This story was originally published on The Bitchin' Kitsch.
“I’m a psychologist,” she says, avoiding eye contact, looking less critical. “What do you do for a living?” She finishes off a whiskey tonic.
“Well, I write children’s books…mainly small, paperback, mass-produced reissues of the classics.” Small, paperback, mass-produced reissues. She’ll get lost in all the adjectives, he hopes. Small, paperback, mass-produced reissues.
He stands nearly six feet tall, sans Italian loafers. His teeth are Stepford-straight, eery in their perfection. He calculates his next move. As a general rule, career-centric conversation can and should be avoided until at least date three, at which point such topics are acceptable. Date three. One through three; safe.
“That’s an interesting field, how does one go about getting into children’s books?” An obsessive-compulsive, PhD-wielding sycophant; she acknowledges her own self-loathing and refines her question. An uncomfortable silence of no less than five full seconds passes – one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four Mississippi, five Mississippi.
“I mean, it’s not every day you meet someone who writes children’s books. You must be great with kids,” she says. He notices her full hips and red lips; yes, of course, he’s great with children. She orders one ego boost on the rocks and tips the waiter with a wink.
He picks up on the subtleties of her gesture and assumes it’s a pass at him.“Truth is, I could never really get into writing any other genre. It didn’t come to me as fast as this did, it just makes sense to write about what you know…there’s a beginning, middle, and end. Same pattern, every time.”
“It’s the same basic storyline, just adapted for new characters, plots, etc. In the end, the kids end up entertained,” he throws back the rest of his gin, pointer finger extended. “Or,” he pauses, finger still erect. “Or, the dad leaves the kid’s bedside knowing that he’s fast asleep and that he won’t be climbing into bed with mommy and daddy anytime soon.”
He snaps his fingers without looking, knowing confidently that the waiter is near.
“Yes sir, how can I help you?” Rewind. Repeat. Stingy or loose.
“I’ll have another one of these,” he rattles the barely-there cubes. “And she’ll take another whiskey.” She nods in agreement as if she was planning on having another all along. She is now.
The waiter brings back the drinks. He hopes they’re not stingy.
She speaks up. “You know, they say of all writers, the writers of children’s books are by far the most depressed.”
“Well, aren’t all writers depressed? If you want to be a writer you need to be depressed, or an alcoholic, or both,” he says while toasting to himself. He attempts to lighten the mood while fighting back urges to end it all at the same time.
“They say romantic novelists, for example, write a storyline that ultimately leads towards some sort of acceptance, or happiness, or a resolution, of whatever sort. Even if the protagonist’s lover dies at the end – usually, not always, but usually – the protagonist ends up dying themselves. By natural causes, or sometimes they might even off-themselves, which some might argue is not only acceptance but also ultimately, a form of happiness.”
She not only damns herself with each additional word uttered, but also fears for the future of her own career as a psychologist – a psychologist who, apparently and seemingly unbeknownst to herself, believes in suicide, at least in literature. She continues nonetheless.
“Sci-fi writers are another example. Those guys are a safe bet! There’s something to be said for robots and aliens and personified inanimate objects; none of those writers are depressed because their characters simply can’t be.”
He crosses one leg over the other, his black sock exposed. “There are a lot of holes in that argument if you ask me. I’m not depressed, I write children’s books. That’s all there is to it.” He loosens his tie and feels warmth in his throat. Acid reflux.
“I mean what’s more depressing than being a kid? I can’t think of anything worse. Name one person who would relive their childhood willingly. You couldn’t find one. You couldn’t find one single person who would do it all over again.” She’s feeling the whiskey.
“What kind of psychologist did you say you were again?”
“I didn’t,” she says, looking at him like a mother at her guilty child. “I wasn’t saying you were depressed. I was simply mentioning that they often say the authors of children’s books–”
“Who is this ‘they’ you speak of? Psychologist’s Anonymous? We can’t use their names to protect them from all the angry, drunken, depressed children’s authors of the world?” He motions for the waiter.
Rewind. Repeat. “Yes sir, how can I help–”
“Check – now.” He taps the table where the check should be and pulls out his wallet. “Listen lady, I don’t know where you get off…putting people into these little categories, like everyone’s some sort of lab rat.” He pulls out two twenties and puts them on the table.
“I wasn’t trying to offend you.” Too late. Too much. Too soon. “It was just a conversation starter, really. That’s all.”
“Sure put an end to that conversation,” he says while trying to find the arm of his coat. “When do we meet again?”
“Same time next week,” she says, removing the glasses from the bridge of her nose. She rests her pen and paper down on the table. “At my office.”
“Alright. Thanks, Doc.” He pushes in his chair and heads for the door. “I’ll see you then.”