Christine looked at herself in the mirror, as she found herself doing every night; vaguely looking for new creases, checking the brightness of her eyes, and noting the toll of white hairs. Worry. Fear. When faced with the enormousness of her doomed future she often loses focus, disassociating, gone from the minty and vanilla world of her bathroom, looking beyond the mirror, through it, into the medicine cabinet behind. What was there in there that might help?
Face cream her daughters get her every Christmas since they left her alone; every annual tub of it reminding her that she could sleep in a bath of it every night and still not have the firm skin and healthy complexion they enjoy. Strips of the contraceptive pill she continues to take in the dwindling hope of ever being made love to again, ignoring that she wakes sweating some nights with her body hungry for evening primrose oil; she feels hunched, dry and spent as leather. Or the antidepressants that that GP boy told her would take the edge off it? But she doesn’t want the loss smoothed away as if it was unimportant. The paracetamol are ineffective at targeting that kind of nagging, grinding pain. She just wants a night’s sleep and it’ll be okay again tomorrow. Things to do, distractions; she bears all that okay, she just needs her beauty sleep, so she clicks open the cupboard and reaches for her temazepam.
What had she done with that glass of wine?
Outside the kitchen window the damp leaves start to glisten, the edges iced with frosty star light from the clear sky. Puddles creak as they freeze. Her eyes focus beyond the reflective glass, (like with the mirror in her bathroom), scanning the newly skeletal branches. She shudders inside. Hopefully the wine will thaw her.
Gently reflect on the day.
What that girl said.
Suddenly the security light flooded the garden and everything came into focus, like with lightning. A grey cat disembowelling some kind of rodent, the blood looked black; it looked around, ears flattened, but soon resumed its fun. Then the light went off and everything looked blacker and deader out there.
And in here. Again transfixed, her own face in the glass. White and old.
She forced herself away, turning her body, leaving her eyes to watch her as she left herself. She snapped out of it and saw a full glass of wine on the kitchen table, (a more fulsome twin of the one she was still holding in her hand), that hadn’t been there before. Pausing mid-step, foot dangling, confused, suddenly alert again, the sound of blood in her ears. How did that get there? Nothing else seemed to be out of place. She must have forgotten it, that’s all. After a Sleeper and a few drinks she’s been known to forget a few things! It felt unlikely, but it was the only possibility. Why didn’t she notice it when she came in? She thought she would have done, but it can’t have appeared out of nowhere. She thought of Jesus. He could do that. He’d have been a friend worth having. Then she added her remaining slurps to the full glass, put her empty glass on the drainer, and took the full glass with her to bed, singing ‘I’ve got a friend in Jesus’ under her breath to keep the edge off the fear.
“What the f…?”
“It’s me Christine, Mr Tuesday at 4.”
“How did you…?”
“Self-esteem and Anger Managment issues. I missed my therapy yesterday, personal crisis. I rang the office to reschedule. I made an appointment.
You obviously didn’t get my message.”
“You shouldn’t be here. We meet at my office. How did you get in?”
“I couldn’t wait. I thought after all we’ve been through together you wouldn’t mind bending the rules for me, just this once? The front door was wide open. I knocked, then got worried about you.”
“Just this once?”
“Well, I’m not happy about it! It’s not therapeutic…
(Christine crunched the numbers and thought it was better to play along)
…But, as you’re already here, I suppose it can’t do any real harm. Shall we go to the kitchen? I’ll make us a coffee.”
“No Christine, we’ll stay here. It’s a nice kitchen but it’s more intimate in here.”
“Ah. It must have been you who poured the glass of wine? What a relief! I thought I was going mad.”
“I did. I picked up this
(He waved it)
kitchen knife from the table. I left the wine to distract you, in case you noticed.
Good year, nice Shiraz. I added a little je ne sais quoi, you’ll see.”
“You want to stay here, in my bedroom?”
“Don’t worry Christine, I don’t fancy you. I’m going to sit here, and you’re going to lay on your bed where I can see you. You should try to relax and talk frankly and openly as you feel able. Is that clear,
“Okay, I think so.”
(He pulled his chair and sat by the door, with it open).
Firstly, I’d like to see my file? Could that be arranged?”
“I don’t have it. Everything like that is at my office.”
“You keep nothing here? No details in case of emergencies?”
“Just names, addresses and emergency contacts of my current clients. Nothing deep.”
“Oh, that’s okay, I’m feeling a bit confused about our relationship; I just wanted to see me in black and white, it might make it all feel realer, somehow, do you know what I mean?”
“Like, if I’m in your address book, then I exist to you. I’ve been feeling disassociated. It might help.”
“You are in there. I promise.”
