One does not set fire to a world which is already lost.
“Shall I stay with you?”
“No, that won’t be necessary. Thank you. I’ll be fine.”
“I will be right outside the door. Just call if you need me.”
In one of the room’s corners, a man sits motionless, facing the wall, his hands resting on his knees.
The visitor sits down at a table in the center of the room. He takes a folder from his briefcase and puts it on the table. He sits in silence for a few minutes before speaking.
“Benjamin,” he says.
The man neither moves nor responds.
“Benjamin,” he calls again, this time a little louder.
The man turns his head and looks over his shoulder at the doctor.
“Please, come join me here at the table.”
Benjamin turns back to the wall. The doctor begins to hum a lullaby. Benjamin turns his head again and looks at the doctor.
“I know that,” he says.
“I know you do. Why don’t you come over here and sit with me?”
“I don’t want to.”
The doctor continues humming the tune and pretends to be reading Benjamin’s file.
“You shouldn’t do that,” he says. “It’s not right.”
“What’s not right? Come over here and sit with me and tell me what’s not right.”
Benjamin rises and walks to the table. The doctor pours two glasses of water and places one in front of his patient.
“Please, sit down.”
“Water puts out fire, you know.”
The doctor remains silent.
“But I like ice better.” The man leans forward. “I dream about it sometimes.”
“You do? What do you dream about ice?”
Benjamin sits still, looking at his glass of water.
“What do you dream about ice?”
He looks up at the doctor.
“I don’t have to tell you.”
“That’s true; you don’t have to tell me. It’s just that I’m curious.”
“Killed a cat once,” he says, pleased with himself.
The doctor smiles.
“Ah, but they say that satisfaction brought it back.”
“Do you know what an ice pick is?”
“An ice pick? Yes, I think so.”
“There was one in my dream, a long one with a very sharp point. It had a red handle. He kept stabbing a big block of ice with it, over and over and over again, but only very tiny pieces came off.”
“Benjamin, he who? Who was stabbing the block of ice?”
Benjamin does not respond.
“Do you know who was stabbing the ice?”
Benjamin repeatedly rubs his upper front teeth over his bottom lip.
“No, I don’t.”
“Are you sure? Was it you? Were you stabbing the block of ice?”
Benjamin bends forward and rests his head on his crossed hands on the table. He is quiet for several minutes.
“It was made of lace.”
“My mother’s dress, it was made of lace, beautiful, coffee-colored lace.”
He sits up and looks at the doctor.
“He burned it.”
“Who burned it?”
“How do you know he burned it?”
Benjamin begins to rub the top of the table with the fingers of his left hand.
“I was with him. He made me watch. He dug a shallow hole and put the dress in it and set it on fire. ‘Daddy,’ I said, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ But he would not let me leave.”
“Do you know why he burned your mother’s dress?”
“Can you tell me?”
“I think you will feel better if you tell me.”
“Benjamin, you can tell me. It’s all right to tell me. I won’t tell anyone else. It will be just our secret.”
Benjamin stands up and walks back to his chair in the corner of the room.
The doctor writes some notes, places Benjamin’s file back in his briefcase, rises, and leaves.
Benjamin begins to sway in his chair, rocking slowly back and forth to the rhythm of a lullaby buzzing inside his head.
Gershon Ben-Avraham writes short stories and poetry. His short story, “Yoineh Bodek” (Image), received “Special Mention” in the Pushcart Prize XLlV: Best of the Small Presses 2020 Edition. His short story “All’s Over, Then” appeared June 23, 2022, in The Chamber Magazine and was nominated for a Pushcart Award.
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