Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook: Fake It

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This story was written for the March 2016 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month!

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“I knew I had to find it before,” Jimmie Myrick said.

“And so did that make it easier to find it this time?” Dr. Jasmine asked.

“No,” he replied. “In fact, I haven’t found it. It’s shifted. Before, I found it for Claire and the boys. But now they’re grown, and Claire is busy with her new career.”

“Not to mention her new husband.”

“Exactly. So, if I can’t find it for them…” His voice trailed off.

Dr. Jasmine handed him a card. On one side, she’d scribbled her phone number. On the other, was the number of a crisis hotline.

“Just in case it gets really bad,” she said. “Enter both those numbers in your phone. Just to be ready. Help is a call away.”

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“I’m not at that point yet,” he said, and Dr. Jasmine nodded.

“I know,” she replied. “This is for preventive purposes only, just to be sure. To help keep you from ever reaching that point.”

She walked him to the door.

“There’s this saying that one of my friends who’s in AA shared with me,” she told him. “Fake it until you make it.

Jimmie thought about that. “It doesn’t sound very real.”

“No,” said Dr. Jasmine. “It’s not. But it is something. The point is to put something in place until you find it.”

He tried it for a week, every day.

Once, doing the dishes, he caught himself smiling. It wasn’t fake, but the moment he felt it, the smile disappeared. So the next smile he faked. He hummed a little tune to wash dishes by, not a real tune, but enough of a semblance of one for an actor in a dishwashing detergent ad.

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He made coffee each day, a whole pot, though he was the only one there to drink it.

He pretended to enjoy the ritual, the sound of the ground beans sifting into the filter, the aroma, the steam from the brewing pot.

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Every morning, he pretended to savor the bitter brew. Fake it. At least it kept him from crawling back into bed and sleeping the morning away.

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He wondered if it would make a difference.

He tried not to wonder if it would make a difference.

The next day, he wondered again: would it make a difference?

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Fake it.

He hadn’t needed a reason when he was a boy. Every morning had broken with hope, and he’d jumped out of bed and hopped on his bike to do a million things before school.

That hadn’t been him, had it? That was another person whose memories happened to be implanted  in him.

He was an old man who stood on the landing and tried to find a reason not to crawl back into bed.

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Fake it.

He’d lost it for a while when the boys were nearly teens. Life had become futile. His career had stalled, and it seemed he’d never make tenure. That was when he first started losing Claire.

“Why aren’t I enough?” she asked him.

He couldn’t answer. “It’s different for a man,” he said, but he couldn’t bring himself to say that love wasn’t enough, that he needed something more.

He supposed he had faked it back then, pretending to be happy for Claire, for the boys. Maybe he hadn’t found it. Maybe all those years, he had faked it, even then. Maybe that’s why Claire left once the boys were grown. Maybe faking it wasn’t enough.

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The house was so empty.

It wasn’t so empty when you stayed in your room, in your pajamas. When you ate breakfast in bed and let the dirty dishes pile up on the night stand, the rest of the house floated away. How could it be empty if it wasn’t there? When you curled up in bed and closed your eyes, it was better: everything disappeared then–maybe even you, if you kept your eyes closed long enough.

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It didn’t matter, did it, if he stayed in his pajamas all day?

What was the reason to get up? No one noticed.

Fake it.

He liked the taste of coffee.

Fake it.

He had something to do.

Fake it.

Nothing mattered anyway.

Fake it.

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He faked his way into his art studio one morning. He pretended not to notice the dust on the easel.

The oils were dry. The acrylics had hardened. But he found some caseins that were fresh enough.

He had forgotten their scent. He liked it: the sharp bitter of the cadmium; the creaminess of permasol blue; the sweetness of raw umber.

He didn’t like the painting he created, but he pretended to.

He returned to the studio the next morning. He forgot to fake it and found himself engrossed in the sensations of applying paint to the canvas. Yellow ochre spread so smoothly. He smiled a real smile: it didn’t extend far, but it curled his lips.

He felt something inside–not for long, but for a moment. It felt real.

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It was gone the next morning, but the next day, the week was up, and he dropped by Dr. Jasmine’s in the evening again.

“So,” Dr. Jasmine asked, “did you find it?”

