“I’m going to repeat that last part back to you.”
Kenneth pointed at me. “About the ugly duckling. That you were an ugly duckling. You’ve said that twice now and I’m not sure I know what that means.” He paused, waiting. I waited, too. He smiled, pointed again. “What does it mean?”
I wished he would put his finger down, but he kept it pointed straight at me, scooting to the edge of his leather chair, waiting patiently for my answer.
I shrugged. “Just that I was unattractive, I guess.” He nodded, made a rolling motion with his finger: go on. “In my youth.” It was my turn to nod. “And that was the message I gave myself all my early years. Yeah.”
Kenneth lowered his finger, his wide face splitting into a satisfied smile. “Yes.”
I smiled, pleased. I had passed a test. A thought came over me, quick, a bee sting. My smile slid away, dropped heavily to the floor and I spoke without looking down at it for long. “By framing it that way, I guess I always sort of believed I would become a swan. I mean, at some point. Become beautiful like a swan.”
“And did you?” Kenneth’s face turned expectant, and he leaned back, crossed wide freckled arms over a round belly. His watery blue eyes were wide under barely-there red eyebrows and I sensed that he would wait the rest of the hour for my answer.
I looked down at my lap, looked at my nails. Polished, a pale nude color. A turquoise ring on my right hand, large and rough. The kind of big ring that someone with long fingers wore. My lap was nothing noteworthy while sitting, but I knew that when I stood, my tweed pencil skirt with its cinched waist was ahead of the season, and my legs would end in killer pointy-toed slingbacks that would shoot me up to nearly six feet tall. I had learned to dress well.
“Can’t you put an outfit together?” My head snapped up, eyes darting to Kenneth. He sat absently stroking his stomach, a pale Irish Buddha, waiting benevolently.
I swallowed. “My mom said I couldn’t match my clothes. And my hair…” I shrugged. Fiddling with the ring, I went on, “I did not know how to style my hair, make myself presentable. But I’ve learned those kinds of things.” I waved my hand, dismissed the phantom voice I had heard. Go away, mom.
“And?” Kenneth’s Hush Puppies came up off the floor as he gently rocked back in his seat.
“And well, I can put on makeup and whatever. I’ve figured out hot rollers. So I guess I’m okay. Maybe not a swan.”
The finger came back up, the rolling motion again. I took a breath and nodded. “Okay, and maybe not an ugly duckling any more. I’m okay.”
“Yes.” Kenneth got up out of his chair faster than you would have thought a 350 pound man could. He walked over to his desk, grabbed a small spiral-bound calendar off it. “Yes, you are okay. Now, when would you like to have our next appointment?”