Flash Fiction. Occupational Hazard, by Nicki Nance. Image: the silhouettes of two women facing each other. They are sitting in armchairs. Between them is a box of tissues on a coffee table.

Occupational Hazard

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Session 1

‘Your patient is here, Ruby.’

Maddie, the temp who smelled like lilies, handed me the paperwork. June Allen, 46, marital issue.

Maddie giggled. ‘She’s a chatty one.’ 

‘She’s in the right place. Chatting is my jam. Send her in.’

Before I got to my feet, June marched into therapy issuing cautions. ‘I’m not crazy. Don’t expect me to spill my guts.’ She dropped into the leather chair and raked her hand through her blond spiky hair. Long story short, I married an alcoholic. I can’t cope anymore.’ 

‘Cope with…’

‘Arguing, crying, hiding money, overeating, complaining to anyone who will listen, planning an escape. It’s exhausting.’ 

I’m exhausted just listening. How long has it—’ 

Twenty years.’ June rubbed her palms on her jeans and sighed. ‘I’m not here for the marriage, am I? I’m here for the divorce.’  

I maintained therapeutic silence until she continued.

I never loved him. He was the ticket out of my toxic family.’ She quieted for a moment, nodded in answer to some internal question and stood up. 

 ‘I’ll call my attorney today.’ She left with a wave, a smile, and no follow up appointment.  

The click of Maddie’s high heels coming closer captured me. She handed me a latte. ‘That was quick. You must be really good.’ 

‘Nah. It was a premature evacuation. She’ll be back.’ 

Session 2

One divorce and two boyfriends later, June was depressed, discouraged, and alone. June’s abuse had changed hands from her stepfather to her alcoholic husband. She had broken free, but not really. Now she was history’s hostage.

‘I don’t know how to be with someone else because of, you know…what I’ve been through.’

Her story was much like my own. Like her, I was spilling no guts.  

‘The past doesn’t get any better.’ Am I telling her or myself? 

June took a long breath. ‘My neighbor wants to take me to lunch, but I’m just not ready for a relationship.’ 

I chuckled. ‘If you don’t know the difference between a sandwich and a relationship, you might be right.’ June laughed, too. She scheduled an appointment for the day after the “meeting of two neighbors at a restaurant.” 

After June’s session, Maddie came in to refill my cup.I’m enjoying this assignment. Your office is so peaceful.’  

“To balance the inner chaos.” My chaos.

The smell of latte and lilies lingered in my office when Maddie left. 

Session 3

How did your “not a date” go?’  

Eyes downcast, June studied her folded hands.I did what you said, you know, drove my own car.’ 

‘So, it went well?’  

‘He asked me what kind of pie I wanted.’ She looked up then. ‘I never knew I had a choice.’ 

Maddie showed up with two lattes, and sat in the leather chair. ‘This is my last day with you.’ 

I took a long longing look at her. ‘I hope not.’  

She maintained a seductive silence. 

Do you like pie, Maddie?’ 

She answered with a smile. 

Nicki Nance

Dr. Nicki Nance is a retired psychotherapist and Associate Professor of Psychology at a college for neurodiverse students. 


Her short stories are published in the anthologies of Culture Cult, Wicked Shadows Press, and Sherilyn Kenyon’s Sanctuary and Return to Sanctuary.  

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