Short Story by Carol Smallwood

Making Things Better

Carol Smallwood

Excerpt from Lily’s Odyssey (print novel 2010) published with permission by All Things That Matter Press. Its first chapter was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award in Best New Writing.

The next session, Doctor wore a suit for the first time, and asked, “How’d you like my new office?”

“It’s very nice,” he said, looking around the stucco room for anything that looked familiar.

A few years ago, the businessmen in town had decided to capitalize on the name, “Avon Creek”. The storefronts and municipal building were redone to resemble Shakespeare’s birthplace, and his comedies were performed at the fairgrounds during the summer. Restaurants offered old English fare and jesters and jugglers in colorful costumes gave street performances for tourists.

“Cal got angry because I was out picking apples with the kids and wasn’t home when he got home, so he shoved me around.”

“Did he hurt you?”

“He didn’t leave any marks.” I didn’t consider them marks because my sleeves covered the bruises on my upper arms.

“Do you think you were right in going?”

“It was right but not right in the relationship of marriage.” I sighed, and added, Cal doesn’t want me to get a job.”

“It isn’t wise to come to any crisis now.”

While canning corn relish, I thought again of what Doctor said about the law of compensation- when you lose something, you gain something. And I smiled at the comforting sound of canning lids sealing–no matter how many times I heard the ping, it satisfied an instinctual need. Kerr glass pints and quarts with neatly printed labels were very attractive when filled with pickles, relishes, pears, tomatoes–proof I’d accomplished something.

But the next day, I couldn’t stop thinking about worms dying in a can that Cal left on his boat after he went fishing; the only way to stop was to imagine being with Doctor. When I went anywhere, I looked at men to see if their nose, mouth, or walk in any way resembled his; I kept saying, hang on, hang on–remember the tree in the woods? Near the barbed wire fence of my grandfather’s- that was all dead, except for one branch? For the last two years, I’d gone to stare at it while the kids made a game out of not stepping on any sticks while chasing each other.

A few months later, I went for a walk with Mark and Jenny, muffled in my jacket, leaving the snowmobile suit matching Cal’s–Uncle Walt’s and Aunt Hester’s Christmas presents. The wind made it too cold to walk along the shore strewn with giant blocks of ice; a red strip on a lone freighter in the distant channel was the only thing preventing it from being a black and white painting. When I went to look for patches of moss on trees, Mark pointed out depressions in the snow, and told Jenny they were Bigfoot’s; Jenny pretended to be scared, and then smiled at me.

When we returned to the road, a sunbeam shone on the top of a large bent pine, and I walked back and forth looking at the large green question mark, till a hawk began circling. Mark had been scrambling up and down the snow heaped by the snowplow with Jenny trying to keep up.

We walked to the tree-lined winding stream, among the overhanging branches, until I heard water running under the ice. When I heard the water but couldn’t see it, I felt a great relief–a Plan must exist–things did make sense- and had a pattern; there was a way out, even if I couldn’t see it. I’d be OK. I followed the gurgling water to the lake and stood smiling in the biting wind while the flowing stream became part of the lake, and tears froze to my face.

At the next session when I told Doctor, “I’ve decided to stop coming,” his chair squeaked, and I knew how much I’d miss the sound. “I’ll always wonder what’s on the other side of things, but it’s equally bad not to enjoy what’s under my nose. Things are better with Cal because I want them to be, and if I left him, I’d still be searching–my feelings for you happened because I needed them to.”

After looking like he was trying to convey something he ended the long silence with, “You can come back.”

“There’s a job coming up I may be able to get,” I said, tasting the blood from biting my cheek. “I’ve enjoyed the sessions and will have to find something to replace them with.”

His face was still flushed when he said, “Maybe studying Hinduism would interest you and give some direction; I’ve told you about how meditation helped me. Begin with the Upanishads and books like this.” He reached for a book with a bald man in a gown, sitting cross-legged with thumb and index fingers joined, to form circles. He named strange-sounding men, but meditating by staring at a point between your eyes had little appeal for me. The Hindu women I saw on PBS didn’t look very well-off–and what did it matter if people may have had a third eye? Doctor concluded, “Take lots of walks because they may teach you more than books.”

On the drive back, I tried to forget his laugh when I’d said, “Things are better with Cal because I need them to be.”