Archive for control

The Parking Lot

The elevator doors opened and revealed Cheyenne standing in the hall outside Dr. F______ office.

“Ms. B______,” she said. “Welcome back. The doctor will see you now. Allow me.”

She stepped into the elevator, inserted a key and pressed one of the basement buttons. Once it lit up, she straightened herself and looked up at the progression of floors.

She was wearing a heather gray wool jacket and straight skirt. Her hair was pulled back in a severe bun. She did not look at me or address me beyond her initial instruction.

The elevator arrived at the specified floor after what felt like hours and when the doors opened, I turned to Cheyenne, who did not step forward. She motioned simply into the darkened parking lot with a hand.

I rolled my eyes and stepped out. As predicted, Cheyenne keyed the doors shut and disappeared in the silver tube, leaving me alone in the creepy basement place. I looked at my mobile phone. No reception. Of course not. I lit a cigarette and began to walk across.

There were few cars. Most of them were covered, but all of them were good looking cars. I know nothing about cars, but I do know about aesthetics and these cars were very visually appealing. I touched one with my fingers: dust. An old man’s abandoned toys–as depressing as a teddy bear lying on the side of the road.

I lifted one of the covers and looked at a gorgeous machine, the sort of thing in which a treacherous, villainous woman would have herself chauffeured, which I would later discover was a Bucciali TAV 12, of which only two are known to exist in the world, one in France and one in the United States. Right here. Somewhere under Los Angeles.

I took a long drag of my cigarette before crushing it under my heel and began to pull the cover off the car. Its body was black and square. I ran a hand over the red line that ran across its side and my eyes focused on the peculiar image of a silver bird with gold wings on the side near the grille.

A sudden burst of force suddenly knocked me into the car, the impact of which caused a series of alarms to go off around me. In a motion, my hands were behind my back and I was motionless, pressed against the long hood of the car, my face staring into the empty windshield of the Bucciali. My focus on the reflection of my assailant in the vague reflection of the dusty car prevented me from going into a panic.

I was so focused on it that I didn’t realize he’d tied my hands until I felt him working the rope around my fore-arms. I pressed my pelvis against the car, trying to manipulate myself out of his grasp.

Dr. F______ put one hand on my back and flattened me into the car again.

“Do you feel trapped?” he asked.

“No.” I responded.

He put a hand under my belly and flipped me over so I was looking up at him. He pushed up my skirt a bit and began to bind my thighs with a rope with such dexterity, I was unable to react in a way to prevent it.

“Do you feel trapped?” he asked.

“No!” I said, obstinately, though I could not move my limbs from the knees up.

He took me by the front of my coat and threw me to the ground.

“Do you feel trapped?” he asked once again, the alarms still echoing around us.

“You can tie me up all you like, Doctor,” I said with a smile. “But you can’t keep me.”

He knelt beside me. His face came close to mine.

“I can’t keep you,” he repeated. “And why is that?”

“Someone would notice. Your office is the last place on my planner. They would know it was you.”

“And who is they?”

“The police.”

“What if I don’t mean to keep you?” he asked me.

What is he going to do? I wondered, feeling my impertinence shrink and fear begin to take hold. What good was the police after the first forty eight hours? If he doesn’t mean to keep me–would he dispose of me?

In the dim light, Dr. F______ looked like the perfect serial killer. Well-kept, in black lambswool sweater rolled up almost to the elbow, showing impressively shaped forearms. The stuff of Bret Easton Ellis’s twisted mind.

F_____ looked down at me and smiled, it was almost a kind smile. Except, well, you know, he’d tackled me, tied me up and thrown me on the ground. F_______ nodded and then he placed a blindfold over my eyes.

Darkness. I don’t know how long I lay there. With the sound of alarms fading fast, the cold pavement smelled like the silence of the forgotten.

A movement suddenly pulled at my shirt and I felt the cold harden my nipples. I tried to sit up, but was met with the force of his sole.

Oh, my god.

In time, the weight of his foot disappeared, but I didn’t dare move and invite it back. I wondered whether rolling would give me enough time to get up. Just then, I felt something cold, I thought it was a hand but it rolled between my exposed tits and down my side and I realized it was water. No, not water, water doesn’t move up a breast and circle a nipple. Ice.

