Potluck

 

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Dark Matters

    Eric’s sister Lori told him that this counselor was different, he had few credentials and never finished his doctorate, so he was never processed by what she called the Capitalist System. Eric rarely trusted his older sister’s cultish beliefs, but he had seen three doctors in two weeks and it was time to believe in something different, or so he told himself. Lori, 25, was still figuring things out, and that was ok, she told him, until she turned 29, at which point she planned on giving up. Eric wasn’t sure what that meant. 

    From behind the wheel, Lori glanced at Eric’s shirt and complimented its pink color.

    “Remember that pink and white one I got you in 7th grade?”

    “I never cut off the tag.”

    “You were always embarrassed by my presents,” she shook her head and looked out the side window.

    “Please look in front of you. And it had nothing to do with you, I was just afraid of wearing pink. It was normal.”

    “Nothing about your shy behavior and inability to form a sentence was normal, Eric.”

    “It was a phase!”

    “Awkwardness isn’t a phase. It’s a lifestyle.”

    “So is sleeping with two and a half years’ worth of your peers.”

    “I’m tryna take care of you, little brother. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

    “Why not? I heard you’re into that.”

    Some silence followed.

    “If you’d just tell me what’s wrong maybe we wouldn’t have to dip into our savings to find somebody for you to talk to,” Lori had said this many times before.

    “This isn’t the sort of thing I can just talk to my sister about. We share enough.”

    “Is it about Mom and/or Dad?” Lori asked.

    “No, that was years ago.”

    “Two years. You don’t have to be shy about it with me. If you’re sad, tell me. I can help you.”

    “Itcjse,” Eric muttered like he was in High School again.

    “Great.”

    “Take a right here. It’s up on the corner.”

    Lori parked and the two approached a dull, gray building. 

    “Thanks,” Eric looked at his sister and forced a smile.

    “I’m coming in with you! Who knows who this guy is.”

    “You recommended him!” 

    “Whatever I’ll wait in the lobby I’ve got nothing else to do.”

    “You’ve got no one el-”

    “Ok this slut-shaming isn’t funny, Eric, it’s rude and sexist.”

    Eric tried to think of a comeback involving the word “sex” but instead he pretended to feel bad. 

    The siblings entered and approached the front desk. A sign reading “Human Design” hung above a large man with a small baseball cap sitting guard. 

    “And who are you today?”

    “I’m sorry?” 

    “I mean, what’s your name? And who are you here to see? Ha! I just drank a whole cup of coffee and it’s making me wonky.”

    “I’m Eric Bianco, here for Barry Moore.”

    “You must be his 12:30! Good to meet you. Have a seat and I’ll call you when he’s ready.”

    Hushed sobs echoed from behind the door. Eric assumed this was normal for a counselor’s office, people admit things and then cry about it. Or maybe the counselor says something overwhelmingly true and perhaps right beneath the patient’s nose this whole time, and the frustration of missing it, the relief of finding it, it’s probably all very emotional and Eric tried to remember what it felt like to cry. 

    The sobs grew louder and some hushed, presumably comforting words followed. Then the sobs continued. It was 12:35 PM and Eric was growing impatient.

    “How much longer?” he asked the receptionist.

    “Who am I to say?” the receptionist responded.

    “The fucking receptionist,” Eric whispered to his sister. She smiled. 

    The door opened and out waddled an elderly woman with a wet face.

    “Thank you, Barry!” she said, “I’ll see you next week.”

    “I can’t wait,” the counselor replied. “Oh! You must be Eric. It’s a pleasure.”

    “Yeah. Should we do this inside?” 

    “Of course! Welcome to my abode,” he motioned to the room with his right arm raised.

    “Do you live here?”

    “No.”

    “Ok, thanks,” Eric noticed sweat forming on his palms. “I’ll see you in an hour-”

    “You paid for 45 minutes,” Barry interrupted.

    “45 minutes,” Eric nodded to his sister. She looked up from her magazine and looked at him like she cared. 

    Eric and Barry entered the brown room. A tall and narrow bookshelf inhabited one small corner of it, and two chairs sat facing each other in the center. Other than that, the room was overwhelmingly dull and it inspired a short burst of hope in Eric. Better to speak with a counselor who cares less about decor so he can focus on me! he thought. 

    “So Eric, what brings you in today?”

    “I saw a ghost in my attic,” Eric said, seemingly to the ceiling.

    “Why were you in your attic?” 

    “I feel like there’s a better question you could be asking, doc.”

    “I’m not a doctor.”

    “I was in my attic because Lori said she needed old calendars and our parents kept them in a box, they never threw them away so I went up there to look for them.”

    “Have your parents passed away?” 

    “Doc, we’re not talking about what I want to talk about.”

    “Of course. So you saw a ghost.”

    “Don’t say it like that.”

    “What?”    

    “SO. You saw, A GHOST. I don’t need to believe you believe me. Just listen.”
    “Of course, Eric. Explain it to me. Describe it with detail.”

