Couples Therapy - 2018
Ratty watched as the curves of a glass frog statue speckled the inside of her partner’s rope-burned palm with light. She listened politely as ‘the talking frog’ was explained by a kindly late-in-life couples councillor: where she got it from, what it meant when someone was holding it.
They had never had a problem with interrupting each other, never reached screaming, theirs was a quiet simmer, but the way it made light dance was enough to justify its stay.
“So, are we all clear on the rules?” The elder grizzly smiled. Ratty nodded, turned to Sett, watched them nod. “Well, good. Sett, since you’re already holding the frog, why don’t you go first?”
Sett nodded, staring down at the lump of glass. They started with a weak psychic croak. having spent the morning waiting anxiously for this moment, having run through everything they planned on saying, they now had no idea where to start. Conscious of each passing second, they picked a random point and dropped their spade there.
“The other day, when you were- we were on our way home and you were lying across my lap, and I had the thought that - before that point - I couldn’t remember the last time we woke up together,” they took a deep breath, shuddering as the anxiety of holding it in left their body. “and I thought, I know the difference between being given space, and being left alone.” Another deep breath, another moment of twiddling the glass frog between their claws. “I never want to feel alone like that again. You were so far gone and I felt completely powerless to do anything but lose you, and you’re my best friend, and I missed you, and I still miss you. I just- I want to stop missing you.”
Sett set the frog down on the table between them, staring at it for a moment and then looking expectantly up at their wife. Ratty cast her gaze to the trim as she processed, blinking back tears as she realized just how deeply she had hurt Sett. She picked up the frog, staring into its little glass eyes as she spoke:
“I don’t know- um- I don’t know how to reconcile the fact that you love me with the way I feel about myself, and… uh… I actually don’t remember where I was going with this, I’m sorry-” She moved to set down the frog, found her hand cupped gently by their councillor.
“Hold on, how do you feel about yourself, Ratty?” She asked. The possum met her partner’s eye, then the counsellor’s, then back to Sett’s.
“I wasn’t wronged, though? Shouldn’t we be talking about how Sett feels?”
“I’m sure we’ll get to that, but I think they also want to know how you feel.” Ratty took a moment to read a ‘yes’ out of Sett’s expression, then another to compose her thoughts. She had never been given time to figure out who she was, or what she was feeling. It was difficult to talk at length because of that, and so she just let whatever thoughts were shaken loose come out in order.
“Okay, well, I mean I don’t really want to get all ‘woe is me’. I guess, after all this time I feel like I'm taking advantage of you? Almost? That doesn't make sense.” She bit her tongue, shaking that line of thought out of her head. “It’s more like, I’m just bad, and I think you’re…” She took a deep breath. “You are the most incredible person I have ever met, and I feel like the only way I could ever live up to that is to... die tragically doing something heroic, I guess.”
There was a short moment of silence, the counsellor asked for their frog back, then handed it to Sett.
“We don’t- I don’t know if we need the frog.” Ratty interjected, doing her best to defuse what she just said. “We’ve never really had a problem with that kind of-”
“Well, Ratty, for one: no couple has a problem until they have a problem, and for two: you don’t have the frog, so-”
“No, but I feel like you’re kind of interrupting the flow with this frog thing.”
“Ratty.” Sett interjected, the edge of a smile peeking out from under the grey cloud in their voice. “You don’t have the frog.” They teased. It broke them out of therapy mode for a second. Just a second, though.
“Fuck… I’m a frogless loser…” That earned a tone-breaking snort.
“Sett...” The counsellor started.
“Do you feel like Ratty is a bad person?” She asked. “Do you want to lose her? Even if it is in a heroic tragedy?”
Sett took a long breath, letting the last scraps of frog humour out as they turned the questions over in their mind, confronted with the fact that they were, in fact, there for therapy. “No, I don't. I think... you’ve hurt me a lot recently, and I think you can be selfish, and dumb - not dumb, sorry,” They caught Ratty’s gaze. “Thoughtless is a better word. I also don’t really know what you’re thinking a lot of the time, but I know that…” They turned back to their councillor. “...She would never hurt me on purpose, and so: no, she’s not evil, and I want her to stay.”
