THE THERAPIST’S APPRENTICE • by Mike Hood

Today I worked as Dhory’s apprentice. Dhory is a sweet, young lady with an amazing gift for non-judgmental listening and the ability to caress an aching heart. These attributes serve her well; she is a therapist for the elderly. I met Dhory for the first time this morning when I picked her up, and we drove to the Hilltop Nursing Home in northeast San Antonio for a monthly session with the home’s residents. I was impressed with her inner calmness and focus on the job at hand, qualities rare in one so young.

After we knocked on the door, the administrator greeted us and led us into a common area where patients were gathered for their monthly group-therapy session. I sort of felt like the rooster in the hen house, for all the patients were women, and most of them were half dozing or off in a world of their own. Dhory quickly took control; she greeted the women individually, and let them know everything was fine, and the session would be fun. She would occasionally look at me to make sure I was comfortable and following her lead. Some of the ladies barely acknowledged us while others were effusive in their attention.

Once the initial introductions were out of the way, Dhory began her real work. She started with the hard cases; the ones who seemed to have gotten lost in their own heads, who were barely responsive, those whose passion for life seem to be flickering in a strong breeze. Although her methods may be unorthodox, Dhory — as if by magic — could draw even the most severe patients out into the world by simply laying her head on their laps. You could actually see their eyes begin to focus and their minds engage as they reached out to touch Dhory. Watching this tactile interaction, I realized I had forgotten how much comfort a touch or embrace can be.

Once Dhory withdrew, some of the ladies would return to the place in their minds where they lived, but during the time she was at their sides, these old ladies transformed into the young women they once were, lavishing love on a sweet child. Around the room Dhory went, eliciting smiles, giggles, hugs, and, in one case, tears. Everyone was moved in some way except, perhaps, Dhory. It was hard to tell what she was thinking, her calm, gentle, zen-like demeanor rarely changed.

I wish I could say that everything at the home went well, but it didn’t. One old lady named Sylvia kept calling out, “I used to have a dog named Ponto,” during our visit. She did it so many times the other old ladies were getting pissed. Finally, after about the 17th time Sylvia yelled out the “Ponto” reference, Marge, Eunice, and Barbara told her to “shut the hell up” and rammed her with their wheelchairs. During the commotion, Dhory and I made our exit.

During the ride back, my professional distance began slipping away. I was overcome with a desire to touch Dhory. Perhaps being with those old, infirm women had made me feel my finiteness more acutely, and I, too, needed comfort. I asked permission to stroke Dhory’s hair, and she didn’t object. We rode the rest of the way with my left hand on the steering wheel, my eyes on the road, and my right hand on the shiny black hair of the therapist.

When we arrived at the Animal Defense League compound, I took Dhory back to her kennel, kissed her on the head, and made a date for next month.


Mike Hood is a former print and television journalist. He lives in San Antonio, Texas with four dogs, a cat, two tree squirrels, a duck and a very nice woman.


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 average 4.5 stars • 2 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Bonnie

    Terrific misdirection! My absorption in the story was complete until I read “pissed,” which interrupted my concentration sufficiently to make me suspicious of what was really going on, and I guessed!

    • Hi Bonnie,

      Thank you for your kind words.

      Peace,
      Mike

  • Walt Giersbach

    Mike, a lovely story with a snap ending.

    • Walt,

      You are very kind. Thanks

      Peace,
      Mike

  • Linda Gallant Potts

    This was completely absorbing. The lovely little “twist” at the end reminds me a little of a David Lynch film – just quirky enough to make it memeorable.

    • Hi Linda,

      David Lynch, huh? To me, that’s high praise, indeed.

      Thanks,
      Mike

  • We picked this story up because the twist was so well excuted. The clues are all there, right from the start, but you don’t get them until you read the end(Well, with the exception of Bonnie 😉 )

    • Hi Jordan,

      I don’t think it would have been as good if you hadn’t asked me to rewrite it a bit.
      I appreciate your kindness.

      Peace,
      Mike

  • Harley

    Well kids, the head in the laps did it for me, but it just made it more fun.

  • Hi Harley,

    Fun is what writing is about for me. Glad you enjoyed the story.

    Peace,
    Mike

    P.S. Love you your motorcycles.

    • Harley

      It was a lovely smooth story, very subtle misdirection. I saw a tv feature recently about pet therapy in nursing homes, which gave me a bit of a head start on figuring it out.

      It is fun, isn’t it?

  • Clyde

    Nice! Not too predicatable, and yes, memorable. Not much more to say that already hasn’t been said. 🙂

    Clyde.

    • Clyde,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m happy you found the story memorable.

      Mike

  • Barb

    Very cute story. Nice misdirection, as others have said before.

    I also believe that the way you told your story — a rather flat narrative — actually enhanced the story. It felt real and was something that could be easily pictured and understood.

    I’m planning to point a few others toward your story; they’re doglovers, but I’ll try not to spoil the ending. 😉

    Barb

    • Hi Barb,

      I really appreciate your comments. I hope your dog-loving friends find the story enjoyable.

      Mike

  • Hmm, sorry, if I am being honest, “twist in the tale” stories just don’t do it for me. I always, always feel a little duped by them, like I read the story and then, when the twist comes, i discover that the real story was actually completely different. That’s just a personal thing, no reflection on the great writing!

    Tania

    • Tania,

      We’re not super big fans of twist endings either. In fact, we specifically avoid “trick you” endings where the narrator lies to you to in order for the twist to work.

      In this case, Mike never lied and as people have mentioned there are clues all the way through. He cleverly relies on our preconceptions to pull off the twist, and that’s why we liked this ;).

  • Hi Tania,

    No need to be sorry; I appreciate honesty. We all have our favorite types of stories. I appreciate your comments.

    Peace,
    Mike

  • Tootsie McCallahan

    I like imagining the old women ram the other with their wheelchairs. 🙂 But maybe that’s just me…

    Anyway, great story with a terrific ending!

    • Tootsie,

      Thanks so much for your comments. I have always enjoyed a good wheelchair demolition derby myself. 🙂

      Mike

  • Avis Hickman-Gibb

    Clever! You fooled me! I liked the bad old women as well.

    Good flash.

    • Hi Avis,

      Thanks for writing. Glad you enjoyed the story.

      Mike

  • terry

    Congratulations, Mike. Excellent story, it did exactly what you wanted, including me. Keep everyone guessing and smile thoughtfully.

    Terry

    • Thanks Terry,

      Keep smiling and they’ll never figure out what you are up to. 🙂

      Peace,
      Mike

  • Lyn

    Nicely done – plain story telling led to a nice, gentle, happy conclusion. The third to last paragraph, where things go awry, was a bit overwritten, so maybe a more subtle approach (no need to create a brawl in other words) would work better and let the dog-therapy ending just happen.

    • Hi Lyn,

      Thanks for your comments on my story. I know what you mean about the scuffle between the old ladies; it seems a bit out of place. Most of the stories I write include much more weirdness than this one. My muse (whose name is Emmutt) is a half bubble off plumb, but I follow him willingly. 🙂

      Peace,
      Mike

      • Lyn

        Ah, good to know your style, then. If you write weirdness into your stories then I’m just not familiar with your voice yet. Keep writing!