Bound

(by an4@anon.lelnet.com, 03 March 1998)


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Bound
an4@anon.lelnet.com

   Robyn sat in the window and looked out. It was the sort of drear day which
made a Monday hard to deal with. El Nino had made it a mild winter, and
technically it was just February, so a day in the high fifties, light or dark,
was hardly reason for complaint. Nevertheless, Robyn preferred the sun because
she disliked days which mirrored her moods.
   Her mother had been ecstatic that Helen was willing to give her a ride to
school. Had she thought it strange ? Perhaps. But recently strange didn't seem
to bother mother in the least. No, the fact that she would no longer be
burdened with the transportation variables was all that seemed to be
important, and thinking honestly Robyn admitted that bothered her because she
would have preferred some minimal resistance to the idea.
   But then again, Robyn was dying for a cigarette right now. In five minutes,
her mother would leave for work. In fifteen minutes, Helen would drive her to
school, and she was pretty sure that she'd be able to smoke the entire ride-
which meant at least four cigarettes, maybe five.
   "Honey, I'm leaving," Mom said from the doorway to Robyn's room. "Don't give
Helen an hard time, all right ?"
   Rather than ask what constituted an hard time, Robyn turned away from the
window to look at her mother, who was standing there in the doorway with a lit
cigarette in hand. Oh, to be an adult and smoke when and where you pleased.
   "Promise. Have a good day at work."
   "I'll try. I packed your lunch and it's on the table in the kitchen. Promise
me you'll eat that apple, at least."
   "Sure thing."
   With that mother was gone, leaving a trail of smoke in her wake. Robyn
watched from the window and lit her own cigarette as her mother was backing
out of the driveway.
   They'd argued again last night.
   They always argued and it was actually difficult to remember what the rumble
had concerned last night. Something ridiculous. Oh yes, the high school play.
The public school kids were putting on Othello, certainly out of their league,
but Mom's art design house had been contracted to do the multimedia portion of
the show, so she insisted they go. They had tickets for this Thursday, which
of course was open house night at Willamantic Day. That mother had
intentionally- at least in Robyn's mind- made sure they would miss it, Robyn
could only assume that somehow she'd decided that it was going to be public
school for her daughter next fall.
   Despite the joke about skirts which she'd made to Helen the other day, she
did not want to change schools now. Who would ? And private to public was a
lousy trade in any event.
   She drew deeply on her first cigarette of the day, slung her backpack over
her left shoulder and walked out of the house, stopping only long enough to
throw her lunch into the pack.
   Mother's idea of lunch, including a fried egg sandwich, was hardly appealing.
   
   Helen intentionally waited until she was outside to light her cigarette.
She'd noticed something disturbing and she wanted to test it out. She'd spent
Sunday morning driving around because it had been almost sixty, warm enough to
put the top down for the first time. The Celica was a nice little convertible,
and she'd wanted to learn how to smoke and drive.
   But something hadn't been right.
   Oh, smoking was enjoyable, no matter where she did it, but somehow, it had
been less so the entire time she'd been out.
   It was strange, really. She'd first noticed it late Saturday night. Walking
around the block with Robyn, the cigarettes she'd smoked had not tasted as
good or been as satisfying. Yesterday she'd stopped at the supply pond and
walked for an hour and none of those cigarettes were as pleasing, either. But
as soon as she'd gotten home and back inside the house, the almost magical
pleasure of smoking had returned.
   It was a little crazy.
   She lit her cigarette just as Robyn, who was also smoking, walked out her
side door.
   Sure enough, the cigarette was less enjoyable. The taste was pleasant, the
mild high of pulling smoke deep into her lungs pleasing, but not nearly so
much.
   "I had my first four am cigarette this morning," she said as Robyn spent
smoke into the heavy morning air. It drifted away from them casually.
   "Really ? How was it ?"
   "It made me regret even sleeping. I feel like I have years of smoking to
catch up on. I envy you."
   "No, I envy you. You can smoke all day and all night."
   "They must let you smoke at school, right ?"
   Robyn laughed. "A bunch of spoiled rich girls ? Of course. That's why there's
fifteen minutes between classes. They did a survey this fall and eighty
percent of us smoke. It's great. But you don't have to wait forty-five minutes
between cigarettes like I do. And you don't have to brush your teeth if you
sneak a cigarette during your evening walk."
   "Well, we all have our crosses to bear. Personally, I think you get a good
deal of smoking in for a fifteen year old, don't you ?"
   "I suppose."
   