“How does it make you feel that Ratty thinks she's evil?”
“I… I really don’t get it. We've all done terrible things, I don’t know if anyone has really sacrificed more than her to correct for that.” Another deep breath, another pause, maybe a shift in weight. “I feel like, somewhere along the way - Ratty - maybe you got some wires crossed in your head, to where, getting hurt makes your good deeds better? and that scares me because I feel alone right now, with you like, still around… I mean I said this before. I would survive, but I don’t want to if I don’t have to. I will be utterly alone if you die.”
“I don’t want to die.” Something thick caught in the possum’s throat. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry Ratty, that's a good step.” The counsellor set a massive paw on Ratty’s knee. “I want to ask you something. Do you think of Sett as your hero?”
Ratty laughed at this, then - aware that it wasn’t immediately apparent - stopped to make her position clear: “Obviously.”
“Sett, do you think of Ratty as your hero?”
“To a degree.” the phrase ‘frogless loser’ had set the two of them in a joking mood. “Yes, of course.” They clarified.
“I think, Ratty, if you need to be heroic, maybe one thing you could do is stick around for the person who needs you in their life.”
“God, that’s so cheesy.” The possum tipped her head back, staring, exasperated, at the ceiling fan.
“It’s going to get cheesier. I want you to tell Sett that you’re going to stay alive.”
“I’m going to stay alive.” She spoke without hesitation.
“Good! That’s a really good promise, Ratty.”
“All thanks to the frog.” Sett gave a sniff at their little joke.
“And I'm not gonna run off without telling you anymore because I know how that scares you.” Ratty said, on a roll with making promises.
“Good! Two!” The counsellor clapped again.
“And I'm not gonna take jobs from people who ask me to blow shit up anymore.”
“I don’t know if I need all that.” Sett smiled, a little overwhelmed getting more than everything they wanted. “We lead dangerous lives. I understand that. Just, be careful and keep your cell phone on you.”
“I can do that. I can definitely do that.”
Something caught Eleanor off guard as she crossed the threshold of her apartment: the various sounds and smells of cooking. Something like barbecue, or hot oil, or- actually, it was easier just to look around the corner into her kitchen than to guess. Sure enough, Ratty stood at her stove, tending to a pot of round little dough balls, a fat slab of black-crusted beef resting on the counter.
“You’re in my kitchen.” The rabbit blinked against her confusion.
“Hi Eleanor!” Ratty smiled, deafened by the rattling of the cheap overhead fan.
“Yeah, hey!” She gave an awkward wave as she pulled her mask from under her shirt and set it down into her obelisk. She popped her headphones out and draped them around her neck, catching a glimpse of Sett kneeling in front of a menorah as she shed the trappings outsideness. “You guys are doing hanukkah… in my apartment… several weeks late.”
Sett nodded as though there was nothing abnormal going on.
“Cool, why here?”
“Well…” Ratty let a steaming dough-ball fall out of her mouth and back into the hot oil, eliciting a crackle as her spit sublimated below the surface. “I- your mom called and was like ‘what did y’all do for hanukkah?’ And we were like, oh fuck we didn’t do hanukkah! And so now we… are!”
“Are you two… Jewish?” Eleanor asked. Sett was literally from a kind of non-denominational freelance Hell - something El was pretty sure Jewish people didn’t have - and Ratty, short of having never talked about her religion, clearly had no practice with the whole Hanukkah thing.
“Nah El!” Ratty scoffed. “You’re Jewish!”
“I’m- I’m Jewish?” Eleanor blinked.
“Yeah babes!” Ratty raised her arm, dropping a hot ball of perfectly cooked doughnut on the floor. “We got brisket! We got some doughnuts and the latkes- we got the Menorah! Sett sent me some readings which I did NOT do, except for the recipes obviously. I like - it’s cultural osmosis. You get it.”
