The exposure therapist says he understands me:
at fifteen he was attacked by a dog.
He, too, hoarded small anxieties. He, too,
remained indoors. He hung a muzzle
from his bedroom doorknob, slotted his keys
between his fingers and made a fist.
In mid-life, he has learned to let go.
We speak over the phone and I imagine him
perfect, or covered in scars.
It depends on how my day is going.
I describe the sofa to him in great detail:
it is stuffed with down. Ornate, white, and firm.
It is where my mother died. Not exactly
where my mother died, but dying
can take time. He asks for more.
Says he cannot picture it, but almost.
What do you like so much
about it? he says. Though he knows
it is not about the sofa,
as it was not about the dog.
He’s never heard of Joan Didion
when I tell him she kept
her dead husband’s shirts in her closet,
in case he needed them again.
The exposure therapist makes me un-right
a painting of a naked woman, soft and asleep.
For forty minutes I look at the thing, crooked,
and then we say goodbye.
When I vomit during a session he says:
good, some people think their heads
are going to explode. When he was fifteen
they let him stand in the doorway
while they injected a substance into the dog
that did it. This, he says, is when he first
fell in love with exposure and response
prevention. He says unlike him,
I never got the closure of seeing the body,
or of seeing the body go into the ground.
He tells me he’s forgiven himself.
He forgives me too, even if I don’t.
For what? I ask. The exposure therapist
has two dogs who bark in the background
of our calls. See? he says. I’m not lying
about this stuff. He makes me poke a pin
through a sofa cushion. He makes me rip up
my mother’s journals, break her plates
over my knee. He says I shatter glass
with a sense of timid preservation.
He says I clean up my messes too soon
after our calls. He is insatiable,
knowing what he knows about the sofa.
You do this, he says, and you won’t need me
anymore. The pills didn’t work
and neither did the talking and the talking
and the talking. I have to drag the sofa
to the curb. This is the bitter bread of failure.
But, I ask him, what if I’m not looking
when they come to take it away?
Fawn Parker is a Giller-nominated author of five books including What We Both Know (McClelland & Stewart 2022) and the forthcoming Hi, it’s me (M&S 2024). Her short story “Feed Machine” was nominated for the McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize in 2020. Parker is represented by Ron Eckel at CookeMcDermid Agency. More info: Instagram @FawnCGParker