#BlogBattles, Stories...

”But, But, But…” (#BlogBattles – Shift)

Rebecca and Bob Davis approached the receptionist’s desk with some trepidation. “Umm… hi,” began Rebecca. “We have an 11 o’clock with Dr. Appen-Hauser…?”

“Of course,” responded Sarah brightly. “She’s expecting you and should be along shortly. Go right on in.” She smiled directly at them. “Would you like some coffee or tea before you settle in? The Keurig is right behind you. Help yourselves!”

Bob shook his head briefly, the curt gesture revealing his nervous tension. Rebecca smiled as sincerely as she could, “Thanks, but we’re good, I think.”

The couple turned to enter the open door together, unconsciously leaning into one another for strength and courage. Sarah nodded slightly, recognizing the signs. Another marriage in trouble, full of doubt, expecting (even hoping?) to fail, so they can move on…

Rebecca realized she was too close to Bob the instant they crossed the threshold together. She pushed away from him and started wandering slowly around the room. Her eyes darted nervously about, as though trying to catch faeries in flight. Bob cleared his throat, stepping silently aside to study the wall, carefully keeping his back toward Rebecca.

For Rebecca, the bright sunshine streaming in the too-large windows, the warm goldenrod colored walls, the beige couch with matching chair, and gold-leafed accent pieces seemed too cheery and optimistic to be comfortable. The faint scent of lavender mocked her anxiety…

Bob noted the artwork on the wall in front of him. Nature scenes and abstract pieces, splashes of color without any real meaning. He felt instantly out of his depth…

A door slammed in the distance, claiming the couple’s attention. A moment later, a short, rotund woman bustled in, the gardener by all appearances. She was dressed in worn jeans, dirt smudged into the upper thighs as though she’d wiped her hands there at least a hundred times, and a worn purple sweatshirt that read “gardeners like it dirty”, with a floppy straw hat and a freshly potted lavender plant to complete her outfit. She smiled encouragingly at the couple before speaking.

“Ah, good, I see you’re ready to go. Why don’t you two get settled on the couch and I’ll be right with you. I just need to wash up a bit.” She chuckled at herself, set the plant on a small stand near the window, and headed back out again…

Rebecca and Bob watched her go, then looked at each other, wide-eyed and alarmed. “Is that her?,” Bob asked, almost angrily. “Is that the doctor you insisted we had to see to save our marriage?!”

Rebecca looked confused for a moment before straightening her shoulders defiantly. “I don’t know, but it seems likely she is. At least she seemed to be expecting us.”

“What have you gotten us into, Rebecca?! Did you do any research at all before making this appointment? I mean look around here; there’s no diplomas, no desk, no computer… absolutely nothing here to indicate a professional of any kind works here, much less a marriage counselor!”

“Oh relax, Robert! You’re always so hung up on appearances! Dr. Appen-Hauser comes highly recommended. And we’ve tried everything else, so if this doesn’t work, we’re done,” she snapped. “But then, that’s probably what you’re hoping for, isn’t it?”

***** ***** *****

“No, no, no, no, no!,” the writer snaps in frustration. Only the fact that she can’t wad the phone up like an offensive piece of paper prevents her from chucking it into the trash. “This isn’t working! It’s boring, trite, predictable… and slow! You’re almost halfway through and haven’t even gotten to the point yet!”

“Walk away… walk away,” a softer voice echoes in her mind. “Give it time. Inspiration may yet appear. But not if you’re constricted this way. Just walk away…”

“Gladly!,” replies the irritated author. “I have other things to do today!”

***** ***** *****

Dr. Anna Appen-Hauser returned, minus the straw hat and sweatshirt. She reached for Rebecca’s hand, revealing the traces of dirt still lingering under her blunt fingernails. “Welcome, welcome!,” she gushed. “I’m Anna. So good to meet you, Rebecca!” She smiled warmly.

Rebecca couldn’t help but return that smile.

Anna turned to face Bob, still standing off to one side…

“This is what you’re wearing to our session?!,” he exclaimed irritably. “A t-shirt and dirty jeans?!”

Anna glanced down briefly at her attire. Smiling still, she dropped her hands. “Well they were clean when I put them on this morning.” She chuckled softly. “One of the ‘problems’ with late morning appointments, I guess,” she added, emphasizing the word “problems” as though it held some secret significance. “I have to keep busy while I wait, after all.”