“We didn’t get everything, because we are still very much broke, and also didn’t know if this would be something you wanted to do, but… we managed quite a bit. I hope you don’t mind, I borrowed your recipe book.” Sett picked the menorah up from where they were kneeling and set it precariously on the edge of Eleanor’s TV stand between a bunch of salvaged equipment.
“Technically I borrowed it. Here!” Ratty concentrated for a moment on snatching one of the cooked doughnuts from the hot oil, then offered it to Eleanor on the end of a fork. She stopped as she noticed Eleanor crying, forcing a smile through the tears. “Woah, woah. What’s wrong?”
Another doughnut took a dive as Eleanor shook her head, trying to clear up the overwhelming surge of emotion. “It’s-” the rabbit hiccuped. “You guys are just really nice.” Eleanor collapsed in on herself as her friends dropped what they were doing to hold her.
She was so small for someone so tall. Even as she continued to push out into being, more and more extant by the day, the gaps in her body and mind seemed to fit perfectly into the support structures of her friends. Sett’s tiny shoulder and Ratty’s firm grip seemed almost to prop her up, fill in the blanks of her self image like a puzzle piece.
The rough wave of emotion cleared slowly, ebbing into a gentle stream of contentment.
And then presents. Ratty hung behind to wipe the spilled oil from Eleanor’s stove as Sett led her to a small pile of newspaper-wrapped boxes.
“The big one is yours.” Sett pointed. Eleanor sat down and waited, stuck in the awkward phase of being told that a present is yours and not being able to open it.
“Oh my GOD!!!” Ratty shouted, taking a quick break to watch with a formerly-white rag hanging out of her mouth. “Don’t fucking wait for me you nerd!!!” Eleanor turned to Sett for approval, and - upon the goat’s curt nod - dove in, tossing the financial section aside.
A tape player. Beautifully polished brushed silver front, wooden body with just barely chipped corners.
“We found it at a thrift store.” Sett explained. “Ratty looked it up on her phone, apparently it’s a really good one, and it only needed some minor fixing, so…” the goat trailed off.
Eleanor’s smile was almost reverent as her eyes traced the machined corners. It was familiar more than anything. Old and new to her, but unmistakably polished in every sense of the word.
“I know you already have a little one, but we thought you might-”
“It’s perfect.” Eleanor stood, clearing a spot on her TV stand and slotting it in neatly. Each wire sat waiting, matched perfectly to the back of the box without even the fuss of rerouting, as though her setup had expected that core element.
The rabbit took a step back to admire it, then - without skipping a beat - dove under the couch for one of the bags of ethereal tape that she had stashed there. It took a few moments to find something that fit the mood, but soon enough the warmest and most comfortable jams in her collection were running between the play head and pinch roller.
“It’s really perfect.” Eleanor took another long look at the somehow chaotic and organized pile of audio equipment.
“Mine next!” Ratty hopped over the counter with a mouthful of doughnut.
“Wow, okay.” Eleanor turned to smirk at the possum.
“No I mean- we did like a round robin, so I meant- mine for Sett.”
“Oh!” Sett shifted in their seat. “Yes, of course.” It was clear which one had been wrapped by Ratty: such intense care had been put into preparing it, and yet it was a fucking mess. A little ring box, again, wrapped in newspaper. Sett shook it, smiling as it let out a series of jangles.
“You’re not going to propose to me, are you, Ratty?” The goat teased.
“I- Do you want me to?” The possum asked, bewildered.
“Maybe later.” Sett laughed. They tore it open, not quite so aggressively as Eleanor, but still with an amount of fervour. Inside: a small, brass set of keys hanging off of a plastic butterfly key chain.
“So, I had um- This one requires a little explanation.” Ratty started as the other two watched the keys spin gently on their ring. “I called in a favour, installed some bookshelves in the storage room, organized our- your collection, and uh- I also put a lock on the door.” Sett’s eyes jumped from the keys to Ratty. “If there's anything in the world that can kill me… it’s probably in that room, and you have the only two keys.”
