Eileen Schuh


"I’m only here because it will impress the parole board that I’m seeing a therapist. And you’re not allowed to tell them I said that. You’re not a court-appointed psychiatrist. I’m here voluntarily. I have confidentiality privileges with you." - Allison Montgomery

"Should we just watch a movie or something, then?" - Dr. Erica Freid


"If you don’t want help, there’s not much a psychotherapist can do—except perhaps help you get parole. Let’s just pass on the chit chat. Your name is in my day timer for the parole board. We can watch movies or whatever…. What would you like to do?"

"You’re serious, aren’t you?"


"But…I know that you’ll just say that Carbon is scum and I’ve been taken…"

"What if I say nothing? What if I just listen to your story. Start with the easy stuff. When did your first meet Carbon?"


Part I

The Singing Room



"Oh my God! Is that what I think it is?" Fran plucked the photo from Allie’s hand and tilted it to catch more of the dim lighting.

"Ssshh!" Allie giggled and glanced at Missy. The older woman’s eyes were glazed. A crooked smile was pasted on her face. She was tilted a little to the left as if at any moment she may topple from her chair. Allie realized with a blush that women edging past 50 looked silly drunk. She pressed the soles of her sneakers to the floor, straightened in her chair, and silently vowed to become sober.

"It is! It’s a penis!" Fran’s screechy voice sliced through the din of the late-night drinking crowd.

"For Christ’s sake, Fran, act your age! Allie half-rose from her chair, reached across the table, and pried at the photo. Fran slipped it free of Allie’s fingers and waved it over her head. Allie lunged. Fran squealed and tossed the photo to Missy. Allie’s chair clattered to the floor behind her. A dozen heads turned their way.

Fran grabbed the rest of Allie’s South Korean photos. "There’s more of them! A whole field of penises!" A burly bouncer, positioned just this side of the women’s can, took a step toward her.

Allie uncomfortably glanced around the dingy tavern. A dozen unshaven men with lustful eyes were staring out at her from under bushy brows. She turned her back on all of them and righted her chair

"Look at this one!" Fran continued. "There’s...stuff...spurting out!"

Allie slipped into her chair and covered her brow with her hand. "They’re carved phallics," she whispered.

"Huge carved phallics! Where were they?"

"Haesindang Penis Park. There’s a neat story about them. If you shut up, I’ll it to you."

"Penis Park?" Missy giggled.

"Penis Park?" Fran screeched.

Allie cringed.

"Drinks," the waitress interrupted. She set a tray of Breezers on the table and bent to glimpse the photo. "From the gentleman in the corner."

Fran eagerly reached for the drinks and Allie stole back the photos. She tucked them under her purse and gave a quick nod to the fellow staring at her from the shadows. The waitress left and someone jacked up the jukebox. A lonely cowboy love song drowned out the voices around them.

Missy, again precariously tilting to the left, was obsessively curling back the edges of the Breezer label. Fran pulled her sweater from the chair back and draped it over her shoulders. It was like the evening was coming to an end. Allie felt a surge of panic. Soon she’d be sober—in a quiet place. Alone.

She reached for her vacation pictures. "You think the phallics were great," she whispered. "Take a look at this one, Fran."

"A vagina!"

"For Christ’s sake, keep your voice down!" Allie slumped into her chair. "Oh, my God!" She straightened and frantically gathered her photos. "He’s coming over here!"

"A penis gets free drinks and a vagina gets the man himself?" Fran suggested loudly.

"May I join you?" a deep voice rumbled. His eyes were fixed on Allie.

"Definitely," Fran cut in. She shifted her chair and patted the table beside her.

The man stretched his hand to Allie. A tapestry of tattoos accentuated the muscles defining the man’s arms. She uneasily looked up at his smooth, tanned face. He had a set of the deepest blue eyes she’d ever seen.

"Name’s Carbon," the guy said, his eyes still on her.

She reluctantly touched her fingers to his outstretched hand. "I’m Allie." The man was trouble; she could feel it in her bones. He reached behind him for a chair and slid it in beside her. Carousing with the girls in the worst dive in small-town-Alberta was beginning to feel like a very bad idea.

Allie looked across at Fran. Her chin was coyly tipped and she was fiddling with the gold hoop earring dangling just above her bra strap. She was openly staring at Carbon and pretended not to see Allie’s quick, warning shake of her head. Allie coughed.

Undeterred, Fran cast an obvious glance to her cleavage, crossed her arms on the table, and heaved her ample bosom onto them. "So, thanks for the drinks, Carbon."

Carbon winked at Allie and moved his chair so close to hers that she could feel his breath brush her neck. "My pleasure."

"Screw you, too," Fran muttered. Allie shifted away from Carbon and scowled at Fran. Less than thirty minutes ago, the woman had been ranting about all men being pigs. It made no sense she’d be after this one, who was so clearly was.

"Live in town?" Carbon asked.

"Yes," Fran said. "Not at all far from here." She plucked her diamond pendant from her cleavage and pressed it to her lips. Allie could swear she saw the tip of Fran’s tongue caress the rock. A quick peak at Carbon, revealed he still had his eyes glued to Allie’s face. She shifted uncomfortably.

