By John Thomas Tuft

It’s one of the countless ‘please don’t notice me’ boxes of office space tucked into the nooks and crannies of suburban strip malls and small towns dreaming of economic survival in these times. Sometimes they are located on the hopeful outskirts of towns where new housing developments sprout up where crops used to flourish. Other times they are nestled in the back streets, two blocks off main street, behind the predecessors to the Waffle Houses and Comfort Inns of this world. Thus it was that Andy parked his car in the near empty lot and unlocked the door to IDK Esquire Ltd., a nondescript entrance to a nondescript room in the mortally nondescript High Valley Office and Storage Park. Water into the coffee maker, hang his jacket on the peg, punch the power button on the computer and he was ready to begin another day.

The first client arrived around 9:30 that morning. She wore a stained trench coat, belted around her thin waist, and her fingers kept flitting to the buttons, the chipped red nail polish glinting in the overhead fluorescent lighting. She took a seat across from Andy, yawning behind his Ikea desk as he drained his Starbucks cup, and flipped it into the trash can. “Am I in the right place?” Her voice was reedy, hesitant. “Depends on what you’re looking for,” replied Andy. “I’m in pain,” she stated matter of fact. “Tell me, Sweet Pea, about your pain.” His frankness startled her into momentary silence. The radio alarm clock LED numbers flipped to the next minute.

The woman, let’s call her Sweet Pea, gathered herself together and laid it out. “I am tired of waking up every morning already tired and aching in my joints. I’m tired of looking at couples walking hand in hand and knowing that I never had that in my life. I’m tired of seeing children playing in a park and grieving for what might have been, for love never requested or requited. What is the reason for pain? What purpose does it bear?” Andy tapped on the keyboard, head nodding, his face screenlit gray. He paused, “What does it feel like?” Her eyes widened. “Feel like? It hurts. Don’t you know that?” Andy shrugged. “Tell me.” Sweet Pea pursed her lips. “It feels like everything good is suddenly stopped. Everything hoped for disappears. It’s hot. It’s sharp. It empties me. Why is there pain?” Andy taps some more, the printer whirls, spits out a piece of paper that he retrieves and hands to Sweet Pea. She takes it and leaves.

The next day Andy drives up, water in the coffee maker, hangs up his jacket on the peg, computer on, ready for the day. Around 9:30 the door swings open and in walks Sweet Pea. “I’m afraid,” she says. “Tell me, Sweet Pea, what you are afraid of,” replied Andy, as the clock numbers flip to the next minute. “Can I sit down?” she asks and Andy waves her to a rust colored chair. “I’m afraid I’ve missed something,” says Sweet Pea. “I’m afraid that nobody knows who I am. I’m afraid that if I stand on a cliff I will fall off.” She starts to chew on a nail. Andy swivels in his chair, around all the way once, arms outstretched, catches himself on the edge of the desk. “What does afraid feel like?”

“Feel like? It feels like fear. Knot in my stomach, what’s creeping up behind me, don’t go out in the dark fear! Eating at my guts, tripping over my shadow, who turned out the lights emptiness. Why is there fear?” Andy taps on the computer, the printer whirls, spits out a piece of paper that he retrieves and hands it to Sweet Pea. She takes it and leaves. Andy refills the paper tray, sends a few emails, then does what he does.

The next day Andy drives up, water in the coffee maker…and I don’t have to tell you the rest. Around 9:30 the door swings open and in walks Sweet Pea. “I feel hate. It’s walking blindly into a dark cloud. I don’t want to see myself. Nothing is about me, nothing is for me.” Andy looks at her. She says, “I know, I know. What does hate feel like? And I’m going to say it feels like pain and fear all put together. I’ll ask, why is there fear? And then you’ll type something, get it off the printer and I’ll read it and it will say what the others said. Right?” Andy spun around in his chair again. “What did they say?” Sweet Pea gave a triumphant smile. “I don’t know. Each one of them said, ‘I don’t know.’ Why do you always say, I don’t know?”

Andy stood up, turned off the computer, turned off the coffee maker, put on his jacket and ushered Sweet Pea to the door. “If you didn’t think there was something more, why did you keep asking?” Sweet Pea wasn’t satisfied with that and stomped her foot. “Now you’re going to get in your car and disappear. I need you here. Where do you go?” Andy locked the door and gave her a wink before heading toward his car. The last she heard from him was, “I don’t know. The rest is up to you.” And the clock flipped to another minute.

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.