“I need to see it, Christine. Prove it to me.”
“Okay, hang on, I’ll get it.”
“No, you stay there. Tell me, and I’ll get it for you.”
“In the kitchen, in the table there’s a drawer. It’s the end where my laptop is. It’s in there.”
“Okay, I’ll be right back.”
(And he was gone.
Before she’d even considered how long it might take him he was back).
“Thanks, here it is. And your laptop.
I need you to open your website for me Christine.”
“My web site?”
“Yes, get yourself logged in.”
“You’ll see. Just do as I ask, please.”
(Christine wasn’t that great with new technology, and she didn’t have her glasses on, and she was flustered).
“Jesus, Christine! What kind of broadband do you have?”
“I know, it’s slow. Sorry.”
“Here, let me.”
(He pounced across the room, twisted the laptop to face him, and took over, the knife tucked into his back pocket).
“Okay, here we are: Christine Blackwood, Psychotherapist.
Let me just find the right place. Yep. Here it is.
(He manouevred it so’s they could both see it)
I notice you made some changes.”
(Again, Christine was momentarily lost, but then got it)
“Oh, yes, the Practice Manager had a look at it for me. It needed freshening up.”
“Yes, I’d noticed.
Look, here, on your Art Therapy page; there used to be photo of the ‘Fear’ composition that I made in the sand-tray a couple of years ago.
Do you remember it?
You said it was a breakthrough, which showed how Art Therapy can work at its best.”
“I remember it, yes.”
It’s been replaced by some kind of pot. Though it barely looks like a pot. Here, look at that Christine, ‘Pot of Love’ by ‘Man, 49’. Look at it Christine. Look hard. I wouldn’t even piss in that pot, let alone put my love in it. Are you telling me that THIS is better than my ‘Fear’? Are you Christine?”
“I can hear the anger in your voice. You must be feeling rejected right now. Stay with that feeling.
Hold on to it. Can you tell me where it is in your body? Where it’s manifested?”
“It’s manifesting in my fist, Christine, look.
Now, hold on to that pain. Where is it manifested in your body? Stay with it.
And thanks for the address book.
I might pay a visit to ‘Man, 49’, and give him some feedback on his pot.
But as I’m here for a little while shall we talk some more about ‘Us’, as I know it’s the transference you like to talk about? That’s where all the important work is done.
How are things between us?
It’s been a couple of years now. You’ve said I’m progressing nicely; that’s important to me. I felt nice.
Special. That’s unusual for me. It kept me going, until this…
Yes, that’s what it is, a betrayal.
Have I disappointed you?
Tell me Christine.”
“Dot, dithapointet, dow. I, I, *sniff* I,’cam’nt…”
“You’ll have to speak more clearly Christine. I can’t tell what you’re saying.”
“Put your head back. I’ll get you a towel from the bathroom.”
(Christine knew, through the dull throb of her broken nose, that she was full of temazepam. She’d taken two earlier but now she could feel the effects of at least 8 in her system. She knew the feeling well enough. Mixed with the booze it’ll make her ‘buzzy’ for a while but, soon enough, she’ll be useless. She was relieved that’s all he spiked her wine with, but she didn’t want to pass out and leave him in control. She wasn’t even sure she’d wake up again.
What did she know about him? Nothing she could remember. He just came week after week, paid his bill, talked about how empty his life is, and then left. She liked him okay but she’d stopped thinking about him between sessions a year ago. He’d become nameless, old to her. And she hadn’t given a thought to his reaction about the website. There was a lesson here. Yes. Reflective practice was essential. Perhaps an article in ‘Therapy Today’, warning others to be more careful.
As good therapist, she mused, should always have a box of tissues to hand; and she’d failed. He’d brought her a towel that she didn’t really want to ruin, but she thought it unwise to complain, and gratefully wiped away the residual blood and mucus. One of her front teeth was loose and she could feel her left eye bloating. She’d broken her nose when she was a little girl, falling off her horse, and remembered how it felt better when it had been straightened, but when she tried to touch it she remembered the agony of it she must have forgotten. The pain helped wake her up a little.
Half blind, unable to breathe, stoned out of her mind! She’d be incapacitated soon if she didn’t find a way out of this. Come on Christine; remember your training, Be Congruent.
“Look, you’re hurt. I can understand that. I made a mistake changing the picture. I should have considered your feelings.
What are you going to do?”
“You’ve punished me. Is that going to be the end of it? You have my knife. I’m scared.”
“You should be scared. This isn’t one of those free-floating anxiety things. You have good reason to be fearful.”
“Are you going to hurt me more?”
It’ll depend on how you are with me.”
