it fits into the larger script, but — you know — baby steps.”
INT. PSYCHOTHERAPIST’S OFFICE — DAY
KAREN (20s) lies on the sofa, mid-session, while DR. BLEDSOE (40s, wearing glasses) takes notes on a yellow legal pad, occasionally glancing over her steely frames at Karen.
KAREN ...And this layabout wants to start a family with me? Like, what the fuck?
Dismayed — but not surprised — the doctor takes off her glasses and sets her pencil down.
DR. BLEDSOE Now, Karen, we’ve talked about this. When you put a label on someone, you stop seeing them in all their complexity. Your thoughts become written in stone, and you can’t help but betray those thoughts in your actions...
KAREN (rolling her eyes) I know, I know... But, Dr. Bledsoe, I’ve been in narrative therapy for exactly 4 months, and all I’ve learned is that I’m a ’caretaker’ and I’ve crippled myself by trying to please others.
DR. BLEDSOE That’s good. Unearthing that old fossilized narrative is the first step toward rewriting it with a happier ending. But only you can do that work, Karen.
Karen lets out a grunt of bone-weary exhaustion.
KAREN Can’t I just outsource it? I’m not much of a writer.
The doctor takes up her pencil and legal pad again, shaking her head ever so slightly.
Today’s lunch was a pair of triangular sandwiches in cellophane from a cafeteria vending machine and liquids that were all too sweet (ruby red fruit punch and blood-pinked chocolate milk). She’d waited until they were almost ready to head back up to the rehab ward before nearly blurting out:
“Dad, Nick and I are thinking of having a baby.”
A flake of turkey and smear of mayo on his beard, he stopped mid-chew. “A baby?” “Yeah.” “Thinking about, or…?” “Well, trying, actually. But, no luck yet.” He didn’t look impressed. She raised a napkin to his chin, trying to help him recover the turkey from his beard. But he waved her off, like an insect. “We wanna make you a grandpa.” “I’m not sure I’m ready to be a grandfather. Or you a mother. Isn’t Nick unemployed?”
“He’s working, he’s just not getting paid. It takes time.” “So, unemployed.” Funny, she thought, how his expectations for her bore no relation to what he demanded of his own broke ass.
She took the straw in her mouth one last time. The contents of the waxed carton came to a noisy finish. “Aren’t you happy for me?”
“‘Happy’?” he scoffed. “Does anybody know how to be ‘happy’?”
He had a go at wiping his own beard. All it did was add little shreds of paper to the other detritus collecting there.
“That’s it? That’s the sum total of wisdom you have to offer your daughter after 61 years on the planet?”
“Wisdom? Jesus Christ, where is this coming from? All I know about being human is we all got a soul, sweetie. What you do with it is your business.”
A ‘soul’. An ego, more like — for he was not a religious man. He poured the sum total of whatever he meant by ‘soul’ into his music. She couldn’t help but feel like he was sucking it out of her at the same time.
“Well, I gotta talk to the insurance man and see what I can get for that bike,” he said. “Maybe it’ll pay for a little studio time, so I can get some of this new material down on tape. My leg may be broke, but everything’s got a silver lining, ya know?”
She let out a sceptical puff of air. There was no silver lining for her. “Is that… funny to you?” he glared at her. “Dad,” she said, gripping her plastic tray, “the culture is flowing past you in great torrents, and you’re over in a dusty corner with your guitar saying, ‘Isn’t it clever what I’ve done with this old riff?’ No! Nobody cares, because you don’t pay any attention to what people do actually care about. You’re completely out of it.”
“Is that how it is?” he said, his mouth sagging grimly at the corners.
She cast her eyes anywhere but at him. He sniffed, went for another napkin, then decided he didn’t need it.
She’d found the locus of his power, and was tempted to press it further, to wound him. But no — her inability to hurt him was inversely proportional to his ability to hurt her.
“I don’t know much,” he said, “but I know enough not to let a girl barely out of her training bra school me about life.”
He got up and limped over to the trash, still in his leathers.
INT. PSYCHOTHERAPIST’S OFFICE — DAY
Karen sits upright in a chair, poised, self-possessed. The doctor, behind her desk, is working quietly on her computer.
KAREN ...So I left him. I left them both.
Stunned, Dr. Bledsoe turns from the screen to look at Karen.
DR. BLEDSOE That’s... that’s a big step, Karen. How did you arrive at this decision?
KAREN Easy. The test strip turned up blue and I thought — Fuck, I am not raising a child with these two in the picture.
DR. BLEDSOE How does Jason feel about that?
Karen’s eyes fall, guiltily. He doesn’t know. KAREN
DR. BLEDSOE Well, I... I’m here to support whatever decision you make.
There’s a glint in the doctor’s eye. Dollar signs stretch to the horizon with the mess Karen’s about to make of her life.
DR. BLEDSOE (CONT’D) Oh, that reminds me...
She turns to her computer and calls up her calendar.
DR. BLEDSOE (CONT’D) ...I’m not going to be able to see you at our regular time next week. I’m off to a conference for 3 days, so I wondered if we could—
KAREN That won’t be necessary. I’m finished with this.
DR. BLEDSOE (looking at her) I’m sorry?
KAREN You told me to rewrite the ending. This is the new ending. I’m done.
DR. BLEDSOE Karen, I think that’s rather rash.
KAREN Well, it’s my soul. What I do with it is my business.
Nick was puzzled when he opened his laptop, the cursor blinking in the middle of his script. He found the new scene snuck in there amidst the others, most of them incomplete. But it worked. It pointed a way forward. He couldn’t wait for Katie to get back so he could thank her.
It was the best gift she could ever have given him.
The dinner he sweated to make from scratch (coconut-crusted cauliflower and popcorn chicken) was three hours cold before he realized just exactly what kind of gift it was.
Born and based in Toronto, P.D. Walter has also lived in Banff, Vancouver, and Saitama City, Japan. His 2016 novella‚ Adultescence‚ (reviewed in Broken Pencil #72) chronicles a young creative’s struggle to overcome his influences, while fighting off adulthood until it’s almost too late. For more info, see pdwalterbooks.com