“Does it matter?” Jimmie answered. “Does it even exist? Maybe there is no reason to be happy. Maybe there’s no reason to get out of bed each morning. Maybe the reason isn’t the thing. Maybe it doesn’t matter if you feel like it or not. Maybe you just do it because it’s the morning, and that’s what you do in the morning, you get out of bed. And then you make coffee. Do the dishes. Force yourself to hum a song. And then, at ten o’clock in the morning, you wander into the art studio and paint. You fake it. And before you know it, you’ve got a painting on the canvas, and maybe you’ve got a smile on your face, and maybe not. But at the very least, you made it out of bed. You did something. The day wasn’t wasted. String together enough days like that, and maybe a reason to be happy doesn’t matter any more because maybe you wake up one morning and you discover that you simply are happy.”

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“So,” said Dr. Jasmine, “are you saying the question isn’t the thing?”

“Not exactly,” said Jimmie. “I’m saying the search is not the thing.”

 

Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook: The Apple Pie of Love

This story was written for the February 2016 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month!

This story is dedicated to all the lovely people who spend Valentine’s Day outside of a traditional romantic partnership.

Another Valentine’s Day, another morning of waking alone in a bed built for two.

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Kaylyn Beauchamp made the bed and stuffed her empty feelings. It had become a lonely tradition for her–perpetually single on the one day when the whole world blossomed for couples.

Why bother fixing breakfast when there was no one to prepare it for? She carried a bowl of potato chips into the dining room and sat alone at the long table.

Not once–not one single Valentine’s Day–had she had a lover, a boyfriend, a secret admirer, or even somebody she knew of who thought she was cute. And when she faced that day single, again, it felt like all the flirts that had drifted her way throughout the whole year amounted to a pile of thistle down to be carried off by the first gust of wind.

Kaylyn’s phone beeped, and she opened a text from Dr. Jasmine.

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Do what you love today, then come to my place in the afternoon.

Who knows what we will discover!

–Dr. J.


Another Valentine’s Day, alone. Myra Salmon inhaled the scent of the dark roast as she ground the coffee beans. The flavonoids never failed to stir romantic feelings. They must stimulate oxytocin, she thought. She’d have to research that later.

As she steamed the milk for her latte, she daydreamed that she was steaming enough for two. “I’ll be right there, Byron,” she said in her fantasy. Byron? Darwin. Doctor Darwin! Long dark brown hair, muscular, but not over-built. Oh! Maybe he should be a violinist. “I’ll be right there, Flavius. Put down your Stradivarius!”

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Someday, she would spend Valentine’s Day with her soulmate, waking him with breakfast in bed and kisses. But this year, it was café latte for one, once again.

She checked her texts. There was one from Dr. Jasmine!

Spend the day doing what I love? What do I love? she asked herself after reading Dr. Jasmine’s text, and she sat down with a romance novel while she sipped her latte.

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Mariela Bean woke to bird songs winding through the open window.

“Is it spring already?” she asked the house finch, who was warbling as loudly as he could. Fluttering movement on the sidewalk caught her attention. Brown wings flapped, something jerked. She ran out to find the house finch’s mate, tangled in string still fastened to the trellis.

“Now don’t fuss,” she said, carefully holding the bird in her hand while she untangled the string. The tiny heart beat so fast against her palm, and the bird’s eyes flashed with concentrated terror.

“Shhh,” she said softly. “It’s all right. Help is here.”

She opened her palm and the finch flew to join her mate. They sang together in their undulating flight toward the woods behind her house.

“And I’m alone,” she said to herself, “during this season of love!”

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She looked at her phone and found Dr. Jasmine’s text.

c u ltr 🙂 she texted back with a smile.


Kaylyn washed the bowl that had held her chips and thought: a whole day devoted to doing just what I love!

Had she ever done that? Not since childhood!

She began with a morning run. The air was thick with the perfume of hollyhocks, dianthus, iris, and roses, and the early spring sun felt warm as it embraced her shoulders.

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She took a shower when she got back home, forgetting all about conserving water and lingering under the spray, warm as the touch of someone’s hands, while she felt loneliness wash away.

