“Before the first nightmare, do you remember what you were doing the day before?”
“I’d like to forget, but I remember,” he said, picking at a loose thread on one of her grey and black throw pillows. This couch, upholstered in a shade of sickly yellow-green, had seen better days. Far worse people had probably laid right where he was, he thought. But that wasn’t the question.
“I was in Jersey. New Jersey – not the island south of England. There’s a gay bar in Newark and I was supposed to be there because this guy Vinny was meeting Steve. It was love at first sight, you know? Steve saw Vinny walk in, and Vinny was nervous because he’d never been to a gay bar before. He knew his parents wouldn’t approve, but his friends were there with him. So Steve bought Vinny a drink and they danced all night. Vinny eventually told his friends that he was going to go for a walk with Steve, get some food. Vinny’s friends were excited for him, because Vinny didn’t date much. He was from a traditional Italian family that tried but failed to be supportive, but he felt different about Steve. And I had to be there, shoot the proverbial arrow, you know…but they didn’t make it ten minutes from the bar before it was all over. These morons started mocking them for holding hands. Steve and Vinny fought back, and Steve ended up dead.”
“How did you feel about that?”
“It wasn’t a hate crime, according to the state attorney. That’s how I felt about that.”
“What happened next?”
“That night I went home. I dreamed my arrows were dripping blood, and I woke up sweating. Those arrows are my entire identity, but what’s the point of the arrows if true love ends like that? I know, ‘It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,’ yada yada…But do you think that was on Steve’s mind when he died? I lost track of what happened to Vinny after that, but I know I never showed up to hit him with an arrow again. Steve was Vinny’s only one. It made love feel so senseless.”
“And love still feels that way?”
“Well, yeah, I mean, love isn’t timeless. Some people, I’ve shown up to hit them with an arrow six or seven times. I’m always working. Everyone’s always falling in love, then out to fall in again. Nowadays, people use the Internet, and they fall in love with six people at once. ‘One true love’ applies to maybe point-five per cent of the world, and it’s exhausting! You’re a therapist; people must talk to you about love all the time.”
She gave a short nod, then smiled. “Of course it’s a common theme. Most people struggle with love.”
“I get blamed a lot,” he said. “People spit on me in the street. Like I’m so powerful! I just go where I’m told. I don’t decide who gets hit and when.”
“That sounds stressful.”
He nodded. “It’s no picnic.”
“When did the dreams get worse?”
He gave a spiteful laugh. “The night I showed up for the ringleader of the gang, who attacked Steve and Vinny, to meet his future wife. And this was a nice girl. Not that smart, which is probably what she saw in him, to be honest, but even the world’s crappiest people fall in love, and I found myself wishing that love was just slightly more discriminate. I hated him. I wished for my arrows to become real and poke his eye out; figured if their love was true she’d still like him if he only had one eye. And that’s nuts! I’m just supposed to show up, do a job, and go, but…”
He trailed off, and his therapist smiled, looking up from her lined notepad. “But it’s hard not to get invested in a love story.”
He sighed. “Right. After that, my dreams weren’t just bloody arrows. Suddenly I was shooting people in my dreams. The arrows tore people apart, cracking bones, sinew flying. Grotesque, I know. That’s when I started coming here. I think love has made me crazy.”
“Have you ever been in love?”
“That’s not what I do.”
“Not what I asked.”
He stopped fidgeting with the pillow thread. “No, I have never been in love. I shoot the arrows, they don’t shoot me.”
“Are you sure about that?”
He thought a moment. She wanted him to say something, so he hit upon a memory that had nearly faded.
“Probably eight thousand years ago, there was this woman in Mesopotamia, named Amara. She sold vegetables in a market from her father’s farm, and she had a beautiful smile. I was there to make her sister fall in love with their uncle. This was common then. No one batted an eye about it. And, anyway, I did my job and she looked at me. Big brown eyes, dark hair peeking out of a veil…she was beautiful, I’ll tell you that. The next week, I was back to bring together Amara and the son of a neighbouring farmer. Their fathers wanted to merge the farms – the son’s father had healthy goats but the land was better on Amara’s family farm, and could grow better vegetation. I was angry at first. I remember feeling left behind. But this was a love match after all. She loved the goat farmer’s son, and he loved her, until their deaths.”
