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Lucy’s mother stood over her as she took the test. The psychiatrist, Dr. Fitzberg, had suggested the test as a way to discover more about Lucy’s recent issues.
The room had a couch, a small round table, and two wooden chairs. A painting of an ocean scene hung on the wall. Lucy looked up from the paper, pencil still in hand, and studied the beach scene. Two children played in the sand building a giant castle.
Her mother, wearing her usual lawyer outfit of dark dress pants, high-necked shirt, and a granite-gray blazer, paced the room. She kept checking her watch, as if she didn’t have time for this. Clients, clients. It was always about them. When Lucy returned to the task of filling in circles, her mother hovered, watching.
“That’s not true, Lucy,” she said, directing her sharp pointer finger to question ten.
Lucy leaned over the paper, her long red hair blocking her mother’s view. She covered the circles with her right hand much as she had done last week in seventh grade pre-algebra when Brian Rogers cheated, attempting to steal her answers on the unit quiz.
Moving around to the other side of the table, Lucy’s mother, now face-to-face with her daughter, piped in again. “That is not how you feel!”
Lucy shook her head. Twice. She was certain Dr. Fitzberg would not allow her mother’s input on this test. 15 minutes earlier, he had taken her to the testing room. It was located right near the usual room they’d been meeting in since her parent’s divorce a month earlier. Her mother had been instructed to wait in the lobby, but had slipped in while Lucy was taking the test to determine how normal or abnormal she was.
“And the next one should be answer c for sure.” Her mother tapped one designer shoe on the tan carpet.
Lucy pressed firmly on the pencil, completing the circle for answer a instead.
“Lucy! Are you trying to annoy me! Why are you always so difficult?”
Lucy looked back at the ocean scene. The last time she’d gone to the beach with her parents, they had argued the entire trip – over where to place the chairs, how much lotion to put on her, where to dine. There’d always been fighting, but during that vacation, there’d been no intermissions between the fights.
The habits had begun after that trip. Head jerking, jaw stretching. Thinking about the fighting made her head jerk again. Twice. Then two jaw stretches. She couldn’t help it.
“Lucy! You’re doing it again. Stop.”
Lucy ignored her mother, then continued to answer the next question.
Which answer best describes how you feel about your mother?
Lucy thought: controlling, rejecting, self-involved. Cold. None of these answers appeared on the test though. She couldn’t remember her mother ever hugging her. Not even as a little kid.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to be in here, Mom.”
Her mother walked over to the window and watched a man and woman getting into a sedan. “Well, I’m paying for it, so I think I have the right to be in here.”
Lucy remembered overhearing her mom talking to a law school friend on the phone, “There’s something wrong with the girl. She’s just not normal. Habits, the doctor said. Maybe even OCD. It’s all her father’s fault.”
Normal rang out in Lucy’s head. She wanted to be normal. Kids at school had been mean since the habits began. Her best friend Becky had stopped sitting with her at lunch. Other girls pointed at Lucy and whispered.
When Dr. Fitzberg had asked Lucy at their first session, “Tell me what’s going on?” Lucy bit her lip and sat stiffly in the chair, determined not to say a single thing. This she could control – her words. It was no one’s business. No one had consulted with her about the divorce. She owed them nothing. This, too, she would solve on her own. Like walking from the bus home, unlocking the door, and making dinner since she was eight.
When her mother returned from the window and told her to change another answer, Lucy yelled, “I don’t think you should be in here. This is my test, not yours.”
Her mother folded her arms, then moved closer. “But it reflects on me. ME!”
Of course it was always about her mother. Lucy couldn’t even have habits that she owned. Everything was about her mother. Isn’t this why her dad had left and moved five states away?
“You’re worried how it will look? To have a daughter with habits?” As if to emphasize the issue, Lucy’s head jerked twice, then her jaw stretched. The pencil slipped out from her sweaty hand. She picked it up. “Leave the room or I’m telling Dr. Fitzberg that you won’t let me answer the questions on my own.”
“You’re just like your dad.”
Lucy watched her mother turn the knob and shut the door behind her. She put down the pencil and walked up to the painting. The castle was almost built. She saw a mother and father near the two kids. Words blew into her ears. Her mother’s voice saying something to her father the last time they were at the beach. The final family trip before the divorce.
“Why’d you talk me into having her? I told you I never wanted to be a mother.”
Her father had shaken his head, then stared at Lucy and smiled. She picked up her book, pretending that she hadn’t heard a thing.
About Maureen Sherbondy
Maureen Sherbondy's work has appeared in The Cortland Review, Amethyst, European Judaism, Calyx, and other places. Dancing with Dali will be published by FutureCycle Books in 2020. Maureen teaches at a community college in North Carolina. She lives in Durham, North Carolina.