“Please sit down, Bob, so we can get started…”

“Why are you here, Bob?,” Anna asked directly, as soon as he was seated.

He hesitated but a moment before squaring his shoulders. “My wife insisted,” he explained.

She raised her eyebrows, surprise shining in clear blue eyes. Glancing briefly at Rebecca’s downcast head and cold, clasped hands, she tried again. “No, no, no. I mean why are you really here?”

Bob, uncertain now, also glanced Rebecca’s way. Finding no outward sign of support, he shifted his focus back to the counselor. “We’re here to try and save our marriage, I guess.” Blame and discouragement dripped from every word.

“Do you want to save your marriage?,” Anna asked sincerely.

“Of course!,” he snapped.

No one responded. Confused by the long silence, Bob stuttered on. “It’s just… you know… well, the thing is…”

“Do you love her?” Anna asked pointedly.

“Of course I do!,” he snapped again, without hesitation. “Why else would I be here?!”

“Do you love her?,” Anna tried again.

Bob stared at her, muscles rigid, face frozen in a contemptuous snarl.

“Do you love her?,” Anna tried for the third time. “Do you love Rebecca?” She gestured briefly at his wife, who was studying him closely now.

He looked long and hard at Rebecca. Gradually his muscles relaxed. Shifting his gaze to the floor in front of him, he answered softly, defeated. “Yes.”

Anna shifted her attention to Rebecca. “Do you love Bob?”

Rebecca looked at Bob. Sadness, disillusionment, distress oozed from her teary gaze. Her eyes narrowed. Turning back toward Anna, she answered carefully. “Yes, but…”

Anna held up a hand to silence her. “I’ve heard enough, thanks.”

***** ***** *****

“You’re over your word count,” a gentle voice intrudes, breaking the spell.

“I know, I know!,” snaps the author. “But they must tell the story in their own voices. I’m not going to take words out of their mouths!”

“Ok… just sayin’ is all.” Her shrug is almost audible.

***** ***** *****

The doctor squared her shoulders, slipped into her lecturing voice and went to work…

“Let me begin by telling you what I’m not. I am not a mediator to stand between you while you fight. I am not a negotiator to help you sort out your assets for the divorce. I am not your potential witness to be dragged into court for any custody contentions. And I am not your friend, offering silent support and comfort while you decide what to do…

“What I am is a communication specialist, here to help you reframe your ‘problems’ by altering the language you use… What you do with any new insight you gain is entirely up to you!”

Anna paused long enough to let her words sink in. Anger flashed briefly in Rebecca’s eyes, quickly covered by lashed lids. Bob’s glance darted about the room, as if looking for a way out. The doctor continued…

“The first word we need to eliminate from your vocabulary is ‘but,’ both spoken and implied. But always precedes an excuse, and whether or not that excuse is justified, it solidifies your personal perspective; you aren’t communicating with each other if you’re fortifying your own position…

“So go home. Work on that. Let that be a test of your true commitment. If you both make some progress at it…,” she looked pointedly at Bob, before allowing her eyes to linger on Rebecca. “Well… then you can call Sarah and set up a time for regular appointments.”

Anna rose and walked over to open the door, encouraging the couple to leave. She called out softly to her receptionist.

“Sarah, dear. Don’t charge them for this consultation…” As the stunned couple shuffled by, she added coyly, “after all, I didn’t dress appropriately for it, as it turns out.”

When Rebecca and Bob were gone, Sarah turned to Anna. “What was that about?”

“Expectations, of course,” the doctor replied, her smile never dimming.

“Do you think they’ll come back?,” Sarah asked curiously.

Dr. Appen-Hauser considered for a moment. “Hmm… only if Bob can convince his wife to want to save their marriage. Rebecca has already left it.”

Sarah couldn’t disguise her surprise. “Really?!… I would have thought it was the other way around!”

“Most people would,” Anna agreed. “And they would be wrong as well.” She chuckled softly.

Sarah leaned in to kiss Anna fully on the lips, eyes alight with secret mischief. “That must be why they call you Dr. AAHA!” Twining her arms around her wife’s, Sarah led Anna down the hall. “Lunch, my love?”

“Yes, please!,” Anna responded warmly. “I’m starving!”

***** ***** *****

“Umm… you’re over 1500 words,” a soft voice intones.

Irritated, the author snaps. “Don’t you think I know that? But really, why should our voices even count, since no one else can hear them?”

