terms

Photo by Johnny Malmedy

Normally, this would be a flash fiction post, but I’m out of town this week. So instead of the next installation of The Kinter House, I’m dusting off a short story from my personal fiction vault. One I wrote several years ago. It’s neither horror nor dark fantasy, which are the two genres I tend to write in most often, but the theme is unquestionably grim, even if playful. I wrote this in the during a time when I was in a fairly toxic relationship and all the rest of life was turbulent.

There was no prompt, apart from life’s circumstances. 

Neither character really speaks for me or represents me. I think I wrote this story purely because delving into someone else’s mess, a mess that looked quite different from my own, gave me a sense of relief. The story, itself, was my therapy. Sometimes fiction is that way. Sweet relief.

Enjoy your weekend, and feel free to tell me what you think of this story in the comments.

terms

“Okay, then. Where would you like to begin?”

“How about you cut out the fucking condescending attitude, huh? How about we start there?”

“That’ll be fine,” she said evenly. “You tell me what you’d like to begin with, then.”

Clark exhaled heavily and stared at the wall behind her. He had an exasperated look on his face, somewhere between blind rage and confusion. Hints of both. He popped his knuckles before beginning.

“We can start with the date, I guess.”

“That’s right, you had a date on Tuesday—tell me about it.”

“Not much to tell, really. Her name is Susan. We had dinner, went to a movie, messed around some and then I took her home.”

“Messed around some?” she asked. “Do you mean you had sex, Clark?”

“What is this, the fucking Catcher in the Rye? Why’s everything about sex to you people? I mean we kissed. Made-out, you know? We parked. Second base. Kid stuff.”

“I didn’t mean to offend you. I just needed clarification.” She eyed him over the top of her glasses. “Go on,” she said.

“Anyway, dinner was good, we talked but not really deep conversation. Just boring stuff about my job and her job, that kind of thing.”

“Well, tell me about her. What did she have to say?”

He sighed. “I don’t really remember. She works at some damn department store, works in management—it sounded boring so I just kind of tuned her out and pretended to listen. You know, doc, like you do to me sometimes.” He smiled. “I raised my eyebrows and I said ‘yeah’ and ‘uh-huh’ at all the right places and she just kept talking. Sometimes she asked me a question about my job and I’d answer and then, what’s the word? Redirect back to her. That’s what the book said to do.”

“What book?”

“Some how-to-get-laid book I flipped through at Barnes and Noble last week.”

“So it was about the sex?”

“I told you, we didn’t have sex. But yeah, I guess so.”

She scribbled for a moment and then laid her pen down. She straightened her skirt before speaking. “Clark, I wonder if we might be seeing the same thing again here, the same pattern, reincarnated in a new form.”

“Here comes the diatribe.”

“Diatribe? That’s a big word, Clark.”

“Why do you have to be so fucking condescending?”

“And why do you have to say ‘fuck’ so much? You know there are other words, right? There’s an entire world of adjectives, adverbs and verbs at your disposal—you don’t have to always use that one.”

Clark wagged his finger at her. “Listen here, you fucking bitch, I don’t have to take this from you of all people. That’s not why I come here.”

“Yes it is, Clark. That’s exactly why you come here.” She spoke in smooth, controlled tones. “You come here because you need to. Because it helps you. I do what I have to do to help. You know what the thing is, Clark? You don’t listen to anyone who’s not as tough as you. I know, you pretended to listen to poor Susan the other night so you could get into her pants, but you don’t really listen. So this is what I have to do, Clark. I have to. If I’m not tough with you you won’t listen to me, either. And what would be the point of paying me for that?”

Clark, whose index finger was still in the air, lowered his arm and reflected momentarily on her scolding. He shook his head and sighed. “Fine,” he said. “Fine, whatever. Just tell me what you think, okay?”

“Okay, Clark, but if you say ‘fuck’ or any derivation thereof again, I’m going to ask you to leave. And if you call me a bitch again we won’t have another appointment. Do you understand?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“I mean it, Clark. Do you accept those terms?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Of course you do. You can leave right now.”

“I don’t want to leave.”

“I know, Clark. Are my terms acceptable?”

“Sure, I accept them. Sorry.”

She smiled ever so slightly. Not condescendingly. Not in loathing or happiness or mercy or even friendship. She smiled in satisfaction.

“Good,” she said. “I was saying something about the pattern, right?” Clark nodded. “Clark, I think we’re still dealing with a fair amount of insecurity. Now, I know you don’t care for that word, but the idea is what I want you to focus on. Don’t answer this question, just think about it. Why did you go out on a date at all? Just for a sexual conquest?

