Golden Opportunity on Thin Ice
by Fred Redekop
“It will never be possible to avoid little laboratory explosions...”
It was Sunday at the Bookmill Café, and Mike, its proprietor and my best friend, was listening. I asked my question. “How about if I called Glynis outside of our supervision, and asked what her response would be if I had fallen—hypothetically—love with her?”
“Sounds romantic,” Mike said.
“Call your licensing board.”
“I’m asking you.”
“Listen to yourself,” Mike said. “Just listen to yourself.”
Was sex with my supervisee worth it? To even ask the question meant stepping away a certain distance from reality. Talking to Mike wasn’t going to make me come back. It was a safe way to prolong the choice, review the titillating details, search for loopholes. Calling my licensing board would be coming back to reality. Talking with Demeter would be coming back to reality.
Mike thought I was nuts to consider telling my wife. “I couldn’t tell mine,” Mike said. “She’d find that offensive.”
I was intrigued. “She’d rather you do it and not talk about it with her than talk with her and not do it?”
“She’d tell me to be a man and make a decision.”
“Your wife scares me.”
“It’s very interesting,” Mike said.
“She wears these short wool skirts, man.”
“I mean you and Demeter. When you said you’ve given up trying to change her.”
I didn’t want to talk about my wife. I wanted to talk about extramarital sex with a tall, sexually desirable young woman. “Did I tell you about the skirts she wears?”
“There’s always sublimation,” Mike said.
“Screw sublimation,” I said. “This is a golden opportunity.”
“That’s the right idea. Screw sublimation.” He went up to the register to take care of a customer.
Sometimes Mike and I talk about how the world would have developed if everything had been the same except for one variable. Since I have to deal with the invisible mind all day, I pick concrete things to vary: what would it have been like if the world was covered in fog? What if you climbed a mountain, turned around, and saw—nothing? “Remember the ice storm last year?” I said, when he sat down. “Like that. Couldn’t go out except with crampons or hockey skates. A thin layer of ice covering everything. People slipping into each other and holding on for dear life. Hot cocoa. An endless weekend at a ski lodge in front of a fire.”
“Frozen fires? Frozen hot cocoa? I’m having a hard time picturing it.”
“I can picture Glynis in an ice-skating skirt with a fur collar and a muff.”
“Skating on thin ice,” Mike said. “With your golden opportunity.”
I looked around Mike’s café. An older white Rastafarian was talking to a couple about re-roofing their barn in exchange for letting him sleep in it. A trio of white-haired ladies was passing around a piece of key lime pie; a mother was staring at her moody teenage son with totally frustrated love. “Jealousy, isn’t it?”
Mike leaned forward. “Part of me envies you. This much,” he continued, showing me a tiny space between thumb and finger. “Mostly I pity the hell out of you.”
Demeter came in an hour later with our daughter, Jade, in tow. We argued about whose fault it was that our heating oil ran out and took turns scolding Jade for interrupting. Mike took Jade back to the children’s section to give us some time together, but it didn’t help, we kept arguing. We went home and the feral cat that Demeter had trapped in the woods behind our house escaped from its cage and urinated on the carpet. Home sweet home.
I saw Glynis on Tuesday after my last client. At the Bookmill. She wore a short dress and her legs looked like long-stemmed flowers. She went up to the café counter and came back with a cinnamon bun and an almond croissant. She smiled. “I don’t have an eating disorder, I’m just greedy.” I watched her eat them both and lick her fingers. We were sitting in a cozy alcove, our knees touching from time to time. The sun was shining through the windows and the café was warm as the womb. I was lying piece of shit. This wasn’t supervision, this was a date.
“E.G. has fallen in love with me.”
“No sex with patients!” It came out harsh. “Not that you are contemplating it. But a crush can turn into something much more difficult to control, and it’s best to deal with it right away.”
“Of course, Dr. Paris,” she said contritely.
I wanted to see her fight back, show some spunk. I was convinced her meek response came out of her childhood, from her helplessness in the face of her uncle and what he did to her. Which was where my reaction came in, because when she looked vulnerable, I had the overwhelming urge to comfort her. “You are a very attractive woman,” I said. “You’ll have to learn how to deal with this sort of thing, because it’s going to happen to you a lot.”
She blushed. “He isn’t stalking me or anything. Maybe I’m the one with the crush. He’s extremely handsome. I may be making it all up about Eric. I mean E.G.”
“What was his diagnosis again?” I asked, stalling.
“Adjustment disorder. His girlfriend left him. I don’t feel attractive.”
I clamped my teeth together. We had been here before, and it wasn’t something that we really needed to go over again. We had discussed how abuse victims often have distorted views of themselves; I also had said that our supervision shouldn’t focus on issues that would be best dealt with in individual therapy. “He thinks Sandra Bullock is sexy,” she said. “I’m nothing like her. Do you think I look like Sandra Bullock?”
“My daughter’s in love with her. My wife told my daughter she’s from China and has a different kind of body, but Jade yelled that she was going to look like Sandra Bullock and we couldn’t stop her.”
