By SuzAnne C. Cole.
Oh God, the daily grind. How can there be so much misery in the world and how can readers trust their misery to me? Would they if they knew my newspaper photo—cheerful face, kind eyes, shoulders confidently set, radiating a can-do attitude—is at least thirty years old? I haven’t felt confident since my last loser boyfriend slammed his way out my front door taking my car and a large portion of my savings. Thus necessitating my method of earning extra income. And, as far as Doctor Anne is concerned, I don’t have a doctorate, unless they’ve started handing those out for completing a semester and a half of community college.
Anyway, here’s how I manage the daily mail feed so I don’t go blind reading them all. Besides, it’s not necessary for my purposes. All letters written in crayon are automatically discarded; mouth-breathers like that probably couldn’t understand my advice anyway, let alone use it. Another category discarded without reading are all letters postmarked from college towns. Imagine professors giving extra credit to students who fool a poorly paid, overworked advice columnist into printing their letters and my responses.
Then I sift for gold, the letters chosen for publication. Sincere letters from writers who seem to be good people, more sinned against than sinning, and whose problems lend themselves to one of my seven solutions—throw the bum (or bitch) out, move, don’t ask your mother for advice, lose weight and/or get a makeover, go to church or quit going, ask yourself if you know anybody you’d trade places with, and finally, Auntie Anne’s not-to-be-published confidential solution.
Okay, here’s today’s pile. Nope, you gotta be kidding, no, nothin’ doing, slim pickings, oh here’s a gold, one more, three so far, that’s enough for publication tomorrow. Now to find one calling for my private solution, any postmarked Seattle? Ah, here’s one. And I like the sound of it.
Dear Dr. Anne,
I so hope you can help me as I’m in a dreadful mess. I’m just an ordinary woman, married. Two kids in elementary school, so I had a little time on my hands for once. I started fooling around on the Internet, buying things I didn’t need and hiding them, but I didn’t want to end up as an episode of Hoarders, so I stopped that. Then I tried chat rooms, and, just for fun signed up for a vampire newsletter. But an hour later, when I logged on again, I had seventy-five email responses, some very scary— midnight rendezvous in cemeteries! I had to delete them all and change my email address.
I like card games, so I tried computer solitaire, but not much thrill in winning with nothing to show for it but wasted hours. When I was a kid I played poker with my brothers and usually won. So I tried an online poker group, first without betting, but then I won a few hands and it went to my head, so I bet real money—and upped the ante as I continued to win over the next few weeks. Well, you’re the doctor, so you probably know what came next—before I knew it, I owed $10,000 to some guy named Skinny Bones. Now he’s threatening me. It might as well be $100,000, Dr. Anne, I don’t have any way of paying it back.
Hopeless and Helpless in Seattle
I don’t usually do this, but your letter touches me as I was once in a similar situation. Since we both live in Seattle, I’d like to meet you in person. I run a small confidential loan company for readers who find themselves in need of cash. We keep it just between us, I give generous payback terms, and your problem goes away. Tell me when and where you’d like to meet.
Confidentially, Dr. Anne
SUZANNE C. COLE, MA from Stanford, former college English instructor, writes from a studio in the Texas Hill Country. Her flash fiction has been published in anthologies and magazines including The World’s Best Shortest Stories, has been listed on The Best of the Web del Sol, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize.