His Own Devices

A rectangular, fabric-covered behemoth, all edges and angles, the color of sand
Laced with minerals, worn spots signaling the imminent breakthrough of springs,
And marked by the residue of cat-vomit.  The sofa calls to mind the day
His next-door neighbor asked him to accompany her on a field trip to a dredged
Canal in Dover to search for fossils amid the Mesozoic sludge and shiny grit.
Mismatched furniture: two painted wooden chairs the color of lizards; 
A sun-catcher shaped like a bird hanging in the room’s single window;
A tiny television horned with antenna, complete with tinfoil to improve reception;
A rickety brass floor lamp, shade askew; a frayed green hooked rug
Matching the sofa’s general air of overuse and obsolescence;
Stacks of nineteenth and early twentieth-century British novels;
A metal typing table with an antique typewriter that calls for considerable
Hand-strength to operate the balky keys.
                                                                   The public-health psychologist takes it all in. 
They face each other on the mismatched chairs.  Her hair in a bun, professional jacket,
Skirt, blouse, feet crossed at the ankles, sensible low heels.  Why is she here?
“You’re not sick,” she says.  He tells her he feels sick, that life seems like something
He’s living to fill time.  And he does ask her why she’s here, if not to confirm that fact.
She says she never makes house calls, that she’s only here because this will be
Their last meeting.  “So you’re dumping me,” he says.  “And my problems.”
“Look at all these books,” she says. She begins to pile them into a tower,
Then stops and looks at him.  “You read these,” she says.  “You write.  You’re articulate,
Probably smarter than all my other clients.  Maybe me, too.”  “So that means
You can’t help me?  Won’t?”  “It means you can help yourself.”  He tells her
That’s a cliché of analysis and counseling.  “You’ve just made my point,” she says. 
She tells him she got into public health counseling because private practice
Is full of clients like him.  “You’d be a gold-mine,” she says.  “You’d talk and talk
And uncover more and more stuff to talk and talk about.”  She stacks more books,
Then smiles at him. “And I’d make money.  I want to help clients who can’t help themselves.”
“So you’re leaving me to my own devices.”  “Good way to put it,” she says.
“Because you’re good at constructing your own labyrinth.  And when you’re ready,
You’ll find your own way out.”  She looks at the vomit-stained sofa.  “And you have a cat.”
“It died,” he says with some satisfaction.  Then, “Fine.  Fine.  How much do I owe you
For today?”  She says she had a meeting on campus, then, “This is in the house—
And on the house.”  “Very funny,” he says.  She rises.  “Goodbye, then.  Take care.
And remember—you’re not sick.”  She leaves.  He knocks over the tower of books,
Then picks up The History of Mr. Polly.  And gets back to his own devices.



Arnold Johnston

Arnold Johnston's poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and translations have appeared widely in literary journals and anthologies. His plays, and others written in collaboration with his wife, Deborah Ann Percy, have won over 300 productions and readings, and they’ve written, co-written, edited, or translated over twenty books. Arnie’s latest projects are The Infernal Now (poetry, Kelsay Books, 2022); Where We’re Going, Where We’ve Been, (poetry, FutureCycle Press, 2020); Swept Away (novel, Atmosphere Press, 2021), and Mr. Robert Monkey Returns to New York (a collaborative children's book with Debby, Brandylane Publishers, 2021). A performer-singer, Arnie has played many solo concerts and over 100 roles on stage, screen, and radio. He was chairman of the English Department (1997-2007) and taught for many years at Western Michigan University.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, March 19, 2020 - 09:58