And Counting . . . .

Submitted into Contest #137 in response to: Write a story about a scientist.... view prompt

17 comments

Contemporary Fiction

“I always wanted to be a scientist. Ever since I was six years old. I was a precocious reader and had read Childcraft, Volume 11, “Scientists and Inventors” so many times, I had it memorized by six and a half years,” Cynthia (never ‘Cindy’) Abigail Black was telling her therapist. “I would be just like Marie Currie and work with my husband on breakthrough research. It would be so romantic to create new chemicals with a brilliant man.

“Then I read about the Radium Girls and decided that chemistry was not as attractive a field as I first thought. And chemicals are toxic and smelly.

“I was fascinated with Esther Lederberg’s research in microbiology and what she discovered. And upset that her husband received the recognition she deserved! I was never going to play second fiddle in a male dominated field. Being a medical research scientist was no longer a consideration.” Cynthia shook her head ruefully.

“By grade 10, I was intensely busy with extracurricular activities and my mathematics and physics marks were just good enough to get into university but not into engineering. I didn’t want to work any harder so I chose studies in psychology and became a behaviorist.

Cynthia Abigail Black’s new therapist was watching her closely. Cynthia had not taken a breath since she had plopped herself down on the couch (eschewing the tub chair as too confining) and had begun her recital.

It was going to be a challenging session.

“I became a researcher like Kinsey and began dating the guys on campus. Especially the athletes. I wanted to know how long I could bait them with getting to second base before they lost interest. Football players think everything is about their penis so they averaged 2 and a half hours. With basketball players, it would be a couple of days before they realized I was never going further. I had thought of letting a couple of the baseball players get to third base after some heavy petting and if a month had gone by but then I met Craig. We met and married in the summer before our fourth year of university. He graduated as an electrical engineer which is funny since I had thought Edison and I would have made a great couple too!

“Craig is my soul mate; the love of my life. He is cute (not handsome) on a scale of 1-10, he’s a 9. And so well built! He keeps in shape. It was love at first sight. Well, love at first touch (wink, wink)”

Her therapist was about to speak when Cynthia interrupted her initial “hmmm.”

“Wow, those 50-minutes went by so quickly! No, I don’t need any homework. See you next week. Bye.” And with that, Ms. Black was out the door; leaving behind a therapist who was perplexed and amazed that someone, anyone, could talk and not take a breath for 49 minutes. Picking up her pen, the therapist put a question in her notes beside ’presenting problem’. She simply had no idea why Cynthia had come. As such, these sessions could evolve into very expensive ‘talk therapy’. . . if Cynthia continued in this vein.


Some clients show up as regular as clockwork. And Cynthia was one of those. Sure enough, same time, same day, there she was back on the therapist’s couch. Although this time, she seemed to have learned the therapist’s name-- as in “well, Stephanie, let me go on, ok?”

Cynthia actually took a deep breath (how had Stephanie missed that showy intake the first time?) and the words came out in a stream of cheery, run-on anecdotes and offerings of pseudo insights.

“Our first years was filled with love. Life was a plethora of experiences—travel, restaurants, new possessions, new homes, sex. We chose not to have our 2.3 children early in our marriage so we could grow and mature. And we wanted to save as much of the $492,200 necessary to raise kids today in a lifestyle of success and privilege they would deserve.

“I continued my behavioral studies into my marriage. By the 23rd day, Craig was putting his toothbrush and toothpaste into his own cup. None of those yucky shared toothbrush holders. By the second month, he no longer left dirty underwear and socks lying on the bedroom floor. I rewarded him with sexy lingerie incentives. I so enjoyed finding new delightful outfits to wear.

“Within 198 days, Craig was folding his pants and putting them on the pant holder with the seams together. It only took another 45 days to have him put his hangers in the closet with all the short-sleeved shirts next to the long-sleeved shirts and to have the hangers facing to the back of the closet. Honestly, it would be so much easier for wives if we didn’t have to reteach men everything their mothers did for them. Men are so terribly spoiled by the time they marry!

“We both had jobs that were financially beneficial and time flew by. Craig was fully involved in my efficiency routines as benefiting his time. He took part in loading the dishwasher with all the knives, spoons and forks separate as well as the largest to smallest dishes facing inward to the spray. He could vacuum the entire home within 30.25 minutes and still have time to do the three toilets with the correct cleaning procedure before going out to the gym after supper.

“Our lives were orderly and predictable and comfortable. Until the day he brought me home from the hospital after my hysterectomy…”

For the first time, Cynthia let out an emotional sniffle. Stephanie thought she was about to guide her client into some insights regarding her marital relationship when Cynthia let out a yelp and exclaimed “I have taken 52 minutes! Goodbye.” Ms. Black flew out the door without a further word.