I hate cold. I wasn’t joking when I told him Russia’s winter sent me running. It’s one of my least favorite sensations. My teeth clattered from my shivering.

“Do you feel trapped?” F______ asked.

“Yes!” I screamed. “Yes, I’m trapped! I’m trapped.”

“Do you think saying that will compel me to untie you?”

“No, but can you at least cover me?”

“Why would you like to be covered?”

“Because I’m cold,” I said. “Please.”

“You need to be cold right now.”

“Why?” I demanded.

“Because that’s what I want,” he responded. “From now on, we’re going to do what I want.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“What I want is for you to be cold and be still. Do not move until I give you express permission to do so.”

There was a pause, then the sound of footsteps fading away and finally the ding of an elevator and the swoosh of doors opening and closing.

Silence. Cold. I lay still for a long time. My lower back, which was resting on my bound elbows, screamed with pain. I couldn’t feel my elbows or arms. Every once in a while, a fit of shivers would send pain shooting up and down my arms.

Finally, when the silence convinced me no one else was there, I rolled on my side. Immediately, all the pain in my arms that had been numbed by the lack of circulation made itself felt. I winced and bit my lip, afraid to make any sound.

I shimmied, my face to the ground, trying to loosen the fabric around my face. Finally, it began to slip until it was around my nose. I looked around for him. He wasn’t there. He’d literally left me in the middle of the parking garage. Still on my side, I pulled my knees up and began to gnaw on the knot F______ had made. If I could free my thighs, I would better able to move, perhaps find an object against which to loosen the ropes holding my arms.

It’s amazing. The instinct that propels flight in creatures shoots such incredible quantities of adrenaline into the body that suddenly, every physical concern fades. No pain, no fear, no system of analysis. All I could think about was escaping.

I was at that rope forever, finally, it began to loosen. I wasn’t able to fully untie it, but with it loose, I managed somehow to slip a leg out of it. Getting up, I shook the rope off the other leg. I looked around. Not a sign of him. Not a sign of anything to help me remove the rope holding my arms. And certainly not any kind of fire escape.

Is that even legal? Shouldn’t every building have one?

I knew it was pointless, but I still ran to the elevator and tried to call it down. At first I thought I wasn’t pushing hard enough–hard to do with my hands tied, and certainly when I can’t quite tell after having turned around where the button is. Then I noticed the card slot. Of course. You need an access key.

So I’m stuck in a basement, tied up, by myself either with a psycho or a brilliant therapist.

Is it naive that I want to believe this is some brilliant form of therapy, of illustrating what it means to have no control?

The elevator made a ding and I jumped, my heart pounding like a chariot without a charioteer against my ribs. I quickly turned around and flattened myself against the wall.

I felt the swoosh zip through my body as the elevator doors opened. F______ stepped out and took a couple of large steps forward before he paused to pan the room.

I quietly inched along the wall and began to back into the elevator.

One of my coat buttons hit the mirror when I pressed against the inside of the elevator. I held my breath, but after a couple of quick steps, a hand landed heavily on the doors, causing them to open completely.

F______ peered in. He had a look of mild amusement on his face.

“I was hoping you would be a good girl and do as you were told,” he said to me. “But I was also hoping you would misbehave so I could show you what happens when you don’t do what I tell you.”

The doctor reached into the elevator, took me by the hair and dragged me back to the parking lot, where he threw me face-down on the dusty hood of a Bentley.

Holding me in place with his own body, he pulled up my skirt until it was around my waist. When he pulled a way, a hand remained tangled in my hair, holding my face down. What was he going to do?

Slap! A palm landed evenly on my ass. I couldn’t believe it. Was he spanking me? Slap! came the answer. Yes. Slap! He hit me hard, each sting searing through my body. He hit one cheek, then the other, then alternated again. I began to feel raw.

“Do you want me to stop?” he asked me.

I didn’t know what to say. If I said yes, would he stop?

He slapped me again.

“When I speak to you, you will respond. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I responded.

“Do you want me to stop?”

“No,” I said.

He paused.

“You want me to keep going?”

“Yes.”

“Spread your legs.”

“What?”

“Do it.”

I spread my legs slowly.

SLAP! His hand landed square on my pussy.

“OW!” I screamed, closing my legs.

