Fiction: Blurred Glass

By Zary Fekete

“Because she’s a bitch!” 
My son’s voice cut through the air of the counselor’s office. Every word seemed to hang in the air, a matted cloud of fury. I felt like I could look at this dark cloud and see questions in it like electrical sparks held in tension and waiting to snap. When did Josh last smile?  Where was his laugh? Was his joy gone? When did he stop being my baby? He wasn’t the little boy who looked up at me from the sandbox years ago. He was an angry young man.
This was the third time we were meeting the counselor. The first time had been a sort of get-to-know-you session, one that was mandated by the school. We had met at the school in the principal’s office. The counselor was a trim, young man in his late-twenties, fresh out of graduate school. I could tell right away that Josh didn’t like him. The counselor asked one cheerful question after another, and Josh sat in the chair, letting the words hang in the air like balloons waiting to be popped by reality. I tried to summon hope, but my heart sank at each unanswered question the counselor posed.
The school leadership had been as kind as possible, but they were taking this very seriously. Last month the entire school facility was shut down for about six hours while the police swarmed the school. It made the national news. 
The incident happened in gym class. One of the other boys was picking on Josh. Josh let it go for awhile but then said he had something in his backpack that would shut the other kid up for good. One of the girls heard this and told the teacher. In the end it was only a replica gun they found in Josh’s bag, but that was cold comfort to the rest of the parents who waited anxiously outside the school grounds until the police gave the all clear. The principal called me in and after a tense conversation the school presented us with the ultimatum to meet with the counselor.
The second session was last Friday. It was the first time we met the counselor in his own office. The space was neatly curated for conversations with pleasant chairs and complimentary tea and coffee on the side table. The counselor asked Josh questions about his life. Josh gave mostly grunts in response, but he opened with a vengeance when asked about my ex-husband. The counselor was clearly used to this kind of behavior. He nodded through my son’s outburst until Josh had tired himself out and just kept quietly whispering the words “drunk fuck”. 
I picked up Josh at school and drove him to the third session today. We had been in here an hour and it felt like things were going nowhere. Josh kept up a grinning, “who cares?” persona, refusing to answer anything seriously.
“What did you mean a moment ago when you said, ‘she’s a bitch’?” the counselor asked. 
My son looked up at him. “What? You don’t know what a bitch is? They don’t teach that in counselor school?” Josh started ticking his fingers. “She whines. She cries. She’s lost in some memory of the past that never existed. She wants my dad back. But she hated it when he was here. She’s mad he’s gone. She wishes I was still a little boy. She wants me to grow up. On and on!”
“You mean, she’s sad?” the counselor said. Josh seemed caught off guard. He sat still for a moment, his eyes searching the ceiling for an answer.
“Yeah,” he said. “She’s sad. She’s sad all the time. It’s boring. Idon’t like looking at her anymore.”
“Do you have anything to do with her sadness?” the counselor said.
Josh shook his head with a wry smile while waving a finger in the air. “No, no, no,” he said. “Nice try, sir.
The counselor shrugged. “Josh, I’ve seen your file. You’re not an idiot. In fact, you’re IQ is quite impressive. So, I know you are aware of your actions and the effect they have on your mom.”
Josh sat back in his chair with his eyes fixed on the groundmouthing his way through curse words silently. The counselor waited a moment. Then he sat back in his chair and cocked an eyebrow. He leaned forward again and typed a few things into his computer. He stopped after a moment and stared with a slow smile at his screen. “It might work,” he said quietly to himself. He tapped a few more words, his eyes moving rapidly as he read something to himself. “The quadrants line up. Numbers check. Yes yes yes.” He leaned back and smiled. Then he reached into one of his desk drawers and pulled out a thin, rectangular metal box about six inches long with some wires attached to it. Plugged the box into his computer and input a few more keystrokes. The metal box gave off a low whirring sound and then was silent. The counselor unplugged the box from his computer. He contemplated it for a second and then held it up for us to see.
“Would you like to try something, Josh?” he said. My son kept his eyes on the ground for a beat, but then lifted his lids and gave the counselor a bored look.
“What?” he said. 
“This,” the counselor gestured with the box. He pressed a small button on the side. There was a click and the top snapped open. The counselor reached in and held between his fingers, to my surprise, a pair of eyeglasses. 