   The drive in was pleasant. Helen enjoyed her smoking a little bit more with
Robyn along for the ride, and on the drive home she found herself looking
forward to the afternoon pick up. But clearly, the first cigarette she lit
after returning home was more enjoyable than any of the ones she'd had while
she was out, and she began again to wonder if the house itself was having some
weird effect on her.
   That thought struck her as just undeniable enough that without thinking about
what she was doing, she found herself pulling the yellow pages down from the
cabinet with her cigarette resting between her lips.
   What she was looking for was beyond her, until she saw it.
   `Smoking therapy. Start smoking. Smoking as a weight loss mechanism. Dealing
with non-smokers in a non-smoking world. Secret smoking. Learning to cope with
being a smoker. Allowing your teenagers to smoke. Helping others to start
smoking. Pro-smoking support groups.'
   It was, to say the least, a bizarre listing, sitting there in a black-lined
box.
   Pro-smoking support groups ?
   `Dr. Elisa Grimm, licensed psychiatrist. 867.5309 or 800.766.5464
(1-800-SMOKING).'
   Helen dialed the number straight away.

   "I'm glad you could see me on such short notice, Doctor."
   "Well, I have to be honest. When my receptionist told me that Helen Bonham
wanted to see me, I cleared my entire afternoon schedule."
   Helen felt more than a little embarrassed about that. She hadn't exactly
played on her name when she called, but the receptionist had asked if she was
the  Helen C. Bonham and she'd had little choice but to say yes, had she ?
   "I'd rather not go embarrassing you, Helen, but your novels- well, I actually
suggest them as reading for many of my female patients. Maureen is the perfect
smoker, you see. Never self-conscious, never self-indulgent. She smokes
because she's a smoker. Because she enjoys smoking. That's the first step for
anyone who comes to see me. I always consul my patients to start by enjoying
smoking for smoking itself- well, then again, maybe that is self-indulgent,
but there's a difference between the self-indulgence of pleasure and the self-
indulgence of statement. The later is of little value without the former,
don't you think ?"
   Elisa sat down behind her desk and lit a Marlboro 100. Although Helen was
anything but a fan of cork filters, the stronger cigarette looked good between
Elisa's lips. She wasn't tall, but she was thin with long straight auburn hair
and a pleasant face. She might have been twenty, but Helen guessed she was
really closer to thirty-five. She lit her cigarette casually and drew deeply
on it. Once she'd exhaled, she leaned back.
   "So tell me why you're here."
   "Well, I just started smoking Saturday afternoon-"
   Elisa bolted up from her chair. She had an elegant way of holding her
cigarette down by her waist, the long cigarette very appealing held between
thin, rock steady fingers. She was a beautiful woman, of that there could be
no question. But the look of shock on her face was all but comical.
   "You mean, you had quit and-"
   "No, I mean that before Saturday, I had never in my life smoked a cigarette.
And that's why I'm here. I'm having a problem-"
   Fascination beyond measure showed on Elisa's face.
   "The first step- I assume that you're here because you want to be a smoker-
is to smoke. Please. Open that purse and take out your cigarettes and light
one for me. Tell me you have cigarettes in that lovely little purse of yours."
   "I do," Helen said, and she did as she was asked, hoping this one would taste
like the last one she'd had before she left the house. But as the lighter
kissed the tip of the cigarette, she felt that same mild disappoint.
   Still, she did as she was asked, and then she began to tell her story.
   By the time she was done she'd opened a second pack.

