“So yesterday I asked my dad what he regrets most about his life, and he pointed at me and said my left eye. He said my left eye was a mistake. I’m not sure what that means though, because as far as I can tell, there’s nothing wrong with my left eye. It’s fine. It always has been. But when I asked him what he meant about my eye being a mistake, he just looked away and said that he had always tried to be the best dad he could be for me, but this is just how things worked out.”
It’s Thursday evening, and I’m talking to my therapist, Devon.
“Interesting,” Devon says. “How does that make you feel?”
Devon’s been my therapist for the past five years. In addition to being my therapist, she’s also my good friend.
“Any of it. All of it. The thing your dad said about your eye.”
To this I wait a beat, and then I say:
“I thought we were talking about you?”
We laugh at this, because, like I said, we’re good friends. We kid. We banter. She even lets me pay on a sliding scale because I’m poor and still live at home. For the past seven years I haven’t been able to hold a job for more than three weeks at a time thanks to my propensity for getting incredibly sad and crying in the bathroom while I’m supposed to be working, so the sliding scale is a lifesaver for me. As for the crying, we don’t know why it happens, but Devon thinks it might be related to my acute fear of getting yelled at by adults, a fear that developed during my difficult and confusing upbringing as an undiagnosed autistic child. Lately Devon has presented the theory that my dad might be an undiagnosed autistic himself, which would actually explain a lot.
The wind blows hard outside, whirling and whistling, and the woody fingers of a naked elm tap against the window of the townhouse we’re sitting in. We’re on the third floor, with a good view of the Taco Bell across the street. It’s January and gray out there, with a cold that will freeze your asshole shut. Staring into the neon glow of the Taco Bell sign, I consider asking Devon to get some tacos with me when we’re done. I know this would probably be a violation of the boundaries of our friendship (or, professional interaction, as she likes to put it), but still. I often wonder how she would act in that situation. What would she order? Would she get hard-shell tacos or soft? And what about the sauce? Based on her calm, patient, easy-going personality, I’d guess she’d go for the mild sauce. Mild-type sauce for a mild-type girl. Or woman I should say, since she’s still very pretty and looks to be somewhere in her mid-forties. Either way, I don’t think she’d go too crazy with the hotness on her tacos. But then again, maybe she’s like me, and she makes up for an empty life by spicing things up with some fire sauce. I don’t know. So I ask her.
“Hey so what kind of sauce do you put on your tacos?”
Without missing a beat, she answers, as if this is a completely normal question to ask someone out of nowhere.
“Medium,” she says. “I like a little spice, but nothing too crazy. Everything in moderation, you know? Including moderation. But let’s get back to you, Ben.”
This sounds like something my dad would say, one of those clever-yet-shallow things he’d rattle off at a family gathering to get a nice laugh out of the relatives, and in thinking this I suddenly get a random idea of what he might’ve meant when he said that thing about my eye.
“Wait so do you think my dad was talking about himself when he said that thing about my eye? That the reason I’m all fucked up is from the half of my body parts I got from him? Do you think he blames himself?”
“But that’s crazy! The way I am isn’t his fault, this is just me. I’m the one who’s fucked. He’s a good dad.”
“When was the last time you told him that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, I think you should tell him that the next time you see him.”
“That’s a good idea, I’ll do that.”
“Good. I think he’d like to hear that from you.”
The wind tears past the window like a low-flying dragon. I look out at the Taco Bell again.
“Do you want to get some tacos with me after this?”
“Why don’t you ask your dad?”
“But I already know what kind of sauce he likes. I want to know what kind you like.”
“But you already know. You just asked me.”
“Oh yeah. I forgot.”
Now Devon crosses her arms and leans back in her creaky computer chair.
“We’re almost at time,” she says, “but what about you? What kind of sauce do you use?”
“Nothing but fire, baby.”
At this she bursts into laughter, but not in a mean way. The way she laughs, high-pitched, girlish, uninhibited, her small hand shielding her wide mouth, it always seems like she’s on your side in everything.
From here she smiles to herself and looks at me. For a moment it feels like she’s the only person on this planet who can see the real me.
“That’s time,” she says, swiveling around in her chair. Looking at her back, I try to force myself to finally tell her that I love her more than anyone on earth, but at the last moment I stop myself, like I always do.
“So next week, then?” I say, placing three twenties on her desk.
“Yup. I’ll be here.”
“Okay. See you later, then.”
Steve Gergley is a writer and runner based in Warwick, New York. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in A-Minor, After the Pause, Barren Magazine, Maudlin House, Pithead Chapel, and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music. His fiction can be found at: https://stevegergleyauthor.wordpress.com/