    “Yeah, I got it. I came here to talk. So about three months ago Lori was telling me not to walk through a mirror, or I’ll get bad luck, and I say to Lori, ‘First of all, if I walk through a mirror, I’ve already got bad luck, and second, you’re twisting up your superstitions. If you look at yourself in a broken mirror, you’ve got bad luck. If you walk underneath a ladder, you get bad luck,’ and she says, ‘Did you know that in ancient societies, before there were mirrors, if you dreamed of your own face or caught site of it in a reflection, you were expected to die?’ And I obviously do not believe-”

    “Eric, I usually don’t do this, but can you skip ahead a bit?”

    “I’m getting there, doc! Let me do my thing. So we’re talking about superstitions or whatever and she reminds me of something our mom did. After a year ended and the kitchen calendar had to come down, she’d put the calendar in a box that she got from the attic, marked ‘Calendars’. I asked her why one year, I was old enough to start asking questions, and she told me that her mother did it, and her mother before that, and she was never sure why, but felt afraid of breaking some sort of family tradition. 

    “And I’m thinking, Lori wants to start this thing again, I don’t want to go up to that dirty crevice in the ceiling to fetch a box of irrelevant paper. But she says not to worry, she says go up there, grab the box, I just want to look at the calendars. So I feel bad and I say, ‘Fine,’ and I go up the stairs and pull the ball and down comes the stair-ladder thing. I hate climbing it, always leaves splinters and the dust makes my eyes run. But I love my sister, even if it doesn’t seem that way all the time, so I endure and climb up into the nasty room. The thing about it is, you sort of have to half-crawl and that position really hurts my back, I’ve never had a strong back and I never will.”

    “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

    “Can I finish?”

    Barry held his hand out, as if offering permission, and looked down.

    “So I’m half-crawling around, sliding smelly boxes left and right, and I feel some kind of wetness on my face, and I assume it’s the dust, you know? I get allergies. But usually the dust stings, a little, just enough to alert you of its presence But I’m not feeling anything, just what tastes like tears gliding down my face. I touch the tears with my fingers to collect a sample, and I inspect it closely, the single lightbulb shining above provides ample light, but I have no idea what to look for in a tear. Dust?”

    “Salt, I’d imagine.”

    “How do you see salt?”

    “No matter.”

    “Yeah, so I’m looking down at my hands like an idiot, trying to figure out where this leak is coming from, and I suddenly get the sense that somebody’s next to me, you know? My skin gets scaly and I can see milky white bumps forming along my arm, I follow them up until I’m facing the face of some old man.”

    “Could you recognize the face?”

    “That’s the thing! I sort of could, but not like, I know this guy sort of way, but he looked familiar, I don’t know. He looked like me sort of.”

    “Did the man say anything to you?”

    “No, he just sort of looked at me, and then looked away, as if he was waiting for me to say something. I couldn’t. But his face said it all, it looked like it had fallen a long time ago, and never really got back up. Everything about his features just sort of, sagged.”

    “Sounds frightening.”

    “It wasn’t.”

    “So you’re not here to discuss your trauma? Or fear?”

    “If I were here to discuss my trauma we would both be playing a game of bullshit, I’d be pretending like I was actually afraid of what I saw, and you’d pretend like you believe me. I’d rather we stick with the latter, so I can go on telling the truth. I wasn’t scared, I was amazed and in awe, it was literally awesome, and I was in total shock. But I wasn’t scared.”
    “Why do you think that is?”

    “Because I knew him. It was like seeing a friend from far away, you can’t really wave, but it still feels nice to see them, to know they’re around.”

    “Sure.”

    “So we’re just staring at each other, for what might’ve been minutes, I don’t know. He’s squatting across from me, I’m not sure why he can’t sit down, maybe ghosts can’t sit down like vampires can’t see themselves in a mirror, but yeah, he’s just there. And I’m here, trying to think of something to say, not that I would be able to move my mouth, apparently I’m prone to paralysis, or my grandpa was, I don’t remember, but I’m not talking. We’re just sort of, looking at each other, and suddenly Lori calls from downstairs, ‘What’d you do?’ she accuses, and just like that the thing disappears, like it was never there to begin with.”

    “That’s pretty incredible.”
    “It is, isn’t it?”

    “Have you ever seen ghosts before?”

    “I thought I saw a UFO when I was a kid, but it was a bag of chips.”

    “That’s very funny. But I can’t pretend to believe you. Let’s be honest with each other. I do not doubt that you experienced what you claim, but I do believe you were hallucinating, possibly due to some undiagnosed mental disability-”

    “I don’t want to talk about what you believe. I want to talk about what I saw.”

    “Why?”

    “Because you’re the only person I can talk to without worrying about my reputation-”

    “I understand you don’t have many friends.”

    “Not true. How do you know that.”

    “Your sister and I chatted on the phone before you came in.”

    “Strumpet.”

    “Excuse me?”

    “Can we get back to it?”

    “Eric, are you here to persuade me that you saw a ghost? Are you here to persuade yourself that you saw a ghost?”

