I must say that I have been overwhelmed by the warm and welcoming reception you have given me these past few days. It was with great trepidation that I renewed my counseling practice here at Bonnywood, fearing that my lengthy stay in France had soured our relationships. On the contrary, the bookings have been solid and well-attended, to the point that we have had to initiate a waiting list.
It’s marvelous, really. Just a month ago I was facing financial uncertainty and a ruined vocation, yet weeks later all fiscal obligations have been met and we are practically turning away neurotics at the door.
Of course, the usually lovely Lanae, our esteemed receptionist, had to throw a dark cloud into the day by wondering aloud if the REAL reason for the influx of activity was that people simply wanted to hear the sordid details of my Parisian mishaps. I chose to ignore that possibility. After all, prior to Paris, I had an international reputation for excellence, successfully treating the most wounded of souls.
Then again, Lanae can be a smidge bitter from time to time, usually as the result of yet another unsatisfying encounter whilst attempting to establish a romantic connection with a member of the male population. When these attempts go south, she gets quite blue and stops bringing potato salad into the office on Fridays.
Anyway, with my revenue stream at a very healthy level, I can now focus on your various treatments with even more vigor, which is certainly good news for all concerned. In fact, I no longer wish to tell the tale of my abominable experience in Paris to each of you as you resume your sessions. The constant recitation of the facts is getting a bit old, and I wish to put the whole situation behind me.
Therefore, I will visit the narrative one last time, via this email, and then we shall never speak of it again. Unless, of course, one of us is legally bound to do so in a court of law. This is always a possibility, especially when the French are concerned.
Herewith, the chain reaction of coincidences that led to my incarceration.
The day started pleasantly enough, as it typically does when one is in Paris, supposedly attending a week-long conference on the current most popular things that make people have psychotic breaks. I say supposedly, because we all know how these things go. There are meetings and lectures in abundance to attend, but no one goes to them, especially if you’re in Paris. You only attend those sessions where you might win an award or there is a prize of some kind.
That particular morning, I had taken up position at a comfortable table in a charming bistro, sitting out on the sidewalk and sipping a delicious concoction loaded with caffeine, and gazing at a quaint little plaza with a statue in the middle, presumably of someone who had done something worthwhile in their lives and hence metal was fashioned in their likeness.
Just beneath the statue, there was a small family perched on an iron bench. Mother and Father were lavishing attention on a cute little tyke, perhaps about five, as he giggled and squirmed and danced, doing silly things that are pleasant enough when you are five, but incredibly annoying in anyone older.
As my waiter brought a second cup of nirvana, the happy trio across the way gathered their things, marched this direction, and stepped up to the bistro counter to order something tasty. While preparations took place to satisfy their needs, the youngster ambled a few steps away, careful to stay in the line of sight of his mother (good boy, well-trained), and came to a halt right in front of me, looking up at my face.
I beamed back.
“You stink,” he said.
What? I was taken aback. “Pardon me?”
“You STINK,” he repeated, widening his eyes as he emphasized the second word.
“I most certainly do NOT. I’m freshly bathed.” Really, what was wrong with this child?
He decided on a different approach. “You’re ugly. You’re very, very ugly.” And then he raised a skinny little arm and pointed out something on me at approximately chest-level. “UGLY!” he almost shrieked.
I was seriously at a loss on how to deal with this rude little urchin. What was he talking about? My tie? Did he not approve of patterned silk? The natural instinct to counsel kicked in. “Help me understand what has you so distraught?”
His eyes narrowed. “I saw you. I saw you touch the sheep. You touch the sheep all the time!”
Good GOD, what was going on here?
He stepped forward, reached up, and jabbed his grimy finger into my chest. “I’m TELLING. I’m telling EVERYBODY!”
This was just too much. I lost my professional demeanor. “Don’t POKE me, you little heathen. I’ll poke you BACK!” He paused and stood quietly for a second, calculating his next move.
“Andre! What are you doing to that man? Get over here.”
The urchin and I turned to look at his mother. For just a moment, her composure was gone, and I could see that Andre had proven to be a very difficult child to raise. Then she regained control and smiled sweetly. “Come along, Andre. We have your lunch, and it’s time for you to go to the Center.”