Stephanie closed her office door and went back to her notes. Which were once again filled with questions and very little insight into Cynthia’s formative childhood or why she needed to see a therapist (a psychiatrist would have been a better fit as Stephanie suspected her client checked several of the mental illnesses found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It would be a hard slog to move her client from narcissism to empathy for others.


Next session and Cynthia began precisely where she had left off from the previous week.

“Craig had an affair in our seventh year of marriage. It ended, after 13.5 weeks. We decided then that it was too late to have children and I had the hysterectomy; to be rid of a redundant part of my anatomy that was causing horrendous pain during my periods.

“Craig moved into one of our guest bedrooms. He told me it was because he was snoring so badly now, he was waking himself up. I had been taking sleeping pills for 28 months and 2 weeks and hadn’t attended to his possible sleep apnea symptoms.

“Other things changed as well. We no longer took walks together. If I was going out, he said he would just walk on the treadmill or go to the gym.

“Our dinner routine did an about face when I began cooking at home again. We no longer went to new and popular restaurants nor did we order from our favourite subscription meal service. He invariably picked at whatever I created for meals (usually pasta, by the way) and he would push it around for 432 seconds and then scape his plate into the compost pail and place the dishes into the dishwasher, in the wrong way.

“I began to notice that household chores were not being done to my satisfaction and that I would have to reclean the bathrooms or shovel the walks in the optimal manner to ensure time was not wasted. Craig wasn’t paying attention to our established norms.

“He began spending more and more time in his room.” Cynthia observed.

Stephanie saw this as the opening to dig into Cynthia’s emotions and was about to ask how she was feeling about her marriage, when Cynthia rolled on with her litany. Stephanie considered, seriously, of interrupting her client. She wondered, a few seconds too slowly, what more Cynthia had to relate and her client continued.

“I have become quite the hoarder in the past 11 months,” Cynthia recounted in her deadest tone. “There is not a single inch in our 3,156 square foot home does not have some clothing, food item, toiletry, household cleaner, books, craft items or thrift store find. There are a ton of papers scattered between all those articles as if they were being germinated for spring planting. It is a disgusting mess.”

Cynthia’s voice did not reveal that she was upset with the state of her home. In fact, her tone was one of complicity and smugness.

“Yesterday, Craig could barely open the front door and he had to shove against the debris to get in. He took one look around, went to his room and changed from his everyday office suit into his second-best athletic outfit. I only noticed it as he picked up his suitcases --they were beside the front closet. Then he left. He just…left.”

‘Ahh,’ thought Stephanie. ‘This will be the dam bursting and Cynthia gets in touch with her motives and emotions.’

Cynthia stood to end the session. Her final words were “12 years, 7 months and 5 days. I wonder what took him so long to leave!”


A year later, or rather, 11 months, 19 days and 3 hours later, Cynthia was back again. Stephanie was presented with Cynthia’s recently published book “How to Get a Man to Leave”. It was surprisingly successful as an e-reader. Cynthia was not there for a therapy session; just a curt ‘thank you for helping me obtain insight’ (?!) as she turned on her high heels and left the office.

Stephanie was thoughtful as she placed Cynthia’s book next to the newly purchased volume she was planning on reading next. It had sat on her desk, unnoticed by Cynthia. The book was written by Craig Alexander Black and entitled “How to Leave a Controlling Partner.” 

March 18, 2022 04:53

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17 comments

00:07 Mar 25, 2022

Very well thought out, and the ending is a great twist on where I thought the story was going to go. Sometimes your use of parenthesis took me out of the mood of the story, but overall I enjoyed it. Well done!

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Lavonne H.
03:30 Mar 25, 2022

Hi Jennifer, What a good point about my use of parenthesis! I had to go back and see where I had used them and think about my process. Should I have used italics instead to show what the therapist was thinking ...or not? Writing is complex; I have so many aspects to conquer...like noting when a tag for a prompt is asking for a sci-fi story. Groan. Your feedback is greatly appreciated and thank you for reading the story. Yours in writing, Lavonne

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Sharon Hancock
23:56 Mar 20, 2022

Ha! Loved it! I studied behavioral psychology and my classmates and I used to joke around about using the techniques on our significant others. I enjoyed the twist ending. Great story!😻

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Lavonne H.
00:53 Mar 21, 2022

Thank you Sharon! My husband hated my character, Cynthia, btw. Guess that must mean he wonders about me and my behaviours....?! Glad you liked the ending --which some people missed as my attempt at humor ;) ;) Reading your story this week, I can see I need to work so much more with developing humor! Again, thanks for your comments. Really, really appreciated. Yours in writing, Lavonne

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Riel Rosehill
17:08 Mar 19, 2022

She actually wrote a book!! I was laughing because at the beginning when she was going on about how long it took to get craig to do chores I though she sounds like she could write something like "How to Train Your Boyfriend" haha. I loved how she said "We chose not to have our 2.3 children early in our marriage", how its always a point something, not whole numbers, even with children LOL. I felt for eveybody here - the poor therapist, Craig (I'd like to hear his sessions with his therapist, too! There's a whole side to the story undiscovered...

