‘Tiny Puffs of Air’ by Art Metzger

A man is looking nervously around the waiting room. He is dressed, not in the suit that his wife wanted him to wear, but still nicely in dress pants and a white shirt. He is sunk down in a leather chair that is almost too comfortable. He fidgets in the chair, every few minutes he feels an almost uncontrollable urge to get up and pace. But pacing is for maternity wards, not marriage counselors. Besides, he isn’t sure when his wife will come out of the inner office. When she does he wants to at least appear relaxed. When she comes out it will be his turn to enter the inner office to tell his side.

The man edges forward in the chair as if he is ready to spring. He has never been and never expected to be in the office of a marriage counselor. No, not a marriage counselor, a couples therapist. “I’ve arranged for us to see a couples therapist,” is what his wife had told him a few weeks before, taking him completely by surprise. What was she telling him? He doesn’t know of any problems, at least none that are serious enough to warrant bringing in a third person.

He looks at his watch. She’s been in there for nearly thirty minutes. The need to pace, or at least move around, is becoming stronger. He pushes himself up from the chair and stands. For a moment he considers picking up a magazine from the table next to him. He knows he won’t read it, but at least it will give him something to do wih his hands. But just as he reaches for one the office door opens and his wife comes out. “It’s your turn,” she tells him. She bends down to kiss him. “Please try to keep an open mind.”

The therapist’s office is decorated in the same style as the waiting room. In the middle of the floor two leather chairs face each other. Against the far wall is a leather couch. The wall to the left of the chairs is dominated by an ornate wooden desk. He wonders, as the therapist closes the door behind them, if he will be told to lie on the couch. He wonders if his wife had. But the therapist waves him to one of the chairs, then sits facing him.

“I have to admit,” the therapist said, “that though I’ve often seen couples for problems in the bedroom, none have been quite like this. I know your wife is the one who made the appointment, but can you tell me in your own words what you think the problem is?”

“I know that she doesn’t like that I won’t use a blanket. If I’m cold, or if it’s a cold night, I turn on a space heater, even though she says it runs up the know electric bill.”

“Do you know why you don’t like blankets?”

“As I’ve told her, I just can’t stand the weight of them on me.”
“Why is that?”

“I don’t know, but it’s been that way for as long as I can remember.”

“Anything else?”

“I usually sleep with a pillow between us, right against my face. And often when we make love I wear pajama tops. She doesn’t like that.”

“Do you know why you do that?”

“I know this is going to sound odd, but I can’t stand the feeling of breath on my arms, the little puffs of air when I exhale. So I block it with a pillow.”

“And the pajama top?”

“Same thing. The sleeves cover my arms so I can’t feel her breath when we’re close.”

“Okay, that’s essentially what your wife told me. She doesn’t understand why you can’t just change. Those slight rushes of air are harmless and she doesn’t why you can’t just ignore them.”

“I’ve tried to. She knows that. But it’s just no good.”

“And you have no idea how these habits originated, when they started?”

“No, it’s just always been that way.”

“One thing you need to keep in mind is that your wife called me because she’s worried about you. She wants to understand what’s going on, and I believe that you do as well. She suggested, and I agree with her, that if we could find the reason you do these things it would ultimately be easier for you to stop, to break the habits. As problems go these seem rather harmless, but they obviously bother your wife, and you yourself might feel better if you knew the reason for them.”

“So what do we do?”

“Have you ever been hypnotized?”

“No.”

“Do you have any objection to hypnosis? It might be the best way to find out what’s going on.”

“No, whatever it takes.”

“We can do the first session today and see what happens. After that we can set up a schedule for more sessions until we get to the bottom of things.”

“That would be good.”
“Okay, if you have no objections I’m going to have your wife come back in to observe. That way she’ll see that you’re willing to take steps to change, and it may help her to understand what’s going on.”

The man waits nervously while the therapist asks his wife back in. She settles on the edge of the couch and mouths a silent “Thank you.” Then he is told to relax and begin counting backwards from one hundred while the therapist moves his watch back and forth and talks softly.

It’s his bedtime and he hates going to bed while his father is still out. His father has been off work now for at least two hours, which means he’s stopped in a bar somewhere. The boy begs the babysitter to let him stay up. If the boy is still up perhaps his father will simply pass out when he gets home, before anything happens. But the babysitter says no. She doesn’t like it when she has to stay late waiting for the father to come home, despite the fact that she is paid for the time. She has other things to do, and she has school in the morning. So, knowing it’s inevitable, the boy undresses, leaving his tee shirt on, and pulls on his pajama bottoms. Then he climbs into bed.

He pulls the covers up around him, even though he knows that they can’t be trusted, they won’t protect him. He is lying on his stomach, it’s easier that way, and that way he can keep his face buried in the pillows. Then he waits, waits in the darkness. A short time later he hears the garage door.

He hears his father come in, then hears the babysitter leave. There are footsteps on the stairs, then the jangle of keys and a belt buckle as trousers drop to the floor. The boy buries his face deeper into the pillows as he feels the side of his mattress sag with extra weight. Then the weight is on top of him, and he can feel his father’s breathing, small puffs of air, on the back on his neck and his arms. The breathing quickens, and the boy’s pillows begin to soak up the tears.

Copyright 2017 by Art Metzger. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

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