The visitor raises a finger to point out the obvious, then thinks better of it.

“Unless… Do you think they have some program or something that automatically cuts a story off at a 1000 words?” Worry creeps into the writer’s tone as she speaks… “Well, their loss if they do,” she answers herself, “because they won’t know how the story ends!”

“Ahhh, I knew this one was my kind of writer,” the visitor muses silently. “Just enough insecurity to question everything, and more than enough arrogance to express it defiantly!”

“Although…,” the writer continues thoughtfully, “that does give me an idea. What if we created a world where people could only communicate in short verbal bursts? We could call it The Twitterverse, and explore how such truncated speech patterns affect how they frame their reality!” She turns back toward her phone. “What do you think? 145 characters or so limit for each bit of dialogue?”

“Umm…,” the Muse begins, finger raised against the obvious again.

But the writer is no longer listening, as her fingers type furiously on her virtual keyboard. Dusting off her invisible hands in an unconscious gesture of completion, the Muse turns to go, in search of another artist in need of inspiration today. Her retreating laughter sounds suspiciously like the chimes hanging from the author’s shelves…

***** ***** *****

(April’s BlogBattle entry – and fail – at 1819 words. 😫 See the rules, and links to the non-fails here: https://blogbattlers.wordpress.com/2019/04/01/blogbattle-shift/ )

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38 thoughts on “”But, But, But…” (#BlogBattles – Shift)

  1. Rules are rules but the story tells itself and the scribe should ALWAYS tell the story and fuck the rules.

    In this case …… magnificent ……. you got Tubularsock’s vote!

    And THAT and $3.80 gets you a cup of coffee!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol! One of the many reasons I adore you so, Tubular – you always make me laugh no matter how down on myself I am in the moment! And you have an uncanny knack for finding the right button to cheer me up; after all, coffee is life, isn’t it? 😉 Plus, I think I may have gathered enough change now through my conversations with nickels and dimes to actually buy a cup! Want some?

      Thanks for always having my back, friend. ❤️

      Like

  2. Hi, Lisa, Your little story almost reminds me of my one and only visit to a marriage counsellor with my ex-wife. She asked why we were there, me first. I didn’t want to be there, but that didn’t mean I wanted to be gone either. Being honest, I said I had no idea. The counsellor didn’t even ask my wife the question. She just said, “We’re done here,” and walked out. Her expectations helped end our marriage. I needed to start at the worst, and work my way through the problems. She did not know me. And while my wife did, she took the “expert’s” opinion and gave up on me. Maybe it was the end, I’ll never know.
    Honesty is not always the best option!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe not, but you make Dr. Appen-Hauser’s point beautifully by exposing your “but” this way. Anna didn’t give up on anyone; her door remains open if the couple chooses to return. 😁

      Not sure what I’m referring to? Try re-reading your comment from the doctor’s perspective, especially this part: “Her expectations helped end our marriage. I needed to start at the worst, and work my way through the problems. She did not know me. And while my wife did, she took the “expert’s” opinion and gave up on me. Maybe it was the end, I’ll never know.”

      Like

      • I know what you mean, but in your story your doctor left the door open. The real counsellor closed that door completely. There was no option left open. Maybe she meant there to be, but she was her own receptionist. She was not there when we left, no chance to make a future appt. As it was, she charged us for a full hour, though we saw her for less than 5 minutes.
        Your doctor was much nicer…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sounds like your counsellor had some unresolved issues of her own, and perhaps could have benefitted from visiting Dr. Appen-Hauser. *shrugging* I wasn’t there, of course, so I can’t possibly know. Just making a crude observation based on what you’ve told me. 😏

        Like

      • I think she had a problem with men, but that was up to her. Me not knowing why I was there probably sounded final to her, based on either her experience, her own personal life, or just her expectations. I cannot remember how old she was. Whatever, it happened, and we had the friendliest divorce our family judge ever saw. By the time we got to court there was no animosity between us, but then there never was. Our hopes had changed, hers going one way, mine another, so probably it was inevitable. Like all my relationship endings, I tried to learn from them, and each one taught me something, about myself, about life, or both. If any of them had not ended when they did, I probably would not be the person I am today. So who is to say what was wrong or right, it just was. I met and loved some mighty fine women, and a few kooks too. I have no regrets about any of them, for as far as that goes. I am not an easy man to be with. Having had so many chances for happiness, I cannot complain.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Was the story about the couple, it starts that way. But it ends with the writer and muse. That relationship, writer/muse, seems to be the real story in my opinion. Are they truly getting along, or is there a rift growing, one that seems will not be healable?
        I truly don’t know. I’m not convinced the narrator, you, know. May be I am missing something, allowing my mood to affect your story. This is a common problem for readers, different stories for different moods.
        Your doctor/couple story hit too close to home for me. Maybe tomorrow I will be able to read it in your words, not mine. Today I am in a funk. This happened over 30 years ago for me, but my wound has not yet healed.
        And that is excellent writing! Just not for me, lol.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m sorry it brought up old wounds for you; perhaps some more healing can now take place. As for who the story is about, I’d say you accurately captured one “shifting” element in the tale, as in it begins with one story, but winds up telling three.

