A Glass Winter 3
By M T M
Grey velvet curtains were drawn across the wide windows. Without the twinkle of city lights the apartment could have been anywhere. Vanessa wondered why anyone paid such exorbitant rents when clearly the solution was in fact to keep the curtains closed, and live almost anywhere. She caught herself, tonight she must not give life to half thought ideas. Nothing would be more troublesome than for this doctor to be troubled by her completely harmless peculiarities. Was she dressed appropriately, surely black was the most unassuming colour. Or was it the colour of depression and shallow minded business people.
She had just decided to change when there came a sharp knocking on the door. She looked at herself the in the tall mirror by the door. I’m in control she let her face say. It was good. Good enough to fool him. She opened the door.
“Good evening Vanessa” He said, in a musical, learned voice.
“Good evening” She smiled. Shook his hand. He walked past her.
He was tall she noticed. But not exceedingly so. Not disproportionately so.
His suit was brown, his face was comfortable. He looked terribly normal, which frightened her. She stared at him a while from across the room, everything about him was so alarmingly normal. His nose, his tousled hazel hair, his chin, even his ears. They were so normal that their absence would have been hardly noticeable.
“So” he gestured to the chair facing away from the window, “Shall we start?” She had been staring for too long.
“Yes” She breathed. Sitting down on the couch, facing the immense curtains within whose folds a small child could be lost for many months.
“So” He said again.
She smiled at him, straightening her back. It was more awkward than she had anticipated, wasn’t small talk his profession after all. When she looked again he was rummaging around in a rich brown duffel bag. He extracted a leather-bound notebook and pen.
“Why don’t we begin by- “, he seemed to have given up on catching her eye, “- you telling me. Well, why exactly I’m needed”
“Well” She paused, it was all Theo’s idea “I just thought that it could be useful” That seemed to confuse him.
“Alright. Why did you decide to do this now? Perhaps something happened?”
“No, nothing’s happened. Per say”
“Haven’t you recently had a child?” It was the way he said it as much as anything else. His tone lowered as if it was somehow taboo to mention a woman giving birth. Perhaps he saw it as tragic, but she certainly didn’t.
“Well yes” change the subject, “But this isn’t about that”
“It’s not uncommon for women- “
“This” She cut him off “Isn’t about that” She felt like a child, angry at being misunderstood.
“Okay,” He conceded “Why don’t you tell me what it is about” She saw the twinkle in his eye, eager to jot down his little breakthrough. How she hated smug Dr Branner.
“I suppose we ought to save time, hourly rates and all that. So, I’ll just tell you the truth. Theo wants me to see you, he believes I’m- how did he put it- falling back into old patterns?” She had dispensed with the pretence now. This clearly wasn’t going anywhere and she was looking forward to telling Theo as much.
“Old patterns” He wrote something. “So”, more writing “You have a history”
“To what old patterns was your husband referring?”
There wasn’t much use in lying, he’d be able to tell which was no great skill. At least the others knew they were incompetent, this one hadn’t realized yet.
“When we were younger” What could he possibly be writing about now “I… saw someone. My mother insisted” She smiled, touching the edge of an emotion she would have rather not display in front of this sly practitioner. “There was an incident, and I needed some guidance. I needed to deal with it. To move on. Not easy for a young girl you know.”
“What was the incident Vanessa?” He leaned forward, looking at her face very closely. I am in control it said.
“It’s not important really, it’s in the past. This-“
“I’d like you to tell me about it. If you can”
She looked at his shoes for a while, they were good quality, he clearly cared about how he looked. She hadn’t planned on bringing up her ‘history’ as he called it. It had been so long. But she felt an adolescent defiance rising in her. She sighed and began, doubting any good would come of it.
“When I was about 16, I was coming home from school. It was just- an ordinary day. Just like a hundred other times. I was walking down” She thought for a second “Birch street, skipping along. When there’s this car, it comes up and slows down next to me.” Dr Branner slumps, as if he already knows the rest. “I knew the car” She continued, looking at the floor. Even years later she was trying to justify that one fateful mistake, she did know the car, it wasn’t a stranger’s car.
“It wasn’t a stranger’s car or anything. I knew the car because I’d been in it before, with my father. I knew what sound it made, it was the same car, it wasn’t a mistake.” She coughed, but regained composure. “The car belonged to my father’s business partner. He was called Arnold.”
He might as well have been in the room with them. Just the mention of his name gave life to the face, the eyes, the sharp chin. She felt him standing beside her. His hand on her shoulder. Black suit and black eyes.
“He had offered me a ride home. I didn’t think anything of it, which is odd because I should’ve. I’d never seen him outside the city. He had never visited the house. Father made a point of never bringing work home with him. But it was harmless. So I got into the car, and…” She trailed off.
