The other psychologist is yours, whatever that may turn out to mean. Like Petra’s counselor, your Dr. Rubino is slightly-built, tweedy, and neatly bearded. Is this a look psychologists deliberately cultivate? Or a sign of the kind of men who become psychologists? Rubino’s office is in a small brick bungalow in the town’s student neighborhood, though the house is much less rundown than most of the big frame buildings nearby, once the homes of prosperous merchants and professionals, now converted to small apartments, with rusting banks of mailboxes clinging like cold-sores beside their front entrances. The office itself sets the same tone as Mason’s, academic, bookish, and den-like, but more authentic-seeming, less like a hastily-dressed stage set. One way or another, though, you feel on the spot, required to deliver the goods.

Unlike your sessions with Mason and Petra, those with Rubino cause you to drop your defensive posture, so you find yourself revealing more of your life, inner and outer, past and present, than you might have intended. Evidently more than Dr. Rubino may be interested in hearing. He keeps cutting to the chase. You keep trying to turn the sessions into self-indictments, not only of your own recent behavior, but also of your long-term shortcomings as a human being. Rubino sits across from you behind his desk, regarding your latest revelations with professional, restraint, a skeptical half-smile persisting on his face and spurring you on to further self-accusations that might get the condemnatory response you seem to want.

After a few such appointments, the psychologist stems your flow one afternoon by touching his forehead briefly, as if he might feel a headache coming on. You fall silent, waiting, and he does speak. “We both make a living by communication,” he says. “I may do more listening than you do. But we both do a fair amount of talking. Right now you want to talk about your past, long before your current situation, as if you might discover a key to the future back there. My focus is a little more practical. Most of my patients aren’t dealing with stuff buried in their childhood. They’re trying to get through a specific situation in the present. And they can’t necessarily talk it away. Action is generally the answer. You need to consider that.”

You find yourself looking at the box of tissues on the corner of Rubino’s desk. Blowing your nose is action, you think.



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 Wednesday, December 14, 2022 - 21:25