Chapter no 2

A Flicker in the Dark

My industry thrives on clichés—I know it does. But there’s a reason clichés exist.

It’s because they’re true.

A fifteen-year-old girl taking a razor to her skin probably has something to do with feelings of inadequacy, of needing to feel physical pain to drown out the emotional pain burning inside her. An eighteen-year-old boy with anger management issues definitely has something to do with an unresolved parental dispute, feelings of abandonment, needing to prove himself. Needing to seem strong when inside, he’s breaking. A twenty-year-old college junior getting drunk and sleeping with every boy who buys her a two-dollar vodka tonic, then crying about it in the morning, reeks of low self-esteem, a yearning for attention because she had to fight for it at home. An inner conflict between the person she is and the person she thinks everyone wants her to be.

Daddy issues. Only child syndrome. A product of divorce.

They’re clichés, but they’re true. And it’s okay for me to say that, because I’m a cliché, too.

I glance down at my smartwatch, the recording from today’s session blinking on the screen: 1:01:52. I tap Send to iPhone and watch the little timer fill from gray to green as the file shoots over to my phone, then simultaneously syncs to my laptop. Technology. When I was a girl, I remember each doctor grabbing my file, thumbing through page after page as I sat in some variation of the same weathered recliner, eying their file cabinets full of other people’s problems. Full of people like me. Somehow, it made me feel less lonely, more normal. Those four-drawer metal lockboxes symbolized the possibility of me somehow being able to express my pain one day—verbalize it, scream about it, cry about it—then when the sixty-minute timer ticked down to zero, we could simply flip the folder closed and put it back in the drawer, locking it tight and forgetting about its contents until another day.

Five o’clock, closing time.

I look at my computer screen, at the forest of icons my patients have been reduced to. Now there is no closing time. They always have ways to find me—email, social media—at least before I finally gave in and deleted my profiles, tired of sifting through the panicked direct messages of clients in their lowest moments. I am always on, always ready, a twenty-four-hour convenience store with a neon Open sign flickering in the darkness, trying its hardest not to die.

The recording notification pops up on my screen, and I click on it, labeling the file—Lacey Deckler, Session 1—before glancing up from my computer and squinting at the dusty windowsill, the dirtiness of this place even more obvious with the glare of the setting sun. I clear my throat again, cough a few times. I lean to the side and grab a wooden knob, yanking the bottom drawer of my desk open and rifling through my own personal in-office pharmacy. I glance down at the pill bottles, ranging from run-of-the-mill Ibuprofen to more difficult to pronounce prescriptions: Alprazolam, Chlordiazepoxide, Diazepam. I push them aside and grab a box of Emergen-C, dumping a packet into my water glass and stirring it with my finger.

I take a few swigs and start composing an email.


Happy Friday! Just had a great first session with Lacey Deckler

—thanks for the referral. Wanted to check in re: medication. I see you haven’t prescribed anything. Based on our session today, I think she could benefit from starting a low dosage of Prozac— thoughts? Concerns?


I hit Send and lean back in my chair, downing the rest of my tangerine-flavored water. The Emergen-C deposit trapped at the bottom of the glass goes down like glue, slow and heavy, coating my teeth and tongue in an orange grit. Within minutes, I get a response.


You’re always welcome! Good with me. Feel free to call it in. PS—Drinks soon? Need to get details on the upcoming BIG DAY! Shannon Tack, MD

I pick up my office phone and dial into Lacey’s pharmacy, the same CVS I frequent—convenient—and am taken straight to voice mail. I leave a message.

“Hi, yes, this is Doctor Chloe Davis—C-h-l-o-e D-a-v-i-s—calling in a prescription for Lacey Deckler—L-a-c-e-y D-e-c-k-l-e-r—date of birth January 16, 2004. I’ve recommended the patient start on 10 milligrams of Prozac per day, eight-week supply. No auto-refills, please.”

I pause, tap my fingers on the desk.

“I’d also like to call in a refill for another patient, Daniel Briggs—D-a-n-i-e-l B-r-i-g-g-s—date of birth May 2, 1982. Xanax, 4 milligrams daily. Again, this is Doctor Chloe Davis. Phone number 555-212-4524. Thank you so much.”

I hang up, eying the phone, now dead on the receiver. My eyes dart back over to the window, the setting sun turning my mahogany office a shade of orange not too dissimilar to the gluey residue sitting stagnant in the bottom of my glass. I glance at my watch—seven thirty—and start to close my laptop, jumping when the phone screeches back to life. I glance at it— the office is closed now, and it’s Friday. I continue packing up my things, ignoring the ringing, until I realize it may be the pharmacy with a question about the prescriptions I just called in. I let it ring one more time before I answer.

“Doctor Davis,” I say. “Chloe Davis?”

“Doctor Chloe Davis,” I correct. “Yes, this is she. How can I help you?”

“Man, you are a tough woman to get ahold of.”

The voice belongs to a man, and it laughs an exasperated kind of laugh, as if I’ve annoyed it somehow.

“I’m sorry, are you a patient?”

“I’m not a patient,” the voice says, “but I’ve been calling all day. All day. Your receptionist refused to put me through, so I thought I’d try after hours, see if I could be directed straight to your voice mail. I wasn’t expecting you to pick up.”

I frown.

“Well, this is my office. I don’t take personal calls here. Melissa only forwards my patients—” I stop, confused as to why I’m explaining myself and the inner workings of my business to a stranger. I harden my voice. “Can I ask why you’re calling? Who is this?”

“My name is Aaron Jansen,” he says. “I’m a reporter for The New York Times.

My breath catches in my throat. I cough, though it comes out more like a choke.

“Are you okay?” he asks.

“Yes, fine,” I say. “I’m getting over a throat thing. I’m sorry—New York Times?”

I hate myself as soon as the question comes out. I know why this man is calling. To be honest, I had been expecting it. Expecting something. Maybe not the Times, but something.

“You know,” he hesitates. “The newspaper?” “Yeah, I know who you are.”

“I’m writing a story about your father, and I’d love to sit down and talk. Can I buy you a coffee?”

“I’m sorry,” I say again, cutting him off. Fuck. Why do I keep apologizing? I take a deep breath and try again. “I have nothing to say about that.”

“Chloe,” he says. “Doctor Davis.”

“Doctor Davis,” he repeats, sighing. “The anniversary is coming up.

Twenty years. I’m sure you know that.”

“Of course I know that,” I snap back. “It’s been twenty years and nothing has changed. Those girls are still dead, and my father is still in prison. Why are you still interested?”

Aaron is silent on the other end; I’ve already given him too much, I know. I’ve already satisfied that sick journalistic urge that feeds on ripping open the wounds of others just before they’re about to heal. I’ve satisfied it just enough for him to taste metallic and thirst for more, a shark gravitating toward blood in water.

“But you’ve changed,” he says. “You and your brother. The public would love to know how you’re doing—how you’re coping.”

I roll my eyes.

“And your father,” he continues. “Maybe he’s changed. Have you talked to him?”

“I have nothing to say to my father,” I tell him. “And I have nothing to say to you. Please don’t call here again.”

I hang up, slamming the phone back into its base harder than I intend to. I look down and notice my fingers are shaking. I tuck my hair behind my ear in an attempt to busy them and glance back at the window, the sky morphing into a deep, inky blue, the sun a bubble on top of the horizon now, ready to burst.

Then I turn back to my desk and grab my bag, pushing my chair back as I stand. I glance at my desk lamp, exhaling slowly before clicking it off and taking a shaky step into the dark.

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