“A Gardener’s Glove,” by Matthew Dexter

by MP

      I knew there was something familiar about her face, as if she had come from a place I had been, decades earlier, before the world closed in, before ending up a balding child psychologist trapped in an undecorated office barely larger than an oversized coffin, across from JCPenney and the Foot Locker. There was something about her that seemed strange, though I couldn’t place my finger on it. Wilson Elementary referred her to my office after she bit the tip off her gym teacher’s thumb. We needed to make sure it wouldn’t happen again.
      Jasmine was her name. Her shirt was at least two sizes too tight. Thank God for that. She had full, beautiful eyelashes, a constellation of tiny freckles between her cheeks and auburn hair, skinny elbows that she hooked around the back of the chair and wedged behind the armrests, pushing fledgling breasts and belly button ring closer to my eyeglasses as if this would stifle me. It did.
      “They stitched it up,” she said. “It was an accident.”
      Fluffing my toupee, stretching it, an awkward attempt to cover the receding hairline–at least mitigate the damage–trying to look a little hipper, observing my newest patient. She was something. Puberty was turning her into a delicious monster.
      “Was it an accident, or were you not taking your meds?”
      Stoicism fading, she became impatient, waiting for me to continue. There really wasn’t much to say. Jasmine was just another girl without a father acting out. It was normal, albeit the severed appendage was a dramatic addition to the hundreds of similar case studies I’ve written over the years as I’ve grown balder, fatter, and less curious about the decay of the human species.
      “Think we need to meet a few more times to get into it a little deeper.”
      “Whatever.”
      “Weekly would be good. You’re suspended for a month anyway, so we have time to figure this out.”
      She shrugged, walked out into the waiting room, wasting little time before flirting with the goth boy with the passion for murdering squirrels. I gazed at her file, the information her mother filled out earlier. That’s when it hit me.
      “See you next week.”
      It felt like yesterday when I went over to the house for the first time, waiting for her father to drive me to school. We never spoke. I walked across the street like a mute. His father was a psychiatrist. Always felt their family meals must have revolved around conversations about my neuroses, having experienced that uncomfortable session with the doctor years earlier.
      “That was years ago.”
      “What was?”
      It had come full circle. Her father killed in the automobile accident, her mother torn between raising a daughter and working as a clerk in the county probate office.
      “Let’s go on a field trip.”
      She looked skeptical, but trusted me. Few people realize how dangerous psychologists can be, how deranged and poisonous they really are.
      “Buckle up,” I said.
      She clicked the seatbelt around her tight waist. I watched the sun catch the freckles and speckle them with life. Put the Pontiac in reverse, pulled into oncoming traffic.
      “Where we headed?”
      Wasn’t sure, hadn’t thought that far ahead.
      “A little cognitive therapy,” I said.
      Before I knew it we were parked in front of my old house, across the street from her father’s. She didn’t have any idea where we were. At least gave no indication that she did. I told her to take off the seat belt. The therapy commenced. Afterwards, I drove to our old school, following the same streets her father had decades earlier. Didn’t say a word, just drove all nerdy and silent, parked in his favorite spot, walked around the car a couple times, and went back to the office.
      This was our weekly ritual, kisses and confessions, demented obsessions her mother must never discover. I was filling the absence of her father, repairing the secret pieces that were still swollen from the bleeding: the new nipple rings, the strings attached to her emotional heart, her worn-out teenage soul.
      We decided to meet almost every afternoon. I promised to give her a clean bill of mental health–assure the school she would pose no danger. No more bloodshed, just breakthroughs and smiles while driving miles out of our way to find ourselves, alone for a few minutes.
      “Let’s run away together,” she said.
      I knew it was too soon to discuss those things, but it made me happy.
      “One day,” I promised.
      But she just wouldn’t let it go. Threatened to tell her mother about how intimate we had become. Demanded we leave. I told her how difficult it would be to abandon the office, my life, but she didn’t care.
      Our sessions continued, driving to school, breakthroughs between red traffic lights, taverns, foreclosed pizza parlors, in the rear-view mirror wondering where the boundary of pedophilia lies. Where does a man become a pedophile, and a teacher an amputee? In front of the gymnasium?
