Hey, Ma, you ever dream about fish?
I know, I’m sorry I ain’t called in a while. But I gotta ask you a question: You know what they say about fish in dreams? I’m tryin to figure out what my shrink—my therapist—is tryin to tell me.
Not that I believe in all that psychological stuff. My company just started sendin me to this guy ‘cause of the stress. It’s a good job, I like the work fine, and the benefits are decent—I mean, hell, anymore just havin a job is good, right? Benefits are gravy. But you know, it can get pretty stressful havin to deal with customers who don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground, plus be polite about it even when you feel like tellin ‘em to hang up and call back when they’ve grown a brain.
Anyhow, my boss started pushin all these employee wellness programs; said he’s sick and tired of payin for all these benefits no one’s usin. “Deb,” he says to me, “I want you to start goin to ‘see somebody,’” you know, with that look like he don’t want to say what “see somebody” actually means, even though we both know what it means. I ask why, he says he heard me on the phone with a customer—a “client” he calls ‘em—and almost had a heart attack. Says I was one step away from losin it and tellin the lady what I really think of her. Well, seein as how I couldn’t really say he was wrong, I couldn’t really say no. So I been goin to “see somebody,” but I don’t know how well it’s workin, ‘cause it seems like every time I come out of one of those sessions I’m more irritated than I was when I went in. Like last time, when we talked about the fish…
So a few a weeks ago I head to Dr. Ober’s office—yeah, Dr. Ober, Herr Doktor Ober, straight outta central casting. Old guy, thick German accent, has probably been doin psychoanalysis since it was invented. He’s got this little bitty office over on the east side; low overhead I guess, but not bad once you get inside. It looks just like I imagined a therapist’s office would: wood paneling, soft lighting, diplomas all over the walls—he’s even got a bust of Freud in his bookshelf. No couch, though, which is fine by me. I like to look people in the eye when I talk to ‘em, know what I mean? I talk to people on the phone all day at work, can’t look at any one of ‘em in the eye.
Anyway, I walk into his office a couple a weeks ago and he asks me all the usual questions: how was your week, you sleepin okay, anything unusual happen at work? Then out of the blue he asks me what did I dream about the night before. He never asked me that before. I usually don’t remember my dreams, but it just so happened that I did remember what I dreamed about that time.
“Well,” I say, “I dreamed I was sixteen years old again, and I was home with Ma.”
That’s right, Ma, back in you and Pop’s house.
Then he goes “A-ha!” and scribbles somethin into that little notebook he always has on his desk. It always bugs me when he does that.
Anyway, I start tellin him about the dream. “I’m sittin in the kitchen readin the paper, lookin at the movie ads. I remember feelin really antsy, like I just had to get out of the house.”
Then he goes, “A-ha!” and writes some more.
I go on. “Well, I really wanna go see a movie, but Ma won’t let me ‘cause she wants me to stay home and help her and some guy I don’t even know move a bunch of boxes of old clothes up into the attic.” Well, soon as this comes outta my mouth, I know what he’s gonna ask.
“Could zis man be your Fazzer?” he asks, and he sits back and looks at me, and his leather chair makes that creak you always hear when professors or rich people sit back in their leather chairs and look at you.
“No, it’s not Pop,” I tell him. “I just said I didn’t know the guy. Anyway, I remember bein really angry at Ma for makin me stay, ‘cause I didn’t wanna help her at all.”
Ma, it ain’t dirty laundry, it’s therapy. Anyway…
“A-ha!” he says again. “Aggression against ze Mozzer schtemming from ze Electra Complex!” And then he scribbles into the little notebook again. Someday I wanna get ahold of that thing and find out everything he’s sayin about me. See, that wasn’t the first time he said Electra Complex, so I looked it up and frankly I don’t buy it. No, Ma, I ain’t even gonna to get into it, ‘cause I know it would just upset you, and it ain’t even true.