F______ pressed down on me again, crushing my arms into my back. I could feel his hot breath against my neck as his free hand battled with my legs to push them apart. I fought him. I fought him with my hips. I fought him with the strength of my ass cheeks and thighs. But he got through.

And when he did, he found I was soaking wet.

There was a pause in his movements. Finally, a breath escaped his lips and rushed against my neck.

“Do you like this?” he asked me, in a different tone.

“I–I don’t know,” I confessed.

He said nothing, then rose. My arms were pulled this way and that as he untied the rope. When he was done, he turned me around so I was on my back. We looked at each other in uncomfortable silence.

I’m not really embarrassed by anything but this, somehow, was a bit mortifying. The man had been abusing me, teaching me what it was like to have no control and instead of understanding my situation and giving in to terror and impending death, I’d become aroused.

I’d ruined my therapy. Again. Fine. Whatever. It had its benefits.

“Fuck me,” I said looking directly into Dr. F______’s green eyes.

He simply stared.

Taking his sweater with a hand and pulling myself up so my face was inches from his, I looked at his lips before looking into his eyes and repeated, “Fuck. Me.”

He brought a hand to mine and I released my hold on his sweater. I could smell myself on his fingers. I brought his hand to my mouth.

I sucked his fingers, one by one and he watched, with no expression. Finally, when I had finished, I released his hand and he bent to pick up my purse from where it had slid during the first struggle and handed it to me.

“Cheyenne will contact you in regard to a next appointment once I review the conclusions reached today,” he said simply.

I dropped my purse on the ground and looked at him.

“What, that’s it?” I asked. “You assault me, you tie me up, you spank me, you feel my cunt and then you send me home?”

“It is enough for today.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “It is not enough. It is not even close to enough.”

I pulled him to me by his belt. He took both of my hands in one of his and looking at me with a small smile, asked, “do I need to tie you up to take you out of here?”

I sighed and pushed my skirt down. Three of my buttons were missing, so it was impossible to button up my blouse. I removed the blindfold, which was now around my neck, and buttoned my coat over my torn blouse. I pulled a clip from my purse and pinned my hair up.

If I had been a little mortified before, now, I wanted to die. As I followed him into the elevator, I began to freak out. Who the hell asks her therapist to fuck her? What’s wrong with me?

He said he’s going to “review the conclusions reached today”–what does that even mean? Is he going to have me committed? I hope at least he medicates me something decent.

We don’t exchange a word on the way up. In the lobby, he gives me a nod as I exit and that’s that.

When I look at my phone, I realize I’ve been “in therapy” for four and a half hours.

The End

“So what happened?” F______ asked me.

We were in his office this time. In free-associating about the events on the mountain, I confessed I’d been reminded of Eric and told him about it.

“It ended,” I said.

“How?”

+++

“Meet me in front of your building at eleven o’clock on Friday night,” Eric’d said, so there I was some twenty minutes early. He was early, too. We regarded each other in silence. He looked almost as good behind the wheel as I did on the street corner.

I got in the car. We drove off toward the coast.

“I have something for you,” he said, pulling over at a park.

He walked out of the car, opened my door and lead me out. We begun crossing the park. I was wearing seven inch stilettos that are getting positively destroyed in the wet grass, but I didn’t say a thing. I knew better now. I was his slave.

In the middle of the park, where the lights were brightest, he asked me to turn around. I did and felt the chill of the night as he lifted up the silk dress to my chest. I waited for his hands to pull my hips into him, but they didn’t. Instead, he tied a black rope around my waist and then between my legs, pulling so tightly it hurt.

“Every time you feel that pull tonight, think of all the things I am going to do to you later,” he told me. He led me to the car.

The party was a black tie event thrown by one of the editors of a magazine I occasionally wrote for back then. Everyone in the art world and downtown scene was there. When my editor saw me, he demanded to have my photograph taken.

Eric stood back and I was led away to the waterfalls and posed alongside models and artists, the freaks and creatures that once made up my world. It was bizarre to expose Eric to this reality.

When I return to him, he had a drink for me. We drank and talked as we walked the length of the veranda. There were suds and rose petals in the pool and bubbles in the air. They were screening the movie Romeo + Juliet on the waterfall.

Every time someone saw me, it was “hello darling, hello.” It made me apprehensive to show him this, not because I was bringing him into my life in a very public way, but because it showed that I existed outside of him. I didn’t want to exist outside of him.

