Category Archives: Serial Sunday

Serial Sunday: chapter 3 Ben

Welcome to week three of Serial Sunday. If you have missed the other chapters, you can grab in the link at the top of the home page. Thanks for reading along, and feel free to let me know what you think so far – it is fun for me to write.

 

 

Chapter 3 – Ben

“Spa? Honey, that is great, but you don’t need a spa, you need a Ben.” Sara’s voice came through the speakers as Claire drove from the spa to their office.

“Who’s Ben?” Claire asked as she merged over in order to catch her exit.

“My therapist. I’ll give you his number when you get here.”

“Nope,” Claire chirped. “I don’t need a Ben.” Sara’s laughter filled the car and Claire had to turn her down.

“Oh Claire, there is no doubt you need a Ben, the question is how soon.”

“How about never?”

“Hmm, I have to go. I will talk to you when you get here.”

“Don’t set me up an appointment, Sara.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it, darling. Tootles!” Sara hung up and Claire knew, full well, she would have an appointment lined up when she reached the office. She considered going downtown to look at fabrics, but decided against it, it was inevitable, so she might as well face Sara and her plan.

***

            The snow fell, light, as Claire stood, arms crossed, waiting for the receptionist to finish setting up another patient’s follow up appointment. She was the only other person in the waiting room, when the man finished with the receptionist he smiled briefly at Claire and looked away, clearly avoiding eye contact. Was that respect? Was that shame? Claire turned back to the window and allowed the man to wait for the elevator in peace. Each flake glided, fluffy, huge, toward the ground. A scarce breeze pushed the flakes here and there, but there was no care where they landed or where they gathered. The cars below shook them off course and scattered them. The constant whoosh of cars churning up the salted mush on the streets saddened Claire. “There is the end place, Frosty,” she muttered.

“May I help you?” The receptionist asked over the tall desk. Claire turned from the window and walked to the desk.

“Yes, I am here to see Ben Brown,” Claire said, softly, as to not disturb the quiet in the waiting room, though no one else was there.

“Are you Claire Dunnar?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, I’ll let Dr. Brown know you are here.” The receptionist reached for the phone and nodded at Claire. Claire nodded and walked back to her place by the window. The elevator dinged and opened and another man walked in. His long black coat, open, revealed his black suit and bright red tie. He saw Claire, curtly nodded and headed to the desk. Claire pulled her arms closer to her, wishing her sweater was a little thicker, even though she knew she wasn’t cold. The man muttered with the receptionist, soft but with authority, and then sat in the line of chairs under the windows. He took out his phone and started scrolling through email. Claire wished for that sense of normalcy in this place, but the quiet hurt, the closed emotion was stiff, even though she knew that well. It seemed abnormal, strange, and completely unlike her to be here. She couldn’t figure it quite out. She turned back to the window and watched flakes drift and swirl. One caught her eye as it seemed to dive to the ground. There was determination, there was weight, and there was the car.

Defeat.

“Claire?” a man’s voice behind her called her name. Claire spun on her heel and faced the voice. She smirked beside herself and tried to mask it by biting her upper lip. He stood, young, stylish, with a paisley green bowtie and a vest. His jeans, dark and slightly tattered, hugged his form perfectly. He reminded her of a younger Greg. His dark rimmed glasses and slightly wavy hair made his smile gorgeous, and young. Young, Claire shook herself back and released that he had to be ten years younger than she was, and she glanced at his finger – no ring. How could he possibly understand her? “I’m Ben Brown,” he extended his hand. Claire unwrapped her arm long enough to shake his hand and give him a nod. “I’m glad to see you, come on back.” He released her hand and opened his arm to the hallway. Claire nodded again and gathered her coat and purse. She considered bolting for the elevator, but found her feet following her young Doogie Howser, MD.

Ben led her down a hall with heavy wooden doors and glass walls covered with curtains and blinds, all closed. She counted as she walked, one, two, three, Ben’s was the fourth door and two more followed. His blinds, a soft faux wood, tilted upward so no one could see in, but the movement of the hall was visible from inside. His office, softly lit with two floor lamps, had a thick rug over the hardwood parquet floor, His couch, a chocolate traditional over stuffed flanked the back wall. His outside wall had vertical blinds pulled back so the natural lighting and the skyline of Minneapolis were visible and bright. On his desk he had a goLITE, a stack of books and files, and an ipad. He motioned for Claire to sit down. “I can take your coat,” he said. She gave him her coat and he hung it on the coat rack by the door.