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While the late morning sun streamed through the windows, she worked on a Brahms interlude. Sometimes, when she played Brahms, she felt that he was speaking to her. He was a solitary soul! “Free but happy,” she thought, remembering the motto from his third symphony, three notes: F–A-flat–F, Frei aber froh, a retort to his friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim, whose own motto was “Free but lonely.”

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Is it possible that she could be free but happy, she wondered while she painted in the garden, surrounded with the heady perfume of flowers and the zipping buzz of hummingbirds in flight.

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Myra closed the romance novel she was reading and strolled to the park behind her house, where she was sure to run into one of her friends.

“Darcy!” she called, when she spotted her friend in the picnic area.

“Oh, God,” groaned Darcy. “What a day!”

“What’s up, Darce?”

“It’s the Hallmark conspiracy. Can you believe it? One more day, like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, and Christmas, designed by the capitalist conglomeration to get us to buy their stupid cards, order their stupid floral displays, buy more candy so we can get fatter and stupider so we will buy more cards on the next official capitalist holiday. What a crock of pork rind, if you ask me.”

“No one to spend Valentine’s Day with?” Myra asked.

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Darcy groaned.

“Look,” Myra said, “Come have supper with me! I’m going over to a friend’s this afternoon, but I’ll be home by seven. We can eat veggie stir-fry and watch movies!”

“So you’re not getting dragged down with all this romantic hoopla?” Darcy asked.

“Maybe I was,” said Myra. “But I’m sure I won’t be alone forever! I know that somewhere out there, there’s a guy, waiting for me, my soulmate. And even though I haven’t met him yet, I know I will. And so, rather than wasting time now, being sad and forlorn and missing somebody I haven’t even met yet, I’m going to live full and happy and for me, so that when I do meet him, I will have already have learned how to be happy.”

“Oh my God,” said Darcy. “You’re serious! You really believe this crap!”

“I do,” laughed Myra. “I guess I believe in a big benevolent universe, and that our dreams will come true, and, if there really is someone for us, we’ll find that person, and until then, we owe it to ourselves, and to them, to become the best person that we can, so that when we meet them, we are awesome.”

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“Oh, dear!” sighed Darcy. “You really are a romantic!”


Mariela had a hard time concentrating on The Natural History of Big Basin State Park. The mockingbird outside sang so loudly that her attention wandered.

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She remembered a conversation she’d had with Dr. Jasmine.

“I’m just not sure I’m capable of love,” Mariela had said. “I don’t have all those mushy feelings.”

“Oh,” replied Dr. Jasmine, “love is so much more than mushy feelings! Love is what gives us the energy to do something for someone else! And I know you, Mariela. You are always doing things for others–even if those others are dragonflies and butterflies!”

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Mariela hadn’t agreed. It was hard to agree–or disagree-with a statement you didn’t completely understand. Recalling Dr. Jasmine’s words led her to wonder if the butterflies were back yet. The last week had been warm–maybe they’d returned from Mexico and were hovering about the wildflowers in the park!

She didn’t see any monarchs or Pacific blues in the park, but she did find a little boy there with clenched fists and a worried expression.

“Is everything OK?” she asked him.

“It’s got to be someplace!” he said, and his brow crinkled as if he were about to cry. “My piano teacher’s house. I can’t find it.”

“Is it in this neighborhood?” she asked.

“Yes! It’s not a big house and it’s not a little house but it’s next to a big house and next to a little house and I thought it was on that street over there but it’s not and now I don’t know where it is and I’ll be late!”

“Don’t worry,” Mariela said. “We’ll find it. What’s your piano teacher’s name?”

“I can’t remember,” he said. “It’s like something that you drink, but it’s not coffee.”

“Tea?” asked Mariela. “Is your piano teacher Ms. Tea?”

“Yes!” said the boy. “Do you know where she lives?”

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“Why, she lives right down this street,” said Mariela, and she walked the boy to his piano lesson.


At four o’clock, the three women gathered at the home of Dr. Jasmine. They sat on the porch and ate apple pie and drank Darjeeling tea.

“How was your day, my dears?” asked Dr. Jasmine. “Tell us all about it. What did you learn? What did you discover?”

“I finished a painting,” said Kaylyn.

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“I hung out with a friend,” said Myra. “She’s coming over tonight to watch movies with me.”

“I didn’t do anything,” said Mariela.”What about you, Dr. J.? What did you do?”

