“Her Red Shirt in Stormy Weather” Ian Chua

Good evening! Instead of interrupting your busy Monday with our weekly snippet we’ve decided to give you a bit of a longer read–one you can enjoy with a glass or wine or mug of tea after dinner (unless you eat really late, then before dinner? Who eats dinner around nine on a Monday? Don’t you have to get some sleep? We should all get some sleep, but first, let’s read this snippet).

Her Red Shirt in Stormy Weather

He leans on his desk, both his hands supporting his weight. He’s dressed formally like a therapist would, but his face is hidden behind a fox mask. The mask radiates with various colors, but its eyeholes were starkly black. I see and therefore know about the dark of his eyes, but I haven’t the slightest clue of its depths. I don’t know what it is that’s looking back at me. I don’t know how much it sees.

“Sit,” he says—and I (eventually) do.

I’ve gone through several therapists already, each of them being essentially similar in how they charge so much, even if all they do is ask you how you feel about something. I can pay a homeless man five cents and have him ask me the same questions. He might do a backflip as a bonus. Therapists won’t even give me a complimentary high five.

“Why am I here?” I say. It’s a rhetorical question because I know exactly why I’m sitting in this cramped office, facing the world’s worst therapist with his dumb mask. That’s what they call him: the world’s worst therapist.

If you were to ask how he got that name, you’d get different answers from different people.

Some may say it’s because of his snarky attitude. Perhaps some would say that it’s because no one knows anything about him. These two things eventually led to his global fame. I know some people say he’s an enigma of sorts in that no one knows how he ticks or if he really does at all. Others—including me—might simply say that it’s due to how much he charges per session.

My mother paid a thousand dollars for today’s session. My gaze was on her tattered shoes when I told her I wasn’t worth the money. I never looked at her, but I bet her response was the same quiet smile she always gave me.

“That’s a good question,” says my therapist. His raspy voice is filtered through his mask, but his words are so surprisingly clear that I have no trouble understanding him. “Simple question,” he continues. “It’s so simple, in fact, that I’m sure you already know the answer. You’re just asking me to spite me. But let me answer your simple question with another simple question; do you think you need help?”

I bite my tongue. This costly session came at my mother’s expense. I think I should at least try to be nice.

Still, I don’t need help, and, in fact, I never thought I did.

My alcoholic father abused both my sister and me when we were children. On most days, he used his hands or maybe a belt, or sometimes my mother’s torn slippers. On Fridays, he used a monkey wrench, which either hit or pinched our flesh. He marked us with bruises that stacked weekly, none of which any amount of mother’s makeup could cover. So I lived my life in long sleeves and pants, masking my body, as well as my reluctance to sit down because it hurt to. When I was twelve, my selfish sister ran away from home and disappeared from our lives forever. She took with her none of the family pictures. Instead of memories, she took non-perishables and her clothes. She did leave one piece of clothing. She left her red t-shirt that still hung, by one clothespin, on the clothesline the night she left. She left her red t-shirt that still smells like her.

My father had to cope with abusing only me after she ran away. I was okay with it, honestly. I just would’ve preferred it if she didn’t leave traces of herself in the house. It was as if she had left her ghost, and each time I saw that red shirt wave in the wind, it was her flaunting her absence in front of the prisoners.

As I grew older, my father began to hit me less. We were both aging, but as I grew stronger, he grew weaker. I bet he was scared that I’d fight back. Since then, he grew a little tamer. He was still a pathetic drunkard, though.

On his drunkest nights, he would proclaim: “Alcohol is love, alcohol is love.” And maybe at first we laughed at how ridiculous he sounded—and looked, saying it—but one night my mother told him that the joke was getting old.

And he looked at her with his alcoholic eyes and said, “Alcohol is love. Once you start, it’s hard to stop. It even gets to the point where you lose yourself. But see, chances are you’ll wake up in the morning and say—shit.

“But you know what? We drink it anyway. It’s addicting.”

“I don’t need help,” I say.

My therapist just stands there, looking at me through the eyeholes of his mask. After a short moment of sheer silence, he pushes himself off his desk and walks to a nearby table. There, he pours a glass of red wine.

He holds the half full, half empty glass in front of me, and all I do is sit motionless.

“Doesn’t this glass look anything like you?” he asks.

I leer at him.

He then turns the glass upside down, pouring the liquid close enough to wet my shoes.

Now does it look like you?” he asks. “Colorless. Empty. You wouldn’t even bleed anymore if we were to break you.”

He smashes the glass at my feet, and I flinch. “Because you’re already broken,” he says.

“Let me ask you another question. It’s a simple question, really.

“Do you want help?”

Stop messing with me. I can’t answer you. Who gives you the right to change my normal?

I’ve never been outside the city, so all I really want is to travel. My grandfather was a sailor, and I respected him until he disappeared like my sister. There was this phrase he said when he came back from the seas, and my mother complained about the lack of presents.

He said, half laughing and half grumbling, “Seven untameable seas and a billion times

more insatiable souls.”

I wanted to sail the seas with him. Even if people didn’t like me, I’m sure the sea could.

Maybe one ride could’ve prevented my sister from running away. Maybe it would’ve rid the smell of iron. Maybe it could’ve washed the red off her shirt that hung on that stupid clothesline. Storm winds are strong, so someone take that shirt down before the wind claims it. One clothespin isn’t enough to keep it in place. Even if it’s my mother’s.

“We’re done here,” my therapist says. “Get out.”

I stand and turn. I open the door neither slowly nor quickly.

My eyes meet my mother’s, who had been waiting outside the whole time.

We walk, in silence, as the door behind me closes on its own.