“Did you decorate?” Claire asked as she sat on the edge of the couch, afraid to appear too comfortable or too awkward.

“Oh no, Sara told me what to do when she started coming, so I eventually told her just to change it, and she did.”

“She did?” Claire asked, surprised that Sara hadn’t mentioned it to her. “Huh.” Claire looked around and took in the pops of green that came out in knick-knacks and pillows. “It’s nice.”

“You two do great work,” Ben replied and smiled. “Do you need something to drink? Water, tea, coffee?”

“No, thanks. I had some before I came.” Claire said and slightly shook her head, “Sorry, that was stupid.”

“No, it seems a reasonable explanation to me. So what brings you here today?”

“Sara.”

“Oh?” Ben opened a new document on his ipad and started jotting notes.

“She made the appointment, I didn’t.” Claire said.
“Sure, but you came. You could have canceled anytime between the call and the appointment.”

“Yes, but then she would be all over me, and it was just easier to come in order to tell her I did and move on. Not to say you aren’t great at your job, I’m sure you are, but I’m just fine.”

“And how is fine working for you?”

“Right, is this where I’m supposed to break down and tell you that my childhood was horrible, my marriage is a mess, and my children are out of control? Because that isn’t my life, buddy.” Claire pulled back her hand that was now pointing at this child prodigy across from her, and snapped back into her awareness. “I am so sorry, that was so out of line,” Claire said, shocked at her own reaction.

“It’s okay, Claire.” Ben replied. “These first appointments are tough when you initiate them, I’m guessing they are even harder when you feel forced to be here. I just want to reassure you that I am not forcing you to be here, at any time you are free to leave. If I say something that upsets you or confuses you, you need to let me know so we can have open communication. I am here to talk, offer advice if you want it, and help you through whatever it is that brought you here today.”

“So you’ll help me through Sara? Please, you know her; there is no help through her.” Claire smiled.

“Sara didn’t bring you here today, Claire. So why don’t we talk about what did.” Ben took a drink of her water and waited for Claire. Claire stared at him, trying to figure out exactly how old he was. She started doing math and figured if he had a PhD, he had to be at least in his late twenties. “Claire?”

“What? Oh, right. Why am I here.” She looked out the window again, and turned back to Ben. A flash of her leaping over the rug and kissing him entered her head and she shook herself back to reality. What was that? She thought. ‘Uh, I’m just not myself.” She said.

“Not yourself, how?”

“I’m a really put together person. I live by my listed, I feel accomplished when I finished everything on my list. I have a great job, house, kids, husband, and life. I like myself, I like my work, I feel great at the end of the day. I call my parents every weekend; we get together once a month. We have a solid community of friends and neighbors. My kids are respectful and have friends. Grace is starting to drive with her permit and Conor, struggles a little in science, but is working through it. We have a good life. No, a great life.”

“So what brings you here?”

“Seriously? It is going to make me sound trite.”

“Try me.”

“I left my apron on the back of the couch.”

“What?”

“See? I told you. A damn apron brought me here, are you satisfied? I just need to work through this and go hang up the apron.”

“Wait, your apron is still on the back of the couch?”

“Yes.”

“How long has it been there?”

“Five days.”

“Why haven’t you moved it?”

“I don’t know. I figured Sylvia would move it when she cleaned, but she didn’t.” Claire furrowed her brow. “That’s weird, isn’t it? That it is clearly out of place, and the cleaning lady doesn’t put it away?”

“Did you take that as a sign?”

“I don’t know. I just think it is weird that no one has moved it. There it sits, this black and while tulle print apron on the back of the cream over-sized chair. It hasn’t moved for almost a week.”

“In many houses things stay out of order for weeks or months. People walk by the same thing that served its purpose weeks ago but never put it away.”

“That’s clutter.”

“Yes, that’s life.”