Ratty smiled at her wife. “Plus I mean there's a desk in there now. It sounds like a lot but I really just had some guys help me move a bunch of shit from the empty apartments.”
Sett swallowed, considering the gift. It was - in essence - a private library built from spare parts. How very Ratty…
The goat slipped off their necklace, tied the end around the key ring, down next to their sigil, and tied it back around their neck.
“Ironically mine is also in the same vein of um- well- keeping you alive.” Sett handed Ratty her gift as she sat, setting a tray of steaming doughnuts on the coffee table. Which, by the way, were fucking delicious and damn-near perfect. Just so nobody forgets that Ratty was a kitchen legend.
“I mean, mine is… I basically sorted books for you so- lots of reading.”
“Yes, okay, fair enough.”
“We should put some carpets in there, actually. Keep your hooves warm.”
“That's an idea.” The goat smiled at her scatterbrained wife. “Open your gift.” The possum took a half-second to remember that she was, in fact, supposed to be opening a present. She unfolded the wrapping carefully, doing her best to preserve the paper, because despite being a little nerd, she was also a massive dork.
It was a harness, a small winched clip, hook, and a length of rope.
“I noticed you seem to really like throwing yourself off of things, and so- this is a safe way to do that.”
The possum's eyes lit up as she took in the mess of nylon straps, clambering into it with all the style and grace of anyone trying to tie themselves into a second hand mountain-climbing kit with no instructions. “Fuck yeah.” She whispered. “Fuck yeah!” and again, louder this time.
“Race y’all to the roof!” She took off as soon as the harness could be called any semblance of secure.
“No, Ratty- its not-” Sett rushed after her, grabbing the harness as the possum’s upper body tipped over the lip. “Babe it's not a-” they couldn’t help but laugh. Eleanor joined the pair at the window as Sett began to slip, slipping through the wall and attempting to prop Ratty up from the outside.
It is impossible to know what year it is.
Two young women desperately try to explain to a third that she should not jump out of a window. All three are laughing, there is a black spot in each of their memories, but at the present moment, all they can think about is each other.
They hover above the snow-dusted streets of a busy city, all too concerned with their own business to look up.
There are others here: a family. The reanimated corpse of a possum brought back from the dead, the spectral remains of a rabbit whose life was cut short and was now beginning anew, and a demon who - trillions of years old - is now getting their first opportunity to be a dumb 20-something.
This moment is seared into their memories.
As the wheels of time shutter and screech and do their best to realign themselves, this moment is given a short chance to last forever.
And then it moves on.
Because it has to.
If it were to end happily, it would end here.
Here’s everything you missed:
The year is 1991.
In a dusty motel in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico, Cliff Matheson doses himself with a life-extending smart virus, gifted to him by an old Angelcorp coworker. Somewhere in a nearby radio station, the comedic hand of fate pushes the DJ - the only man in the building - to play one of his favourite songs: Every Breath You Take, by The Police.
Made paranoid by years on the run, Cliff stares at the ancient machine, and contemplates suicide.
The year is 1992.
An eccentric billionaire from the city of Dubai stumbles upon a heavily augmented, still breathing deer carcass while out for a weekend of dune-riding with his friends. He brings her home, nurses her back to health, and is promptly massacred by the reactivated Angelcorp drone for his passing resemblance to 017.
013 begins planning her return to Canada.
The year is 2018.
Warner Brothers Studios quietly replaces Ellen DeGenerous with a look alike after what they call an ‘unplanned hiatus’. The show’s ratings tank, and it is taken off the air after several years on life support.
Netflix produces a cheap documentary the same year, talking to everyone who was in the audience when she was beheaded. Poor journalism work creates a few holes in the story, and the truth about paranormals is largely regarded as an off colour joke.
The year is 2018.
John - after what amounts to a particularly eventful afternoon on his timescale - goes back to ruling Hell’s largest population centre. He becomes nihilistic, and phones it in for several trillion years before being voted out.
You’re surprised to read that Hell is a democracy, but that surprise fades a little when you realize they only hold mayoral elections every several trillion years.
