Vicarious – Wilson Koewing
March 30, 2021
Dr. Molly Andrews’ icy gaze trains on Sam, a mousy addict fidgeting in a chair. Sand falls in an hourglass on her desk.
“Thirty minutes, not a peep,” Molly says. “How much longer should I expect to sit in silence?”
Sam’s eyes drift to the hourglass.
“Did you relapse, Sam?”
“Can I tell you something, Molly?”
Sweat beads on Sam’s forehead.
“Can I tell you something, Dr. Andrews?”
“I’m in love with you.”
“Sam, I’m your therapist.”
“But the way you look at me sometimes…”
“That’s in your head, Sam,” Molly says. “I’m happily married. You know this.”
Sam stares at the floor.
“Sam, look at me,” Molly says. “I believe in you, but an admission like this gives me no choice but to refer you to another therapist.”
“But I don’t want another therapist.”
“Sam, I’m sorry.”
Molly stands before the bathroom mirror in her Uptown New Orleans home. A bath runs. A recording of a patient’s session plays on her phone.
“I followed him into the bathroom anyway…”
Molly slowly unbuttons her top.
“…we did lines and started making out. Then I was on top of the toilet, underwear around my ankles…”
Molly lowers herself into the tub. Her hand sinks below the water. Her buzzing phone distracts her. The caller ID reads: Husband. She silences the call.
Molly’s husband, Kyle, returns home from work and enters the bedroom. He leans against the bathroom door and listens. The recording is too faint to make out the words.
He retrieves a joint from the bedside table and lights it, keeping his eye on the bathroom door. Hearing the tub drain, he extinguishes it.
Molly steps out wearing a robe.
“Oh, hello, handsome,” she says, the robe falling to the floor.
Kyle watches, surprised.
She crawls into bed.
They kiss. Molly is into it at first, but her passion quickly fades. Disappointment floods her face as she struggles to stay in the moment.
Sam sits on the ledge of a high-rise overlooking Canal Street. Cars below are specks. His legs dangle. The Mississippi snakes through the city.
Sam drops a crack pipe. Hands shaking. It rolls towards the ledge. He stares across the expanse at a hotel window below. A couple fall into bed together.
A tugboat whistle sounds, lonely in the night.
Sam’s view of the couple disappears as other floors and other windows flash by.
Molly stares at the ceiling, unable to sleep. Kyle’s soft snores are the only sound. Her phone startles her. She answers and paces, listening. Kyle wakes and watches her expression dim. She hangs up.
“What?” Kyle asks.
She cups her face in her hands.
“A patient killed himself,” she says. “He admitted he loved me today. I said I couldn’t treat him anymore.”
“Admitted he loved you?”
“He was just a kid.”
Jake Cage waits at a streetcar stop on Canal Street. His arms are covered in tattoos and burn marks. He wears all black. His face sports numerous piercings. He smokes.
He sings to himself, “Everyday’s a hustle, you buy or you sell. Become the hustle bustle every lie that you tell. Fuck the sky’s beauty, wall of your cell.”
A streetcar dings to a stop and Jake gets on.
An omelet sizzles in a skillet. Orange juice flows into a glass. Almonds fall into a bowl.
Molly eats standing at the kitchen island reading a patient folder. The house is quiet.
Kyle enters and watches Molly.
“You sure you’re ready to go back?” Kyle says. “It’s only been a month. You could take more time. You do own the practice.”
Molly gathers her things.
“I’ve been away long enough.”
She pecks Kyle’s cheek and leaves.
Molly passes under a sign that reads: Maternity Ward. The lobby is swamped. She strides by a Nurse’s station unnoticed.
Inside the maternity ward, she peers through a large window. A premature baby clings to life in a neonatal unit. The IV drip reads: Methadone. A doctor and a nurse confer. The nurse feels Molly’s presence. Molly stares at the baby until the nurse arrives.
“You can’t be here,” the nurse says.
“Sorry,” Molly says, hurrying off.
Molly sits at her desk reading a file when Jake Cage enters. He stands in the middle of the room, unsure what to do. Molly silently studies him.
“Sit wherever you’d like.”
Jake glances at the couch but chooses the chair closest to Molly.
“Can I smoke?”
Molly flips through Jake’s file.
“Absolutely not,” she says, not looking up.
Jake laughs and surveys the room. He stops on a photo of Kyle on a bookshelf.
“Lucky guy,” Jake says. “How long?”
Molly closes Jake’s file.
“Jake Cage,” Molly says. “Age thirty-eight.”
“Why are you here, Jake?”
“I’m an addict,” Jake says. “And it’s affecting my performance.”
“You’re going there, doc, not me,” Jake says, grinning.
“I’m a musician.”
A silence lingers. Jake notices the sand falling in the hourglass.
“How old are you?” Jake asks. “You seem young to have a PhD.”
“Twenty-nine,” Molly says.
“Must have gone straight through.”
“Did you attend college?”
Jake laughs. There’s a confident desperation in it. Like he’s living for every moment, but every moment is a nightmare.
“Let’s discuss why you’re here, Jake.”
“Okay,” Jake says, taking a serious posture. “I made a promise to someone. Searched online for shrinks. Found you. You’re the sexiest shrink I saw. Now I’m here.”
Molly is taken off-guard but recovers quickly.
“A promise to whom?”
Jake doesn’t answer.
“How about we start with what substances you abuse.”
“Heroin’s the issue,” Jake finally says. “Clean three months. Alcohol daily. Past? Anything: coke, crack, smack, meth.”
“Is alcohol the only substance you use currently?”
“Last three months.”
“How many drinks per day?”
“If it’s beer, six or eight. Liquor, three or four.”
“How does drinking make you feel?”
“Terrible in the morning.”
“How do you feel… while drinking?”
“Depends what I’m drinking.”
“Can you talk about that?”
“A bourbon that will bite your face off is different than say a gin drunk.”
“How does bourbon make you feel?”
“Like my cock is concrete.”
“Did you drink when you used heroin?” Molly continues without reaction.
Real junkies don’t drink,” Jake says. “Booze depresses you.”
“Are you depressed now?”
Jake laughs, “Am I awake?”
“What did you do last night?”
“Opened for some shit indie band at One-Eyed Jacks.”
“Did you drink?”
“Like a fish.”
“What does that mean exactly?”
“It means I drink until I can’t drink anymore, or I find someone to fuck.”
Molly scribbles notes.
“And which happened last night?”
“I found something to fuck.”
“Really? Talk about that.”
“Why do you want to know, Doc?”
“This is how this works, Jake. I ask questions, you answer.”
“Sounds like you’re fishing.”
“I’m interested in anything that might provide insight into your addiction.”
“I need a smoke.”
“There’s no smoking in here,” Molly says. “If you have to leave for a smoke, that will end our session.”
“You get off on power, don’t you?”
“The… someone you found to fuck?”
“Young, blonde, belly-button ring, lip ring,” Jake says. “Came with the lead singer.”
“While they were on, I bought her a drink and explained what a fraud I thought he was.”
“And this was effective?”
“You tell me. We snuck onto the roof and I ate her out under the moon until she came all over my face.”
They stare at each other in silence.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you enjoy hearing this shit, Doc.”
“Your story wasn’t entirely truthful, Jake.”
“You didn’t technically ‘find someone to fuck.’”
“Jesus,” Jake says. “You’re just as twisted as me, aren’t you?”
“I think that’s enough for an introduction,” Molly says. “Same time next week?”
Jake smiles. Pulls out a smoke. Molly’s attention is drawn to deep scars on his wrist.
“Can’t wait,” Jake says and closes the door behind him.
Molly exhales, walks across the room and locks the door.