   "Really, that's amasing," Elisa said. They'd been talking for two hours- or
rather, Helen had talked and Elisa had listened. It was a good thing that
she'd cleared her afternoon.
   "So, am I crazy ?"
   Elisa didn't answer right away. She looked up at the clock. They had less
than half an hour before Helen had to go pick up Robyn, so she worked fast,
opening her Filemaker database and consulting an entry.
   "You did say 312 Sunrise Lane, correct ?"
   "Yeah."
   "Then you most certainly are not crazy. Can I ask you something ?"
   All Elisa had done, like any perfect psychiatrist, was ask questions, so it
seemed a little odd that she would want permission now.
   "It's time for my daily cigar. Do you mind ?"
   The thought of the psychiatrist lighting a cigar was so bizarrely appealing
that Helen almost screamed out her acquiescence. 
   "I love these Savenillis. Sure, it's just an eight dollar cigar, but even I
have my financial limits."
   "That brings up an interesting point," Helen said as Elisa snipped the end
and began the slow process of `lighting' the cigar, which was obviously a much
different endeavour than lighting a cigarette. "I was amased to find you in
the phone book. To be honest, I don't know what prompted me to open the damn
thing in the first place. But is there really a steady clientele in your- line
of work ? I mean, profession. Sorry about that."
   Elisa drew on the cigar and then slowly released a plume of grayish-blue
smoke. "Apology accepted. Even though I have a doctorate from Yale, I am still
in a `line of work.' We all are, except you of course, as what you do is
beyond even the definition of a profession. Pure creation- I envy that."
   "You've obviously never dealt with an editor, then. Pure creation is pure
starvation. A deadline never met a creative urge it didn't want to destroy."
   "Well, I can understand that. But to answer your question, I could make a
living solely off the well-to-do men who come in looking for advice on how to
get their girlfriends, wives, and mistresses to smoke. Then their are the
parents who want their teenagers to start smoking but feel guilty- and I do a
lot of work with corporations trying to `keep the peace' between smoking and
non-smoking employee factions. And we offer smoking style seminars, as well as
beginning cigar smoking- all the rage with the women these days. My services
may be unusual, but is there ever a need !" She drew deeply on the cigar. "And
I love my work. That's very important, don't you think ?"
   "Yes."
   "Well, if we're not going to be late picking up Robyn, we'd better leave
now."
   "We ?"
   "I'm quite familiar with that house. More than you could possibly imagine.
And I'm dying to meet Robyn. You don't mind, do you ?"
   Helen had a feeling that even if she did, there'd be no saying no.	

   They pulled into the school's main drive just after Elisa finally finished
the cigar.
   "All natural ingredients, biodegradable," she said as she tossed the spent
cigar over the side of the car, and that was certainly true. Helen was trying
her best to be good about putting her cigarettes out in the car's small
ashtray, although the urge to toss her cigarette out onto the road when she
was done was almost overwhelming.
   "This house of yours. You know nothing about the history, I take it ?" Elisa
asked, as though there was any question.
   "No. but I have a feeling that you do, and that's why you're sitting in the
main drive of a private high school with me."
   "Partially. But to help you I also feel as though I must meet the ubiquitous
Robyn so that I can understand the full implications of the dynamic. I hope
that you understand."
   "To be honest, I don't understand anymore than I understanding the fact that
you actually advertise in the yellow pages- and make a living."
   "You almost sound as though you'd like me to apologise for that in some way."
   "No, of course not."
   "Well, good. Two things you'll need to make this successful are believing in
therapy and believing in your therapist. I always stress that."
   "Well, I feel very good about you."
   Robyn came bounding down the steps of the old Great Hall. Or rather. She
bound down half the steps, then paused to light a cigarette. 
   "She's beautiful," Elisa said with a smile. "I mean, she's gorgeous. A
perfect smoker, too."
   She watched the girl's first exhale and Helen found herself agreeing. For
someone whose smoking was limited both as to time and place, she had the sort
of relaxed smoker's mien which was undeniable.
   "Now, if you want to refer to me as your friend instead of your therapist-"
   "Have you actually agreed that you'll be my therapist ?" Helen asked, as
though there was any chance that Elisa was going to let the Helen C. Bonham
away from here. Especially a Helen C. Bonham living in that  house. Of all
houses that she would end up in that one and it-
   It was too much to think about at one time.
   "Yes, of course I'm your therapist."
   Robyn piled into the car, smiling. She turned to regard the doctor in the
back seat with an extended hand. 
   "Hi, I'm Robyn."
   Rather than answer, Elisa turned her attention to her patient, waiting for a
description.
   "Robyn, I want you to meet Dr. Grimm. She's my new therapist."	
   As she said this Helen lit another cigarette and Elisa followed suit. Robyn
had an unmistakable `Oh, I had no idea you needed therapy' look on her face,
and Helen thought the girl had gone slightly pale.
   "Oh, she's not a closet axe-murderer or anything," Elisa said, trying to
break the ice. "She just needs a little help with her smoking."
   Robyn inhaled deeply, looked at the good doctor, and said "Don't we all."
   Smiling, Elisa wondered if that wouldn't prove to be the case exactly.

