Another extract from an old work ...
Warning - this includes details from a (fictional) therapy session, including repressed memories ...
I can feel the atmosphere change. It begins with sound, a slow squeak followed by a click and it is as though the molecules of carbon dioxide all expand at once and squeeze out all the nothingness, all the space in which they might dance. When the second click reaches my ears I know that the time for dancing is done. Now, just as the air grows thick, musty and oppressive, so time clicks into a new mode. It ticks insistently, each second split into microseconds which slow down until each microsecond, once so fleeting, so ephemeral, has negotiated for itself a larger space, a longer life. What I know takes almost no discernible time stretches itself over ten, fifteen, twenty seconds, and the atmosphere presses down on me and the air itself curdles, and great lumps of sticky-sweet breath float across the room. There is no dissipation. There is to be no escape. Not this time.
Philipp Sturgeon sat at his desk, trying to remember how to make a coin roll from knuckle to knuckle. It wasn’t going well. In front of him on the desk sat about six inches of files. Perhaps his judgement was beginning to lapse. The catalogue of on trend office furniture lay unopened alongside a sheaf of papers, contracts and the like relating to his new premises. The desire to re-locate was part mid-career crisis, part patient-based. He wanted an office that made him feel important and put his clients at ease, even if it was merely through simple blind faith in a therapeutic expertise asserted by the luxury of his workplace. Straightforward power dynamics, mostly. But there was another factor. He wanted to forge a more intimate space, a space that wrapped itself around his patients and comforted them, and the more he considered it, the more he realised that he needed to start with something traditional.
It was odd that high ceilings with ostentatious fine plasterwork and brutally elegant marble fireplaces were equated with comfort but it seemed to be so. Perhaps it was the automatic inference of languidly solvent gentry, butlers and scullery maids, and long summers on the family estate which allowed all of the building’s architectural features to be read in almost direct opposition to their actual appearance. The most bombastic and arrogant of the rooms on the building’s ground floor was to be his new office, and it was the most comforting of them all, even to the point of over-familiarity. The architectural equivalent of the uncle with the wandering hands. The psychology behind this observation intrigued him. He wanted to know what might create the feeling of intimacy in the human subject, and conversely what might lead to its absence. His increasing sensitivity to where feelings of empathy might be more easily invoked in an individual had led to multiple counter-intuitive manifestations such as this architectural puzzle presenting themselves. He scribbled out a few words: ‘Ne’er chaste unless you ravish me.’
He sighed and closed his notebook, sliding the pencil into the elasticated loop on its right. More than once he had wondered about the supposed greater emotional expression inherent in writing longhand. He suspected it was nonsense, but bought into it nonetheless, figuring that any way he might connect the writer within to the forensic psychiatrist was worth a go. And this next paper was, unfortunately, not going to write itself.
It was deceptive, however. Longhand script changed according to the emotional state of the writer, presenting a kind of body language all of its own, adding emotional weight which the words alone could not and would not carry. Once transferred to the printed page, that top note of affect would vanish: the words would turn flat and stale. It was like a letterform code in print, shorn of its meaning. Furthermore, he reasoned, the holograph manuscript was such that each word, each comma, each dot was reliant on the writer’s intent. In this modern world where touch-typing was a basic life skill and word processors allowed for simple, radical and non-destructive editing to take place, the emphasis was on bashing out the words and fixing them later. The typing hand behaved much like a musician’s fingers during a complex passage or a series of scalar runs, switching to autopilot and getting on with it without paying a whole heap of attention to what it is. It was all about habituated process.
Phil stopped shuffling. The file was marked ‘Jenny’. A new patient. Self-referral. He opened it and double clicked the audiofile with the same name on his other desktop.
Her voice was quiet, nervous. He read the transcript as he listened.
- But the sun did shine.
- Was it not meant to?
- Not that day.
- Why not?
- The sun did not shine.
- Tell me about the day.
- He always told me that sometimes when you told the truth you had to choose between being thought a liar or an idiot.
- And the rest of the time?
- Oh, the rest of the time you had no choice. Unless you wanted to be believed in which case you generally had to lie.
- And what did you do?
- I believed him.
Phil stopped the playback and yawned. It was hard to tease out the multiple threads implicit in any session at the best of times, but when you were preoccupied it really wasn’t worth even beginning. He rolled the recording back a few seconds, started the playback again and read on.
- And what did you do?
- I believed him.
- And then?
- We sat in the house. We didn’t dare play. We’d only have broken something and got into trouble. It was a cold, cold, wet day. I saw her once. From a distance. She looked so sad. So very sad.
- Who did?
- Tell me about her.
- So perfect. So clever. I hated her. I still do. But for all that she was sad. So very sad. It was because she was caught.
- In what sense?
- She so wanted to confess, to own up to what she had done, but she could not.
- Why not?
- Because it would have been a lie.
- Because she couldn’t have done it. No matter what she said, no-one would have believed her. She couldn’t prove a thing.
- I don’t understand.
- There was no mess. Nothing. So if she told him, he’d have said she was delusional, hysterical, neurotic. That was her dilemma. Lie and have everyone believe you, or tell the truth and be tagged a liar. Or worse still, an idiot.
- Just like he said.
- Not just like he said.
- How, then?
- No-one cared whether she lied or not. Not like him.
- So what did she do?
- She decided that belief was more important than truth.
- How can she have decided that?
- Oh come on. It’s simple. Truth is nothing unless it has proof.
- And belief?
- Belief doesn’t need proof. Belief just needs believers.
Phil’s phone went off. He reached into his pocket and extracted it. It was becoming something of an irritant. He tapped on the screen but the sound continued. He looked at it in confusion.
- I’m sorry. Most embarrassing. I always forget to turn it off.
- Answer it. It might be important.
- There. It’s off. I’m here to listen to you, Jenny, no-one else.
- Is she pretty? I bet she’s pretty. Yes, she’s pretty.
- It’s really not appropriate, Jenny.
- Ho chiesto di sposarmi a una bella ragazza ma alla fine ho sposato na' cozza!
- I beg your pardon?
- Oh. Don’t you speak Italian?
- I have enough. It means something like ‘I proposed to a beautiful girl but it turns out I married a fishwife.’ Where did you hear that?
- Sorry. Of course.
- She may be pretty now.
- Like I said, Jenny ...
- I used to be pretty. Do you think I’m pretty? Boys used to like me.
- I’m sure they did, Jenny.
- But you don’t think they do any more?
- I didn’t say that.
- Do you like me?
- Jenny, this really isn’t an appropriate topic of conversation.
- Do you think I’m pretty?
- Jenny, this really isn’t ...
- You don’t think I’m pretty, do you?
- It’s not a question of that ...
- Do you think he thought I was pretty?
- Or was he ashamed of me?
- Jenny ...
- All I ever wanted was to be loved.
Phil hit the space bar as the session dissolved into a mess of tears. He scribbled some notes into the file and closed it. He leant back into his chair: it leant back in sympathy. He picked up his phone. After a few rings he was connected.
‘Hey!’ answered the voice.
‘Frog?’ said Phil.
‘Frog,’ replied the voice, and hung up.
Phil put on his jacket, and left.