Drawing by N.I. Mahmoud


-Story by N.I. Mahmoud

She knew there’d been problems, but she was still shocked Dory had taken things so far. She understood the inclination, though. After all, Helen had been the girl who spent hours willing her own breath to stop. A pillow over her face; listening to the sound of a slowing heartbeat; but she couldn’t imagine the alternative, and eventually she’d suck air back into her lungs.

But that was the difference, so it never ceased to amaze her—was it imagination alone that allowed Dory to contemplate a freedom she could not? Or maybe it wasn’t what Dory possessed, but what she lacked. Helen supposed if things had worked out differently, and Dory hadn’t survived, she would have been more rattled, but Dory had come out intact, and Helen needed to know why she hurt herself.

Tired eyes and frail hands clasped over her chest, Dory showed no regret, “Anything’s better than this.”

It was shockingly simple, though what it was, and why it was so bad, Helen didn’t know. All she could determine with certainty was what was apparent, Dory ingested bleach with the idea that there was something better than living.

Most days, Helen hurried up the steps, but after five hours at the hospital, she let the old pulley move her up slowly. On the third floor, the morning’s uncertainty washed over her, but not having the luxury to waver, she pushed through—

In a familiar room, a familiar face offered a familiar smile, “Good morning Helen, how are you?” 

Polished umber, eyes lined in black-moth lashes, Clara Lawrke’s dark look was impossibly bright. Most of the time, Helen admired the effervescent perch Clara straddled, but today was complicated. 

“I’m well,” she started to turn away, but Clara didn’t let her go so easy—

“I tell you what, I’m happy it’s Wednesday, I’m ready for the weekend already!”

She thought she should ask about Clara’s plans, but she didn’t want to draw things out, “are Tate and Price in?” her tone more curt than she intended.

If Clara noticed, she didn’t show it, “you’re the first one in— Tate’s doing rounds all day and Price’s first appointment isn’t until 10.”

Helen looked over the schedule, and Clara purred, “You’re a lucky woman, you get to start your morning right with Mr. Wenturn, Lord that man is a fox!”

Helen couldn’t say anything even if she wanted to, she didn’t disagree though, Marcus Wenturn was impressive, but he was also complicated in the way men used to being on top tend to be—still, Clara’s eyes danced with longing, and it occurred to Helen that Clara liked the idea of a complex man on top because she was a void, seeking only because she lacked her own complexity. She wondered then if Clara ever contemplated suicide. She was sure everyone did, but it was curious to think of Clara musing over anything more than the right shoes to wear with her bright skirts. With her open face and singsong voice, when would Clara feel the urge to stop? Would it be when she felt conscious of her own fragility? When she was alone, with nothing material or apparent to fill her void? Yes, Helen was sure that would be the time Clara would consider another kind of existence. But it was too harsh, and she resolved her view— Clara and I have a commonality that brings us closer to one another, and we both choose to go on because our desire for the known is greater than our curiosity for the unknown.

Clara looked up expectantly, and Helen realized she was lingering in her own thoughts. She turned and walked down a corridor that jogged to the door of Dr. Walif Price, MD, past the door of Dr. James Tate, MD, and finally to her own, Dr. Helen Brodt, PsyD.

Stepping inside, she closed the door. The morning had been an unexpected calamity, but surrounded by aged wood and paper, she stood within a sanctuary; the magnitude of a calling, a sense of purpose set her free. Switching on, she checked her mail before moving to the news. There were the usual headlines, so it seemed nothing ever changed. Nothing except the medium; infinite and illusory, digital letters shifted across seamless pages, she moved on to social media—there were calls for social change alongside pictures of babies and pets. Clicking away, Helen didn’t want see the families her friends had already established. 

She went to her own page and thought of something to say, but she couldn’t think of anything. She couldn’t announce she had almost lost a patient, nor could she talk about her miscarriages. Chewing her lip, she wrote, ‘Life’s a journey.’ It was corny, and she tried again, ‘Process is everything.’

It didn’t seem right either, then feeling ridiculous for spending so much time on something mundane, she finally typed, ‘Today is going to be great!’ She added a link from the Journal of Psychology about the benefits of thinking positive. She frowned at her blinking cursor, it was a strange desolation; she hit enter, and clicked off. 

She opened Marcus Wenturn’s file—charming and bright, for the last few months he came in every other week. They had made some progress, but she still couldn’t get him to admit his depression. He refused to believe he had cause; a man with plenty of everything, he couldn’t get past the idea it wasn’t his to have. Lack of satisfaction set within a satisfied existence, they went in circles, round and round, and she wondered which of them was more tragic—he was a broken record, but she was his enabler.

Dusty books, the certificates she’d proudly framed against the wood paneling began to wither; her fingers gripped the edge of the desk, the cords in her neck tightened; she didn’t need a pillow over her face to hold her breath. Mouth closed, her trachea cut off, air stopped moving through the pipe. The connection between inside and outside was gone, and her heartbeat slowed. Dory’s esophagus had burned from the bleach because she had failed to show her the alternative; and eventually she would also fail Marcus Wenturn. On the other side of failure was freedom; from time, from air, and from expectation, but before she could give into it, there was a buzz, and then Clara, “I got Mr. Wenturn here for you Dr. Brodt, you ready for him?” 

Clara’s voice had a rhythm she did not possess. Noting its absence, she released the breath she held, and she forced herself not to sound measured, “Yes, send him in.”


N.I. Mahmoud


N.I. Mahmoud enjoys exploring conflict; the mundane or the spectacular, in the present, future or past, she believes there’s no limit to how far a story can travel.