   "The house is marvelous," Elisa said, stepping inside before either of the
others. There was a rapt smile on her face, as though she'd discovered some
great secret which had always been just barely out of her reach. "It almost
speaks to your soul. Quite amasing. I don't know how the fact that it was on
the market slipped by my. I am very envious, Helen, very envious indeed."
   "It is just a house, right ?" Helen asked off-handedly, as though any other
possible answer was absurd. Robyn nodded her head silently, as if to agree.
   "No, it's not just an house, not at all." Grimm said authoritatively. She
strode in through the kitchen to the living room, trailing smoke as she
walked, her cigarette dancing up to her mouth repeatedly as she twisted and
turned, trying desperately to take in ever last facet of the place.
"Remarkable. Just remarkable. I can feel it- still."
   "The fact is, I have a deal for you-"
   "I really have to go," Robyn said. "I'd better get my run and shower in so
I'm ready to sit around and listen to Mom complain about her day when I get
home."
   As the screen door thudded behind her, Elisa looked at Helen and smiled that
reassuring psychiatrist's smile.
   "She really is a remarkable young woman, isn't she ?"
   "I think so, but I'm not sure yet. That takes times. You said something about
a deal. I'm intrigued."
   Elisa strolled further into the bowels of the house, drawing on her cigarette
thoughtfully. She moved slowly, as if soaking up the atmosphere.
   "I was thinking- well, I know that it's not as though you can't afford the
therapy sessions- the fact is, I'm sure that you can afford all of the most
expensive therapy we offer, but, well, I'll wave all the fees if you'll let me
host one session a week of our support group for the next two months here in
this tremendous house. You pick the day and I'll throw in three sessions a
week- not that I think you'll need many sessions, but-"
   "You really think-" Elisa started to say, although the first pull she'd taken
on the cigarette after passing under her roof told her she wasn't crazy.
   "Yes, I do. I'd love to stay all day and all night, but I do have this
practise to think about."
   "I'll give you a ride back. You'd really trade three sessions a week for
eight support group sessions ?"
   "I'd have done it for four. But we can talk about your bargaining skills next
time-"