Andre turned back to me, sneered hatefully, then raced to his mother’s arms, an angel once again. She kissed him and smoothed his hair. Daddy, meanwhile, looked at me with an ashen face, fully prepared for a lawsuit of some kind. That poor family, dealing with a demon child on a daily basis, never knowing when they might be arrested. I’ve seen this a thousand times in my work.
I made a hand gesture at Daddy that signified everything was fine, just take him away before I reconsider. They promptly did so. I then made another hand gesture at the waiter, signifying he had best bring me another cup of nirvana or somebody would be dead.
My phone rang.
It was Henri, a chum from the University of Toronado, where we had both gotten our doctorate. We were attending the same neurological convention, although he had not had to travel nearly as far as me, living as he did in Paris. “Hello?”
“Brian, mon ami. How are things?”
“Well, I was just accosted by a midget and-”
“That’s lovely. Say, can you help me out? In a pinch of sorts.”
“I suppose I could. Are there children involved?”
“No, no. Pas des enfants. I am in Chambord, and there is an issue.”
“South of Paris. It is not important, really. What has happened is that we were getting the cheese we love, and crazy Americans in a white van drove us off the road and we broke an axle.”
He paused, as if this brief synopsis had explained everything. It did not. “What does this mean?
“I have a client session this afternoon. It cannot be missed. She must meet every Wednesday or there is much of the trouble. Can you see her?”
“But Henri, I am not certified in France. I know nothing of your diagnosis and treatment for her and-”
“It is fine, mon ami. She is an easy one. Very simple. She just wants to talk, she does not care who, but it must be on Wednesday afternoons.”
Really? I would relish patients such as that. I could force them on Lanae and go out for sushi. “But Henri, I don’t know where your office is. Would I even have access?”
Henri made one of those odd sounds the French make that either means I am being stupid or the escargots are fighting their way out of his stomach. “Brian, it is simple, we meet at my flat on the Rue de Couchon. You know of this. Many times we went there after the drinking.”
Indeed we did, many times after the drinking back in the day. I had a lengthy relationship with the toilet in his bathroom, the porcelain curves etched into my brain as I laid there and dry-heaved many a night. “I suppose I could do this. Anything I should know?”
“The vegetables talk to her.”
“The what do what?”
“The vegetables. She will bring you one, and she will tell you what it said. You pretend to make notes, and you do the nodding. It is very simple.”
Simple. He keeps repeating that, and every time he does I get a little more anxious. But I did owe him for those long ago years, when I was intimate with his toilet and the oddly-shaped, smelly couch that was strangely soothing after a night on the town. “Okay. Yes, I will do this, Henri. But we have the awards ceremony at five. Will you be back in time for that?”
“I believe so. Take your things with you to mon flat, so you can cleanse yourself after Madame de Vegetable, you will be wanting to do so, and I should arrive in time for our departure for the stunning awards where we pretend surprise.”
“And the key is still in the same place?”
“Oui, third rock from the sundial. She will be there at the sharp of three o’clock, as always. Merci, mon ami. Now I must go. The crazy Americans in the white van are still nearby, I am told. Death is possible. Au revoir.”
And then he was gone. I snapped my phone closed. Then sighed.
Well, I had a few hours before this apprehensive rendezvous with the Vegetable Lady, so I decided to visit the Salvador Dali museum in Montmartre. I had always been fascinated with Dali, mainly because I could never decide if he was truly inspired or was just completely insane. After several hours of review, I still didn’t know what to think.
Off to the flat on Rue de Couchon.
I let myself in, and was instantly awash with memories from our graduate years. So many things change, and yet so many things remain the same. It didn’t take me long to discover something that had truly changed in a manner that I never expected.
I whipped out my phone and speed-dialed Henri.
“Henri, why is there a goat in your kitchen?”
“Ah, the goat. Do not mind it. I have a client, he pays with livestock, it is nothing.”
I paused and stared at the goat looking at me quizzically. “Do I need to DO something with the goat, or is he okay?”
