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  • keliciahollis

Open Flame

Listen to this piece in episode 12 of the podcast. *It is also published in A Year in Ink Volume 15 issued by San Diego Writer's Inc.

She lit the candle. The smoke rose, sliding through the air like an ocean current.

“What brings you here today… Rebecca?” Catia had paused, looking at her intake form as if the woman’s name wasn’t already etched into her mind.

“I was referred here,” Rebecca said. “I’m suffering from insomnia.”

“Really?” Catia mused, not bothering to write nary a note on her notepad.

“Right,” Rebecca continued, “but I think all I need are the sleeping pills my doctor prescribed. I’m not sure why I need counseling.”

Catia knew exactly why the woman needed counseling. It was serendipity that Catia had recognized the woman sitting in the waiting room from the Facebook page she’d stalked. From there it was simple enough. Talk to the woman’s primary and offer that if she needed counseling of any sort, Catia was happy to meet with her.

“You were referred here to discuss the root of what has you up at night. Talking about your life can prove very therapeutic,” Catia responded, lifting the corners of her mouth just a bit. The smile was brief. The desire was to be warm, inviting even. Disarming for certain.

This Rebecca was slender and young. Twenty-eight looked better on Catia in her own opinion, but that was 20 years ago. Still, Rebecca’s super model legs had Catia beat. And those silicone-filled breasts bubbling up every time the girl cleared her throat. And so sweet and proper she was. No wonder John was sleeping with her.

“Money issues, I guess,” the young woman said, “but I have a plan to fix that."

Catia perked up, crossing her legs and leaning toward Rebecca. “A job? An inheritance? A lover?” She spat out the last option, daring the woman to say more.

“A job actually,” Rebecca began, “I’m taking a modeling contract in Spain.”

Catia’s eyebrows shot up. So she’s dumping John? Exactly what he deserves that arrogant sack of bones. She nodded approvingly. “Very nice. Spain is lovely this time of year.”

“That’s what my boyfriend said!” Rebecca flashed a smile only an orthodontist could have provided. Catia would have loved to see the girl brace-faced and acne-pocked.

“Boyfriend?” Catia challenged. “Is he as young and beautiful and spontaneous as you?” Her tone lightened here, hoping to lull the girl with forced flattery.

Rebecca chuckled and those breasts bounced as if on pogo-sticks. “He’s quite older actually, but handsome and incredibly spontaneous—he flew me out to Barcelona a few weeks ago.”

Catia’s stomach hurled, but the middle-aged woman swallowed hard. “Lovely,” she hiccupped. He’d said he had business overseas. Of course he had to say that because I’d have noticed the missing passport. John said he was needed in his company’s London office for a week. Catia knew something was wrong when he came back with a tan.

“Lovely indeed! And now that we’re moving it’ll be a vacation every day!” Rebecca chimed.

Catia gasped, mouth gaping like unzipped trousers. “That’s fantastic!” she lied. “Sounds like your solution is a lover, not a job.” She meant to sound like a teasing best friend, but hurled the words at the young woman like shoveled dirt for a grave.

“I’d taken the job with or without him,” Rebecca retorted. “And I didn’t let him help with my money issues back home. I can pay my own debts, but I can’t help that he spoils me.” The voice was a plea. She wanted Catia to understand her decisions as if she was a young child pleading with her mother. Indeed, Catia was old enough to be the girl’s mother. And John? He could have been her grandfather.

Catia shook her head slowly, staring blindly at Rebecca. “And how long is the contract?” she asked. Her voice was low and belabored. Maybe this was a short-term thing. He would claim he had a 12-week special project out in London. John would have reasoned with himself that he had to invite Catia out for at least a week to appease her—meeting her in London as if he’d been there all along.

“Indefinite,” Rebecca remarked with shrugged shoulders. “John, that’s my boyfriend,” she added for unnecessary clarity, “—he’ll keep his house in Maine because I love it there, but he’s building me my own ‘casita’—a cute two-story villa right outside of the city.”

That was her limit. He’d taken his granddaughter-girlfriend up to their log cabin in Maine. The place he’d built for her. And when? When is he planning to tell me that he’s leaving?

Rebecca squinted her eyes as she surveyed the woman across from her who was slowly slumping with those grays growing in and those frown lines fanning out. “Doctor Catia, are you okay? You look ill,” she proffered.

Catia managed to sit back up straight. There were 45 minutes left, but this session was over. “Right,” she said breathlessly. She managed to stand to her feet and stumbled her way back to her desk. “You’re right, I am ill.”

“Oh no!” Rebecca cooed. “I could reschedule with your receptionist—but really, I don’t think it’ll be necessary.” Rebecca was standing up now, too. “I’ll just ask my doctor for the sleeping pill prescription and be on my way. Hope you feel better!” She waved before turning to leave, her arm bumping into those boobies, sending them swinging side to side like Newton’s pendulum.

Catia nodded, waving limply with her right hand as she steadied herself in her desk chair with her left. The door shut and she covered her face with both hands. John had never laid one finger on her, but he’d just knocked the wind out of her, nevertheless. That bastard. Uncovering her face, she extended her right hand and pinched the candle flame out with her thumb and forefinger before covering her face with both hands again. The sobs came fast and heavy as the candle smoke billowed up, sliding once more like a current into the air.


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