My eyes repeatedly flickered to the wall art. With a quick glance to make sure the receptionist wasn’t watching me, I leaned to examine the nearest. An odd-looking half-naked man stumbled from a barred wall. His grotesque face was distorted and misshapen. Chinese or Japanese writing floated in the upper corner of the drawing.

I shuddered and wondered what the words said.

“Dr. S will see you now,” the receptionist announced brightly.

I was the only person in the room, so I assumed she was speaking to me. Standing unsteadily, I wiped my damp hands on my legs, hoping Dr. S wouldn’t expect to shake hands.

A wooden door I hadn’t noticed opened softly, and a head popped around the corner.


I nodded and tried to swallow with a dry mouth.

The woman stepped out from behind the door. She was tiny, with a round face and shoulder-length dark hair. “I’m Dr. Shinigami. Are you all right?”

I wasn’t. Fuck, I wasn’t. But that’s why I was here, right?

I pointed at the art on the wall. “Aren’t these a little disturbing for a therapist’s office?”

She looked at the wall and laughed. “They’ve been in my family for generations. When my father passed, I displayed them here as a tribute to his memory. He was a therapist too. Shall we?”

Feeling a little ashamed, I followed her through the door. Her office was surprising. It was dimly lit and sparsely furnished. A single piece of art hung on the wall, illuminated by tiny lights. I walked to it and looked at a sunset reflected over an expansive view of water.

Dr. S sat in a small, straight-backed chair and waited for me to choose a seat. I hesitated, not sure if I’d prefer the low rectangular ottoman or a wooden chair that sat alone at a slight angle.

Eying the chair, I sank onto the ottoman.

Dr. S looked at me with dark eyes that seemed kind and warm.

I tried not to fidget or bite my lip. Shouldn’t she say something?

“I don’t know how to do this,” I blurted. The sound was a relief, and I gasped for air.

Dr. S nodded. “This is your first time in therapy?”

Finally, a question.

“Yes. I’ve been struggling. I told my friend—” I blinked back tears. My friend had called the cops and told them I was suicidal. Was I? I don’t know, but the three days I’d spent in the hospital was not an experience I wanted to relive. I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself.

“Can you tell me a little about yourself? Also, I’m not sure what to do with my hands.” There. I had admitted something. Progress.

Dr. S smiled. “How about tea? I find green tea soothing.”

I nodded gratefully.

She rose and moved to a shadowy corner. I heard a click and a small light winked on, illuminating an electric kettle and a tea set.

“I’m third-generation Japanese, so I’m afraid the love of tea is baked into my genetics. We call it ‘ocha.’ Let’s see, what can I tell you about myself? I’ve lived here in the Seattle area my entire life. My hobby is kayaking on the Sound. The changing mood of the water is fascinating. It can be still, stormy, blue, gray. I love paddling along the shorelines and looking at the harbor seals.”

The kettle beeped, and I watched her spoon loose tea into a short, ornate iron kettle.

“I think the seal is my spirit animal,” she continued. “I love the deft way they move through the water in contrast to their lack of grace on land.”

She poured tea into two small cups without handles. Setting the kettle down soundlessly, she picked up the first and brought it to me.

“Here you go.”

I took the cup carefully, not wanting to splash hot tea on either of us. The cup warmed and the heat quickly became uncomfortable. I looked around, but there was no place to set my cup down. I held it with my fingertips and tried not to think about my flesh burning and blistering.

Dr. S took a small sip of her tea.

I tried mine and managed not to wince as the hot liquid scalded my tongue.

“Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself?” said Dr. S.

I nodded. “What would you like to know?”

“Tell me a nightmare you’ve had.”

I blinked, surprised. This was easy. “I often wake into the middle of a dream. I’m driving, in a hurry, and I’m not really paying attention. I’m driving too fast; I can feel the car careening around corners. At each corner, I hold my breath, hoping the car stays on the road. After each corner, I’m less in control. The other cars don’t seem to have trouble with the pace, so I don’t slow down. Suddenly, I know I’m not going to make it around the next corner. My vehicle breaks through the guardrail or barrier and I’m in the air. I feel the weightlessness and resignation that it was the last mistake I’ll get to make. I’m watching the ground rush toward me as I wake up.”

“Good,” Dr. S murmured. “Now tell me how you feel when you wake.”

The session flew by as Dr. S probed my reoccurring nightmare. As we talked, I relaxed, no longer worried she’d probe into my suicidal thoughts. Toward the end, I felt empty and surprisingly tranquil. I mentioned it and Dr. S smiled gently.

“Wonderful, we’re making good progress. Now, I have a homework assignment for you before our next session. You noticed my sunset painting?”

“Yes, its beautiful and looks so peaceful.”

“It’s one of my favorite places here, in Infinity Park.”

“Here?” I craned my neck and looked at the painting.

“I’ll email you directions. I’d like you to go there and capture the view. You can do that with words, paint, or a photo. We’ll talk about it at our next session.” She rose and gestured to a second door, opposite the door I’d entered.

I hesitated before touching the knob. I wanted to hug her, but wasn’t sure it was appropriate. “Thank you, Dr. S.”

“My pleasure.”

I intended to go to the bluff. I did. But the weather spit rain for three days and by the time the sun shone, I’d lost the serene feeling I’d won in her office. I no longer trusted that I wouldn’t step off of the edge. I worried about what to do. I could cancel my appointment, or swing by the park on the way and snap a quick photo. Both options felt like too much work. I decided to lie.

Following Dr. S into her office, I sat quickly and declined her offer of tea.

“How has your week been?”

“Oh, fine, fine.” I had no idea why I said that.

“Really?” she waited.

I waited too, not wanting to be the first to break the silence. This time, I’d hold my tongue. The silence grew louder and louder, dragging the air from the room as it expanded.

“I didn’t complete my homework,” I cried out, unable to take the quiet a moment longer.

“Tell me why,” she said softly. Again, the hour flew by as we talked and I left feeling the same numb peace as before.

This time, I was determined to complete the assignment. However, when I arrived at the park two days later, police cars were parked haphazardly, their lights flashing.

“What happened?” I asked someone in the crowd.

“A jumper.”

Startled, I craned my neck and watched a group of policemen walk toward the parking lot. They parted and I saw Dr. S standing in the middle, dwarfed by the dark uniforms.

“Dr. S!” I cried.

Her head whipped around and she walked quickly toward me. She put her arm around my shoulders as I cried.

“What happened?”

She smiled sadly. “They didn’t face their fears. You’ll do better, won’t you?”

I wanted to, I really did. I didn’t want to let her down or cause her to look so sad.

“See you next week, Tara.”

She looked small and forlorn as she walked back toward the officers.

The parking lot was deserted when I arrived to complete my task. I walked to the edge on shaking legs and pulled out my phone. The image on my screen was breathtaking, and I took several pictures, each more beautiful than the last. I breathed deeply, enjoying the briny smell and crisp wind. I laughed. I’d faced my fears and decided to live.

I dialed Dr. S. “I did it. I’m here, and it’s marvelous.”

“Tara, that’s wonderful,” I heard her say from behind me as her hard shove propelled me from the edge. I felt the weightlessness and resignation of the last mistake I’d get to make as the rocks rushed toward me.