“Clutter is life?”

“Or life is cluttered.”

“What? It doesn’t have to be. There are lists. There is order. There are organizational tools for that. Even a basket where things can be stored until the set time to clean is better than leaving them out of place for weeks.”

“So why hasn’t your apron ended up in a basket?”

“I don’t know; that’s why I’m here.”

“But you have the answers, Claire. You have a system. You have order.”

“But do I have a life?”

“Do you have clutter?”

“No.”

“Then you know your answer.”

“What do I do?”

“Get some clutter.”

“What?”

“Don’t move the apron.”

“What?”

“No matter what, if Sylvia comes to clean, leave a note that says to leave it. If the kids or your husband try to move it, tell them to leave it. Do you have pets?”

“No.”

“Get one.”

“What?”

“Do you want clutter?”

“No.” Claire shook her head and started to second guess Ben’s sanity. She fixated on the goLITE. “Wait, do you have SAD? Are you being treated for something?”

“What?” Ben followed Claire’s pointed finger and looked at the light. “Oh, the light? Sure, I use it. It is a great way to keep my mind healthy through our long winters. Personally, I think if you live in the upper Midwest it should come as a standard housewarming. ‘Welcome to Minnesota! Here is your winter cure’ and hand them a light.”

“Oh, sure, yeah.” Claire calmed down. Ben had a point, and a reasonable one at that. “I can’t get a pet, Ben. I don’t have time to train it, or clean it, or make sure it gets the love and care it needs. I wouldn’t know what to get that wouldn’t tear up the house. That would throw me for a loop.”

“No, an apron is throwing you for a loop.”

“Sure, right. But I can just put that away. I can easily manage that.”

“But you aren’t.”

Claire was starting to get annoyed by Ben’s responses. His calm demeanor and ability to state the obvious was both aggravating and irritating. Claire wanted now to jump over the rug and deck him. “Look, I can go clean up the apron. Thanks for your time.” She stood and grabbed her purse.

“You’re welcome. I hope you find your balance.” Ben stood and extended his hand. Claire stopped, stared at his hand, and shut her agape mouth.

“What did you say?”

“I hope you find your balance. That is what you are seeking, right? You are feeling loose, but completely wound up at the same time? You are good at structure, but are waiting for it to collapse and trap you? You wonder, as you walk by the apron, why it hasn’t snatched you into a whirlwind of chaos and dirt, because it is merely a slippery slope, right? You hug yourself tight around the middle because if you don’t, who will? And if you let go, you will melt and come undone. I can only imagine how hard that must be.” Ben said, letting his hand release to his side.

“Who, who, what.” Claire sputtered, and released her hands clutched into fists, hugged around her sides. “Who the hell do you think you are?”

“I’m a doctor of psychology, Claire. I know who I am. The question is, who are you? Are you a to-do list? Are you order? It is okay if you are, but ask yourself, is that who you are?” The last thing Claire wanted to consider was that question, that answer. And she didn’t know why. “I think this has been a great session, and I’d love to see you again, if you would like to continue, Claire.” Claire looked confusedly at him.

“What?”

“I really think we are starting to get somewhere, don’t you?”

“Where are we getting? I’m still stitched together and you are still, well, you.”

“See? When you came in, you made it sound like you were couture, and now you just admitted you feel safety pinned together.”

“Stitched.”

“Right. Well, I would suggest we meet every two weeks. Karen can get you set up in the calendar. I have one assignment for you in addition to leaving the apron.”

Claire sighed, “What?”

“Have sex in every room of your house before I see you again.”

“What?”

“Do you really want me to expand on the reasons why, or do you know them.”

“Right. Do I call you Ben? Dr. Brown?”

“Ben is fine.” He extended his hand again, and Claire shook it. Exhausted, she took her coat off the rack.

Defeated.