        There are several such shifts taking place throughout, if you choose to read it again. Consider the power shifts, for example. Who is actually in control of the developing story? Who is in control of the relationships exposed? Who is in control of the session itself? These are just some of the more obvious shifts; at least they were intended (and carefully crafted) to be that way…

        Unless the story truly DOES fail, because it doesn’t effectively explore the “shift” theme…

        ***** ***** *****
        The author bites her lip nervously… “Was it all a wasted effort?!,” she wonders anxiously…
        ***** ***** *****
        😉 lol!

        Like

      • No, it was not a wasted effort. There were many shifts, and whether or not I caught every one is neither here nor there. Many stories change each time you read them, and that is what I think of as literature, the ability to write on many levels at once. There is not much in the way of true literature being written anymore that I can find. The story stays the same each time you read it. There are no “deeper levels.”
        Stay tuned, I think I can say more in my next comment.

        Liked by 1 person

      • So… Do you really think my Muse may be abandoning me soon, Jerry? Because that would be truly unfortunate, devastating even…

        Could it be because I didn’t trust her as I usually do, compelled as I was to edit, and re-edit, and edit some more?

        Hmm… And could I use this to somehow justify returning to my lazy writing style?

        Uh oh… I think my “but” is exposed! 😉

        Like

      • I think it is more that you are thinking your Muse might abandon you, or you are afraid she will.turn on you. I wouldn’t worry. Give her a chance to say her piece, and let her know you love her. She is not used to being rewritten, that’s all.
        Meanwhile, I think you did a great work.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m sorry but you exceeded the limit and that calls for a roadside suspension.
    I like this story – such a counselor would be a welcome change from just about all the over-inflated ego driven “What About Bob” psychiatrists out there. What if the Doc and her receptionist’s relationship was left out of the story? That seems intrusive and quite unconnected, unless it’s to demonstrate a “working” relationship versus one that does not? I would see that as a separate story. Yes, there is definitely 3 stories in one here. But the suspension still stands. Your author’s license please.

    Liked by 1 person

    • * hanging my head in shame and handing over my license*

      How long will it be suspended this time, do you suppose?

      And yes, you even caught the “working” pun on that one, which is why it has to stay. Lol! The story needed a touch of humor at that point. Brilliant observation, Sha’Tara, and one that makes me smile in spite of my suspension! 😃

      Besides, the rapid fire revelations at the end are designed to contrast (shift) the pacing of the narrative from the slow, plodding and predictable beginning…

      Like

  4. Ahhh, I see… she says. I’m not as conniving a writer as you are Lisa. You weave an intricate and fascinating basket from varied material. The only reason your Muse would leave is if she became convinced you’ll do fine on your own… which may be the case. So then, just keep writing! You’re awesome in mixed styles!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Well, I took a few days off in the end, and my surface-level conclusion is you took on too much for a 1000 word work. Your story is not “wrong” as you wrote it, but length-wise it trued too much.
    One foot below ground: The happy relationship contrasts the broken one. These two people are in a safe place. They have worked out their roles, and they are content with them. Will it stay that way forever? Probably not. For the time being, health and happiness jold sway.
    Ten feet above the surface: The Muse seems to be a bit annoyed. She gave the writer a scenario to describe, but the writer wants to put her own twist to it. This moves it away from the Muse, who feels she is being questioned, not trusted. This is not a common event in this relationship, to have a power struggle is unexpected. The Muse has always been in charge before. That is the way of the Muse. What has changed?

    Interesting expression. But…

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re absolutely right; it was too ambitious for a 1000 words. Though it didn’t start out that way. Originally it was just about the Davis’ relationship. The counsellor was supposed to be the foil. But I got stuck, and couldn’t get it to move forward fast enough. And I got bored with it.

