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Two weeks after my mother died, I was back on Dr. Force’s table, my head cradled in his hands. His fingers traveled the length of my neck, counting the bones, looking for trouble.

“Tender?” he asked, finding what he’d been hunting for.

I didn’t need to respond.

He pressed on the sensitive spot and returned to the subject of my mother. I hadn’t given him many details, sticking instead with the story I’d given everyone else: she was peaceful at the end, the people at hospice were wonderful, I was doing well all things considered.

“Were you clear?” he asked, tugging my head to the right as I said yes. I knew he did this to distract me, but it worked anyway. I liked how he could feel my focus shifting elsewhere, just long enough to allow things to happen.

This time, though, no bone clicked into place. I wondered for a moment whether my answer had been true.

“We’re still getting rid of stuff,” I said. “Dealing with estate taxes and all that.”

His index finger pushed in a different spot, this one near the base of my skull. “I meant emotionally,” he said.

I didn’t respond.

He worked in silence a few minutes more, until my bones finally relented. His hands returned to cradle my head, pulling it gently away from my shoulders.

“My father died six years ago,” he said, “but we had plenty of warning. I made sure he and I were clear before he was gone.”

He continued to pull.

“I’m lucky,” he said. “Not many people get that chance.”

He settled my head onto the table and told me to sit up when I was ready.

It took me several minutes.

I rolled onto my right side and pushed my body upward, allowing my legs to fall over the side of the table. Dr. Force washed his hands before sitting at a small desk.

“No dairy for six weeks,” he said while jotting down notes. “Reintroduce it slowly after that and see how you feel.” He wrote some more. “What are you using for cleaning products?”

“Just vinegar and water,” I said.

“Good. And the relaxation exercises?”

“Whenever I can.”

He nodded.

I stared down at my feet as he reviewed his notes. “What else?” he finally asked, looking over at me and smiling.

“What was your father like?”

His smile changed.

“Dad was a pretty traditional guy. He grew up in Nebraska. Married his high-school sweetheart. Loved his family, hated politics. Worked as a carpenter most of his life. He didn’t really understand what I was doing with my life, but that was ok. Why do you ask?”

I felt a pressure building inside my head, pushing and tingling underneath the length of my face.

“I don’t think I was clear,” I said, embarrassed by the tears that accompanied the statement.

Dr. Force turned his body to face me and his smile changed again.

“Tell me about your mother.”

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Stefanie Sidortsova holds an MSt in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. Her first (and almost finished) novel, The Truth, was longlisted for the 2015 Bridport Prize Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award. She lives with her husband and two sons in the UK, where she teaches law in a distance learning program while wiping noses and folding laundry.

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