 

Serial Sunday chapter two: basics

If you are new to Serial Sunday, it is a series in which I publish one chapter a week on Sundays. It is raw, unedited, and totally out of my comfort zone, but so far I love the process. Here is chapter two:

Claire had pinned herself together enough to plough through her day. She acted as if what Sara said was normal. She nodded her head and smiled and said, of course, yes, that is what needs to happen, um hmm, yep, that sounds good. Some time. Right. See someone. Uh huh, sure. No shame. right. Okay. In the end, Sara hugged Clarie and said, “This is going to be the hardest and best journey you have ever gone on, so you should record it. Record it for Grace, because she will be here, in your shoes, if you don’t.
Internally, Claire screamed. She cried, she gasped, she cracked a bit, externally she nodded and smiled a tight smile. She started to say thank you, but before it came, a single tear streaked her make up and Claire’s stitching stretched and pulled. She quickly wiped away her deceiver, but it was done. She looked at Sara and realized with one more breath she was going to completely burst through her designer tags and be a puddle of nothing on the floor…the dirty floor.
So she denied it. She controlled it. She said she’d think about it, gave Sara a hug and pushed her out the door. She:

meet with a new client – Hanson couple

- flat
met with Simon – contractor for Syaid family
return drapes – Barbara Jackson
meet with the Tammy – seamstress for Syaid living room
pick out Syaid furniture
email Conor’s Science teacher
call Greg
pick up kids
dinner
clean up

With each neat check mark behind her tasks, she cleared her screen and started to add to tomorrow’s list. Conor sat with Greg in the dining room working on his science homework, Grace sat on the couch with her laptop toggling between a facebook chat and her research for an English paper. Usually Claire would tell her to shut down the chat, but she didn’t have the strength today. She was too busy second guessing every action she had made in life. Next to Grace remained the apron Claire had thrown haphazardly this morning. It held her gaze.
Isn’t it normal to have mess? Isn’t it normal to have chaos? The quiet in the house caught Claire and she listened to the perfect murmur of life. Grace’s fingers clicking on the keyboard, Greg’s encouraging words as Conor asked questions and desperately worked on focusing. Claire tried to find a time in her memory banks when there was mess, chaos, unplanned fun, but the returns were scarce. When Conor was bor – no, Sara had pooled our clients and bought us a maid service. When Conor was little, he liked mud – so we had a mud station equipped with a routine play, rinse, change. She wandered upstairs to look at the state of the bedrooms, her bed was made tight. Grace’s was too. Conor’s was flung over and a little rumpled because it was the last thing he did before barreling down the stairs every morning, even his routine was scheduled, predictable, ordered.
He is only ten, Claire. Have you given him a childhood? She considered whether her children were their own beings, or a product of her to-do list, and the tears came.
She knew the answer.
She knew her list for tomorrow had to change.
Order had become chaos, and Claire held on as tight as she could, but the flood gates were creaking unable to bear the pressure any longer. Claire slid down the wall, looked at the black and white pictures lining the wall and noticed one off kilter. Instead of fixing it, she let the dam break.
Greg found her, swooped her up and into their bedroom before the kids heard her. He knew she would not want them to see her out of control.
“What is going in with you?” Greg asked. He brought her a warm wash cloth and a box of Kleenex.
“Honestly? I might be cracking up, Greg.” Claire pulled a Kleenex and blew her nose. Greg sat on the chair across from the bed. Claire stared at him. His chest, tight in his dark sweater, contained concern and composure. He smelled of fresh cologne, applied after his shower at the gym. He too was scheduled and focused, which made their marriage a no brainer. She couldn’t remember the last time they had argued or had sex or hugged for that matter. Every night they settled into bed, she on the right, he on the left. He brushed his teeth while she turned down the bed and piled the pillows on the bench at the end of the bed. Then she brushed her teeth and he changed into pajamas and turned on the T.V. while checking email. Claire climbed in on her side, put lotion on her hands, smiled at Greg, read her book, he would turn off the T.V., roll over, kiss Claire on the cheek, mutter good night and fall asleep.
Claire stared at Greg and started to heave again, even their marriage was based on precision. She waved at Greg to come over to the bed. She tired to ignore his tense uncomfortablness as he sat on the edge of the bed. She crawled across the king sized bed and fell on his chest and clutched around his waist. Greg looked, wide-eyed at her. Awkwardly he patted her back.
“We used to have fun, didn’t we?” Claire sobbed. “We were madly in love, right? In college?” Claire pulled her nose across the front of his sweater and left a trail of snot and tears. Claire lifted her head fast and looked wide eyed at Greg. “Our honeymoon! We had all sorts of sex and drank and swam naked in the pools, oh we had a great honeymoon. Want to have sex?” Claire sat back and started to unbutton her blouse. Greg stopped her hand.
“Claire!” he snapped. Claire stopped her frantic movement and stared at him.
“What?”
“We are not having sex right now. Our kids are downstairs. Now tell me what is going on with you.”
Claire stopped and looked at his snotty front and her half unbuttoned shirt and tried to muster the energy to tell him the story, but sighed instead. “I’m not sure, Greg. Are you happy?”
“Of course I am. Look at us, we have two great kids, two successful businesses, a gorgeous house, thanks to you, and good neighbors and friends. Honey, we have a great life.”
“I know.” Claire said and nodded. She had the princess dream, and yet she felt ugly, dirty: like she was living a lie.
“Tell you what. I’ll take care of the kids tonight and you take a bath and unwind. I’ll call you into the spa tomorrow and you just take a day. Okay?”
“Yeah,” she nodded and mustered up a smile, “that sounds good, thanks babe.” Greg smiled and patted her hand like he did with Grace. He rose, kissed her on the top of her head and walked out, closing the door behind him.
Claire sat up straight on the bed. “Okay.” she resolved. She wiped her eyes, blew her nose and headed to the bathroom. Perhaps Greg was right, “I just need to relax.” she said aloud to push the looming truth away. “Not now,” she muttered and turned on the water. “Not ever.”