      Sitting in front of the house of silence, where she was conceived, confessions came from her lips like rain, tearless, fearless, she spoke of the assault, the rape from her father, our escape became imminent.
      “I was gonna tell Mom it never ended–then he died.”
      “And how did that make you feel? Did that change your view of the man who molested you?”
      “Of course not.”
      “Then what?”
      She cried as we hugged, ended up in the backseat as usual, Pontiac shaking, making one with the wind, maple trees, mailboxes, rusty tricycle our witnesses.
      She bit my thumb. I held her hand and sucked the blood. Tasted fantastic; tequila in front of the ocean. Her skin was white as snow. Imagined I was licking an Alaskan in an igloo. Devoted to her till the death, she pulled up her panties, I straightened my tie, and we crawled into the front, turned the ignition, and drove back to the office.
      “Mom won’t let me buy thongs. Not even at JCPenney.”
      “Ah, I see.”
      That age old problem psychotherapy can never solve: the mother’s preference of her daughter to not dress like a whore but instead let her husband rape the adolescent for three years in the basement while she gets a manicure and a deep tissue massage.
      Signing the form of her mental health, diagnosing her with a mild case of dyslexia, innocuous sleep problems, and post-traumatic stress disorder for watching her father die in an overturned Chevrolet beside the river. They cut her out of the car with only a few scrapes and bruises.
      “I blew him kisses as he choked on bubbles.”
      Pictures of the crushed vehicle showed tan leather tinted crimson on the driver’s side. According to the autopsy, only difference between the victims was the fatherly advice always given to put on her seatbelt. His nose was crushed by the steering wheel, his neck punctured by safety glass. Tried to save some money; buying a truck with only one airbag.
      “So this says I’m sane, no criminal record?”
      I brush her hair behind her ears and kiss her forehead.
      “You’re clean, kiddo.”
      “Okay.”
      She sits on the bench beside a megalomaniac fourteen-year-old snowboarder who repeatedly burns his family’s designer dog house down. His parents refuse to have him committed; instead they’ve given him to me for two hours every week. Hercules sniffs my girl’s crotch before disappearing behind the bench to leave a glistening golden turd. But the boy yanks the leash before the poor Afghan finishes his business. He pulls out a bag of pot from his backpack and hands it to her. Poor animal desecrates himself. She pays him with the bills I just gave her, tucks her meds into her training bra.
      “Bastard.”
      I want to get out, call the police, beat his little ass–but can’t ruin my cover. He hands her his iPod, she glances back in my direction.
      Bus screeches to a stop, Jasmine reaching arms up to stretch as the cretin sneaks a peek at her armpits–snowflakes shimmering beneath the floral red halter top Grandma gave her for Christmas. I take notes of his behavior: sexual perversion, drug sales within three hundred yards of a kindergarten, antisocial behavior, suspicion of kleptomania.
      He argues with the bus driver about the size of the dog, but the driver ultimately gives in. They pull away. He grabs her breast as she takes her seat by the window in the back.
      “Son of a bitch.”
      Following the bus, I call my assistant: tell her to cancel all appointments, indefinitely. I quit. Toss the cell phone out the window as we wind over the bridge above the river embankment where my girl killed the monster.
      “I grabbed the wheel when he wouldn’t let go of my tits.”
      She was shaking in the backseat when the truth came out.
      “Don’t tell the cops.”
      Her tears were the water that fed the earth.
      “Nobody needs to know. We have doctor-patient confidentiality. The coroner ruled it an accident, driving under the influence.”
      Bus grinds to a pitiful stop, so I bite the curb and land the Pontiac on the sidewalk.
      “Is this not a perfectly reasonable place to park?”
      Old couples offer dirty looks. Bus pulls away as I slap the windows until the driver stops. Jump onboard; pay, grab her arm, yanking her away from the patient I could never help.
      “Runaway.”
      “Yes.”
      Driver and youth watch as we walk away arm in arm. I start the car; he throws Hercules out the window. The Afghan gets lost in traffic. We cry into the wind, headed God only knows where. She’s having a manic episode, so the valiums calm her and bring her back down. This is how I like her.
