Marge lumbered down the hallway dragging all the trappings needed for her survival in a hostile world. The tote strap slung across her stained T-shirt compressed her ample unbound bosoms. With every yank at the leash tied to her reluctant mutt, she slopped coffee onto the linoleum.
Her arrival was timed for maximum disruption. Standing in the doorway she scanned the room for potential enemies in the Planter County Parks and Rec creative coping seminar. The five women and two men chatting at the refreshment table seemed timid enough to be easily dominated. But she must remain on constant guard for dreaded adversaries that will threaten her comfort — adversaries armed with envious weaponry such as good looks, confidence, or happiness.
She began assembling her fortress at the rear of the room: stealing chairs to prop up her feet, arranging her lumbar pillow and afghan, and giving her dog Patty a dish of spring water. When finished she had effectively blocked easy access to the refreshment table, and made the other group members acutely aware of her ponderous presence. Mission accomplished. She pulled out a thick notebook containing every scrap of paper collected in the last three coping seminars she had attended.
Karen, the facilitator of the group, entered carrying a folder and felt markers. She spotted Marge’s bunker at the back of the room and acknowledged her with a nod. “Good morning everyone. Welcome to the seminar.”
A stylish breathless blonde breezed through the door. “Sorry I’m late. I took my husband to the airport and the traffic getting back was crazy.” She extended her hand to Karen. “Hi, I’m Celeste Brooks. I should be on your list.”
“Yes.” Karen glanced at her attendance sheet. “We’re just getting started, Celeste. Take a seat anywhere.”
Celeste turned to the group and shot them a dazzling smile. Everyone smiled back except Marge, who shifted uncomfortably and steeled herself as the ultimate nemesis approached. Celeste pulled up a chair next to her then leaned down to scratch Patty’s ear.
“Oh, how sweet. Such a good boy — is he a boy?”
“He’s a girl.” Marge snapped. “You’re not supposed to touch her without asking me.” As Celeste sat back a delicate whiff of soap and bath powder assaulted Marge’s nose. Her hand shot up, waving frantically at Karen.
“Yes Marge.” Karen sighed.
Marge rose slowly — waiting until all eyes were on her. “Before we get started I need to inform all of you of my rules.”
“Your rules?” Celested chuckled and winked at the group.
Marge’s neck flushed and she clenched her fists as she began her pressured lecture. “First of all, I have pain issues and need special seating. I may have to get up and stretch or walk around. Patty is a companion dog and is not to be distracted from her focus on me. I’m allergic to scents so you must accommodate me by not wearing perfumes of any kind.” She sat and swung her feet onto a chair, aiming the soles of her grimy sandals directly at Celeste.
“Okay, Marge.” Karen said and turned to write on the board.
“And Karen…” Marge aimed her final jab at Karen’s back. “You can’t use those markers unless they’re odorless, and I thought our group size would be limited to eight.”
“No, Marge.” Karen said with slow control. “This is an educational seminar, not group therapy.”
Celeste chuckled again and looked down at Patty who was resting her head on her lap — gazing wistfully at Celeste’s face. Marge whipped around to defend against this territorial intrusion.
“How dare you attack me like this. Don’t touch my dog!” She fiercely gripped Patty’s muzzle and shoved her off.
Celeste raised her hands as if under arrest. “Wow… settle down, lady. You know, Marge, I have a pretty sensitive sniffer myself. I can’t tolerate eye-burning B.O. and rancid dog farts. Can I be accommodated for that?” She waved a hand in front of her face triggering the entire group to break up.
“Okay… Okay, everybody, let’s get started,” Karen said with just a hint of amusement. Marge, ever-vigilant for offence, saw the shadow of a smile and reacted to it like gasoline on a campfire.
“How dare you! I don’t have to take this abuse from you bitches.” Her face contorted and turned scarlet from the heat of her generated indignation. She grabbed at her gear and dumped Patty’s water into the wastebasket. “I’m leaving! I’ll get my money back, and I’m reporting you to your boss.”
“Marge, can you please try to use some of your distress tolerance skills?” Karen said calmly.
“Fuck you! Fuck all of you!” Marge waved a middle finger at the group then pumped it at Celeste for extra emphasis.
Karen watched Marge thrash down the hall then closed the door. She turned to the group who were wide eyed with mouths agape. “I apologize for that. It happens sometimes. Although I think we can use this episode as an example of ineffective coping.” She smiled and the group laughed nervously. “We’ll take a five minute breather before we get started. Celeste, could I please speak with you for a moment?”
Karen ushered Celeste into her office. “That was intense, but you handled it very well.”
“Thank you.” Celeste nodded. “I’ve seen worse, though.”
“I’ll bet. You were very skillful. She left so quickly.” Karen pulled out her checkbook and a pen. “So what do I owe you?”
“I think fifty will be fine. I have to leave early for another gig at the counseling center across town.” Celeste said.
Karen rose and handed over the check. “I can’t thank you enough. If I had to put up with that bully for one more session I’d be tempted to hire a hit man.”
“I’m cheaper. Glad to be of service.” Celeste pocketed the check.
They paused at the door to put on their game faces before rejoining the group.
Kathy Myers is very proud of her A in creative writing at the J.C. and has started to dip her toe into the submission pool.