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by Danny Beusch

“You all have a fantasy child,” says Sheila. “The child that, deep down, you want at the end of this. For our first exercise I want you to spend some time thinking about your fantasy child. Then you are going to tell the rest of the group about him or her.”

The nine attendees smile nervously. They’ve been here for an hour so far, sipping from polystyrene cups, nibbling cheap biscuits. They’ve talked about houses, holidays, jobs and pets.

“Shout out when you’re ready,” says Sheila.

“A healthy baby girl.”

“A boy. Cheeky. Clever little so and so.”

“A boy. To watch the footie with.”

“Thank you,” says Sheila, as she scrawls on a whiteboard. “Now, no disrespect, but these responses aren’t giving much away. Say the first thing that comes into your head. Don’t edit it. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers.”

“A girl,” says a drawn, middle-aged woman. “A toddler. About two. I love them at that age. She’s pretty, blonde hair — just like my niece. We’re playing with dolls on the living room floor. I used to do that with my mum, one of my first memories. She climbs onto my lap, gives me a hug.” A deep, steadying breath. “Calls me Mummy.”

Supportive nods from the rest of the group as the woman takes a tissue; one box per table. Her husband crosses his legs, wrings his hands together, grins at the floor. Sheila scribbles in her pad. Sarah visibly upset. Matt provided no comfort. Assigned social worker to question strength of relationship.

“Thank you,” says Sheila. “OK, everyone, close your eyes and pretend you’re holding a photo of your fantasy child. Got it? Now scrunch it up into a ball. That’s right, scrunch it tight. And, on the count of three, throw it away.”

Eyes open in shock. Sheila points to the bin in the corner. It is full of soggy tea bags, stirrers, empty plastic milk pots.

“Your fantasy child is nothing like the children we deal with. Accept it or this process isn’t for you. One, two, three.”

Danny Beusch has been published by Reflex Fiction, Ellipsis Zine and Crack the Spine. His story Fool, published by The Cabinet of Heed, was listed by TSS Publishing as one of the 50 best pieces of flash fiction by British and Irish authors in 2018–19. Follow him on Twitter: @OhDannyBoyShhh.