But Eric was amused by my world, this silly circus of fun and games. He listened, watched, breathed in every introduction as though they were mice I was bringing him and lining up outside the screen door.

“I thought you were serious,” he told me.

“What do you mean?”

“When you talked about becoming a historian and unraveling the story of humanity. But you’re just a party girl riding daddy’s money through a party.”

“Isn’t this humanity?” I asked him. “It’s people like you, with your stuffy definitions of what constitutes history that I want to tear apart. An invitation can tell you as much about a social group as a newspaper, if not more. Most business deals are not made in offices, they’re made in saunas and golf courses. History is as much about great wars and technological advancement as it is about parties, fashion and a culture’s fixations and sexual desires.”

He pulled me to him and kissed me.

I led him out of the hotel and, before we turned the corner, I pulled him into an alley, between two dumpsters and drew his face to mine.

The heat of decaying matter, the smell of the street, the stench of filth were juxtaposed with the scent of his body as I pulled his pants down and knelt in front of him, swallowing his whole cock in my mouth with the hunger of a titan and the eagerness of a whore. He took a handful of my hair in his hand and moved my head back and forth over the length of his dick until I could feel it pulsating it in my throat.

I pulled away from him and turned around, lifting my dress and putting his cock at the warm wetness of my cunt. I didn’t stifle my moans as he plunged into me, nor my screams as the rope cut into me, nor did I hide from the crowds of people walking in and out of the party. They were just ornament. I was Eric’s.

In the car, I slipped out of my dress straps and pulled it over my head. We drove in silence, shivers shaking my naked body as I smoked out the window.

“It felt like you were seducing me, like I was out of control,” he said.

“No,” I replied, my gaze fixing on my reflection in the rear-view mirror. “I only did what I thought you would have wanted me to do.”

We passed a checkpoint and when they were behind us, I dove into his lap, my hands undoing his pants and pulling him into my mouth. I could feel the car slow and then pick up speed again, the velocity rising and rising until the open windows created a whirlwind in my hair. I was sucking him in and pushing him up with every muscle of my throat, licking around the head of his dick, down the frenulum, tasting the warmth of his inner thighs, the smoothness of his lower abdomen.

I stopped when we pulled into his house. Without a word we left the car and entered. Inside, he stretched me out on his bed and tied me spread-eagle, face-down. He whipped me. He pulled my hair and cut a lock from just over the nape of my neck. He whipped me again. He paused and disappeared for a moment. I heard the sound of a lighter and thought for a moment that he was smoking a cigarette but then I smelled the burning hair. He traced the flaming tress over the welts that had started to form on my back and thighs.

At the touch of fire, everything began to soften with light. The room started to fade to white.

He continued to punish me, turning my back purple and red with every stroke of leather, but I didn’t submit to him. I wanted to fight him, I wanted him to overtake me, to punish me for not submitting myself to him completely in heart.

And so he punished me, he punished me until I couldn’t breathe and then he partially untied me and left me curled in solitude.

When he came back, he took a handful of my hair and drove His cock into my throat. I sucked his dick, in penitence. He released me and pushes me on my back and plunged his cock into my cunt, fucking me in quick strokes. I wanted him to split me, to break me, I wanted my pain to contort my face and become his pleasure as my body made way for him.

But he was gentle with me, he kissed my neck, my lips, told me he liked my pussy. I was pleased he enjoyed me, but I was crushed to know that inside me, there was a place that not his whip nor hand nor cock would never reach.

“He was my master,” I said to Dr. F______. “But he was not master of me. He could never break me.”

“And you wanted to be ‘broken.'”

“Yes. And as I thought this, I remember Eric looked into my eyes and told me I was his. But I wasn’t. I told him I was leaving him. When I come back like an impulsive child the next morning, he screamed at me but he never punished me again. The power had shifted. After that moment, he belonged to me. Eventually, he asked me to marry him. I said yes.”

“What do you mean when you say that you wanted to be broken?” F______ asked.

“I wanted him to be my god, something greater than myself, something for whom I could sacrifice everything. I wanted to be made selfless, faithful and entirely devoted.”

“Why?”

I paused.

“I don’t know,” I said finally.

“You said earlier you were always in control and being in danger made you feel out of control. Do you think being in a relationship where you are possessed entirely is similar to this?”