“Oh, I baked an apple pie.” Dr. Jasmine smiled.

“Have you ever been in love, Dr. Jasmine?” Kaylyn asked.

“Most mornings, when I wake up,” replied Dr. Jasmine, “I see the sunlight dancing off the leaves of the live oak tree outside my window, and from my heart wells up, ‘Thank you.’ What else is this feeling, but the feeling of being in love?”

“Isn’t it just gratitude?” asked Mariela.

“No,” said Dr. Jasmine. “I feel giddy and happy and full of bliss! It’s the feeling of being in love, I am just sure.”

“And who are you in love with?” asked Myra.

“With the sunlight. With the universe. With life!” said Dr. Jasmine, dishing up seconds of apple pie for each of them. “What about you girls? What are you in love with? Did you discover it today?”

No one answered her question, but they all three sipped their tea, and ate their apple pie, and soon they fell into the relaxed conversation that happy friends share at the end of a long rich day when the sun begins to spin its last gold and the heart is full of the song of sweet life, free but happy.

Dr. Jasmine’s Casebook: Ten Reasons to Leave

This story was written for the January 2016 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month!

Miranda Saunders kept lists. That’s how her messy life managed to stay in some semblance of order. She had lists for shopping, chores, birthdays, and errands. Her most important list started out as “Ten Reasons to Stay,” and through the years it had become “Ten Reasons to Leave.”

She brought the list with her when she went to see Dr. Jasmine Gooding. This was back in the days when Dr. Jasmine was a practicing psychologist, and Miranda was one of her last clients before retirement.

“So, I don’t know why I don’t just pick up and go,” she told Dr. Jasmine. “I mean, I’ve got it all written out right here. Irrefutable proof.”

Dr. Jasmine wasn’t interested in the list. “Tell me about you,” she said.

“I really work with life,” Miranda said. “It’s like this: when I close my eyes, I can see these images of the way things should be. Then, when I open them, I try to bring everything so that it fits what I see.”

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“And does that work?” asked Dr. Jasmine.

“Oh, yes!” said Miranda, who went on to describe her kitchen renovation project. “And now we have the perfect kitchen!”

“And how does this visualization technique fit with your feelings towards your husband?” Dr. Jasmine asked.

Miranda fidgeted and began to talk about her garden.

“I have a homework assignment for you,” Dr. Jasmine said as they reached the end of Miranda’s hour. “This week, try keeping one less list. And the lists that you do have? Try not looking at them.”

“Oh, I could never do that!” Miranda replied.

As she was walking home, though, she realized that she didn’t have to look at them. When she closed her eyes, she could see them all. Surely it didn’t count if she only saw them with her eyes closed.

She sat on a bench and thought through her most important list.

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10. He’s getting older.

9. I don’t feel the same when I look at him anymore.

8. He never holds me in the mornings since he started getting up early to exercise.

7. All the little things: not doing dishes, needing to be reminded to take the garbage out, and worst of all, putting the recycling in with the garbage.

It’s not petty, is it?

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She thought maybe it was. Never mind. The other items were more significant.

6. Forgetting things that I said to him, years ago.

5. I want more romance.

4. We never go out.

3. We keep having the same conversations.

2. I want to feel loved.

Number one, she always left as a blank. She knew that if she wrote it–if she admitted those words to herself–she would begin the process of truly leaving.

When she got home, he was sitting at the computer, like usual.

“How was your appointment?” he asked. “Did you solve the problems of the world?”

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She laughed. “Not even!”

He poured her a cup of tea. “Your own problems, then?”

“It’s not like that,” she replied. “I talked. She asked questions. She gave me homework.”

He chuckled. “What homework did she give you?”

“Do fewer lists.”

“Ah!” he said. “A not-doing homework!”

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And he turned back to his computer game.

By the time the next week arrived, Miranda had focused so much of her attention on not looking at her most important list that it seemed that each item–even the invisible unspoken one–was burned into the synapses of her mind.

“So it didn’t go so well?” Dr. Jasmine asked when Miranda arrived looking tense.

“It’s getting worse,” Miranda said. “Not keeping lists, and not looking at the ones I do have, made me focus on them all the more. I really need you to look at this one with me.”