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Lavonne H.
17:36 Mar 19, 2022

Thank you, Riel, for all of your kind comments. I actually hear your laughter which is amazing; I will have to read your stories to hear your other voices! Hmmm, "How To Train Your Boyfriend". I wonder if Cynthia goes on to have another relationship? ;) On behalf of Cynthia, thanks for sharing what you enjoyed! Those insights help me with this unwieldy craft and your feedback is truly appreciated. Yours in writing, Lavonne

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Zack Powell
00:56 Mar 19, 2022

That ending! I'm laughing so hard right now. Perfect way to conclude this one. Cynthia (never Cindy) is such a fun character. The absolute obsession with numbers and dates and times really sold her personality and told us everything we needed to know without you overtly stating "she was controlling," "she was obsessive," etc. We can see that from her statement (and the fact that she never stops making them). So thanks for being more subtle with your characterization. I definitely felt for Stephanie, by the way. The ending is where the story ...

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Lavonne H.
01:26 Mar 19, 2022

Zack, thank you for all the warm fuzzies!!! The points you highlight are what I hope a reader will take away. I hadn't tagged the story with 'humor' because this was practice. But the fact that you did laugh means I will work harder to get those guffaws I wanna hear about!! Again, thanks for reading, sharing your feedback and giving me the impetus for future stories. Yours in writing, Lavonne

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James Grasham
19:22 Mar 18, 2022

Hi Lavonne - it doesn't happen often but I'm pretty lost for words with this! :) The last line drew a wry smile from me - keep writing, I'll be checking back!

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Lavonne H.
22:44 Mar 18, 2022

Hi James! Thank you for your feedback. "I am hoping that your loss for words was a good thing" says she tentatively. I was working on dialogue with this story... and some protagonist development. The last line is in recognition that relationships involve two people. Glad it got a smile! I will aim higher for guffaws now! Yours in writing, Lavonne

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James Grasham
10:14 Mar 19, 2022

Definitely a good thing! :) Relationships definitely need work from both sides, and you both have to work toward the same end!

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Chris Campbell
07:14 Mar 18, 2022

Nice bit of ironic humour at the end, Lavonne. I liked your line, "Men are so terribly spoiled by the time they marry." It's so true. Cynthia has a slight narcissistic personality, but is an interesting character. I'm sure that if she ever took a breath, she might possibly say, "That's enough about me. Let's talk about you... What do you think of me?" :) I discovered that Marie Curie was so radioactive when she died, that she was buried in a lead-lined coffin. Keep up the good work. Well done!

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Lavonne H.
22:37 Mar 18, 2022

Chris, Thank you, thank you, thank you! For reading the story and for finding some merit in it. And yes, Cynthia would be asking about what others thought of her! Very insecure. [My husband hated Cynthia, btw ;) ] If you haven't read "The Radium Girls", it is as frightening as Curie's story and more so because there were cover ups and so many women who died . . . horribly; to put fluorescent paint on dials for planes and watches during WWII. Did you write this week? Is there a way to have a notice from those writers one is following so we kn...

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Chris Campbell
10:18 Mar 19, 2022

I’ll take a read. My latest is “Cat in a box.” You've kindly read that one, already. I found out today that I was shortlisted for “The Last Hussar.” https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/ecltj2/ Not sure how the following a writer works. I hoped there would be links as well.

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Lavonne H.
11:39 Mar 19, 2022

Chris, Congrats on being shortlisted!!! Excited for you. I have just sent a query to Laura, editor, to see if there is a way to get notifications when stories are posted by those we follow...wish I knew how to program ;) No ideas have come for a story with this week's prompts so I should have extra time to read a lot more stories that you and others have posted previously. I love the variety! Yours in writing, Lavonne

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Chris Campbell
12:36 Mar 19, 2022

Thank you for following this up. The weekly prompts sometimes challenge me to come up with something. I find the best way for me is to just start writing something, see where it takes you and enjoy it. I'm delighted to have been shortlisted. Hopefully soon, I'll win one.

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Lavonne H.
21:10 Mar 19, 2022

Here's to winning in your immediate future!! That is excellent advice: to just start writing and see where it goes.... Ok! I have an idea ;) ;) ttys Yours in writing, Lavonne

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