My therapist has helped me so much over the past almost nine years I’ve been going to see her. I went at my husband’s suggestion that my extraordinary fear of caterpillars was something that could perhaps be overcome if I understood the seed that had been planted somewhere in my childhood.
I sort of knew where it started; I was eight and my brother, two years older, told me he dropped one down my back. I screamed and hollered and ran around until he admitted he hadn’t and I calmed down. That night getting undressed, I found the big greenish-brown squish stain in the back of my shirt. The doctor was thrilled at this found memory. He felt it had to have been an absolutely traumatizing event that stayed with me. I didn’t think it affected my sex life but Dr. Johnson insisted it did.
“Way beyond fear of real caterpillars,” he said, “it nurtured a distrust of anything caterpillar in form.”
“Huh?” I said.
So that’s why he’s sitting over there in the corner of our bedroom, watching. I wasn’t crazy about the idea but the doctor and my husband agreed it might help if at that moment of giving way to the ecstasy we all shout “Caterpillar!” together as one loud voice.
It didn’t work, at least as far as I’m concerned, but my husband and Dr. Johnson seem pleased.
Category Archives: Susan Gibb
One night I woke up and caught my boyfriend cheating at a game of cards. I was devastated.
“It’s only Solitaire,” he said.
“It’s only Solitaire!” I cried.
“Yes!” he said.
“That’s right!” I sobbed.
We argued long and hard till dawn broke through the window, sharing its light with the walls, the floor, the cat playing with her empty food dish, but not with us. We could not see each other’s point of view. I fed the cat, packed my things and left. I mean, come on, how could I stay with such a man?
Life kept on kicking me hard after that, toppling everything I dared to touch. I was being so careful, so conscious now of playing by the rules. In fact, sabotaging my every effort at my job (I gave a rave review of a coworker that put her in a supervisory position over me), my new apartment (gave up the second floor for the first and was broken into three times in a month), and in love (answered his questions honestly, i.e., “No, you’re not the one with the biggest…”) losing each new man almost immediately.
It took a while, but I wised-up. I lied through my teeth and am now happily the head of my department, ensconced in a fully paid-for apartment on the Avenue, and am sleeping with the married CEO of the company.
Let’s just say I learned how to play my cards.
When Mary Brevins died, she took the memory of the sun with her. It wasn’t as big a problem as the engineers had thought since light had been established in all but the most remote sections of the earth and even several light-lanes spanning the major oceans had been completed.
For Joyce Fields, however, it was a major event, for now it placed her in the position of having the last living memory of the sun. The officials came to pick her up before she could get away.
“What do you mean, grass and trees and even buildings change color during the day, or if there were what you call clouds to dissipate the light?”
“Why wouldn’t your sun prevent the snow?”
“Change the color of your skin? Impossible!”
“Okay, so show us which hill it hid behind at night.”
Finally they let her go. Convinced she was simply an old woman in the early stages of dementia. They laughed as they reread the things she claimed were true when she was young before all the technology took over simple functions.
Back home, Joyce Fields sat down in her favorite chair. She hadn’t known Mary Brevins but she felt the loss. She closed her eyes and as she always did, brought up her favorite memories. She recalled a morning when she went fishing with her dad and brother. The way the sun came up and colored the small pond like a paintbrush dipped in water.
Colonel Houghton knelt down by his cot and put his hands together. “Please dear God, clear weather for tomorrow. Guide our troops on ground and safely through the skies.” He licked a finger and thumb and put out the wick and lay down. He fell asleep to the peaceful plans of the strategic implementation of war maneuvers.
Private First Class Petry lay shivering on his cot despite the desert day’s heat that radiated from the sand. He bit down on his blanket to keep his teeth from chattering.
The others were coping much better. Most were snoring out their positions. Chelmuk was at the far end but sounded next-bunk loud. Hood was whistling music through his nose. Kriscenski was a stop-breather. That, for the first few weeks, had scared them all more than the war that slithered closer every day. “How would that look to his family,” Chelmuk said, “dead in bed! Just stopped breathin’ that’s all.” They all had laughed.
Petry relaxed by thinking of things like that. It took his mind off tomorrow. Still, just before he slipped into sleep, he whispered, “Please, Lord, make it rain.” Which in the arid Middle East, was a bigger favor than the Pope asking for a single day of global peace.
The soldiers woke to the slap of hard-hitting rain. Each–except for Colonel Houghton–thanked God for their luck and modern technology; there would be no war that day.
The man who said he was her father smelled of bourbon and Aqua Velva. He slicked his hair back in the way that men with blue-black hair often did.
The man who said he was her father said he was sorry, not only for the loss now of her mother, but for taking off on them years ago. The man said he had loved her mother very much, was crazy about her at the time. That he had been too young and scared to be a family.
He sat beside her at the funeral service, his arm set along the back of her chair, his other hand holding hers in her lap. At the cemetery, his fingers settled in the small of her back to steady her. She was barely aware of him and yet glad to have him there. He took her home and assured the neighbors he’d get her to school on Monday, that is, if she was ready to go.
A month later, the man told her they’d be moving to Houston where he knew he could get a job. He told her he’d heard the schools were great there and she’d make new friends.
She went with him, the man who said he was her father, because he told her he loved her and held her when she woke up crying, and he hugged and kissed her every day, and because she had no one else and no place else to go.
She was beautiful once, a few years ago. Street life has since pock-marked her face, dotted her arms with bruises that scream purple, mellow to yellow and green, or fester if the needle was dirty.
She takes out a comb and makes a part in her hair down the middle but just a few inches down it catches on knots and her arm, painfully heavy, drops away, leaving the comb there like a butterfly perched on her ear.
It takes a long time but she gets it untangled. Spits on the ends to curl them around her finger, slowly drawing it out to let them hang there to dry. She pulls out a small round mirror, peers between cracks, presses down with the palm of her hand to level the shards back into one single image. Or at least as close to one as she can.
Her hands flipper through the large plastic bag, come out with a scratched and dented tube of lipstick. The color flares up like a lighter. She leans close to the mirror and paints on the memory of lips. She finds a clean sweater, changes her jeans, and goes out to stand by the curb.
He comes by at the usual time and she hopes to catch his eye. Last Friday evening she recognized him, thought he might have recognized her. He stares, slows his step but doesn’t stop. She smiles but he keeps walking by.
She was already half-melted into the new dimension when he knocked on her door seeking a cup of sugar. When she answered, he was taken by surprise.
For her part, she was quite nonchalant about the transition. She half-smiled, the left side of her face nearly transparent. “Come on in,” she said, swinging the door open wide and hopping back on her right leg to let him by.
“I’m sorry to bother you, if you’re busy,” he said. He wasn’t sure how long the whole process took. He’d never known anyone before who’d made the shift. He couldn’t help staring. Her blouse and jeans unraveled slowly across her body like a west wind clearing the plains. As he watched, her left breast turned a silvery color, wavy like heated air rising on pavement in a hot summer sun, then disappeared.
“No, it’s fine,” she said, and led the way to her small kitchenette. “I won’t be taking any of this stuff with me and I’m happy someone can use it.” She reached into a cabinet and pulled a full bag of sugar off a top shelf. She almost lost her balance.
“Why are you leaving?” he asked. He was disappointed, for she was quite pretty.
“New job, a promotion,” she said. “My name’s Cherise.” Her nose and mouth faded away with her words.
“I’m Charlie,” he said, and caught the bag of sugar before it dropped to the floor.