   Next time was Wednesday, and Helen found herself in the most cliched of
positions, sitting on the therapy couch, talking about herself. And halfway
into the session Elisa finally asked the question that her patient had been
waiting for ever since first coming here.
   "Well, I came here because I really do what to be a smoker, but I feel as
though I'm not achieving that. Whenever I'm not in that house, I seem to have
to will myself to light the next cigarette, whereas what I really want to do
is to have it always feel natural. Is that odd ?'
   "Not at all, Helen," Elisa said, walking around her desk. She perched on one
corner, pulled a Marlboro 100 from the box, and lit it casually. It was always
casual, as though a lit cigarette was nothing more than an extension of her
being. Helen admired that. It was what she saw in Robyn and Janet as well and
it made her jealous.
   "But before we can fully explore that- and we will- I want you to tell me
more about your negative feelings towards Janet."
   "Well, I'd like to say that I don't have any-"
   "And that would violate your agreement not to lie."
   "Hold that thought." Helen sat up because she hadn't quite mastered lighting
a cigarette while prone. It tasted good and the feeling inhaling that smoke
was a little more natural- but still not the same.
   "I feel as though she was undeniably selfish. She had this wonderful secret
and she never once tried to share it with me-"
   "I can't believe that," Elisa said, punctuating the statement with the sort
of inhale that Helen could only hope to one day match. The creamy aspect of
her exhale aroused nothing but further jealousy in Helen.
   "Well, okay, maybe not never, but it might just as well have been. Not in at
least five years."
   Elisa began pacing again. Absurdly, Helen thought she might want to see
someone about that pacing habit of hers.
   "And did you ever consider that was her way of being considerate of you. That
you had shown no interest and that meant it was best if she didn't put it
between you and make it an issue ?"
    "Maybe that was what it was, but now that I'm here, in this place, I can't
help but resent her for it." Helen inhaled deeply, found herself enjoying the
sensation. The taste was very nice- but still not the same.
   "You have to resolve this, Helen. After all the years you've been friends, it
would be both absurd and ironic if your smoking broke you apart."
   "I though psychiatrists counselled without offering advice."
   "Some of us. That's not my style, though. Look at what I do. I can't not have
an opinion and do my job. It just doesn't work that way."
   "Well, maybe it would be better for me if I were mad at her for a while, so
that I can get it out of my system."
   Elisa smiled and thought back to an analogy a second year instructor had once
passed along. "Anger is not like puss."
   "What does that mean ?"
   "Well, most people think that anger is like puss- leave it undisturbed and it
will grow into an hardened mass that never goes away. But my personal feeling
is that anger is more like a vitriolic acid- give it something to feed on and
it just contaminates a wider and wider area. Let it go. If she'd known how
things were going to work out, she'd have taken a different course."
   "In other words, no matter what we do, if there is an hell, we'll see each
other there ?"
   Elisa's grin was broad. "I see where the darker aspects of your writing come
from."
   "So how to I get past it ?"
   "Well, I've already told you that you need to work on smoking publicly. And
that's always easier when you're with another person. I think- well, I advise
that restaurants are an excellent place to declare your smoking publicly."
   "The concept of binding to your smoking self ?"
   "Exactly. Let other people see that you are a smoker in a non-confrontational
environment. While I generally balk at the concept of segregating smokers,
from a therapeutic standpoint it can be highly advantageous to place yourself
within the confines of a natural support group."
   Helen thought about that. From a conceptual standpoint, public smoking was
clearly a necessity. And yet how would that change the fact that the smoking
she did in the privacy of her own home was more enjoyable for some other
reason that its singularity ? How did she get beyond the creepy sense that the
house had some bizarre effect on her ? That in fact the day she'd watched Pam
smoke there, she'd been thinking the most x-rated thoughts imaginable.
   "You're thinking about Pam again-"
   "How-"
   "I didn't get this job by being mildly observant."
   "But-" Helen said, clearly still uncomfortable about discussing Pam.
   "Look, Helen, the biggest difference between men and women is that men have
no capacity for seeing one another's sexuality. Women are capable of so much
more observationally because they can see in one another things men will never
even perceive, much less admit. If Pam is the way that you describe her- and
being that you write for a living- that you perform observational activities
by default- I trust that she is all you say and more, well, perhaps that was
as much a trigger for you as that wonderful house you live in-"
   "You won't get mad if I ask again- about the house-"
   "That house," Elisa said, pausing to inhale, "is a godsend for someone like
me." She somehow spoke without exhaling, saving that pleasure until she had
spoken her mind and the effect was perfect. "But the sooner you get that
aspect of your smoking out of your head, the better off you'll be."
   Helen tried what Elisa asked. Slowly, sensuously, she moved the cigarette to
her lips, thinking about the simple passion of the act. The long white line of
the Marlboro Lights 100 trailed upward, pinched between the first and second
fingers of her hand, the ash perfectly rounded. Smoke twisted off the burning
end, helping to fill this smoky office with a pleasant smell.
   She parted her lips eagerly, but fractionally.
   Helen opened herself to the cigarette, allowed it to become everything to
her.
   She didn't look at it directly now- to do so would have made her crossed-eyed
and goofy looking, but rather thought about what it would like between her
lips. It would look perfect. She was attractive after all- she had what Elisa
called a `pleasant smoker's face.' The imagery helped her to want the
cigarette, but the problem remained.
   It just wouldn't taste the same.
   How did you retrain your taste buds ?
   Her mouth finally accepted the cigarette, and the sensation remained
positive, but not quite positive enough.
   "I can see from your expression we're not exactly done. Call Janet. Ask her
to dinner. Use my phone."
   Helen did as she was told.