20120122-101038.jpg

Serial Sunday: Chapter one – The ball drop

In December of 1860, Charles Dickens started publishing Great Expectations one chapter per week. He ended in August at week 59. the serial novel is fascinating to me because I love the idea that every week there must be a chapter produced, there must be intentional editing and writing along the way. Dickens may have banged it out right before it was due, but something tells me that he was a bit more planned in nature than that – and he was much more prolific with his writing than I have been, so maybe there houses the nutty, crazy, and risky idea of starting a serial Sunday.

I will publish a chapter every Sunday of a new book that has nothing to do with the Return to the Garden Series. I have no idea where it will all lead, but I like the idea, so I figure if it ends up being a short story, that is just fine – it is something different that will be just as exciting. Who knows, but I’m excited to bring you chapter one:

Claire knew it was crazy the minute it flipped through her mind, but it wouldn’t go away. Each time it crept back in, she shook it off, but now she was actually moving her hand as if batting away a fly. She stood at the kitchen sink running through the morning dishes. Conor had come through swatting her playfully on the butt and giggled as he ran to his room to gather his backpack for school. Claire shouted after him, “Hey! Knock that off!” like she had for the past ten years. She looked back to the dishes and there it was again, this nagging thought. This idea that refused to loosen its grip on her mind. She turned off the water, looked out the window and dried her hands mindlessly on the front of her apron.

“Mom?” Conor said as he started for the front door, “We’re going to be late. Grace, hurry up!” He yelled up the stairs. Grace stampeded down the stairs, grabbed her jacket and backpack by the door and stood for a second looking around. “Mom?”

“I’m right here,” Claire said taking her apron off as she entered the living room.

“Where’s my breakfast bar?”

“I’m guessing in the kitchen.”

“Mom, you are always by the door, ready to go, with my bar in hand.” Grace said as she put her jacket on. “You are throwing off my balance.”

There it was. Claire stood and stared at Grace. Grace rolled her eyes, shook her head and breezed past Claire to the kitchen.

Balance.

The idea continued to creep and now Claire didn’t shake it off as silly, she examined it, scrutinized it and started to rationalize it.

“Come on mom,” Grace said and grabbed her mom’s elbow to pull her out the door. “Grab your coat off the hook and get your purse, man you are freaking me out this morning.” Claire threw her apron on the couch and looked at how out of place and foreign it was in her sleek and modern room. There wasn’t anything ever out of place or order. She constantly picked up or threatened the kids within an inch of their social lives to clean up after themselves. Greg called her type A or anal, but her response was orderly and balanced.

But she wasn’t balanced.

Her house was.

Her kids were.