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And she showed Dr. Jasmine her most important list.

“Are you thinking of leaving, then?” Dr. Jasmine asked.

“I don’t know,” Miranda said. “Some days I don’t want to. I like our house. It’s nearly perfect. But I want the rest of our lives to be that perfect, too.”

“How would you know if it was time to leave?” Dr. Jasmine asked.

Miranda waved the list. “When I get to number one, that’s when I leave.”

“Number one is blank.”

“That’s because I’m not there yet.”

Miranda took the list back and crossed out number seven. In its place she wrote:

7. He still harps on about arguments he had with friends years ago.

“I’d like to show you something,” Dr. Jasmine said. They walked out onto the balcony. Dr. Jasmine gestured towards the view of the mountains behind the bay.

“Mount McAlister. Mount Finley. Mount Fryda.” Miranda rattled off the names of the peaks.

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“Look with no names,” said Dr. Jasmine.

For just a moment, Miranda saw this backbone of her planet, exposed to the sun, and she looked with no names–for just an instant, with no thoughts. She simply looked, and she saw.

When they came inside, Dr. Jasmine showed her a painting of the same view.

“Which is more beautiful?” Dr. Jasmine asked.

“Oh, they both have beauty!” said Miranda. “The painting is more ideal, isn’t it?”

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She looked out the open door. “But that. That really exists.”

When the hour was up, Miranda asked what her homework was.

“Can you look with no names?” Dr. Jasmine said. “At least once, each day. When you look at your husband, can you put aside your list and look with no names?”

Miranda didn’t think she could do it. But at breakfast one morning, as her husband dished up the eggs, she saw his back and she didn’t see that now it stooped more than it had when they were young; she didn’t see that he had put on an old shirt, rather than the new one she bought him; she didn’t see that he was still wearing his muddy walking shoes. She simply saw. He stood before her, not as her husband, but as a man. A person. A fellow being.

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The moment didn’t last. But it was there. She had felt it, and in that moment, he stood before her as if he were new, not the same old one she’d been with for two-thirds of her life.

She still had her list when she went back to Dr. Jasmine the following week. It was as if she had forgotten all about that moment at breakfast.

“How did it go?” Dr. Jasmine asked. “Were you successful in looking?”

For fifteen minutes, Miranda rattled off her litany of annoyances, while Dr. Jasmine sat with a quiet smile.

And then Dr. Jasmine stood and asked, “What is more real? Our descriptions or that which is being described?”

“That which is described, of course!” replied Miranda.

“Then what have you been sharing with me?” Dr. Jasmine asked. She gestured again towards the mountains.

“Tell me what it was like when you were successful at looking. Who did you see?”

“I saw a man,” replied Miranda.

“What did you feel?”

“That I had never seen him before,” Miranda said, softly.

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“How does your list fit into this?”

“The last item on my list,” Miranda said. “Can I tell you what it is?”

Dr. Jasmine nodded. “If you are ready to.”

“The list is how I count down to see if I’m ready to leave. Nothing matters on it. I can see that now. It’s all petty. It’s all interchangeable. Except for the last item on the list, which I have never even written or even spoken.”

“Do you want to speak it now?”

Miranda did. “The last item is: I don’t love him any more.”

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“And do you find that is true?” Dr. Jasmine asked.

“I don’t know,” said Miranda. “I can truly say that I don’t love him at this moment. But I don’t know that I ever did. So it isn’t true that I don’t love him anymore. In that moment when I saw him, I loved him. Like I love those mountains, when I simply see them. But what if I have never seen him before? What if before I only saw the picture in my mind, and how he fit, or didn’t fit? What if I was just naming mountains?”

“And what do you find, now that you’ve gotten to the bottom of your list? Have you counted down to the reason that you need to leave him?”

“I don’t truly know,” said Miranda.

Miranda moved through the next week as if time were suspended. She had no lists. She stopped counting reasons. She stopped naming. Whenever she remembered, she looked. She felt different inside: softer, perhaps. More tentative.

One morning, when Jack brought her a cup of tea, his own eyes twinkled. She patted the couch beside her, and they sat together. As he told her a story he had told many times before, she heard his voice as if for the first time, noticing that it carried warmth, even as it recounted old words she’d heard a hundred times.

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