      A friend of mine suggested telling the story from the author’s point of view, using the tale to illustrate a writer’s shifting focus when creating, hence the first break. It worked to break the dam open, and suddenly there were words everywhere! Lol!

      Like

      • When I get stuck in a work, I back up a few lines, and see if I can find a different direction. If that doesn’t work I abandon it for awhile.
        I can’t say as I ever get bored with a story, but I certainly can get frustrated with some.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Your approach is probably the best one. Unfortunately, I tend to get bored if I’ve already seen how it ends. Which is why I prefer the inspired style of writing.

        However, I have to admit the the multiple drafts and endless editing this story underwent probably helped this it out a lot. It’s tighter, more focused, and has more depth than a single draft would have likely produced.

        Like

  6. Pingback: #BlogBattle Stories: Shift | BlogBattle

  7. S.C. Jensen says:

    I like the layering of the theme you’ve done with this piece. I don’t mind that it’s over the 1000 word mark, personally. I often expand my flash fiction into longer pieces later on. The goal of the prompts, for me, is just to get an idea going. It’s not always perfect at 1000 words, but it’s something I can work with. You can’t edit a blank page! You wrote something, and that is the most important thing in my opinion.

    If you did want to make this work at 1000 words, taking out the author POV and focusing on a single POV character for the rest of the story could help you out. Right now we are head-hopping between all of the characters, which uses a lot of words, since the scene and characters have to be re-described by from each perspective. This also holds the reader at a distance, as we aren’t given the opportunity to delve into and identify with any one of the characters on a deeper level. Which character you choose for your POV character can drastically alter the emotional impact of the story, too. It also might be interesting to have the Doctor reveal to Rebecca and Bob rather than her own partner, that the “but” signals it is Rebecca who has given up on the relationship. Rebecca’s shock and outrage after she’s martyred herself, Bob’s quiet vindication knowing that he’s been pushed away and then blamed for the distance.

    “Dr. AAHA” is a cute twist. Her advice is solid. Most counselors worth their salt work on breaking down defensive language and excuse making. But I have a feeling Rebecca and Bob need a bit more help in understanding exactly what she means, and her turfing them without further explanation may have been a dereliction of duty. So I’m left with negative feelings for her in the end.

    If you were to expand this piece and keep the author commentary, there are some interesting parallels about power in relationships that you could play up. The concept of a Muse is problematic to me. In framing their creativity that way, writers/artists must give up some of their own agency and relinquish power over their own creative mind. I’m not sure how it’s helpful, though. It seems to create blocks at the worst of times and give writers an excuse for when they can’t write, can’t write what they want to write, or fail to communicate what they are trying to say effectively. What good does it do? That’s kind of an aside, though, since I know plenty of creative people romanticize the process that way. The parallel I saw was with the married couple giving up their own power to save their relationship to the counselor, and then being effectively abandoned after she gave them a mere glimpse of the path they need to follow. Glimpses/inspiration are all well and good, but we need other tools to make something useful out of them.

    Obviously this piece has a lot of potential, though. You’ve got me thinking about a whole bunch of different things! I’d really like to see you expand it a bit and give Rebecca and Bob some kind of resolution! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for this thoughtful commentary, S.C.! I appreciate every word, and agree with you. Much of the sharpness of the shifting perspectives came from the editing process itself, in an attempt (doomed to fail) at getting it closer to the desired word count. The original “flash” version was closer to 2500, so you can imagine what got cut. I also considered ditching the separate points of view, but with “shift” as the topic, I wanted to preserve that layer, so I stuck with it as best I could.

      I have “seen” how the story develops, and it’s not nearly as harsh as it seems. Rebecca and Bob still break up, but on very different terms, and with a much deeper understanding of themselves and each other. Sarah and Anna continue, though not in the idyllic sense in which they are originally presented. And the author and her subconscious (i.e. Muse) are consolidated, a single voice ringing through. It is another complete round of “but, but, but…,” but it closes the circle complete. In retrospect, the whole work is about shifting both power and perspective, so you nailed that one true. And it is designed to challenge the reader’s own assumptions, and perhaps shift their initial point of view.

      I sincerely appreciate you slogging through this over-limit but incomplete draft, and offering such thoughtful, and wise, suggestions! 😁❤️

      Liked by 1 person

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