JIMMY AND THE PATIENT • by Shivaun Conroy

Therapist: What do you see, Mr Brown? Take your time.

Patient: Ireland. A lake or a sea and a sandy beach. Undulating green hills as seen in Irish tourist brochures. As seen in Ireland in fact. I need the countryside, fade in the city after a couple of months, but you know, Jimmy, photos of beautiful landscapes make me think of chocolate boxes and advertisements… A woman with a red skirt, a stick to throw and a couple of dogs. Comely white cottages on the far away hills. There is something intimate about the shot. The woman is not disturbed in the slightest by the presence of the photographer. She doesn’t pose for the camera. She must be the photographer’s wife. The dogs sniff each other in a familiar, unexcited way. There is no danger, no unknown. It’s idyllic. But perhaps it’s a photo for old time’s sake, and once it’s been taken, the photographer pulls on a pair of black latex gloves to strangle the woman to death. The dogs become clearly distressed. This is not what their owners should be doing with their day out at the beach. One barks. The other’s frantic body somehow gets entangled with the actions of the strangling man. Does the man pick up a stone and crack the dog’s head open, or does the dog’s distress distract him from his all-consuming rage?

Therapist: Which one?

Patient: Don’t know, Jimmy. It’s your photo. But I saw your dog in the waiting room and it looked fairly relaxed.

Therapist: We have to conclude for today.

***

Of course I know Jimmy wouldn’t be showing me his personal photos. Sometimes in my mind I visit his private home, where we sit on his balcony drinking red wine as the sun goes down and a lone bird calls out in the distance, and he speaks to me as an equal, telling me all I yearn to know. But I am fully aware that this is not reality.

I did see his private dog, though. The dog approached me in fact, not the other way round — a black and brown border collie with a white stripe above its nose and white-tipped paws; lolling tongue, wagging tail, the whole doggie package. The dog-walker came rushing up before we had time for more than cursory acquaintance, while Jimmy, standing in the doorway to the treatment room, was distracted by a ringing phone and failed to register my presence forty-five minutes too early for our appointment.

I must admit that, despite what some might think, I enjoy therapy and believe Jimmy does a fine job. He doesn’t like me calling him Jimmy, though now I know it I can’t seem to stop. Once I called him ‘James’, and he looked relieved for a moment, but then I found myself adding ‘the butler’ and laughing a little too hard at my own joke. It’s that polite distance he keeps.

He doesn’t speak very much and at times has such a far-away look in his eyes I worry he’s fallen into a trance. It makes me feel slightly insecure and I wonder if my neuroses really are that boring. Personally, I find them quite fascinating and would love to know where they come from. Why do I have to touch all the curves on the banisters when climbing the stairs, and why does it always have to be in a very particular place? If I miss the right spot, it feels like an itch I can’t scratch.

I think I do better on the photos. He seems to find my remarks on other people or objects much more interesting than what I have to say about myself. So far I haven’t complained about this, since it might sound petty. I haven’t brought up my job yet, either, but feel sure that once I do Jimmy will find me worthy of more quality time.

The first time I realized I was looking forward to our sessions came as a surprise, and it’s funny to think back on how I refused to go in the beginning. Right now I’m depressed and bereft. The DNA results have just come in. My knee-jerk reaction was to discuss this sense of loss with Jimmy tomorrow. But I can’t. Therapy is over, and it won’t be appropriate to mourn its passing. The hair sample I took from the dog in the waiting-room matched DNA we found on a very beautiful young dead woman, Jimmy the therapist’s former patient and victim. It’s always the quiet ones, isn’t it?


Shivaun Conroy teaches and translates in Berlin, Germany. She wishes she had the inspiration to write more than once or twice in a blue moon, but she’s a talented multi-tasker and can moan on about this and celebrate being published at the same time.


If you want to keep EDF around, Patreon is the answer.

Rate this story:
 average 4.2 stars • 32 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Oh man. I seriously loved this.

    You know how I like to get my hands on stories and do stuff to them. I’d have pared down the next-to-the-last sentence; after all that wonderful misdirection that preceded it, I’d have preferred to keep the slyness intact. But you got five stars from me. A really delicious story.

    PS: Great bio. Write ’em when you want to. I’ll be waiting for them.

