He called three times before I saw him in the flesh. “Hello Doctor;” I woke up tired and wondering if we could do the appointment by phone.

“Should I call you doctor or Peter?”

“Peter is good,” I said. And paused.

“You know for the first session; I really need to see you in person. The phone is too distant and we need to determine that you are comfortable with me.”

“Oh, oh, I understand; but it is just, well, I am tired.”

“Too tired?”

“No, I guess I could make it down.” In my mind I thought, from his address it was only a ten-minute walk.

I resisted my impulse to judge and then he said, “Okay, I can make it.” I hung up the phone—he’s tentative, I thought and sipped some coffee. I asked Benjamin, my canary what he thought. An hour later I got a message on my Android messenger with the same explanation and he said, I am supposed to see you at 2.

I wrote back. It’s 2:40 and ignored his explanation of fatigue.

At 2:43, my cell phone rang. I looked out of my office window. “Hello,” I recognized his number; “I am downstairs. I didn’t bring the note I had about how to get in.”

“No worries. I will be right down.”

“Don’t mean to bother you.”

“No bother!” And I hung up and trotted down three flights. He’s disorganized, I thought, as I reached the bottom step.

He was short, shorter than most men. About 5’4’ and his hair resembled a ratted comb from the sixties. It was black and thinning, so he was doing his best to have a look of his own. Maybe it was a seventies look, a blow out, like Bea Arthur in Maud. A thick chain around his neck and three silver rings on his fingers were part of his image. I could smell a hint of cologne.

I didn’t dress for the occasion, a button up shirt, some nice grey sweats and hushpuppies. Covid made me a little lax.

“Sit,” I said. “Want some water?”

“No, I am good.” At first, he met my gaze.

“So, what would you like to tell me today? Feel free.”

“Well, it’s my mother’s birthday. So, with the little I have, I thought I could get her flowers and a treat–a card. She’s not a nice person.” He looked away.

“Do you have siblings?” “A brother, younger than I. I always tried to protect him. I look like my dad, so my mother has always disliked me—my brother, she praises. My dad left us when I was ten—married my mother’s sister.”

“Yikes,” I said.

“Yeah, and he would call my cousins his kids.

“So, you don’t think much of yourself–doubtful, I presume, with a father so dismissive.” The more he disclosed, the less he met my gaze.

“What goes through your mind these days?”

“Well, that I am sort of a nobody, a loser.”

“Ah, that’s tough.”

“And losing my job didn’t help. I get by and my girlfriend keeps me going in spirit.” I twisted the rings on my pinky and leaned back resting my head on the wall behind me. “I had a good job, and was laid off buy UCSF.”

“How long have you been with your girlfriend?”

“A year. And before that I as married ten years, and then my wife divorced me. We had a nice life.”

I looked at the painting of bare winter trees on my wall, then at him. His defeat was palpable and his low mood almost filled the eight-foot space between us. I wanted to change the subject—escape his depression, go outside and talk to a stranger. You’re bringing me down man, but this is my job. I looked at my watch. “So what else is important for me to know–like how does your suffering show up? Anxiety, or mood. That kind of stuff.”

“I have nightmares about my cat that died; wake up anxious. Feel sad.”

“Weary,” I said.

“Yes weary. But I know I can get another job.”

“When were you laid off?”

“March. But I know how to find work.”

Whew, I inhaled one uplifting thought but as we went on, he seemed to get smaller before me. He was a drinker he told me, got a DUI for an open bottle in his suit case, but was sober that day. Like faded upholstery, his face paled, “I am trying to stop; have a sponsor.”

“Does he help?”


“Go to meetings?” I leaned forward.

“Sometimes,” he looked up.

Sessions are usually fifty minutes, but my clock said it had been forty. From his tale, I took a detour. asked him how he felt about being with me.

“You’re cool,” he said. And we made a time for next week.

I stood, “Nice to meet you.”

“You as well,” and he stepped out the door.

I am not sure I am up for this, I thought. He’s downward Dorothy. I took another client to ensure my income. Although at 3:20 on a Monday, wanting to flee from the shrink world, I settled for a cigarette, a sip of coffee and stopped by Kevin, the button maker’s shop downstairs. He is sexy, quirky and I want him.


Andrew Pelfini has been writing in multiple genres since age twenty-seven. He published a collection of prose taken from the writers in The Intergenerational Writers Group in San Francisco. For thirty years he has been in the human services and education field working at universities, non-profits and private practice.