He tried to smile reassuringly, but his face wasn’t doing a good job at it. It came out more as a pained grimace. Not pity, more like guilt.
“Go on” He said, patting her arm.
“It’s not even” She looked away, he didn’t understand, not yet.
“Yes he-“ She couldn’t bring herself to say it, and she didn’t need to, “but that’s not what caused me to fall ill. After. Afterwards. I didn’t lie, or forget. I was determined that I would not be like all those other girls. I thought I would be different.” She gasped, she smiled defiantly as a solitary tear rolled down her cheek. So much for being in control.
“So, I marched into my father’s office. I told him, you need to call the police; you need to fire Arnold and I’m your daughter and if he doesn’t go to jail I’m never going to speak to anybody ever again”
Branner’s reassuring smile was more successful this time.
“You can imagine, it was chaos. But I was determined to put it behind me almost as soon as it happened. I knew I was stronger than the others you see. I could survive.”
“Well my father called the police at once of course. He was horrified, I wouldn’t let him hug me until they were on their way. I wasn’t crying, I think he thought I was in shock. But the truth was I could hardly move, as much as I was determined not to let it affect me, I knew that he was in the office next door. Just a wall away. I was terrified.”
“Of course, you were. It’s completely natural. You-“,He paused, looking for the right words, “Ive talked to a number of women who’ve had similar experiences and I’ve got to tell you, your response… It’s not something I’ve ever heard before.”
Vanessa laughed a hollow laugh, looking up at the ceiling and willing the tears back into her eyes.
“You probably think I’m lying”
“No” He said, “No” louder this time, “Of course I don’t. Vanessa, I promise you. I believe you.” He was earnest, and she did believe him.
“That’s funny” She said, looking into his eyes for the first time.
He paused, opening his mouth and closing it again.
“What’s funny” He asked calmly.
“After that day, I thought. I thought it was over. I was already putting it behind me. Nobody knew, my father made sure of that. And I never saw Arnold. It sounds ridiculous I know, but I was proud. Proud that I had dealt with it. I didn’t seem to be feeling what they thought I should be feeling and it meant that I” She stopped, it was sick, she knew it was sick. “It meant that I had a story, back then I thought it had given me power.” She didn’t look at his reaction, he’d probably heard worse, but she didn’t look.
“That was that. Until I went to my father’s office one day. I wanted to surprise him because it was fathers day. When I got out of the lift, I remember thinking I might be on the wrong floor. The office on the left had blacked out windows, I’d never seen it before. But the door on the right had my father’s name on it. He wasn’t there so I waited. After a while I had gotten so bored that I decided to look in the blacked-out office. It was a mystery and I wanted to solve it. It hadn’t even occurred to me whose office it used to be”
Dr Branner looked desperately confused now, he was sitting back in his chair, holding the arms tightly, as if trying to remain calm on a turbulent flight. Vanessa stared directly ahead, hardly aware of him.
“It was a mystery” She smiled, “I always loved a mystery” She didn’t speak for about a minute.
“And then? What did you find?”
“Arnold” She said absent mindedly, turning to look at him full on.
“But-“ He began. She ignored him.
“I saw him. But he didn’t see me.” She felt weightless, just as she had then. Running out of the office. Down the stairs, just running. She ran down the street. She knew she couldn’t stop running. She knew she couldn’t face it. All those feelings, that she had denied and buried. Everything that all those other girls couldn’t even live with anymore. She felt It all. It hit her like bolt of lightning. She felt it all running down the street. Past the parks and little shops, and old women walking their dogs.
“Maybe it was seeing him again. But no…” She shook her head. There really were tears now. “I had been betrayed. He was there, fumbling with papers with his back to me like nothing had changed.”
“But… the police. Didn’t you tell them what happened?”
“I was sixteen” She sobbed, “I never wanted to think about it again. I thought father had taken care of it.” She felt that familiar hot anger rising in her, like a thick liquid bubbling up through her chest and down to her legs.
“It took six people to drag me down from the Battersea bridge.” Her voice was small now.
“Vanessa” He said slowly, he wanted the rest. He wanted everything.
“It was in the hospital that my father sat me down and calmly explained to me that Arnold had not been with me that day. That he had been in the city at a business lunch. I thought he was lying for some reason, I thought he was going to wait until there was nobody around to tell me his plan to get Arnold locked up. But I couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t told me before.”
“But it wasn’t true. Arnold was on camera, having lunch. There were witnesses they said. He wasn’t there, that’s what he kept saying over and over. It’s not real Nessy, you just thought it happened, It’s not real. It’s just in your head”
“But, why didn’t they think it was someone else, why didn’t they ask you. You might have mistaken him, or the car. You might have misremembered. It doesn’t mean none of it happened.”
“There is no Birch street Dr Branner. And I was never allowed to walk home from school.”