“I know your history, Clark. While most people might think it normal for a guy your age to go out on a date and try to get some, I know you. You have plenty of money and no qualms about calling an escort. If what you wanted was sexual, you could have had that without having to endure an entire evening of boring talk and you would have probably spent as much as you spent on dinner given your taste for the expensive.

“I think you still want, maybe even need, human contact. Real human contact. Something more than what a whore can give you.”

“I can’t say ‘fuck’ but you can call Valerie a whore?!”

“You just said ‘fuck’, Clark, and that’s the last warning I’ll give you. If it upsets you for me to label Valerie as a whore, I’ll simply refer to her as an escort. Is that okay?”

“Yeah, sure.” Clark rolled his eyes. She continued.

“After all, Clark, you’re smart. Surely you know Valerie was not like Susan. Valerie only spent time with you, only engaged in intercourse with you, because you paid her. It was her job. She didn’t choose you. You’re a smart enough man to know this. Don’t sit here in my office and pretend that you and she had some kind of deep, emotional connection.”

“You got a point?”

“Yes, Clark, I do.” She straightened her skirt again and sat tall. “You’re lonely for something real. That’s why call girls, strippers, pornos, magazines, chat rooms, elicit encounters of all kinds and even therapy have failed to fulfill you. You need something real. When you came to me two years ago it wasn’t because you had to. You’ve done nothing illegal. Your finances are secure. You may be engaging in some of this behavior in a way that signifies addiction, but you’re a functional addict at worse. You’re respected within your company, even among your colleagues who know about your escapades. You don’t really stand to lose anything by continuing to live as you’ve lived for the last several years. But you know there is something more to life. You know you’re missing something, don’t you?”

Clark stared out the window and held his breath. He could feel her eyes on him, her condescending eyes, strong and feminine. She was evaluating his soul, he felt, and the raw vulnerability of it hurt. And yet, he almost enjoyed the pain. Almost.

“Clark?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you know you’re missing something?”

“You know I do,” he snapped. “Sorry,” lowering his voice, “I mean, you know that’s why I’m here. I feel…”

“Empty, Clark.” She snickered. “You’re empty.”

“Are you laughing at me? You little—”

“Remember our deal, Clark. No name-calling or you leave.”

“How can you sit there with that condescending look and laugh at me? How can you push and push and dissect everything about my life and then have the gall to giggle? Lady, I may be screwed up, but you’re cruel.”

“I’m not cruel, Clark. I’m a woman on a mission. I need you to hurt. Do you know what addiction is, Clark? Addiction is the avoidance of necessary pain. If you’re going to sort through all this and come out on the other side, you’re going to have to hurt. That’s the nature of the thing. And besides, it’s not like you don’t deserve pain. We both know you have it coming.”

“Is that what this is about? Are you trying to restore justice? Are you acting as some kind of Freudian vigilante?”

“Wow, Clark. Two big words in a row.” She smiled sweetly.

“You’re acting like a bitch. I’m not saying you are one because you said not to call you that. I’m just saying you’re acting like one.”

“Are we in middle school, Clark? Really? I think we’re done for today.”

They both stood. He was a foot taller and he reveled briefly in his height, eyeing her. She matched his stare, holding her ground. He moved toward the door only to find she had side-stepped, blocking him in.

“What?” he gawked.

“For the record, Clark, dear, just so you don’t have to worry you’re little head about it, I am not trying to enact justice. I’m trying to fix you. We both know how confused, how desperately, completely, painfully confused you are and I’m trying to bring a little light into that dark world of yours. I’m the only one left who really cares about you, and you know it. And I do care, Clark. That’s why we meet. That’s why I never cash your checks—because I don’t want you to pay me. I don’t care about the money. I care about you. I don’t do this, this thing we do because I want to make things fair or right but because I know you need it. That’s why.”

She paused, leaning toward him and lowering her voice.

“But you listen to me, you fucking prick.” She had his attention. “If I wanted to enact justice, if I wanted to make you hurt just because I think that’s fair, just because I think you deserve it, I would have every right. You have no idea how much you hurt me. You have no idea how hard this is for me to do, even now. You deserve pain and disgrace and emotional torture, Clark. Like you’ve given me. You were a sonofabitch to be married to. You’re a sonofabitch to counsel. You deserve the worst life has to offer and if that’s what I wanted to give you, I’d have the right. Don’t you forget that, okay, Clark? Don’t ever forget that.”

“Whatever,” he said.

She stepped to the side and he left her office.

On the way out he handed Rebecca, her receptionist, a check for the usual amount. Rebecca, ever the asker of proper questions, said, “Good session?”

“The best yet,” Clark replied on his way out.

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About Ash Martin
Ash Martin writes dark fantasy and horror, has a thing for classic monster legends, Nordic mythology, coffee, and sarcasm, and is currently working on multiple books.

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