Therapy by Lorin Cary

Lorin Cary's flash fiction about the power of suggestion.

Bob smiled as he entered the theatre. He'd get popcorn, a good seat and enjoy the show. No, the concession line was too long. He didn't want to risk a front row sore neck.

Pleased at his timing, he headed for his perfect seat, about dead center, half way back, an empty row with no one in front of it.

A woman slid into the aisle and sat down on his left. "You look tired," she said.

"Me?" Bob said. She was attractive, petite, had large brown eyes and looked... intelligent. Was she interested in him?

Then a man took the seat to his right, leaned over and touched Bob's arm. "Don't mean to intrude, but you look bushed. It might be the weather," he said. "When it's cloudy like this I feel drained. Damndest thing."

"Hmmmm," Bob said and yawned. "I suppose."

"You should try those special lights that emulate sun rays."

"There's a name for that," the woman said. "Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD. And that's the way you look."

"Right," said the man. "Or it could be depression."

"That's true," said the woman. "The lights do help, most of the time."

"The lack of sun would exacerbate an existing state," said the man. "Have you felt depressed lately?"

"Me? No. Actually I -"

"If you're normal you'd know if you were depressed," said the woman. She patted his arm. "Which is not to say you're abnormal."

Bob wiped his hands on his trousers and realized he'd left wet marks on them.

"Excessive perspiration can be a sign of stress," said the man, "and that contributes to fatigue. Do you sleep well?"

Bob tried to make himself smaller, conscious that the two had their elbows on the arm rests on either side of him. He swallowed and stifled a yawn. "Sleep isn't a problem."

"Well," said the man, "sometimes people sleep to avoid their difficulties."

"Good point," said the woman.

A trickle of sweat ran down Bob's side and he loosened his collar. His feet felt cold. He wished the show would start.

"Do you have a bundle of problems?" the man said. "Worry all the time?" He reached down and lifted one of Bob's hands. "Ah. You bite your nails."

"That says a lot," said the woman. "Although it can reflect a long-term dysfunctional habit rather than stress about a current issue per se."

Bob smelled buttered popcorn.

"You're frowning," said the woman. "That's not a good sign. And you're tapping your fingers which -"

"How's your blood pressure?" said the man. "The way you're sweating makes me wonder."

Bob's heart thudded. "Look," he said, "I don't think you -"

"How's your hearing?" said the man. "The fact that you didn't answer my question leads me to ask, because a hearing deficiency would complicate the case."

"The case?" Bob said. "No, I hear okay."

The woman mumbled something.

"What?" Bob said.

"Just as I reckoned," she said. "You've lost a good bit of upper range capacity."

"Upper range capacity? Is that serious?"

"Symptomatic. It's fairly typical of men as they age, though personally I believe it has to do with wanting to shut out women." She stared at Bob, her dark eyes seeming to bore into his soul. "Are you doing that?"

"No," Bob said, feeling his heart race. "I don't think so." What he'd like was for them to stop talking. What he'd like was some popcorn. What he'd like was for the movie to start. Maybe he should move.

"But you're here alone, aren't you?" She smiled, a thin knowing smile.

Bob grimaced and sank lower in his seat.

"Vitamin deficiency," said the man. "Make sure you take them all. I just say that because you're a little pale."

"Which," said the woman, "might indicate something more serious." She studied him. "You know, that slight tremor around your eyes could point to a neurological disorder."

Bob blinked, tried to keep his eyes open wide. This was too much. He should say something. Still, they seemed well meaning and it would be rude to -

"Ah," said the man as the lights dimmed, "The show's about to begin. Nice talking with you."

"I don't believe -"

"Shhhhh," hissed the woman.

A preview started about a woman going mad.

"Could you please stop wriggling," whispered the woman. "That's a sign of unease, you know."

Bob took a deep breath and let it out slowly, thinking "unease" was vague, imprecise and worrisome. He lifted one hand and chewed at a nail. He tried to watch the woman and then the man without moving his head. They appeared to be absorbed in another preview, this one about a couple trapped inside a castle with psychotic monks. As the feature film began the desire for popcorn resurfaced and Bob salivated. He sighed.

"Please," said the woman.

Maybe, Bob thought part way through the movie, they're right. Maybe I am depressed, or a victim of a horrible disease.

"Please sit still," the man whispered.

When the lights came on Bob realized he'd missed the end of the film. Even with his eyes open nothing had registered. Should he see a specialist, have a CAT-scan?

"Get some rest, buddy," the man said as he stood up.

"Do that," said the woman.

"Say," said the man, "would you like to get some coffee?"

Bob started to answer, then understood the man wasn't talking to him. He decided to flee. "Excuse me," he said.

The woman put her hand on his shoulder. "Escape isn't the solution. And with the wriggling and nail biting you certainly don't need caffeine. But you need something."

The man nodded. "She's right. She's always right." He chuckled. "We've helped dozens of people."

Bob thought of popcorn as he left the theater. He really needed to get his life on track. Or did he? Who were these strangers to tell him what he needed to do? He chewed at a fingernail, walked faster and left the theater.


  1. I loved this, so amusing and so true to life - the power of others' uninvited reflections on one's own life and how they can shift perceptions of self. A cautionary tale indeed. Thank you so much,

  2. Thank you, Ceinwen! You captured the essence and I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  3. It irritated me - I wanted the man to get up and move away, or do something! A very good short story as it had me right there. I was the man, but only for a bit, and like him, I was very glad when it was over. This isn't meant as a criticism, it just means that you totally got my attention.

  4. this is so convincing! I know people who go on about alleged health problems, but not that much!I think he felt helpless from the onslaught of `symptoms`, that´s why he didn´t move.
    Anyway, fine piece of work.
    Mike McC

    1. Interfering busybodies - they're a pain! Some folk don't seem to have enough excitement in their own lives so have to insert themselves into the lives of others. An interesting story. I just wish Bob had enough backbone to tell them to back off, but perhaps he was just too polite to do so.
      You certainly know how to get a response from your readers, Lorin.

  5. Thank you all. Bob could use Al-Anon and learn how to take care of himself....

  6. They say in life that everything that we experience is a lesson in one form or another. In the case of Bob, perhaps he should be more assertive and will continue to live these moments until he takes some action. This was a great story, well written, and a learning experience in itself.

  7. A delightful story, which illustrates well the harm that people can do by not minding their own business.

  8. Good story. I think it could also be read as Bob's own interior dialogue because he has doubts about the track his life is on.

  9. I liked the pace of the story, and it zaniness. I think Bob not getting up was part of the absurdness of the situation.

  10. an amazingly well written story. I can relate with Bob not only on the busybodies, but with how he felt about them and his own life.

  11. Nice little slice of life story. Pests are everywhere, certainly at the movies.