   Robyn sat down in the living room and waited for the storm cloud to settle in
over her so called life.
   A moment later the door swung open. Her mother thundered in and she could
tell from the sound of her footsteps that all was not well at the high school.
Othello's light show was perhaps not up to his needs.
   "Young lady, come in the kitchen. Now."
   Robyn sighed. Young lady meant that rather than the general beefs about life,
her mother was upset about something specific. That could hardly be good.
   "How was your day, Mom ?"
   "Well, if you really care, Iago is fucking everything up. I mean, they hire
us to create Venice without all the elaborate setting that a normal production
would require- pay a decent amount for it, too- and then turn a great part
over to a bumbling idiot who walks though virtual buildings and can't hit a
mark to save the production. Not to mention that he needs a telestrator to
remember his lines."
   "Sounds pretty depressing."
   "Not as depressing as the news that you've been smoking, young lady."
   "What ?" Robyn asked as her stomach thudded hard.
   "You forget that the vice principal's daughter is one of your classmates. She
was telling me how nice it was that I'd decided to let you start smoking- very
open-minded of me."
   Robyn's face fell. She'd actually managed to somehow forget that Kelli's
mother was the high school's VP. Suddenly it didn't seem like such a trivial
matter.
   "I didn't say anything. Don't worry. I wouldn't want your friends thinking
I'm anything more of a freak than what you've already told them."
   "Mom," Robyn said, agitated. Although the truth was that she'd complained
more than once to her friends at WD about her mother's constant moodiness and
generally sour disposition.
   But there was the strangest look on her face.
   She reached into her purse, pulled out her box of Marlboro Medium 100s, and
lit one.
   "You know, I've been really rough on you the last few months. And when Karen
told me how pleased she was that I was so `open-minded' all I really wanted to
do was drive out to WD, pull you out of class, and give you the worst tongue-
lashing of your life. And then I thought about something. Actually, a lot of
things. Not long after Dad died, Karen gave me something and I think-"
   Not that it was terribly unusual, but Robyn was surprised to see a tear in
her mother's eye.
   What she pulled from her purse as she exhaled a thick stream of smoke was a
business card.
   "Mom, can I ask what the hell is wrong with you ?"
   Her mother pulled on the cigarette again and seemed to draw some measure of
calm from the action.
   "You know, twenty-four ago some smart-mouthed bullshit answer like that would
have driven me through the roof. Which is why I want you to look at this card
and tell me what you thing."
   Robyn reached out and took the card.
   `Dr. Elisa Grimm, Psychiatrist. 867.5309'
   That was it. No indication of what she really did, what ailments she
specialised in.
   Robyn resisted the urge to laugh.
   Not that any of this wasn't touching. It was in fact, quite touching.
   "I have been smoking, Mom."
   "Well, I don't suppose you could have told me that before, not with the
threats I had made."
   "And now ?"
   "Well, I'm not going to tell you to go ahead and start smoking. In this house
at least, that's off limits. But I made an appointment for us to see her
Friday, and we can talk about it then."
   "What about tomorrow ? You knew the open house was tomorrow-"
   "That's why I changed our Othello tickets to Friday. It's time you and I
called a truce."
   Robyn found this sudden reversal hard to believe. "All this, just because
you've found out I've been smoking ?"
   Her mother drew on her cigarette. She held the smoke until Robyn found
herself envious of how it must feel.
   She spoke as she exhaled. "It made me realise how much we're alike."
   Robyn had the strangest feeling that she wouldn't need to be spending quite
as much time next door anymore.




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