“Well, if you tell me what to do to avoid getting hurt I’ll do my best.”
“It’s really not that simple, as well you know. I follow my feelings more than I used to. You’ve encouraged me to be spontaneous, to not think and plan everything in too much detail.
I’m a better person these days because of you.”
“That’s good of you to say so.”
“That’s why this betrayal is so hard to take. I felt we had something between us.”
“And we do.
I’ve felt that as well.
This anger and pain is part of that too. We’re both hurting now.
We continue to share.
Tell me about your Fear piece. There were dinosaurs, weren’t there?”
“Yes, a T-Rex threatening a late Triassic period shrew creature.”
“Would you represent the situation differently now? You seem more assertive; your prosture is more direct. Is there still a T-Rex following you around, so to speak?”
“I’m stronger now.”
(Christine wasn’t sure how long to hold the silence. Her training would say Go With It, but she was trying not to antagonise him.
“I hate this silence! Why do you always leave me to suffer the silence, Christine?
Talk to me!”
“Okay, if you like. Shall I tell you about my day? I was just thinking about it when you came in.
You don’t have to be interested but it’ll fill the quietness.”
“Okay Christine, tell me about your fascinating day.”
(She blew her nose with a wince).
“Well, it was nice enough in the morning
but then, at brunch, I went to the tea shop on the High Street for a sit down and a think.
The tinkling of the door bell always makes me smile.
I used to take the girls there for treats after violin lessons.
I was distracted about something, I think, I can’t remember what. I didn’t recognise the girl behind the counter: I was expecting Danni, the usual girl; and I got shy all of a sudden, and didn’t say ‘Hello’ like I normally do. It threw me.
I like Danni. She’s the same age as my youngest; we chat about clothes, and her boyfriends. She likes it that I’m a therapist. She says ‘I could talk to you for hours! It’s just as well you like our tea; it’d cost me a fortune if I had to pay to come and talk to you!’
(And Christine smiled, despite herself).
But she wasn’t there today.
I sat at my usual place with my back up against the far wall, with the window on my left, so I could people-watch with impunity, and waited for the girl to take my order. I glanced over but she was texting someone. There were only a couple of old ladies in the corner, chattering; I didn’t know them, so I looked out of the window, at the passers-by, trying to read their faces.
I love doing that.
Must have been a few minutes later, I was getting a bit impatient and coughed, you know? gently. She didn’t even look up so, after another minute, I dropped my car keys on the table, from about 3 inches.
It made more noise than I’d thought it would.
The old ladies looked but the girl didn’t. She said, ‘Hold your horses Dear, I’ll be there in a minute.’
I watched her texting. Her perfect nail art tapping at the screen, maddeningly fast. But I waited. She glanced up at me a couple of times. I held her gaze, briefly, each time. Her nose crinkled as she tried to get it done. Then, when I saw her face clear, and just as she hit the ‘Send’ button, I swiped my keys off the table and left, leaving the bell tinkling.”
“Was that in any way relevant to Us, Christine, Us, in the here and now?”
Answer me, Christine.”
“I said you didn’t have to be interested.
Some clients I have are always asking me what my real life is like. They hate it that I don’t talk about my life when they tell me about theirs in such detail. I like to think it’s just fairness. People are polite and don’t like taking all the space in a conversation.
When I first started my work I would occasionally mention something I was experiencing – something that chimed with their life, perhaps, or some trivia. People were always disappointed. As if I shouldn’t have a husband, or children, or taxes, or worries. People ask but they don’t want to know really. So, I stopped.
You’re the first one of my clients to have heard anything about my life for about 20 years.”
“Christine, I’m sorry.
I said you should talk openly, and you did. I am interested, really.
How did it make you feel, the whole tea shop thing?”
“Angry about the disrespect! Hurt when she called me Old.
Guilty afterwards. I hate being spiteful.
It’s one of my worst sides.”
Christine glanced at her bedside alarm clock.
“Our hour is nearly up.
I think we’ve moved forward. I felt we connected. I felt your presence tonight, your actualising self; but we need to save it for the next time.”
And she got off the bed and approached him, slowly.
She stopped half way, and looked at him, for the first time, really. He was damaged, tatters. The knife had dropped to the floor and he made no effort to stop her when she picked it up.
“Come on, I’ll show you out.”
She led him like a child, not touching him, guiding him with her body language, until he was stood in the open doorway, on the step, braced and spooked in the cold night air.
She rammed the point of the knife through his neck where his spine was visible above the collar. She felt it grind and scrape as it cut through, and came out the front, severing everything that a man needs to live.
There was a smell of salt.
She shut the door and went to bed.
As he fell forward the security light came on.
The blood looked black.