“The goat is happy. He will not trouble you. But do not let him out the back door. There are children in the courtyard and he will eat them.”
“Could you repeat that?”
“I am sorry. Not eat, bite. He will bite them. This is something we do not want, children and animals biting. Do NOT open the back door.”
I took a deep breath. Was I awake? Was this really happening? “Okay, Henri. Duly noted. No backdoor for the goat. Are you on your way yet?”
“Yes, we arrive in time for the pompous ceremony. A bientot.” And he was gone.
I clicked the phone closed, just as the doorbell rang. Vegetable Lady was here.
Much to my surprise, she turned out to be a very nice woman. We had a very pleasant conversation. The only disconcerting element of our session was that she had placed an enormous cucumber on the table between us in the front room. Everything that she had to say, she claimed, was the result of her previous chats with said cucumber.
She finally rambled to a stop, and then prepared to depart, making no effort to collect the cucumber from it’s resting place on the coffee table. Perhaps she had overlooked this. “Madame,” I said soothingly, “ the cucumber?”
She smiled briefly. “The cucumber is for you. Make the salad as you always do, Henri.” And then she was gone.
Henri had not mentioned the making of a salad. And since she was already gone, I assumed that this action would not be necessary. I placed the cucumber on the counter next to the kitchen sink. As I did so, I noticed that the window above the sink had been shoved completely open, and that there was a can of Crisco sitting on the window sill.
I didn’t even know where to BEGIN thinking about what this might mean. So I ignored this little set piece, and went to take a shower in Henri’s bathroom, waving a quick hello to the toilet I had hugged all those years ago.
Once I was cleansed of the day’s traumas, I hopped out of the tub and wrapped a towel around my waist. I sauntered back into the kitchen, looking for my travel bag that contained the luxurious body cream that was so soothing for my dry skin.
The can of Crisco was missing from the window sill.
The cucumber was missing from the counter.
Could this day get any stranger? What was going on?
I peeked out the window and spied the Crisco can lying on the ground in the courtyard. Well, I’d best retrieve that can, happened on my watch and all. I proceeded to the back door, and this is the only development during that mystifying day where I accept blame. I forgot about Henri’s warnings concerning the goat. And after I glanced around the courtyard and did not see anyone about, I thought it would be okay if I slipped outside wearing nothing but a towel. After all, this was France. Scantily clad people meant nothing to them.
I was so wrong in those two minutes of my life.
I opened the back door and took three steps to the Crisco can. Picking it up, I turned back to the door, and this is when the Fates of Hell determined that I should suffer. The door burst open, and out galloped the goat, with the chatty cucumber firmly gripped in his teeth.
The goat raced past me in a frenzy of freedom. I instinctively chased after him, remembering Henri’s words that the goat should not be allowed to bite neighborhood children. I could not let this happen. The goat thundered through the courtyard, heading toward an open door across the way.
I ran as fast as I could, and actually caught up to the goat just in front of the open door. I reached down to grab him, but only came away with the cucumber that he apparently released to lighten the load in his attempt at escape. I followed him inside whatever dwelling we had entered, only vaguely noticing that my towel snagged on something in the doorway. I wanted to get that goat!
Once inside this unknown building, the goat skittered to a halt, surprised by the scene before us.
It was a room full of youngsters, roughly around the age of five. A quick glance around the room, with its happy posters and smiling cartoon characters, made it very clear that this was a daycare facility of some kind. For very young children.
And there I was, standing behind a goat, completely naked, and holding a can of Crisco in one hand and a cucumber in the other.
Right in the midst of the startled young children, clutching a bag of goodies from the bistro I had visited that very morning, was that evil tyke Andre, the crazed little boy that thought I smelled bad. He opened his vicious mouth and screamed: “That’s the man that wanted to poke me!”
In my astonishment, I dropped the can of Crisco, and it rolled with an alarming clacking noise to the feet of the one adult in the room, a pinched-faced woman with her hair in a bun, signifying that she was uptight beyond words. She whipped out her cell phone and called the police.
They were there within two minutes.
I was in jail twenty minutes after that.
And all of this because somebody had talked to a cucumber and needed to share their thoughts on the matter.
I hate France.
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