Her job was.

But Claire? No, she knew perfectly well that much like Dorian Gray, her soul was murdering her spirit one to-do list at a time.

“Mom!” Grace yelled and threw Claire’s jacket at her “Let’s go!” Claire nodded dumbly and snapped back into herself. She put on her jacket, grabbed her purse, and pulled the door shut, making sure it was locked.

*                        *                           *

                “What is going on with you?” Sara asked.

Claire wiped away a piece of lint from her desk and shrugged. She swiveled her chair back and forth and then quickly stopped herself. She stood and moved to the couch. She sat, gently, and crossed her legs trying to control the restlessness inside. Sara, her partner and best friend stared at her.
“You want to crawl out of your skin, don’t you?” Sara asked.

“Oh my God, yes!” Claire exploded and threw herself down onto the couch. She didn’t care if her shirt and pants wrinkled. She didn’t care that she didn’t brush the couch first before laying down on it. “I left the apron on the couch this morning.”

“What?”

“Yeah,” Claire sat up and stared at Sara, “I know. We were running late,”

“What?”

“I know.” Claire nodded at Sara’s disbelief, “I can’t explain it, I didn’t have Grace’s breakfast bar at the door, I was still in the kitchen, I,” Claire paused and looked at the signs on the far wall, the new branding for the business,  Unstuffed, bringing balance back. “Oh Sara, I’m unstuffed, but there isn’t balance.” she said pointing at the sign. Sara looked over her shoulder to the signs and looked back at Sara. “Don’t look at me like that,” Claire said.

“Like what?” Sara pulled back trying to get herself collected.

“Like you agree with what I’m saying, you are supposed to say I’m not unstuffed and that I’m acting crazy.”

“The last is true.”

“Sara!” Claire flopped back onto the couch.

“Is this about turning forty five?”

“No, this is not about turning forty five.”

“Are you and Greg okay?”

“What do you mean?”

“Are you having sex?”

“Yes Sara, we are having sex.”

“Enough sex?”

“Gees Sara,” Claire pushed herself off the couch and stood by the window again watching the flurries try to gather. It was November and already a light  fluff covered the ground. She hoped for a warm up for the turkey trot she and Greg were going to run together on Thanksgiving. The fact was, she and Greg were beyond well. They had a great relationship and spent even more time together than before kids. No, this was all internal. This was all inside. This was all her. “Sara, I just can’t get it out of my head that somehow, even though we built our entire business on it, I am not balanced. I am out of balance. I am off kilter. I am going to fall over.”

“I’ll help you up when you do. Or I’ll get you one of those button thingies, you know, ‘Help, I can’t get up!’” Sara flailed her arms.

“Remind me why we are friends.”

“Because I keep you balanced.” Sara stood by her friend at the window and gave her a hug. “Look, we established this business together to help people feel more balanced, but you know as well as I do that there is no real balance.”

“What?” Claire pulled back and looked at Sara.

“Yeah, it is a farce, friend. You know that,” Sara swatted the idea that this was brand new to Claire to the side and sat in Claire’s swivel chair. “No one can ever be balanced all the time, Claire, crazytown would take over.” Sara looked at Claire and allowed the disbelief on Claire’s face to sink in. “Oh-dear-god-you-thought-you-were-balanced. Like, for real.” Claire nodded her head. “Oh shit, woman, sit down.” Sara stood and guided Claire to her chair. “Oh honey, it is okay.” Sara rubbed Claire’s back as wet seeped from the corner of Claire’s eyes. She couldn’t remember the last time she cried which shocked her even more. She felt like she had been saran-wrapped together all these years and now, slowly but surely, the plastic was giving way. What else had she been lying about? What else was fake? What else could follow this?

She heard Sara murmuring over Claire’s sobs, but couldn’t grasp the words. She felt out of control and that scared her more than the idea of living in a fake world. In fact she yearned for her wrapping, she pulled for it each time she blowed her nose and tried to contain herself, but as soon as she gained control of her breath the tears flowed again.

“What am I going to do?” She choked out between sobs.

“Well, honey, I guess you are going to get busy.”

“Doing what?”

“Relearning.”

“Relearning what?”

“You.”