Therapist: What do you see, Mr Brown? Take your time.
Patient: Ireland. A lake or a sea and a sandy beach. Undulating green hills as seen in Irish tourist brochures. As seen in Ireland in fact. I need the countryside, fade in the city after a couple of months, but you know, Jimmy, photos of beautiful landscapes make me think of chocolate boxes and advertisements… A woman with a red skirt, a stick to throw and a couple of dogs. Comely white cottages on the far away hills. There is something intimate about the shot. The woman is not disturbed in the slightest by the presence of the photographer. She doesn’t pose for the camera. She must be the photographer’s wife. The dogs sniff each other in a familiar, unexcited way. There is no danger, no unknown. It’s idyllic. But perhaps it’s a photo for old time’s sake, and once it’s been taken, the photographer pulls on a pair of black latex gloves to strangle the woman to death. The dogs become clearly distressed. This is not what their owners should be doing with their day out at the beach. One barks. The other’s frantic body somehow gets entangled with the actions of the strangling man. Does the man pick up a stone and crack the dog’s head open, or does the dog’s distress distract him from his all-consuming rage?
Therapist: Which one?
Patient: Don’t know, Jimmy. It’s your photo. But I saw your dog in the waiting room and it looked fairly relaxed.
Therapist: We have to conclude for today.
Of course I know Jimmy wouldn’t be showing me his personal photos. Sometimes in my mind I visit his private home, where we sit on his balcony drinking red wine as the sun goes down and a lone bird calls out in the distance, and he speaks to me as an equal, telling me all I yearn to know. But I am fully aware that this is not reality.
I did see his private dog, though. The dog approached me in fact, not the other way round — a black and brown border collie with a white stripe above its nose and white-tipped paws; lolling tongue, wagging tail, the whole doggie package. The dog-walker came rushing up before we had time for more than cursory acquaintance, while Jimmy, standing in the doorway to the treatment room, was distracted by a ringing phone and failed to register my presence forty-five minutes too early for our appointment.
I must admit that, despite what some might think, I enjoy therapy and believe Jimmy does a fine job. He doesn’t like me calling him Jimmy, though now I know it I can’t seem to stop. Once I called him ‘James’, and he looked relieved for a moment, but then I found myself adding ‘the butler’ and laughing a little too hard at my own joke. It’s that polite distance he keeps.
He doesn’t speak very much and at times has such a far-away look in his eyes I worry he’s fallen into a trance. It makes me feel slightly insecure and I wonder if my neuroses really are that boring. Personally, I find them quite fascinating and would love to know where they come from. Why do I have to touch all the curves on the banisters when climbing the stairs, and why does it always have to be in a very particular place? If I miss the right spot, it feels like an itch I can’t scratch.
I think I do better on the photos. He seems to find my remarks on other people or objects much more interesting than what I have to say about myself. So far I haven’t complained about this, since it might sound petty. I haven’t brought up my job yet, either, but feel sure that once I do Jimmy will find me worthy of more quality time.
The first time I realized I was looking forward to our sessions came as a surprise, and it’s funny to think back on how I refused to go in the beginning. Right now I’m depressed and bereft. The DNA results have just come in. My knee-jerk reaction was to discuss this sense of loss with Jimmy tomorrow. But I can’t. Therapy is over, and it won’t be appropriate to mourn its passing. The hair sample I took from the dog in the waiting-room matched DNA we found on a very beautiful young dead woman, Jimmy the therapist’s former patient and victim. It’s always the quiet ones, isn’t it?
Shivaun Conroy teaches and translates in Berlin, Germany. She wishes she had the inspiration to write more than once or twice in a blue moon, but she’s a talented multi-tasker and can moan on about this and celebrate being published at the same time.