    • S Conroy

      Well, you know how sycophantic I get around your writing Sarah, so you can imagine how pleased I am that you liked it.

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

        I feel great anxiety whenever I know a story by someone who’s admired my work, or who is a cheery conversationalist with me here, is upcoming, because I want desperately to genuinely love it. So the hours preceding the posting of “Jimmy” were fraught with fear and angst…

        But I feel ever so much better now…

        • S Conroy

          I was tempted to be frivolous and recommend an analyst I know for that angst. Seriously though… if I ever get published here again (though the current plan is to let all the nice comments go to my head and rest on me laurels for the rest of my days 🙂 ) don’t worry about telling me if you dislike a story. As you well know, negative comments can be useful too and are much more savoury than a hit and run one star no comment.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            Yes–but there is a powerful desire to want to be satisfied with stories from certain sources. As is, conversely, the powerful satisfaction of disliking based on legitimate artistic criteria a story one hopes will be dreadful…

          • Or a hit and run 5-star vote with no comment.

            Edit: or beaucoups sans comment, as is sometimes the case.

  • Michael Snyder

    I agree with Sarah; this one is quite tasty. I liked the story just fine, but the writing itself is what brought me back for a second helping (and will likely bring me back for another read this afternoon). Really well done.

    • S Conroy

      Now, that’s the kind of ‘balanced’ comment that I appreciate. 🙂

  • Kieran Marsh

    Great to see you’re still writing and publishing, Shivaun, and congrats on this story. I loved it, really didn’t see the end coming. The very strange relationship of the therapist with the patient is very skilfully twisted, and the narrators neuroses have a solid feel to them. You tell so much about what is going on for the narrator without actually saying it. The piece is perfect as it stands but you might think about taking these characters on into a longer story and see where it goes, they’re certainly strong enough for it. Great writing style too, very succinct and clear.
    Kieran

    • S Conroy

      So cool to see you commenting on my story, Kieran. Really pleased you liked it.

  • An example of a story I’d likely read twice because I wanted to, and not because I didn’t know what happened.

    I was, admittedly, about to call this a vignette and move on without commenting until that big reveal changed my mind.

    I like neurotic characters and detective stories so this fit well…

    Well done.

    • S Conroy

      Thanks!

  • Paul A. Freeman

    The end could have been a bit crisper. Otherwise, a nice little read.

    • S Conroy

      Hm. Sarah mentioned that end too… Might need to do a think on that.

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

        I’d say revise–quickly–and watch me employ the magic of Disqus, yet again…

        • S Conroy

          To be perfectly honest, I can’t look at this story for a while… But I’m still very curious to know what you would do with the sentence…

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            The voices here have been so perfect–the protagonists and, informing them, yours–that I think I should not plant any alien seeds in the fine fertile soil of your brain.

            (It is of course a great act of self-control to pass up a chance to tell somebody what to do…)

          • S Conroy

            🙂

  • Oh, my, did I enjoy reading this. Several times. Not because I didn’t “get” parts, but that each time I re-read the subtleties grew on me.

    I do so appreciate a writer’s creativity in writing that goes so far beyond simple story telling.

    My reading stumbled a bit going from the first para to the second. I felt a transitional line about looking at a photograph would have smoothed the story’s take off.

    None the less

    *****

    • S Conroy

      Well, I do appreciate that comment. Thanks a lot, Jeff.

  • MPmcgurty

    S Conroy, my dear, this is beautiful. The number of people who came into my office after I howled in laughter at the ending attests to what a delightful surprise it was. I’m often very critical of how long it takes for a “flash” story to hook me, but you had me from the beginning, and by the time I got to black latex gloves and the dog in the waiting room, I would have followed this story anywhere. You have really grown as a writer, perhaps more than any I’ve seen on this site, and I feel fortunate to have witnessed it. I’ll be coming back to this one again. Thank you so much for a wonderful tale.

    • S Conroy

      Oh, I’m so pleased you’re back MPmcgurty. I’ve missed your comments and this one is very pleasing indeed. 🙂

  • Entertainment beyond the couch. Excellent! Smooth talented writing with a spot on ending. Clever. Thank you S Conroy. I would not change a thing.

    • S Conroy

      Thanks. Glad you liked it.