Anyway, here’s Herr Doktor Ober, writin away and I’m thinkin he’s thinkin I’m a total creep; but really I’m thinkin he’s the total creep. And I’m also thinkin this is gonna be my last visit to him.
“So are you sure you don’t know who zis man is helping your Mozzer?”
“No!” I say, startin to lose my patience. “Do you want me to go on or not?”
“Pleass continue,” he says. He puts his pen down and leans back in his leather chair. Creak.
So I continue. “Well, like I said, I was real mad at Ma—but only in the dream, got it? So just to spite her, I start to go downstairs to call a friend, ‘cause I always went downstairs to call my friends so she couldn’t hear what I was sayin.”
“In ze rreal life or ze drream only?”
“Oh,” I say, “both, I guess. So I’m barely down two steps when I hear her say ‘Dammit, they’re out!’ Now Ma, she don’t usually use that kinda language—” Yes, of course I told him that. “—so I come back up to see what’s wrong, and then I see this fish. It was this big, fat green fish, about a foot and a half long, and it’s just swimmin through the air like it’s water. Swimmin nice and slow, big lazy circles like it don’t got a care in the world. Then two more fish come out of the box and start swimmin around just like the first one. They’re all kinda fat and sparkly, just kinda circlin around, nice and slow. Ma and this guy are goin crazy, runnin around, ducking, tryin to catch these fish again but they can’t. And the fish just keep swimmin around like they don’t care.”
Then Ober asks, “Und how did you feel toward zzese fisch?”
I hate it when he asks questions like that, ‘cause you always feel like you’re gonna say somethin wrong and he’ll think you’re nuts. But because I decided this was gonna be my last visit, I wanna at least get somethin out of it, so I answer: “I dunno, they were interesting all right, but they were kinda disgusting too. I wanted to look at ‘em and I didn’t, you know? I wanted to touch one to see what it felt like, but I was too scared to.”
“A-ha!” he says, and he looks real happy. “Ya, zzis is goot. Go on!”
So I go on. “Well, like I said, I was too grossed out to get any closer. Then all of a sudden, one of ‘em starts swimmin right at me. I’m standin there, frozen, and I don’t know what to do. I decide to duck and let it swim over me, but at the last minute I have this urge to smack it, you know? Just give it a good smack and see what it’s made of. So I reach up and grab it, really grab ahold of its skin, and then it starts to rip open. I’m so grossed out and scared by now, I just throw the thing to the ground. And when it hits, it explodes, like when they show a star explodin on TV, you know, with all those little white sparks comin out. It was so weird!”
“Well, then nothin,” I say. “Nothin happened after that. I just woke up.”
Now I’m startin to feel real weird ‘cause he’s scribblin in that little book like there’s no tomorrow. He’s sittin there writing, goin “Mm-hmm” and “A-ha” and I’m just sittin there feelin funny. Then he goes, “Zis man helpink your Mozzer, are you sure he iss not your Fazzer?”
By this time I’m really startin to lose it. I mean, whose dream was it, his or mine? So I tell him no, it wasn’t my father, and who had the dream anyway, and why was it so important to him that this guy should be Pop. So of course then he apologizes and tries to get me to calm down. People know not to mess with me when I’m riled up, which is I guess why they sent me over here in the first place, to keep me from gettin riled up. But like I said, it don’t seem to be workin.
So I keep gripin and askin what he means by this and by that, and he just sits there real quiet. And I say I want to see what he’s writin in his little book about me, that I ain’t gonna stand for it no more. Well, he flinches like I hit him, kinda jerks back like I’m stickin a pitchfork in his face or somethin. I guess that little sign of fear just kinda eggs me on, ‘cause then I stand up and lean over his desk, and that old leather chair is creakin like crazy ‘cause he’s tryin to sink right through it into the ground. I was breathin hard, I realize now. I mean, I didn’t think about it at the time, but I was breathin kinda hard and I prob’ly had my hands in fists, now that I think of it. I got my hands in fists and I’m standin over him and he’s tryin to creep back into his seat. And I’m just a woman, but a pissed-off woman, and he’s just an old man.
