Pain Beach

by Charles C. Cole


Guided by their facilitator, three women sat on a private beach in simple bathrobes, clipboarded legal pads in hand, writing madly, focused. But Astrid, an admitted life-long poor tester, was stuck.

“Don’t overthink it,” said Seth, their life coach, his back to them for their privacy. “Write the pain out of your long, miserable lives.”

“It’s not that long,” said Briana, a mature sixteen, impatient to be an emotionally balanced adult.

“It’s not that miserable,” said Doris, Briana’s mom, only attending because Briana insisted.

“Mom!” gushed Briana, embarrassed by her mother’s resistance.

“Sorry, dear. Melancholy is not my œuvre.”

“Shhh!” snapped Astrid.

Molly, Astrid’s mid-30s cousin with similar performance anxiety, called out, “Do we have to use complete sentences?”

Seth cooed, “Write what you feel.”

“I feel,” said Molly, “like I have sand fleas climbing up my butt.”

“Molly!” Astrid hissed, clamping both hands over her ears.

“The beach should be calming, but nature can be a distraction,” said Seth. “Everyone stand and stretch. You’re all running an emotional marathon, and we didn’t do the pre-work. Breathe deeply... breathe in for a four-count, hold for four and out for six.”

Everyone stood but Briana, who was absorbed. “Can I use real names for real boys?”

“The point,” said Seth, “is to make it meaningful for you.”

“This is great! I’m so glad we came!”

Doris, a Yoga instructor at home, stretched with ease. “Just don’t tell your father.”

“What if I can’t read my own writing? Does that matter?” asked Molly, glancing down at her pad.

“What if we’re happy?” asked Doris. “I just lost ten pounds and my husband’s taking me on a second honeymoon.”

“You want misery?” snapped Astrid. “I can give you misery.”

Briana stood. “I’m done.”

“It’s not a race,” said Molly.

“Let’s keep going,” said Seth. “I’ll bet we’re closer than you think.”

The other women sat, while Briana stretched.

“Who invited the teeny-bopper?” whispered Molly. “What do kids know about misery? Wait until she’s been dumped a couple of times.”

“I’ve already been dumped a couple of times,” said Briana, biting her lower lip.

“Briana’s very experienced for her age,” explained Doris.

“Sorry,” said Molly. “I didn’t date until college, not that I wasn’t asked.”

Seth hinted at impatience. “Keep going, Molly. Take your time. No hurry.”

“Sounds like there’s a hurry.”

“We want to be ready to jump in the ocean with the sunrise,” he said.

“When is that?” asked Molly.

“Another minute or two.”

“Holy crap!”

“If you’d let me prepare ahead of time,” said Astrid, “I could have brought a big list. I know I’ve got misery in my life, but right now I’m just thinking of the idiot who cut me off in traffic. Is that okay?”

“Use it,” said Seth. “It’s a start.”

“I’m sorry,” said Astrid. “I’m trying. I just can’t do pressure.”

“I remember,” Seth allowed.

“But I want to get rid of my misery forever. That’s the point, right?”

“What if,” Molly interrupted, “I remember more on the drive home? That would suck.”

“It’s a process,” Seth explained.

“My daughter leaves dirty dishes in the sink,” said Doris, meaningfully.

“Mom!”

“I’m trying to contribute, honey.”

“Can I use that, too?” asked Astrid. “That’s actually good, not now, but my last roommate used to—”

Seth guided. “If it’s true for you today, then yes.” Astrid patted her own head. Seth smiled warmly.

“How come you just watch?” Molly blurted. “That’s kind of creepy. And why are we all women? Don’t men have misery?”

“Right now, I’m facilitating,” Seth explained. “This is designed to be a women-only event. But, if you’re wondering, I have my own list right here.” He placed a hand over his shirt pocket.

“Are you jumping in the water with us?” asked Doris.

“I forgot my suit,” Seth joked.

“Who said anything about a suit?” asked Molly. “Did everybody else bring a suit? Crap!”

Seth pulled a simple cotton doll out of a burlap bag at his feet. There was a slit in the back. He passed it along. “Now sign your lists and stick them inside this doll.”

“And that’s it?” asked Astrid. “Poof! We’re at peace? As if!”

“It’s a process,” said Seth. “Finish up and then wash off the remnants in the ocean, returning clean and healed.”

Doris was suddenly sad. “And the doll has all our pain now? What happens to it?”

Seth unveiled an extension cord and an industrial Hamilton blender.

“It seems so sad,” said Briana.

Seth poured ice cubes in.

“What’s the ice for?” asked Briana.

“It drowns out her screaming,” quipped Seth.

“Wait!” cried Briana. “This won’t hurt the boys on the list, will it? I mean, some are real losers, but I don’t want them hurt.”

“This isn’t voodoo,” Seth explained. “This is rebirth. And, like the first time, it’s violent and loud and brief.” He turned on the blender, briefly, to demonstrate.

Doris hugged her daughter. “I love you, honey.”

“That’s intense!” said Molly. “And absolutely nothing like giving birth.”

Seth smiled politely. “Go. Swim. Heal.”

The women ran off, cheering, except for Astrid who lingered.

“Can I start another list?” she asked. “I just thought of something. I don’t want to lose my chance.”

Molly ran back. “Come on! I’m not doing this by myself!”

“I’ll be right there.”

“And if I’m not wearing a suit, then neither are you,” averred Molly, storming off.

“You can come again,” said Seth. “My door is always open.”

“I just want to say,” Astrid began, “I’m sorry we broke up. I thought you were really weird and that I wasn’t crunchy enough for you, but you’re pretty cool. Thanks for inviting me.”

“Go join the others,” said Seth, grinning till his cheeks hurt. “Don’t regret the past. I got over it a long time ago.”

Astrid ran off. Seth pulled the note from his pocket, stuck it in the slit, then lowered the doll. “Abracadabra!” he said, restarting the blender.


Copyright © 2017 by Charles C. Cole

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