  • I felt that the ending stumbled, only slightly, but in no way that hurt the story.
    A really good example of flash. Nice twisty ending that you really should have seen coming. 🙂

    Thanks for the story.

    • S Conroy

      You’re welcome, Ward. I’ll come back to it in a few months and have another look at that line.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I had to come back and add that this story made me think of Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts,” especially the “patient’s” description of the dogs. That was when I knew we were going to be taking a detour from the standard package holiday. It was so subtle and so brilliant. This is one of those stories that will always make me feel envious that I didn’t have it in me.

    • S Conroy

      Please, Sarah! I’m already over-excited at the positive responses this story has got.

      And now for the Hollywood Thank Yous 😉 I’d like to thank the coolest dog who ever lived, my childhood dog and companion, Vince. The dog in the waiting room with the white stripe over its nose looked very like her.

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

        You’ve earned it in spades. There are good, clever, enjoyable stories–and then there’s something like this, that misdirects us but puts every clue of something not-quite-right there for our subterranean instincts to stub themselves on, so to speak–it’s the quiet ones indeed that, when done like this, make fireworks go off in my heart. You’re one of the reasons I missed EDF so badly and am so inexpressibly glad to be back.

  • Amanda

    I gave it 6 stars just couldn’t find the right button. Fascinating! Clever! Loved it.

    • S Conroy

      Thanks! (speechless 🙂 )

  • Teacher

    I really want to understand this story better because I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m trying to fighre out why he tells the therapist that he imagines a murder in the beginning scene. Wouldn’t that tip the man off?

    • S Conroy

      I did have a vague scenario or 2 in mind. Back in a few hours just in case anyone else wants to chime in first. (There have been comments in the past that the author should let the readers sort these things out first without demystifying immediately, but the story is already a few days old so maybe it doesn’t apply..)

    • S Conroy

      I figure it’s a mixture of things. Before the DNA results come in Jimmy is probably
      one of several suspects and the professional Mr Brown could be testing the
      waters. Perhaps Jimmy will react suspiciously under pressure.

      Mr Brown, in my view, is also in need of a little care from a good therapist, so goading
      and generally looking for attention lines up fairly well with his more
      professional aims.

      [A part of me also wanted to allow the possibility for
      the more obscure interpretation that Mr Brown actually is a patient, after all,
      with the detective job fitting into a carefully constructed delusion.]

      • Michael Snyder

        I like that open-ended interpretation of things. With shorter fiction especially, I’m partial to stories that ask as many questions (or more) than they answer. And I did wonder while reading if “the patient” was really who he claimed to be or if there was some element of delusion. Turns out…maybe?

        And I love that you say, “in my view…” I think too often readers assume that the writer knows more than what is on the page. We do typically know more, but maybe not everything. I’ve had readers conspiratorially tell me they really knew what happened to a particular character of mine after the last chapter ended, and hoping I would agree. (I even got to watch a couple of readers argue about it!) At that point, I trust the reader’s interpretation as much (or more) than mine.

        It’s a weird telepathy…

        • S Conroy

          The fact that your readers argued about what really happened is a pretty good sign in my books.

      • Teacher

        Thanks! I assumed it was a testing the waters thing. Great story by the way. The first I’ve given 5 stars to in a long time 🙂

        • S Conroy

          Very glad you liked it.

  • Chris Antenen

    I did have to read this twice. That’s not a chore, but a pleasant experience as everything fell neatly into place.

    Not that I hate long paragraphs, but I feel the second one could have been divided–where? I don’t know. Sometimes when paragraphs seem too long, that’s the right word ‘seem,’ and they aren’t.

    The last paragraph could have benefited from a more succinct ending. In that case, it would have probably needed a complete rewrite. Perhaps unnecessary, that’s always a pleasant task, meaning the joy of writing is not yet complete. How else can we have the drama of the frustrated writer crushing her writing into a ball and tossing it into the waste basket?

    This is the complete flash, believable, interesting characters, the right pacing and a subtle twist. Easy 5.

    • S Conroy

      Very pleased you liked it and thank you for your comment.

      On that second paragraph I actually did play around with breaking it up and having the therapist interrupt with a ‘mmhm’ etc. but it looked different and I ended up feeling I needed to fill the story out in other places. I wasn’t satisfied and ended up going back to the original chunky paragraph.