“I was young. I thought a lot of things,” I said to F______.

“And now you don’t.”

“Difficult situations may befall you, but your reaction is always in your control. As for being broken, I don’t know that I can be.”

The Escapologist

“Who do you want to be?” my therapist asked me, taking a seat once again behind his desk, over which hung a Picasso from his cubist period, in appropriate juxtaposition to the classical tone of the rest of the room, though the monochromatic coloring of the work lent itself fine to the rich woods in the room.

“Who is someone,” he clarified, “that you want to be?”

“I don’t want to be like anybody.” I responded.

“I never said like. You said like.” He paused for a moment. “Who is someone you want to be?”

“You ask very hard questions, Doctor.”

“How does that make you feel?”

“Curious.”

“About what?”

“Myself.”

“What about yourself?”

“It’s curious that I would not be able to answer such a simple question.”

“How do you know it’s a simple question?”

“Because a creature should easily know what it’s looking for. We are created to seek out what we want and move away from what we don’t want. And yet in modernity we put ourselves in situations and things and… I want to be a person who knows what she wants.”

“And what’s the benefit?”

“Of knowing what she wants? She can seek. And isn’t that what life is supposed to be? It’s not fulfillment, it’s fulfilling. Fulfillment is not necessarily important.”

“Elaborate.”

“It’s not the thing, it’s the getting of the thing.”

“I see.”

“I love this country, I mean, it’s written into its very code: the pursuit of happiness. It’s not happiness. It’s the pursuit of it.”

He laughed, “it puts you very, very in line with the Protestant work ethic.”

“Mmm,” I said, savoring the notion of work ethic. “I suppose so. And the Prosperity Gospel certainly appeals to me on a very selfish level as well.”

“Is that something specific or something general?”

“It’s very specific to Protestantism, to American Protestantism. Only in such an outrageously capitalistic society could anybody think that they are doing well and have a lot of money because God wants them to.”

He chuckled. “Convenient, isn’t it?”

“Absolutely.”

“When you’re curious about why you can’t answer that question, what’s your next view, what does curious make you do?” asked the doctor, getting back on topic.

“I had a brief imagining—I went back to what you said about being like someone. Suddenly I had a picture of Antonio Pigafetta in my head—this is the scribe that was on one of Magellan’s ships when he set off to circumnavigate the world. His journal is what became the classic book, The Voyage of Magellan. I want to be Pigafetta.”

“And who is Pigafetta?”

“He is the one who looks at the world constantly, wide-eyed. He’s always surprised, he’s always discovering, he’s always moving. Who is he? It doesn’t matter. The fact that he was a scribe is not important. The fact that he wrote about what he saw later is not important. The only reason it matters is that if he hadn’t, we wouldn’t know about him.”

“You wouldn’t know about him.”

“All right. I wouldn’t know about him. But I meant posterity wouldn’t know about him.”

“Who is posterity?”

“The people that come after.”

The doctor laughed, loudly, fully.

“Do you find this asinine line of questioning amusing?” I demanded, mildly annoyed.

“I do, a bit,” he responded, in no hurry to contain himself.

“I don’t know whether laughing at patients is a terrible therapeutic technique or a brilliant one,” I said.

“Unconventional,” he said, growing serious again. “You have an idea, you have a concept, of Pigafetta. When was the first time you heard about Pigafetta?”

“I was seventeen. I was seventeen and I was in the office of one of my professors. And he had this book. A really old book, an early edition.”

“Like maybe one hundred, two hundred years old?”

“Possibly, yes. I could see. I have it now.”

“Did you steal it?” the doctor queried.

“No,” I replied indignant. “He gave it to me.”

“A nice gift.”

“It all started with Columbus earlier in class, we were having a discussion about Columbus, about the great failure that is Columbus. He never found El Dorado–he instead found Hispaniola which had absolutely nothing to offer and eventually lead to his disgrace. But I always rather liked him, Columbus, I thought there was something particularly fearless about him.”

Some would say reckless. Some would say he had no conscience. History is an interpretation.

“And you expressed this to your professor,” Dr. F_____ said.