The year is 2018.
The new Elder God of Decay: Alfonzo Redic, is spotted leaving the home of the police officer who ended his first life. The officer’s body is found in a highly advanced - almost mummified - state of decay. Similar sightings are made in Ferguson, Missouri, Miami Gardens, Florida, and Cleveland, Ohio.
The pantheon of the gods decides not to intervene.
The year is 2019.
Director Eden Ross has worked themselves up into a panic following the forced closure of the New York customs office. For what is not the first time, they berate Handler Smith for firing Cliff Matheson, and believe that - without the drone program to fall back on - Angelcorp is going to go under.
Handler Smith assures Eden that - while Angelcorp may go under - the company is no longer limited to one universe. By way of explanation, Smith shows Eden a pet project that has recently come to fruition.
The year is 2019
Pokey - in the midst of applying to study astrophysics in British Columbia - hears her younger sister scream from her bedroom. Prisha runs out, jamming the screen of her phone into Pokey’s face. On it are five text messages from Ducky Smooth. Despite her nickname, the texts read as follows:
✉️ 8:08pm: New Message - 🦆: “do you want to start a band”
✉️ 8:08pm: New Message - 🦆: “like you and me”
✉️ 8:12pm: New Message - 🦆: “also maybe go out some time as like a thing”
✉️ 8:12pm: New Message - 🦆: “like I know ur technically 40 or whatever but like,,”
✉️ 8:13pm: New Message - 🦆: “w/e”
The year is 2020
Pokey switches majors into something more focused on community development. She will be the first person at T35 who actually knows what the fuck she’s doing.
The year is 2020
Fern… I mean Fern just keeps running their bookstore? Their story didn’t change much. There’s a lot of people for whom life just kinda goes on, actually…
The year is 2020
Eleanor’s family misses her dearly, but not dearly enough to invite her home for Passover.
The year is 2018
Ratty Vermington buys a junker Yamaha YZF 750 Streetfighter from Kijiji, and asks Eleanor to help her fix it. She rides it to her first cognitive-behavioural therapy appointment two months later. At the behest of her therapist, she admits to Sett that she hasn’t been taking her Lexapro.
With the advent of better mental health, she begins to track down Cliff Matheson.
In an effort to avoid death-defying wherever possible, she goes back to museum work: the intersection of doing fun crimes and not putting yourself in too much danger.
She also keeps an eye on Angelcorp, but - at least from the outside - they seem content to make consumer electronics for a while after getting kicked out of Hell.
The year is 2018
Sett passes ownership of the community centre down to Miss Nelly and focuses on building their library.
After several months of their tea shop sitting mostly empty, a young cat with dyed green fur wanders in on a perfect day looking for a job. Sett, now manning the counter more out of obligation than joy, passes the store on to them without condition. They continue to do the book-keeping and save the upstairs apartment for themselves, but otherwise take their hands off and let the cat rake in the profits.
They’re not a landlord, just so we’re clear.
The year is 2019
At Ratty’s suggestion, Eleanor also starts going to therapy. She talks about her family, her depression, her history and how out of place she feels. Her therapist suggests she starts writing, so she does. With Sett’s help, she finds a poetic style that fits with her experiences.
In about a month, she performs at a small poetry slam at the university around the corner from T35. Her poem gets a 7.3 out of 10, and she’s absolutely ecstatic. She keeps performing, moving away from tiny school shows to Toronto’s actual slam scene. Sett’s reputation gives her a minor leg up, but she quickly surpasses her mentor.
She makes some friends. All is good.
Her and Ratty stay partners too, and that shit gets a lot healthier in the process.
The year is 2020
Angel takes a bad fall, badly damaging her central processor.
Fern and Steph implement the equivalent replacement for a CPU from the distant future: an entire room of high powered servers, designed in part based on repair schematics found on Angel’s hard drive. Angel’s mind effectively takes over Ratty’s office and the surrounding bullpen. Ratty - despite the occasional spat with Angel - doesn’t mind, so long as the android has a window to look out of.
Now let's move on.