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Story by Ashton Carlile (Read author interview) December 17, 2018

Art by Chris Roberts

My therapist is pregnant and has mirrors for earrings. She’s a professional. I’ve asked her, “What establishes one as a professional? Paper? Blazers? Pain? Time?” but she’s never answered that question. She likes to choose which questions she answers, which I guess is how conversations can work. Her answers are usually short and involve words like “exactly” or “not exactly”. I don’t think it’s ever as clear as that but I don’t say anything because, as I’ve learned, in conversation you’re allowed to leave some things out.

She runs out of breath quickly and her earlobes droop with the weight of her mirrors. I want to destroy the earrings—I think about them shattering on the floor and us both being relieved, maybe giving each other a brief but meaningful hug. I had a fascination with earlobes as a child. I would call them earloves. Now I pinch my own when I get nervous. I go for the ear when I get intimate. But she of course knows most of these things. She is the professional.

There’s not much of a difference between doing something and saying you did something, I say to the professional. I tend to get the same fraudulent feeling from both. I used to confuse the word “fraudulent” with “fluent”. So many things could be something. It’s easy to get it all mixed up.

“You should name your baby The Apprentice,” I say, staring at a bowl of pebbles on the table next to her. “Since you’re The Professional.”

She does not like this. She wants me to tell the truth. She says, “Not exactly.”

Okay, here’s a truth: instead of screaming into a pillow when the good moments start to feel like pit stops, I go see a movie where I know there will be yelling. I feel the vibrations of it in my chest and I feel just as good, if not better. It’s almost religious. My soul levels out at the sound, and I’m on the same frequency as the man sitting next to me with a large mountain dew.

Another truth: when I was nine and plagued with horrible ear infections, I was very confused, and not just because of a cochlear imbalance. I was in church most of the time and my pastor seemed to get a distinct pleasure from using oxymorons, from seeing furrowed, devoted eyebrows in the pews. A turning point happened at this age, I don’t exactly know why, and like most turning points, it didn’t feel like one in the moment. I was gripping the little plastic cup of grape juice, the blood, and I thought about the word “immaculate” when the cup snapped, turning my tan corduroy pants purple. It was shockingly funny and perfect, like a bad ending to a movie. Except moments like this kept happening, these bad endings, and in retrospect they flow seamlessly together like one giant beginning.

Truth: The other day I saw my other half getting the other half of the sandwich we used to eat together. He doesn’t consider me his other half anymore but he still gets the same sandwich, and so do I, after all these years, so is there really a difference? We smiled as if to say: I don’t think there’s an end to anything. Do you miss my earlobes? The professional asks what is on the sandwich. Chicken breast, Muenster cheese, mayo, balsamic vinegar. We aren’t in it for the vegetables. The professional looks either really nauseous or starving or proud. She knows I’m not lying. Professionals are good at detecting lies, especially pregnant ones. This time I say out loud: I don’t think there’s an end to anything. And she says, between shallow breaths: exactly.

About the Author

Ashton Carlile lives in Brooklyn and studies at the Pratt Institute. When she’s not writing, she likes to eat fruit in the shower and call her mom. This is her debut publication.

About the Artist

Chris Roberts is a mixed-media artist in Waukee, Iowa.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Two

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