“Yes. And so the book. The book. He said, ‘do you know Magellan?’ and I said, ‘yes, he was the first man to circumnavigate the world.’ But he wasn’t, that was Cook. Magellan died. His boat got back, but he did not. Stupid technicality people get tangled in. And he asked me whether I read the actual narrative of the voyage and I had not. At the time I was reading some other book, I think it was Luis Claude de Freycinet’s notes. He was another explorer and his wife was actually on his boat and of course this was scandalizing to everybody, but her letters are in the volume and I love them best of all because nobody can write the way a woman can write.”

I stopped to remember Rose de Freycinet’s account, unconcerned with definition, free of the need to be right to which Pigafetta fettered himself. The twenty-two year old Frenchwoman had a responsibility only to the moment. She was, perhaps, the first gonzo journalist.

“My professor noted this obsession with the explorers,” I went on. “And so the book.”

“If you could describe the persona of the professor, how would you describe it?”

“Friendly, funny, charming, outgoing.”

“Mmm,” Dr. F_____ said, pausing briefly. “And would you say he was a pivotal mentor, did he make an impact?”

“No, I wouldn’t say he was, no. He was just somebody that I had to meet.” My voice trailed off. I’d become fixated with a pendulum on his desk.

“Have you ever noticed how you can be different around different people?” he asked me.

“Yes.”

“As you go into relationships with some person, their present totality of behavior and beliefs has an effect on who you are.”

“Absolutely.”

“So who were you? This is easier to do, this is removed. How would you try to go about answering this question if we limited it to those few months in that class some number of years ago? Could you answer that question if we limited it to a time in the past, if we could remove ourselves?”

“If you were to say ‘who were you to that person,’ it would be much easier than ‘who were you,’ because, as you say, everyone and everything influences who we are. I suppose in that sense there have always been multiple realities, though in me they always sought unification. Or else they were unrestrained, like watercolors, spreading all over each other.”

He said nothing.

“Let’s see,” I went on. “She had just arrived from a great trip. She’d had a dream that Leo Tolstoy told her that the shoulders of the women in Russia were the most beautiful shoulders in the world. So she had to find out.”

“What did she find?”

“She found that that’s not the only part of the Russian woman that’s beautiful.”

“That was the impetus for the travel?”

“No, it’s actually a bit of a tradition in my family, when you turn seventeen you’re cast out into the world to see whether you’re worthy of having resources invested in you. You have certain goals and you go out and you are given certain things and restricted certain things and you have to make it work to prove yourself.”

“That’s interesting. So this is a family tradition of coming of age by way of world travel.”

“It’s not about traveling, it’s about assimilation, showing you can become. It’s about going somewhere you don’t know and making it yours.”

“You were successful.”

“Russia was the only place up to that point that I felt at home.”

“What does that feel like?”

“Everything makes sense. As a Third Culture Kid—this is a concept in sociology that applies to people who don’t grow up in any one culture, people who spend a significant amount of their lives in a culture other than their original culture. This causes a sense of homelessness. They become increasingly preoccupied as they age with the idea of home and belonging because they will never belong to their home culture or their surrogate culture or cultures. They are, essentially, a combination of these things, so there is always a sense of lacking, of being marginal. So to go to a place where things that are so ingrained in culture—like humor and custom—and have it make sense is mind-blowing. I didn’t speak much Russian when I arrived and yet the language fit, it made sense to me. It clicked, it followed. Even something as superficial as walking down the street and not looking different than anybody else, it was incredible. For the first time in my life I was just another face in the crowd. It was glorious.”

“And yet it wasn’t enough to cause you to transplant.”

This man is good. Right back to one. The pursuit. If you have found home, what is there to look for? Fault in that home, of course, so you can keep looking for a home. And what was wrong with Russia?

“The winter. That winter kills.” I paused. “So that’s who she was. She was realizing she could perhaps be someone with a home.”

“She could perhaps be someone with a home,” he repeated. “She obviously had a family.”

“She has a family. But family is not home. Particularly a family that’s as much a tumbleweed as she is. She doesn’t have a concept of a childhood home. Homes are just properties.”

“Do you feel you missed something?”

“Well, the way a lot of kids grow up looking out the window thinking, ‘one day I’ll see the world,’ is a way Third Culture Kids grow up looking at the house across the street thinking, ‘one day I’ll come home.’ Never mind that there is no home to speak of. You know what I envy? And this is ridiculous—I went to this little place in the middle of nowhere and this girl I met, she was born there, she went to school there, she worked there, she was never going to leave that place. It was fine. She had this tiny little house and this rink-a-dink car and she knew everybody and everything about that God-forsaken town. I have never been more jealous of anyone or anything in my entire life.”

