The Cough by Gloria Garfunkel

Kugelman was a world-renowned hypnotist and psychoanalyst. It was said that he was so brilliant he could cure patients of a lifetime of neuroses in a single session with nothing but a cough at the right moment. People came from all over the world and paid him thousands of dollars, waiting months, sometimes years, to see him. It was always worth it.

Henry had spent ten years and thousands of dollars he cringed to think about seeing his own psychoanalyst three times a week for both his Oedipal and pre-Oedipal complexes. Nothing had changed except the divorce and the move to a studio apartment. He would still be seeing his old analyst if she hadn’t died, and even now it gave him emotional relief to visit her grave, especially since he could do it for free and stay as long as he liked and there was nothing she could do about it. Nevertheless, he still felt depressed, like a loser, like he’d never reached his potential, like he’d ended up living the wrong person’s life.

“I’m an accountant when I should have been a novelist. I know, I know, Kafka was both. But he was a genius. I’m no genius. I’m Henry Neeble, Failure at Life.”

He’d been hearing about this Kugelman fellow for a couple of years but thought he must be a charlatan. How could such a man exist without putting all the other analysts out of business? But now, with his analyst dead for over a year, and still no improvement, even with regular two hour visits to the grave, he decided to make the investment. “I’m going to do it. I’m going to see this Kugelman.”

So Henry called to make an appointment. They had a cancellation in three months if he was willing to come in at four on a Sunday morning. Henry hesitated because of the bizarre time slot, but booked it, a fifty-minute hour for three thousand dollars.

“If it does what ten years on the couch and one year at the graveside couldn’t do, it will be worth it,” he thought.

Once he made the appointment, he started to feel hopeful, for the first time in his life. “Maybe there is something better for me out there,” he thought.

A friend at work commented that he seemed different lately, calmer, more outgoing, and asked if he’d like to go out with his sister. Henry usually found blind dates tedious, but he immediately took a liking to Melinda and started seeing her regularly.

He began enjoying his work and colleagues. Then his boss gave him a promotion and a raise. He decided to look for a one bedroom apartment.

The day of the appointment with Kugelman was rainy and cold, not a propitious day for a major life change, yet Henry’s step was light as he ran from the cab to the revolving door. In his dignified office, Kugelman was surprisingly short and rumpled, with mussy hair casually tossed over a bald dome.

“Come, sit, sit,” said Kugelman.

“What? No lying? No couch?”

“Why a couch? Talk is talk. Why not a chair? So tell me. Let’s not waste time.”

So Henry told him and half-way through the session, Kugelman coughed.

That night, Henry stayed up until midnight writing Chapter One. The next evening he asked Melinda to marry him and she said yes. Henry was a happy man.

About Gloria Garfunkel

Gloria Garfunkel has a Ph.D. in Psychology and Social Relations from Harvard University and was a psychotherapist for 35 years, listening to others' stories. She is now a writer of flash fiction and memoir, telling her own tales.
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