“I don’t need those,” Josh said. “20/20. Isn’t that in my file?” He smirked.
The counselor chuckled. “No, no,” he said. “I know you don’t need these. In fact, these are not prescription. Not even glass, actually. Just clear plastic.”
He had my son’s attention now. “Then what are they for?” 
The counselor waited a moment before speaking. Then he cleared his throat and said, “More and more counselors aretrying something called the attrical system. It’s a simple process of cultivating a mental state of identification.
My son sat silently for a moment. “I don’t get it,” he finally said.
The counselor nodded. “It’s complicated but essentially it is the gradual willing of our minds to press into the situations before us in order to better understand other people and ourselves.”
Josh shook his head with a grim. “Sounds like doctor-talk, doc.” 
“Yes,” the counselor smiled. “Maybe it is.” Then he paused and looked down at the glasses in his hand. When he looked back at Josh he had a sincere look on his face. “I know you don’t think there‘s much point to all this,” he gestured at the office surroundings. “I know you don’t want to be here. But since we do have to be here together, why don’t we try this. Treat these glasses as your good faith attempt to enter into the role you are being called to.” He let that sit in the air a moment. “Think of the glasses as agreeing to try to see things in a new way.”
The counselor tipped his head toward the door. “Your principal thinks you’re a threat to the school.”
Josh grinned and nodded.
“Do you agree with him?”
Josh stopped smiling. Slowly he shook his head. 
The counselor nodded. “Good,” he said. “The glasses are your chance to show that.”
Josh stared at the counselor. “Do they hypnotize me or something?”
“Not at all,” the counselor said. “They’re just a symbol.”
Josh scratched his head. “What was all that typing and clicking you did just a second ago?”
“That?” the counselor chuckled. “Nothing much. I was just comparing a few figures from your file with the attrical system’s success rate. I think you will make a good match.”
Josh said nothing.
“Josh, you know where this is headed,” the counselor said. “If the school administration doesn’t see a real attempt on your part, they’ve already decided what comes next. You know what that means?”
My son shrugged and rolled his eyes. “I flunk out. Or I cause another national crisis and they finally lock me away so no one is embarrassed anymore.” He looked over at me with a fake sweet smile. I looked at the floor. The counselor smiled softly.
“Yes,” he said. “Now I know you don’t like coming here. I’m fine with it either way. It’s my job. But I think this is a real chance for you.” He held up the glasses. “What do you say?”
My son sat slumped in the chair for a moment. Then he straightened up, extended his middle finger toward the ceilingand took the glasses. 
The car ride home was quiet. It had been raining most of the day, and the windshield wipers were the only sound in the car. In the driveway I turned the car off and the window filled with a sheen of water, painting the outside into a blur. For a moment we were enclosed in a silent womb.
I looked over at my son. He was staring out the front window. He held the glasses in his hands, slowly turning it between his fingers. 
“What do you think of those?” I said, nodding at the glasses. 
He shrugged. “I guess it’s better than pills.”
I closed my eyes. 
Josh sat still another moment. Then he opened his door and got out. For a moment I heard the rain outside softly falling on the yard. I saw my son’s watery shape as he walked to the front door of the house. 
A moment later my neighbor drove by, heading to their house next door. She had two daughters, one older and one younger than Josh. Another car passed through the rear-view mirror, my neighbor from two doors down. He had three kids. 
They all went to the same school with Josh. I sometimes watched them in the mornings, trudging toward the cars or the bus stop, silently mounting their inner defenses. I shook my head, unable to convince myself it had been just as hard for me when I was their age. I didn’t know how they all did it…how Josh did it day after day. The competition seemed so fierce. The pressure. Not to mention that each one of them had a blinking screen in their pockets that shouted at them all day for attention. I couldn’t imagine coping with that back when I was a student.
I stared at the streams of water dissolving the outside colors on the car window. Then I got out of the car and went inside.
I slept fitfully that night. I kept looking over at the bedside clock as it marched its way through the nighttime hours. Midnight…then 1…2…finally 3. Eventually I got up and went downstairs. I made some coffee and sat at the kitchen table.
