He came inside huffing like a dog and sat on the chair without saying hello to me. His fat fingers held a wad of documents, and he had an expression on his face that told me he had either witnessed a crime or had climbed all fourteen floors of this building.
“How can I help?” I looked through my appointments, “Mr. Shorty? Is that your name?”
“Yes,” said Mr. Shorty.
And then got up from the chair to tuck his red shirt in, that was at war with his pot belly.
“Can I have a glass of water? I took stairs,” he said.
“Why didn’t you take the elevator?” I passed a glass full of water, that he gulped down all at once, this whale of a man.
“Scared of elevators,” he said.
“All of them?”
“All of them!”
“Interesting.” I made a note. “What else scares you?”
“Shit, I don’t know,” he scratched his temple, “Taxes? Numbers? Algebra? Dinosaurs? UFOs? Crocodiles? Pregnancy? Giraffes? Public speaking? Claustrophobia? Wolves? Witches? Bats? Sharks? Ghosts? Clowns? Chainsaws? Right about everything else that is scary. I mean, you name it.”
I stared at him. Too much head and hair on this one, but not a lot of brains.
“Okay.” I said. “What are somethings that you should be scared of, but you aren’t?”
“Fire.” He said, almost immediately, as if he was waiting for me to ask that. “That shit has got nothing on me.”
A hint of pride appeared on his lips and then faded on his bushy and shrunk eyebrows.
“Is that so?” I pursued the trail.
“What do you mean?” he said.
“I mean, for someone who is scared of witches and algebra, you seem fairly outspoken about your love for fire!”
“Yup!” he gloated.
“Well, go on then?” I said.
“Look doctor,” he paused, “I don’t know … am I supposed to call you doctor? Therapists are doctors right?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said, “you can call me whatever you want”
“Okay, doctor. Then I will call you doctor.”
“Fair enough.” I said.
“The thing is doctor, I am a fireman. Fire doesn’t scare me. Other shits do, but not fire. Ummm mmmm. I mean, you throw a fireball at me, I will dodge it and won’t complain at all. You send me inside a burning building and I’ll rescue your chihuahua. And I will walk on burning coal in a tribal dance all night. I mean, there is a reason why they call me Mr. Shorty, The fireman superhero. The Firemero. Coz you know – ”
“Alright! Alright!” I cut him off, “So what’s the problem then, MR. Shorty? Not a lot of people are good at things they do. But you seem to be, like they call it, nailing it? Right?”
He seemed confused and lost at the curveball that I had hit him with. How could he not see this coming? Then he took one large sip out of the second glass placed on the table. His adams apple looked like it wanted to escape his throat. I looked at my watch. The moron had wasted 10 minutes of his half an hour session, that costed him $100, talking about nothing.
Then he blabbered like a toddler and I noticed he also had a hint of lisp.
“Well fire, like I said, fire is no problem. It’s the other stuff. You know what I mean? Like, If the fire is on the 18th floor of the elevator, and I got to hang by the edge of a crane with fat water hose? What do I do? Or that if I gotta get inside a rundown building where clearly there are witches and bats, waiting to pounce at me? What then? My singular talent to jump through fire doesn’t come handy then. Does it? I might as well sign up for circus. Jump through fire hoops? Breathe fire like a dragon? Entertain stupid kids and their stupid parents, and annoy animals. Right?”
I looked down at my shoes. And clicked my pen. The man had a point. He also had an awful smell of grease and rotten bacon, that wafted across the room. But he also had a point.
My parakeet shifted on his leg and ogled at both of us. The goldfish had stopped swimming too. Mr. Shorty and all my animals were waiting for me to say something.
“Alright, look Mr. Shorty,” I said, “the fears you have are mostly in your head. Which by the way, is the case with most of the fears, but in this case, your fears are not rational. A rational fear is a fear of fire. Which you surprisingly don’t have. But to be afraid of witches and ghosts is an irrational fear. Sure, height could be dangerous, but what I am suggesting is that with a little practice and effort, you will be able to overcome most of your irrational fears. Alright?”
“Ah, unh, Alright!” He hesistated.
“Okay. Good.” I said, “Now, I want you to look around in this room and tell me what you are scared and not scared of. Okay? For instance, I know you love the fireplace, probably your most favorite thing here. Isn’t it? But am not too sure about these animals. Are you fond of animals, Mr. Shorty? Or do all of them scare you as well?”
He sneered. Nodded. Got up from his seat, and began inspecting everything in the room. And with much enthusiasm he said, “Oh, fuck! Is that a turtle?”
Oh, fuck! Yes, it is! I wanted to say but instead, I said, “Sure it is … and wait, turtles scare you? That’s strange. They are peaceful and lovely creatures. No one should be scared of them.”
“Oh, they give me the creeps, Doc. Have you ever seen a snapping turtle? They look like they can eat your fingers off.”
Wow! I made a silent note in my head. You could kill this guy by throwing kitties and sugar candies at him.
“Alright, here is what I want you to do Mr. Shorty. I want you to pick that turtle up and take him on a tour. That thing is slow. He takes a year to crawl across this room. So, you pick him up and walk around for a bit, try forming a bond with him. Pet him if feel like. And when I tell you, you put him back where he is right now. Alright? And Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite, hasn’t bitten anyone – YET!”
He agreed at this idea. Slowly moved ahead. Breathed loudly. Jerking his hands in the air like he was getting mild electric shocks. Huffing like a weightlifter about to perform a deadlift. Clapping loudly to get enough blood flowing across his massive body. Hopefully some to his brains as well.
But as soon as he approached the turtle, he closed his eyes. Shrunk his shoulders. Let out a few strong abuses. And picked up the turtle by his marginal shell. The turtle bobbed his tiny head, confused as much as I was, at what was happening. This six-and-half feet of a firefighter with 300 pounds of weight, was holding an 8-inch-long creatures that barely weighed 20 pounds, and munched on a single leaf for 10 years.
The genre of his abuses was crass and incomprehensible.
“Alright!” I yelled. “Mr. Shorty, please open your eyes, that thing won’t kill you.”
He shook his head. Cursed louder than before. Refused to follow any of my instructions. In that moment, I could’ve poked his closed eyes with a needle and he would have still not cared to open them.
“Okay this is not helping Mr. Shorty, please open your eyes. This session is costing you $100 and it will be useless, if you can’t overcome your fear of a benign creature.”
It worked. Shorty opened his eyes. But then, the next moment he closed them again, then opened them again, and let out the loudest shriek in the history of mankind yelled by a 6-footer. And then he did this thing where he threw the turtle inside the fireplace. The turtles’ neck melted like marshmallows, only leaving traces of his vertebral shell.
Then he quickly wiped his fear, disgust, and sweat, all on his khakis and yelled out curses that did not make any sense. He also jumped so loudly on the floor that my parakeet turned sideways in horror. I had never seen so much and so less of a man at the same time.
“Alright,” I said, “your times up.”
I charged that motherfucker $300 that day. $200 for the turtle.