The Loss of Loss

by Carly Berg

I woke gulping clean dread, my heart squeezed cold. Jack left me. These weren't made-up dreams, but scars ripped afresh. My father, estranged. Loss haunted my sleep. Mother died in the fire. "Oh" was the only word for sadness steeped so bitterly strong. Oh. Oh. Oh. The echo spread in the dark like a stain.

Much later, I arrived fifteen minutes late for lunch at The Cheesecake Factory. My cousin Cathy glanced at her watch.

"Sorry. Rough night, bad dreams." The waitress came. I ordered what Cathy ordered, Louisiana pasta, so she wouldn?t need to wait more.

"Sheila," she said in her clippy way. "Haven't we talked about your nightmares before? Go. To. The doctor."

Bless her heart, she thought every problem had a solution. She had her disappointments, the same as me. The same as everyone by age fifty. What on earth did the girl think a doctor could do about it?

After key lime pie, we headed towards the mall in her divorce-red convertible. Lunch and shopping was our Saturday routine since our kids and husbands moved out. A handmade sign read Fortune Healer. "Pull in," I said. Cathy and I visited psychics. We'd have big discussions about the hopeful things they told us, then laugh at ourselves.

The shop had a doctor's examination table, complete with the white paper roll. I tried to catch Cathy's eye, to say weird, let's leave.

"Can I help y'all?" said a regular middle-aged man, not even hippyish. High school teacherish.

"My cousin has nightmares," snarked Chatty Cathy.

Twenty minutes and eight hundred dollars later, I somehow lay on the table in a paper gown. The sign on the door was flipped to Closed.

Stuart, the healer, prodded my chest and stomach. Incense smoke hung thick. A soundtrack played, chimes and a woman chanting "ching, chong, chang," high and nasal.

"Ah, yes. Right there," Stuart said. Cathy's lash extensions met up with her tattooed-on eyebrows, twin caterpillars in the dizzy haze.

Stuart eased a smoke-like rope from my stomach, perhaps from the navel. He teased the darkness out, thicker and blacker. Its leaving felt luscious. I tried not to moan my pleasure.

He said, "We pick up pain. Some can't put it back down."

"Oh," escaped my lips. June sunshine gilded the room. My stiff neck, clenched jaw and strained back relaxed to hot buttered noodles. Sumptious. Oh. Oh. Oh. Stuart extracted the last, heaviest section of a half century's sorrows. I floated above the exam table, light as meringue.

Carly Berg is a big fat liar who fortunately lives near a large body of pants-dousing water. Her stories appear in several dozen journals and anthologies, including PANK, Word Riot, and Bartleby Snopes, and she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize as well. She is at work on a book of flash stories.