“You were jealous.”

“Incredibly.”

“Obviously home is a strong desire.”

“But it’s not. Simultaneously it causes the most intense claustrophobia. Quod me nutrit me destruit, what nourishes me will destroy me. It’s like a compulsion as toward fire that will inevitably kill you. I feel I want the belonging, but the belonging makes me claustrophobic, it’s insane. I need to be perpetually in motion.”

“It’s uncomfortable, claustrophobia. It’s a feeling of being trapped. There is a degree of helplessness involved in that.”

“In being trapped?”

“Yes, in being out of control.”

“But it is in my control. I’m the one that’s holding myself there.”

“What happens if you found yourself in a spot that was not of your design?”

“Do you think that exists?” I demanded of him. “Do you really think that that exists?”

He said nothing.

Immediately, I was ashamed of the blatant ignorance of my comment, which suddenly and increasingly felt like the 21st century’s equivalent of Marie Antoinette’s fabled, “let them eat cake.” I blushed furiously and quickly added, “Aside from terrible situations such as modern slavery and unjust incarceration, that is.”

“You have not experienced real tyranny in your life,” Dr. F_____ stated flatly.

“No,” I responded quietly. “Never.”

“As a result, you don’t know what it’s like to not be in control.”

I looked down. “No.”

“This is along the lines of where we should be,” the doctor said and, looking at the large, elaborate sandglass on the far end of his desk, added, “this is where we end today.”

“There’s still sand there,” I noted.

“That’s for you to find your way out,” he responded, without rising from his desk.

“OK, then,” I said under my breath, swinging my legs down from the couch and rising. “Same time next week?”

“Cheyenne will call you with your next appointment.”

“Am I making an appointment with you or are you making an appointment with me?”

“I’m not making an appointment, Zita. I’m letting you know when to come.”

I looked at the sand slipping down the glass on his desk. Imagine I overstayed? What would happen?

I looked at Dr. F_____ again. His eyes were cold. His voice had the peculiar quality of opening you up and inviting you in as well as pushing you back and closing you off.

The room, which was shaped like an L, positioned the glass tank immediately before the doctor’s desk and the daybed on the adjacent wall. Down two stairs was a small sitting room with ottomans and tables pushed against the bookcases that lined almost every inch of wall space and beyond that, at the tip of the L was a dormant fireplace over which reigned a Duchamp. The Transition of Virgin into a Bride, I happened to know, from an old coffee table book at my dental hygienist’s.

I walked to it and touched its frame. Solid. I bent and looked in the fireplace. I couldn’t see anything. Kneeling, I crawled deeper into it to inspect it. No real chimney to speak of. Of course not: this isn’t Vienna. It’s California.

I backed out and rose, pivoting in place.

“Look, doctor—” I started and immediately stopped when I found him directly before me.

He was taller than I had expected and built larger than he had appeared behind the massive desk.

He smelled like—

“Zita.”

“Yes?”

“Why don’t you go out the same way you came in?”

“Because the beginning is never like the ending,” I responded.

“Why not?”

“Because life doesn’t make sense.”

“Do you feel trapped, Zita?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because there is always a way out.”

“How do you know?”

“Because there was a way in.”

“But the way out is not the way in.”

“No,” I moved past him, toward the long wall of books across the room, the same wall that housed the Picasso over his desk.

The ottomans and tables were pushed against the other walls but not this one, not on this side. I scanned the titles, feeling under shelves and pulling on books.

Finally, a book refused to give. I looked at the title. Bukowski’s 55 Beds In The Same Direction. I pulled it harder. Nothing. I pushed it in. There was a click, then the furthest section of the bookcase opened. It gave way easily, as though it were a door.

I turned and looked toward Dr. F_____ triumphantly.

He was no longer watching.

With one last glance at the sandglass on his desk, its grains bleeding down faster and faster, I stepped out and found myself at the other end of the hall from that which had led me to the waiting room.

I walked to the elevator and pushed the button without once looking back.

When it arrived, I walked in and didn’t turn around until I’d heard its doors close behind me.