Then his lip does this—quiver. I just keep lookin at him, and his lips start shakin, and then he takes in this trembly breath and his whole face kinda falls in on itself and he starts cryin. Like not even a man-cry, more like a sniffly kid-cry, like he ain’t even sure what he’s cryin about, and what else can I do but get him a tissue?
So I grab the box of Kleenex next to the Freud bust and kneel down next to him and he takes one and dabs at his eyes and the tip of his nose, and I realize I could never hurt this man. And I’m too embarrassed for the both of us to look him in the eye, you know, so I stare at his hands, which are sittin in his lap holdin the soggy Kleenex. His hands look kinda dainty, with long, tapered fingers, and they look soft, but I don’t reach out and touch ‘em, cause they—I don’t know why, but the way I felt toward his hands is kinda like the way I felt toward the fish in my dream.
And I can’t even look at his hands no more, so I stand up and get my stuff to go.
“Wait,” he says, and I screw up the courage to look at him. He’s quiet now, looks a little more composed. He even tries out a smile, but it’s kinda shaky. “So, you know who I am?” he asks.
I just shake my head. I should be out the door by now, but I don’t move an inch.
“I ssink you know who I am,” he says. And now he’s real calm, at peace. He leans back in his chair, creak, like he’s real tired, but satisfied. And I’m like a tree in that office; I can’t move. I stand there, coat and bag in hand, lookin at him; and he closes his eyes and just sits there.
I don’t know how long I stood there, a minute, five, ten? An hour? Finally he opens his eyes and sees me still standin there, and acts surprised even though we both know he isn’t. And he says, “You are not comink back, are you?”
And finally I can move again. I shake my head and turn my back on him. I head for the door, and I got my hand on the doorknob, and I hear:
Splash, like water.
I turn back around; no one’s there. He’s gone.
I call out: “Dr. Ober?”
I try again: “Herr Doktor Ober?”
I start feelin that tingly kind of scared, you know, ‘cause he was just there and now he’s gone. I head toward his desk and my heart’s beatin like crazy. If he’d a had a receptionist or somethin, I woulda called ‘em in, but it was just me there, inchin toward his desk by myself.
First thing I notice as I get closer is, that book he’s always writin in is gone. It always sat on top a that desk, him scribblin away in it, but it wasn’t there no more. Well, I start lookin around for another door, thinkin maybe he just took his book and went home; but I don’t see no other obvious ways out, and the thought of a psychiatrist with hidden doors in his office scares the crap outta me, so I don’t look around for no secret panels.
So I come around the side of his desk—‘cause somehow the idea of a shrink hidin under his desk don’t scare me as much as the thought of a shrink with hidden doors in his office. But before I can look under the desk, I see a puddle in his chair; a puddle of water in that little divot where he used to sit and ask me all those questions. And I just stared at that puddle and watched his balled-up Kleenex soakin up the water, meltin like sugar.
Well, I just went home after that. What else was I supposed to do? I never went back after that, and no one ever called me.
My boss asked me yesterday how things are goin with the doctor. I said fine. He said good, he could tell.
But now, almost every night, I dream about fish. I can’t stop dreamin about fish, only now it’s always just the one, and he’s still got that goddamn little book, and I can never figure out for sure what he’s tryin to say.
So, Ma, I was kinda hopin you could tell me.
Tara Campbell [www.taracampbell.com] is a Washington, D.C.-based writer of crossover sci-fi. With a BA in English and an MA in German Language and Literature, she has a demonstrated aversion to money and power.
Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, Tara has also lived in Oregon, Ohio, New York, Germany and Austria. Her work has appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books, Potomac Review Blog, Hogglepot Journal, Lorelei Signal, Punchnel’s, GlassFire Magazine, the WiFiles, Silverthought Online, Toasted Cake Podcast, Litro Magazine, Luna Station Quarterly, Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers and T. Gene Davis’s Speculative Blog.