    “I just wanna talk about it, doc.”

    “Of course. Keep talking, I’m certainly interested, haha!”

    “Well after the thing disappeared I sat down, sort of to relax, to find the ground, maybe. I became very serious, my eyebrows furrowed and all. I thought, ‘Well. I just saw a ghost,’ and sort of ‘let that sit’ as my 7th grade science teacher used to say. I was in my attic, sitting in a number of ways, because I had just seen a ghost and I thought, ‘Does this have anything to do with me?’ I mean, did this ghost find me? Or does it live there? I guess most ghost stories are about haunted places, but what if I’m just a haunted man? It makes sense, the ghost choosing me, I am unlucky and generally prone to sad experiences that make for funny stories.”

    “Can you tell me more about those experiences?”

    “All bricks for wheels, I’d tell you about one, you’d guess the rest.”
    “Sounds like a fun game.”

    “My parents left me and my sister in a house with only a pantry full of peanut butter and a rather well-stocked freezer, they weren’t terrible people.” 

    “I can’t say I can guess the rest from that, Eric. And I wouldn’t call that ‘Funny’ as you seemed to imply.”

    “It’s a punchline, doc.”

    “That’s fine. Go on, Eric.”

    “Well that’s it, isn’t it? You could probably diagnose me or whatever counselors do just from that, can’t you? My parents abandoned me, I saw a ghost, it’s like, well Doctor, there’s a large tumor in my brain, what do I have? And you obviously say, brain cancer.”

    “I’m not trying to diagnose you, Eric. I’m just here to talk with you. How old are you?”

    “20.”

    “You’re young.”

    “I wish I were older.”

    “Why’s that?”

    “Does it matter?”

    “Maybe. How old were you when your parents left?”

    “14.”

    “You’ve been on your own for a while.”

    “Not on my own. I have my sister. She’s annoying but she takes care of me, we take care of each other.”

    “You’re lucky.”

    “Excuse me?”

    “That you have a sister who takes care of you! No because your parents abandoned you.”

    “Thanks, doc.”

    “Have you told her about your supernatural experience?”

    “I will never tell her.”

    “Why?”

    “Because she won’t believe me, and she’ll send me to a real doctor. No offense.”

    “And why would that be so bad?”

    “Because I’m not fucking crazy.”

    “Eric, what if I told you that I understand exactly what you’re going through.”

    “I’d leave.”

    “Well I dare you to go, because as I implied in my previous sentence, I understand exactly what you’re going through.”

    “You’re definitely not a doctor.”

    “I’m a human designer, Eric. I put my hand in your life and shift some things around. You can leave them where I place them, or move them around however you’d like. The important thing is, you’re making decisions. You’re taking an active role in your life, regardless of how you feel about me. Do you understand?”

    “That sounds fucking stupid and I’m leaving.”

    “Listen to me, for just one more minute. Say I had a similar experience as you did, just 8 years ago. I was cleaning out my attic for my wife, and as I was digging around an old box full of McDonalds toys, I felt tears streaming down my face. I, unlike you, assumed it was dust and went about my business, until I felt the presence of another something close to me. I looked up to see the face of a man with translucent skin, still pink faced, but clear. I screamed, and it disappeared! Like you said, as if it was never there.”

    “You screamed?”

    “A normal reaction, I expect!”

    “I don’t know, doc. Seems lame.”

    “Eric, how do you feel, knowing that we share that experience?”

    “Holy cow, I feel amazing! Knowing that I’m not alone out there, knowing that other people have gone through what I have! Gee whiz, what a truth, doc, what a truth.”

    “I’ve a feeling you’re being sarcastic.”

    “Do you think I’d believe you?”

    “That’s not what I asked, Eric. How would it make you feel knowing that we have shared this experience?”

    “I get what you’re doing, and I’m not impressed. You’re an unruly hack. Good luck with all this,” Eric said and stood. 

    “I’d share this little revelation until your 3rd or 4th session, but it seems we won’t be getting there, and I’d hate to waste a good A-Ha moment. You’re afraid of feeling unable to control a situation, so you often isolate yourself. I’d imagine, if we were to continue together, you’d eventually describe some sort of obsessive-compulsive ritual you perform, perhaps it seems inconsequential to you, but it would likely point to your subconscious tendencies to seek control of the world around you.”

    “You’re close to something, maybe. But I’m bored here.”

    “Who are you gonna talk to about this ghost, Eric?”
    “Myself.”

    And with that, Eric was off, Lori followed him out of the plain building and into their car, neither said a word until their merge onto the freeway.
    “So did it work? Do you feel better?”

    “Yeah. I feel just fine.”

    Eric considered describing the session to his sister, he imagined her fascination with his experience and disgust for the doc’s insipid ways, but expected general misunderstanding and misguided advice, so he kept his mouth shut. It was the quietest drive they’d had in a long time.

 

 

 

Alexander Seedman is in Bushwick for one more year. EW calls his twitter a "surefire hit."