
At the state penitentiary, a thirty-something serving time for arson with dirty blond hair was witnessing a violent group fight in the cafeteria.
“Yo, Jerarden! Get in here. What are you, chicken!?”
“No way. I wanna get out of this place early, I'm not getting into any scraps.”
“Twenty-five years is nothing to us! Good behavior is for losers, man!”
Skye pressed his finger to the doorbell of the Jerarden household. An old woman with substantial weathering visible on her body opened the door.
“Oh, hello, dear. How are you feeling? Come in.” She moved aside to let her daughter's therapist in.
“Hey.” was all he said. He wasn't wearing his usual suit. Just a shirt and some clean pants was all. He looked over to the man watching a golf game on the couch in the living room. “Hello, George.” he said. The senior citizen waved, not looking up from the television set.
“Sit here, Skye. I'm making coffee.”
“Can't stay long. I have to go over to the school down the block in about...” he checked his watch. “Twenty.” Child therapy sessions were relatively easier or harder, depending on your perspective. He sat down in the dining room-meets-kitchen.
“Oh, well, come by afterwards, then.” she leaned in, lowering her voice. “How's Clara?” He shrugged.
“Same as usual. Not worse, but not better. Sorry, Martha.” Mrs. Jerarden looked down and sat back in her old chair.
“My poor girl...and my son.. He's so misguided...We visited him last week, but he refuses to speak to us. As if it was our fault. I mean, yes, we were wrong to kick him out, but...My children....” she went to turn off the coffee pot. “...I wish I could help them. Clara doesn't even remember what happened to her own husband. We think it's better off she thinks of him as dead. It'd hurt her too much to know what really happened. And besides...she wouldn't even recognize him if she saw him, we're both sure of that much.” Skye nodded, leaning his elbow against the table. “Maybe...maybe we can give him back to her once she feels well. If that ever happens...”
“There's a chance.” he said in honesty. “A small one, but a chance nonetheless.” She nodded and gave him a small smile.
“I just want to thank you for all you've done for my daughter. After the accident...and before then, too...” He smiled back, trying to put a lighter air in the room. He looked at his watch again.
“Oh, I gotta run. I'll pop in another time, alright?” Martha nodded and put a sugar packet into her coffee.
“Be careful out there.” she said, and waved.
“Bye, George.” he called to Clara's father. He looked up this time and said a “goodbye” in return, still returning to his game in the end. Typical.
Before setting out to his morning job at the school, Skye stopped to pause and look at a glossy framed photo in the hallway by the front door he happened to be in. He was smiling in front of his old home, the one before the accident that took away his wife. He remembered those times. George and Martha really did treat him like family, in spite of what happened. He looked over at his wife, grinning away next to him with the most wonderful beauty he'd ever see. George had taken the picture of them, kind enough to keep a memory of them. His wife would never grin again. He realized he had a sad smile on his face as he looked at the amazing eyes that today were lifeless.
And her hair. Her amazing hair.
Before he knew what he was doing, he reached out and stroked the image of the love he once knew with his index finger.
“You always did have the most radiant blond hair...”
He left for work.
He would see the shell of his wife again.
At their Monday Session.