“Their love wasn’t pointless, then.”
“No? The night they died, their farm was razed by bandits who stole every last goat. They’d only been married a year.”
“A lot of couples live long happy lives together,” the therapist said.
“The number is mathematically insignificant. Especially when you’ve been around as long as I have.”
“Was she the only one? Thousands of millennia is a long time for someone who thinks less than one per cent of the population have just one true love.”
He thought again, and found another memory.
“There was a bard once. He wrote his songs for me. I mean, I don’t know that he did, but that’s what I felt.”
She nodded, smiling, forever taking notes.
“May I ask you something? It’s based on something I read once, and not what you’ve told me.”
“Shoot,” he said, before laughing sheepishly at his awkward pun.
“What about Psyche?”
His face felt hot. “What about Psyche? She’s not real. She never was real! I’m not just a Greek myth, obviously.”
“Of course not. I don’t mean to upset you. It’s just…hard getting used to, you know – a client who insists that they’re Cupid.”
“You’ve got my Social Insurance Number. My name’s not Dave!”
“Right, it’s just…What I’m saying is that you’re a person. A living, breathing person. You’re not a Greek myth. Your Social Insurance Number says you were born in 1977, not the Bronze Age. You don’t have to shoot proverbial arrows or make bad people fall in love. You could be like Steve and Vinny. You could be anyone. You could work in a cubicle and meet someone and fall in love, just like everybody else.”
“With all due respect, Doc…It’s not that easy. This is the gig. I’m not like everybody else. I get to be the reason people’s hearts shatter into pieces. Hearts don’t break if they don’t love.”
She sighed. “You’ve been coming to see me for two years, and none of this feels like progress. It actually sounds like you’re more disillusioned with love, and even more committed to hating what you do for a living.”
He frowned. She was right, but he wasn’t sure he could so easily be someone else, either. “I don’t know what to do, Doc.”
“I have an idea.”
He nodded. “Anything. I’ll do it.”
“When you leave, make eye contact with people on the street. Ask someone out, and give them a chance. You never know. Maybe you’re supposed to be hit with one of your own arrows, after all.”
“And when they turn me down?”
“Be open to it. If they turn you down, ask someone else. How many times do you think Vinny and Steve struck out before they found each other, however fleeting their moment was? The point is they loved. They might even find it categorically ridiculous that Cupid himself is so jaded.”
The timer ran out, signalling the end of their session, and he grabbed his coat.
“Oh, Cupid? Happy birthday.”
He hadn’t forgotten, but he’d stopped caring about his birthday thousands of years ago. He smiled anyway, to be polite. “Thanks,” he said. “See you next week?”
“Same time. I look forward to hearing about your progress.”
Without grumbling, he stepped out the door and looked around the busy sidewalk. No one caught his eye, and he didn’t want to force it, so he kept walking. Suddenly, he remembered there was a kind waitress at his favourite café, and though it was late in the day, he made a beeline for a cup of espresso.
The shop was on a quiet, tree-lined street, with a blue espresso mug painted on the old brick wall. Being Valentine’s Day, there were pink and red hearts decorating the glass windows.
He walked in to find it mostly empty, considering the time of day. A single barista stood behind the counter.
“Uh, excuse me. Is Sara working today?”
The barista, whom he hadn’t seen before, shook his head. “She worked this morning. Can I get you anything?”
His eyes wandered to the menu board, then back to the barista. He caught a look in his eye that held his gaze, as his name tag glistened in late sun that poured through the shop. And then, unlike anything he’d ever felt before, his heart quickened. The barista caught the same look and smiled. He returned a grin that felt too wide. Too goofy. Was this what it felt like?
“I’m Steve,” said the barista.
“I’m Cu-. Vinny,” he said, remembering what his therapist had said about being someone else. “Nice to meet you, Steve. Would you like to go for a drink sometime?”
(c) 2020, Abby Simpson.