It had worked for Dr. McNaughton in the past: if the child refused to open up, give them a table full of playdough and watch what they did with it.
Sometimes kids created playdough monsters, and he would ask them to describe what they were afraid of. Others rolled snakes. McNaughton’s colleagues were almost immaturely Freudian, but he typically saw snakes as signifying a lack of imagination.
Some children just ate the stuff.
But Ross, this troubled four-year-old, had built a house.
McNaughton had left the room for a few minutes, to allow Ross to feel comfortable, and when he returned, there was a cutaway model of a suburban home sitting on the table.
“What’s this, Ross?” said Dr. McNaughton.
“It’s your house,” said Ross simply.
For a second, McNaughton was taken aback. His house? How could the kid know — but no, this wasn’t actually a model of his house. There was an extra story, and too many bedrooms. Still, there was something familiar…
“My house?” was what McNaughton said.
Ross nodded. “This is the kitchen, and this is the TV room, and this is the room where mommy and daddy yelled a lot, and this is the door where daddy said ‘goodbye-and-be-brave.’”
It was McNaughton’s house. Not today’s house: yesterday’s house. Where he had grown up. Where he had listened helplessly as his parents’ marriage fell apart. Where he had watched through the window as his father drove away.
“Ross, you built my house,” said Dr. McNaughton. “How did you…”
Ross looked up at him with eyes that were, for the first time, vulnerable.
“Ross, is this your house?”
And Dr. McNaughton took a deep breath, and said, “Ross, I think we can help each other.”
Tim Sevenhuysen is a Master’s student in sociology in Victoria, BC, Canada. He has been writing microfiction at www.FiftyWordStories.com since February 2009, and maintains a blog at www.TimSevenhuysen.com.