      “We’re really doing it?”
      “Yes.”
      Curves and mountains and one last stop at the bank to withdraw money. Imagine my ugly face on the local news for my mother to watch after Dr. Phil.
      “I wanna make a withdrawal.”
      Bank cameras watch as the manager walks over and asks a few questions, suggesting we might be more comfortable at his cubicle.
      “It’s fine here. Time for sabbatical. Plane’s waiting.”
      Signing my life away, they fill Jasmine’s backpack with hundred dollar bills. Feel liberated, like a bank robber already outside the building walking toward my car for the clean getaway. My patient’s foot sticking out the passenger window, painting her nails crimson.
      We peel away from the bank, tires screeching, yawning into the madness of a new day. Pulling the plastic baggie from between her breasts, toss it out the window.
      “No drugs.”
      “Okay.”
      We drive to the house, watch kittens drinking milk from a saucer on the neighbor’s front porch. The door is open. Jasmine stares inside, as if seeing something hidden, deep beneath the surface for the first time. Her wrists are cut, scarred from endless nights blinded by the twisted labyrinth of her disease. Her sickness she couldn’t drive off the road, couldn’t die in a ditch with her daddy. There’s a deep hole in her heart where the rape bore down upon her, ripped away her innocence and filled the hole with darkness.
      People have begun to come outside, see why she’s screaming. Too many witnesses for creeping into the backseat, we hold hands as they walk out onto front porches: strangers, happy folks with wonderful lives and beautiful problems that would be an epiphany for Jasmine and me. A man leads a golden retriever on a leash. Leaves fall. I turn the ignition on and we drive to school.
      Hail begins to fall and the sky expands and then contracts, darkens. It’s that season when reason loses all control. That time of day when her meds begin to wear off and darkness drifts from the farthest corners of her eyes. Wiper blades squeak like hungry mice, we watch the road turn into a river.
      The storm grows, making it harder to continue our session. We wonder whether the windshield will crack as grapefruit-sized hail performs a symphony, breaking our conversation. An overturned bus brings traffic to a crawl as my patient sits in the back of a squad car, beating his head against the window, handcuffed wrists whacking the protective barrier. An Afghan hound is chasing its tale around an ambulance to escape the wrath of nature. A fire engine blocks an intersection. A strange unfamiliar glimmer flickers in Jasmine’s pupils, ecstatic, manic, searching for the cheese at the end of this orgasmic stormy maze.
      Waved to continue into the flashing kaleidoscope of sirens, a drenched officer conducts traffic, his head beneath a jacket. She kisses my neck, screams into my ear as she licks the inside with the tip of her tongue.
      “Let me drive.”
      Pulling over, searching for closure, acceptance of the past and a brand-new beginning, we jump in the backseat and shake with the rhythm of sleet against the Pontiac. Dented roof pounding our wildest rhythm, we ride the lighting, into the ether of her condition, she takes me inside.
      The roof is being destroyed, windshield is cracked and back window is broken. She pulls on the new thong–her therapy gift from the good shrink, shakes into hip-hugger jeans and spins her way up into the driver’s seat, a snowdrop spider with the smell of sex.
      The relentless tempest rages on. Naked, stretching my legs up front, catch a glimpse of my decrepit body in the rear-view mirror, a ghost in the backside pushes me forward. She buckles me up. The school looms forward, as she hits the gas and catapults us into the storm.
      “Slow down.”
      She spins atop the water, hydroplaning across the lot, striking a bicycle rack before regaining control. Tires crunching against sludgy pavement, she finds traction, hits the building with a smile, tearing though the empty. The bleachers eat us, swallow the car. Blackness balloons, beckons.
      My eye being pried open, like a gardener’s glove. Gym teacher’s face hovers. She removes glasses from my broken nose, uses her other hand to lift the other eyelid, softer, her bandaged thumb covered in blood, the smell of sex drifting near my nose. Jasmine is sitting behind her, laughing, grinning, giving admission to her role in the accident, her participation in this unfortunate incident. Unrolling crushed envelope from jacket pocket, handing over diagnosis to the gym teacher, my fate in her hands, clock on her wrist ticks as the sirens approach.

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