“Decked out in rebellion”: my assesment of Annie the first time I saw her lounging languidly in the anteroom of my small counseling practice. Her makeup was so thick and black her eyes looked black, though they were actually blue. Below a jean jacket her skirt barely crept to the tops of her thighs, while orange glossy boots reached to her knees. Her hands lay listlessly at her sides, as though she cared nothing about doing anything with them. The ubiquitous wad of gum smacked ocassionally.
Beside her sat the tight-lipped woman whom I took to be Annie's mother. Straight backed as though she'd been in the military - and indeed she had – she sat with her hands folded neatly in her lap; not so much as if she didn't care about doing something with them. It was more as though they were simply resting from much labor and care.
“Annie, won't you come into my office?” Both women rose; the mother swiftly and erectly; Annie slowly and slaunchily. They did appear to be the diametric opposites of one another.
“Only Annie for now, please.” I said to the older woman. I knew the girl was more likely to talk if alone with me.
The woman resumed her seat and I could tell by her suddenly shuttered expression that she cared nothing for this.
Meanwhile Annie and her gum wad took a chair across from my desk, a buttoned up expression if ever I saw one on her face. She never looked at me directly, and if she chanced to do so, her eyes slid away like ice sliding down a glass.
A clear reticence marked our conversation that first morning. All of my queries were met with, at first a stony silence, then finally an ocassional, “Yeah” or even an “I guess so” here and there.
Needless to say the mother was more conversational when I brought her in, though it was clear she had little interest in Annie. She was simply an annoyance, and I quickly got to the bottom of that. Mrs. Winters – her name – had been married to Mr. Winters when his daughter Annie was about thirteen. He'd passed away the previous year.
One afternoon, Annie was in my office when Shaunessy, my golden retriever wandered into the anteroom.
That day I invited both women into my office, Shaunessy following casually. As they took seats, one on the sofa, the other choosing a straight back chair, the dog curled beside my desk, his joyous black eyes roving the room.
As the conversation ensued, primarily between myself and Mrs. Winters, I edged a glance once in a while in Annie's direction.
The girl's eyes were glued to the dog. Even the gum smacking stopped.
It was the first sign of interest in anything that I'd observed.
The quiet thumping beside my chair – Shaunessy's tail on the oak floor - sped up slightly and out of the corner of my eye – I stopped myself from a direct look, not wanting to break the magic of the moment – I saw Annie slide off the sofa and hold her hand out, tentatively.
I continued to work my jaw as my dog performed real therapy.
Annie leaned toward Shaunessy and the dog inched toward her, head up and ears perked. His body quivered with the delight of anticipation as only a dog's can.
In a moment the girl was tickling his ears while he fawned over her, slathering her lavishly with dog kisses. The love fest increased as Annie ran a hand down his back. He arched his body upward slightly and rolled on his back, his dark eyes and tail dancing with pure ecstacy.
Then the most amazing thing happened. Tickling Shaunessy's tummy, Annie laughed for the first time in God only knows how long – an actual from the belly up laugh, genuine and joyous.
My eyes were so glued to the scene I almost missed the other miracle God had in store for the day.
The tight lips and taut face of the older woman slowly, glacially slowly, began to soften ever so slightly. I even saw a tear slide down her face.
I almost fell out of my own chair when Mrs. Winters rose and actually lowered herself to the floor. As she moved her hand closer to Shaugnessy's head, it was bestowed with the same lavish affection.
“Dog spelled backward.” I smiled my thanks.
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