COURT MANDATED THERAPY by Sage Tyrtle

Bill is not having flashbacks to Vietnam. Even though the shiny-haired psychiatrist says there’s no doubt at all, even though the list of symptoms looks like his autobiography. Bill sits on the burnt orange couch. He looks at the palm frond wallpaper. He says in his most even tone, “No, I believe you’re mistaken,” and he’s being careful because if the psychiatrist decides that he’s a danger to himself or others then he could end up a Thorazine zombie like Harry Alessi up at the sanitarium. Bill clears his throat and makes himself look into the psychiatrist’s eyes. Makes himself say, “But let’s explore it further.”

Bill is not having flashbacks to Vietnam. Yesterday, when Bill was kneeling on the floor at the local Goodwill, keening, he wasn’t hearing gunfire. He couldn’t feel socks that had been wet for so long they were disintegrating. His hands weren’t dripping in blood. Bill didn’t feel the horror the psychiatrist is telling him he felt, and avoiding places that remind him of the war won’t help. When Bill was on the floor, shaking his head in response to the Goodwill manager who was pleading with him to leave, he was holding a Holly Hobby doll.

Bill is not having flashbacks to Vietnam. Yesterday, curled into a ball on the floor in the Goodwill, he was also in 1971, he was also back at the house in Munroe Falls. He was ripping his draft notice into a hundred pieces and flushing those pieces down the toilet. He was stuffing clothes into a duffel bag. He was emptying the Green Giant Frozen Peas box of his mother’s pin money with a muttered apology. He was walking backwards on the highway, sticking out his thumb, muttering, “North, just north,” to the drivers. He was thinking of his Canadian wife who bounced out of bed at 5 AM, who made up silly songs whenever she saw a bumblebee, who never existed. The tiny apartment they never shared in Montreal and their imaginary little girl named Judy. Who pointed at the picture in the book he was reading and said, “I am Sylvester and you are the Magic Pebble, okay?” He is mourning his nineteen-year-old self, his gentleness in the years before he reported for duty, Sir.

Bill is not having flashbacks to Vietnam. But he nods and nods and tries to remember how to grin in a way that is convincing. He shakes the psychiatrist’s hand and promises to fill that prescription, doctor, and when he makes it outside he sits on a park bench where a pigeon flies over and looks up at him with bright eyes. He rips the prescription into a hundred pieces. He lets the wind take them.


Sage Tyrtle's stories have been featured on NPR, CBC and PBS. She's a Moth GrandSLAM winner. Her work is available or upcoming in Pithead Chapel, Bending Genres, and Cheap Pop. She hasn't owned a smartphone since 2014, which is just one of the ways she lives as if it's still the Analog Age.

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