Glynis laughed. “I’ve got that different kind of body too. My sister and I used to come home after school and go into my bedroom to see if our breasts had grown at all. We pretended to send away for them. We joke that we’re still waiting for the mailman to deliver.”
Oh my God, I thought. How in the world did we end up here? “Physical attributes aren’t what make a woman a woman.”
“So if the package never came, I’m still a woman?” she teased.
“Let’s get back to your cases.” The stricken look that came to her face tempted me into a process statement. “Do you feel reprimanded?”
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“No no,” I said. “That’s not what I meant. You’re fine.”
“I’m still sorry.”
Mike looked over from the self-help section. I mouthed, More coffee, but he ignored me. I usually like to talk about talking. Process discussions aren’t as slippery as people think, you just need the right equipment and the right technique. If you know how, you can bite into the surface with a hard edge and it can be exhilarating. But having this kind of discussion with Glynis made me feel like I was skidding around in my socks. “I’d hate you going along with me just because I’ve got this authority over you. Do you understand?”
“You’re nothing like my uncle,” she said. She half-rose and smoothed her dress underneath her. “So I shouldn’t give Eric my number?”
“You’re his therapist. If you really think you like him, refer him to somebody else. And then wait a minimum of two years.”
“I’m more into older men, anyway,” Glynis said. She sighed. “I probably shouldn’t be a therapist if I’m just going to fall in love with patients.”
Usually it would be time for the “Wounded Healer” speech that I gave to my other supervisees, but I knew that I’d begin talking about my own history, and that would be a huge mistake. I didn’t want to start talking about my feelings with Glynis.
The door opened and two young women came in. The Bookmill usually doesn’t get many university students, but once in a while a few stray in. One of the students had a down vest and down booties, and the other wore a pair of low riders. They had loud, fresh voices, a certain confident tone some young women have before they experience a near-rape in an alley behind a bar or get married to a man who locks them in the bedroom when he goes out. The kind of voices I don’t hear too often in my line of work.
The young women talked loudly, and Glynis and I couldn’t help but overhear. At first it made no sense, but eventually it became clear what they were talking about. A friend of theirs had come up with a game: she went to the library and picked out her favorite books. On the first page of the first book, she put down a letter and a number, and on the first page of the second, another letter and number; put all together, they formed her name and phone number.
“You couldn’t make it books nobody heard of.”
“But if they were too common, you’d get somebody ordinary.”
They agreed that the only possible way it could work was if your soul mate was meant to find you. Then you’d have a romantic story to tell to your children and great grandchildren and whenever you had problems with your marriage all you had to do was think about how you met and things would work out again. They sat for a few moments, enraptured, before the spell was broken by a cell phone call.
“Peter Paris. Ten books. You’d have to include the area code,” Glynis said.
“That’d be too many, even for a soul mate.”
“There’s always cheating,” she said.
When I got my breath back, I asked if we could return to her cases. She nodded, as if that was what we’d been doing all along.
That night I told Demeter everything. She began to cry, and when I hugged her, she didn’t resist. “Go ahead. It’s okay.”
It wasn’t. “Making love to a crying woman is like scuba diving under ice. It can be done, but...”
“But what?” she said, sniffling and laughing a little.
“It’s dangerous. People die doing it.”
We lay on the bed, fully clothed, and after a while the feral cat appeared out of nowhere and jumped up on the bed. It walked up my body and stepped on my head and settled on the pillow. It purred so loudly that I didn’t hear Jade come in; she wedged herself between her mother and me. “This is sublime,” I whispered, when I was the only one awake.
At graduation when Glynis threw her cap in the air, I—not the proud father but the bridesmaid—caught it. Her kiss burned my lips for months.
I’m a romantic. I went to the university psychology library and picked my favorite books. When I told Mike about it, he said it sounded like the wildcat is still peeing in the basement. I’m a hopeless romantic. My favorite books are dusty tomes like Jung’s letters and the proceedings from psychoanalytic conferences. I stop in once a month, but since I wrote in them, they haven’t been checked out.
It’s hard to describe the relief that crushes me. I become strangely exhausted, and when I put my head down on the library table, I have the same deep, intense dream: ten young laughing women walk down the street wearing down booties, low-rider jeans, and tight tee shirts, and there are letters and numbers on their chests—P4 E1 T3 E5 R7 P4 A0 R5 I8 S5. When I wake up, I reshelve the books myself, even though the signs tell me to get some help. Outside, the ground always seems wet, and I step carefully on the slippery sidewalks.
About the author:
Fred Redekop had no idea how steel was made until recently. He also didn’t know that Cape Cod was named after the fish, or that Caesar salad was named after Sid, or that France was named after Nancy, or that John Adams wasn’t such a dull pudgy little man after all. Fred Redekop googled himself recently and discovered that he is Canadian and either a Mennonite pastor or a mandolin player. To find out who he would be if he were Michael Martone, see Contributor’s Note. Email Fred Redekop at firstname.lastname@example.org about toques, whether Mengele sold farm implements to colonists in Paraguay, and fret fingering.