The glasses were sitting on the table where Josh left them last night before he went up to bed. I picked them up and slowly turned them over in my hands. The plastic lenses stared up at me. I flicked open the glasses and held them up to the light. They were clear and untinted. 
Slowly I lifted them to my face. I was just about to put them on when my son’s bedroom door slammed upstairs. A second later I heard the shower come on. Guiltily I snapped them shut and put them back on the table. I sipped my coffee some more. Joshcame downstairs with his school bag slung over his shoulder. 
I tried to smile at him. “Want me to drive you?” I said. “It’s still a little wet out there.”
He shook his head and said, “No. I’ll bike.” He moved toward the front door and then exaggeratedly turned back toward the table. “Almost forgot the eyewear.” He grabbed the glasses and shoved them into his pocket before slamming the door on his way out. 
I thought about him all day. It kept picturing him walking through the hallways with the glasses on his face. Please, I breathed a silent prayer. Let him feel normal. 
Finally, 4PM came around and I heard my son’s bike tires rolling up the driveway. A moment later the front door opened. I stood from the kitchen table, my hands twisted anxiously in front of me.
He stood quietly, still facing the closed door where he had pulled it shut. When he turned, he was wearing the glasses. My breath caught in my lungs. He face was rigid and still. His mouth hung half-open and slack. He looked somehow older than his fourteenyears. He noticed me and his face changed as he straightened his posture for a moment, as though he were putting on a new face, but then his shoulders slumped and his face slackened again. 
“How was the day?” I said.
There was a pause. “Fine.”
“How did…how did those go?” I said, gesturing at the glasses. 
He looked at me, but somehow seemed to look through me. His eyes were distant, like he was looking at something behind me. Finally, he said, “A couple people asked about them. Mostly nobody noticed.”
I waited but he said nothing else. “Did you…?” I said, faltering. “Did anything feel different?”
He stood, looking at the kitchen floor, his backpack dangling limp in his hand. Then he looked up at me. “It felt like I was wearing a different face.” 
Then he turned and went upstairs.
The week went by. Each day he came home, silent, with empty eyes behind the glasses. On Friday I drove him back to the counselor. 
We sat in the empty office and when the counselor entered he smiled when he saw the glasses on my son’s face.
“Good, good.” He took out his notebook and made a few notes. “So, how did they work?”
My son sat silently. The counselor waited a moment and then turned to me. “How did he do, Mom?”
I looked from the counselor to my son. I searched for the words. “It’s fine,” I said. “It was a quiet week.”
The counselor smiled. “That’s exactly what we want.” He made another few notes and then said, “Try them for another week. If all goes well I think I will be able to report to the school that we are off to a good start.”
The car ride home was silent again. I parked in the driveway and waited. My son sat silently and then slowly reached for the door.
“Wait,” I said. He dropped his hand.
“Josh,” I said. “Can’t you tell me how you’re feeling? It’s just…it seems like everything changed so quickly.”
My son slowly turned his head to look at me. I felt an involuntary shudder. His eyes behind the glasses were tired.They looked like eyes that had seen many worlds pass them by.
He took a deep breath and I heard his lungs rattle slightly. “It’s fine,” he said. “The counselor must know what he’s doing.” He lifted his hand to adjust the glasses on his face. It was at that moment I noticed the skin of his hand. It was wrinkled and worn.
He got out of the car. I watched him walk to the door with his back stooped and with a slight limp in his step. 
I made dinner. We sat together at the kitchen table. He chewed his food slowly. Once he dropped his fork. There was pain in his face when he bent to pick it up. His hand went to his back and he sighed.
He made to stand up but stumbled and almost fell. I leapt to my feet. 
“Josh, what’s wrong?” I took his arm to steady him. I shivered and my heart seemed to stop. I could feel his bones beneath his sweatshirt. It was like I was holding a fistful of twigs.
He turned to me, nodding slightly. “It’s nothing. Nothing,” he said with an odd stillness in his voice. “I’m just tired. I’m going up to bed. “ 
It was when he turned to go to the door that I saw the grey hairs on his head.

Zary Fekete grew up in Hungary. He has a debut novella (Words on the Page) out with DarkWinter Lit Press in addition to two short story collections later in 2024. He enjoys books, podcasts, and many many many films. Twitter and Instagram: @ZaryFekete