Although she’d argued with Fran that she wouldn’t mind another go at romance, if for no other reason than to make her ex jealous, she’d definitely not had a man like Carbon in mind. She’d been thinking doctor, or lawyer, or wealthy businessman. Besides, her divorce wasn’t even finalized.

Carbon kept up his stare. The jukebox cut out. Voices died. The tavern became unusually quiet. Fran pushed back her chair. "I’m out of here." She motioned Missy to join her. "Have fun, Allie!"

"Hold it!" Allie hastily rose. "I’m coming, too."

"Stay!" Carbon ordered. He tugged at her arm. "For one drink with me. I’ll take you home."

"Like fuck you will!" Allie struggled to untangle her purse from the chair. "Fran! Missy!" For a brief moment, the stiff evening breeze carried the noise of the outside traffic into the tavern, then the exit door swung shut between Allie and her friends. Another hurtin’ cowboy song filled the evening...heavy, slow, and sad.

Carbon gripped Allie’s arm and yanked her into her chair. Behind her at the bar, glasses clinked. Drunken laughter from a corner table rolled past her. Allie glanced at Carbon’s face. The fire in his eyes was subdued and he was smiling beseechingly.

Perhaps he hadn’t forced her into her chair. Perhaps she’d stumbled. The dimple in his cheek deepened. He was likely more gentle than his tattoos suggested.

She set her purse on the table and slowly settled back. "I’ll finish this one." He beckoned the waitress then casually stretched his arm across the back of her chair. Before the waitress had time to walk over, his fingertips were brushing the front-side of her shoulder.

Allie glanced nervously to the exit. She suddenly felt very sober. "I’ve changed my mind. I have to go."

His hand slid further over her shoulder. He pulled himself closer. "I won’t let you go," he whispered. Allie stared that the fingertips brushing her nipple. He beckoned to the waitress. "Another Breezer for the lady."

"I have to go," Allie repeated. Carbon withdrew his arm from her shoulder and began toying with the cell phone clipped to her purse. She inched her fingers toward it. It had been decades since she’d needed to refuse a man’s advances and it wasn’t easy remembering how.

Carbon dropped the phone and caught her fingers in his. "You promised a drink with me. And you don’t look like the kind of lady that breaks promises."

He was squeezing, too tightly. His hold was too desperate. "I’m leaving," she said.

"I’m just offering you a drink." His grip intensified. It was soon going to hurt. A tiny bit more pressure and her fingers would be crushed. Tears tickled under her eyelids. She was about to cry. She ought to scream.

Their drinks arrived an Carbon released Allie’s fingers. He tossed a fifty on the waitress’s tray and waved her off.

Allie slid her hand down the bottled drink. It coolness felt good against her bruises. The condensation pool around her hand and then dripped to the table. Carbon again draped his arm across her shoulders. "I drank way too much tonight," she said. She took a sip and set the bottle down. "I just went to the can and I have to go again."

He released her and picked up his drink. Relieved, she grabbed her purse and hurried to the exit.



"Before you met Carbon you were in a good mood? You’d just got back from a vacation. You were having fun with your friends, looking forward to your divorce—feeling strong." - Dr. Erica Freid

"No. Not at all. I wasn’t doing at all well before I met Carbon. He actually saved me from a very depressing life." - Allison Montgomery

"How so?"

"You can’t seriously believe that anyone facing their old-age alone would be happy! My parents were both dead. My only sister lived in Texas and hadn’t spoken to me for years. Tim couldn’t have kids—low sperm count, so I’m hitting menopause with no kids, no family. Very much alone, actually."

"You had wanted children?"

"I always told Tim it didn’t really matter to me—because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Infertility is a hard thing for a man to accept. Tim suggested that we could adopt, or artificially inseminate, or something—but I don’t think he meant it. I think he would always have thought he was raising someone else’s kid. Guys are like that. I read somewhere that it’s an evolutionary thing. Whereas a woman always knows she’s the mother of her babies, men can’t be sure their partner’s offspring carries their genes so they jealously guard their mates."

"Tim jealously guarded you?"

"No. He’s not a jealous man."

"You don’t think he would’ve been able to handle raising children that didn’t care his genes?"

"I didn’t say that. Tim is very gentle. He likely would’ve been a good father. I just don’t think he wanted to be a father."

"He said he didn’t want to be a father?"

"No! Why the fuck are we talking about Tim being a father? It’s not important! It didn’t happen, okay?"

"Before you met Carbon, you were doing okay. It wasn’t bothering you that you were childless—"

"Carbon had nothing to do with whether or not I had kids. All I know is that I definitely wasn’t happy before I met Carbon, okay? Carbon—he loved me like Tim never could. I think we are soul mates."

"Carbon scared you, though. You rushed away from him—out of the bar."

"No! Well...sort of. I could tell he was a powerful man. That might have been a bit scary. I wasn’t used to dealing with powerful men. Tim was...he was...impotent. Gentle. Besides, I was drunk so maybe I was more scared of what I might do than what Carbon would do."

"The next day, when you sobered up, how did you feel about Carbon?"

"I don’t know...."

"How did it happen that you got together with him again?"