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Cross Your Legs With Gravitas
Fiction. And how does it make you feel?
The walls are an easy-going green. On purpose. This is the colour Flowering Cactus T10 55B-I, pastel and dreamy and bland all at once. Two plants, artificial succulents, swim in pots that are much too big for them in opposite extremes of the room, placed slightly and specifically in front of their respective corners to make everything seem bigger. The paintings are all abstracts. A firm blue fabric couch is pushed up against the long wall. Exactly 235 centimetres opposite, in the precise sweet spot between closeness and farness, between intimacy and over-intimacy, is one of those throne-like armchairs made of hard brown dimpled leather. This furniture is occupied by Wendy Lee-Staples and Dr Catherine T. Forsyth, respectively.
In a quick, cryptic script, Dr Forsyth has indicated for her records and later highly-trained psychoanalytical consideration that the patient appears distracted by something out the window. W.L.S. has not in fact said anything for going on two minutes, the doctor’s notes—impartially—note. The patient’s most recent words were ‘Nice to meet you,’ and moments before that she’d given her name. That was it. That was all. Forsyth writes and then twice underlines that the look in W.L.S’ bespectacled eyes is distressed by whatever it is that she is seeing—and though Forsyth has a purely clinically burning desire steal a glance out the window, the risk of this act spooking poor, quiet Wendy before the session has even really begun is larger than zero, and is thus too high.
Forsyth’s pen comes to such a sudden stop that it just about screeches. She has captured the details of the session’s opening scenes in their entirety, and now uncrosses and subsequently, with some gravitas, recrosses her legs so now the right leg is on top. This is a body-language trick she picked up in university, the second time. She then asks in a voice totally and masterly devoid of any kind of emotive inflection, ‘If you don’t mind me asking, Wendy, and if you feel safe and able to answer me, Wendy, I wonder if it would be okay for me to ask, what is it that you are looking at?’
‘A blimp, I think,’ Wendy says. ‘It’s advertising discounted therapy sessions.’
The doctor snatches her pen and starts burning it across the 80gsm 192-page hard shelled A4 notebook that is titled, ‘Wendy.’ Wendy watches. Wendy is wondering whether to be reassured or neurotic about all the writing.
Either way, she has plenty of time to make some observations of her own. The doctor appears pre-middle-aged. The room is too busy and the couch is too hard. Wendy is not afraid but neither is she at peace, she’s restless and she actually wants to speak for the first time in this entire process, from ideation to booking to right now. The eminent and accoladed Dr Catherine T. Forsyth does not yet look up and the only adjectives that Wendy can think of that accurately describe what the woman looks like are species of birds. Crow. Hawk. Falcon. Her lips are pursed. She does not appear to breathe. Her entire body weight seems to be concentrated on the pen in her hand.
‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blimp before,’ said Wendy, as if to herself but she wanted Forsyth to listen. ‘Have you?’
‘What is, do you think, Wendy, do you suppose, significant about the… in your words, the blimp that you can see out my window?’
It’s a hard question. Wendy says as much and Forsyth blinks her beady eyes, scratches twice at the tip of her beak. Ka-kaw, thinks Wendy, which she is not proud of.
‘I put on that form that I did in your waiting room that I’ve been feeling paranoid.’
‘Though I certainly acknowledge that what I’m about to ask may feel prematurely direct, Wendy, I assure you that it will significantly accelerate our process of analysis here today, Wendy, if you could be so kind, only if you feel that you are able to of course, to tell me what is the source of your feeling of as you describe “paranoia”?
‘I’m mainly paranoid that I’m paranoid,’ says Wendy, grimacing. ‘Does that make sense?’
Forsyth’s pen smacks against the paper so loud that it is audible. It almost sounds like the footsteps of someone in a hurry. Wendy doesn’t wait for it to stop this time, she just goes ahead and says, ‘This blimp thing, this isn’t an isolated incident. A whole bunch of bizarre and freaky things have been happening to me all the time—not all of them blimp related. I’m certain they’re connected to me, but I’m worried that that’s delusional.’
Dr Forsyth does the leg crossing thing again. She looks up from her notebook with an expression of complete facial neutrality—like a bird in a coma. Her eyes are two-way glass. ‘What kind of, as you put it, Wendy, “strange happenings” have been happening to you, Wendy, if you don’t mind me asking such a question at this time? And specifically and exactly how frequently is “a whole bunch”?
Wendy is small. Her feet only just touch the carpet. She has peroxide white-blond hair yanked into a tight ponytail. A natural resting frown that isn’t mean. It’s just sceptical. Wide thick black glasses, which she now removes, allowing the edges of the room to blur.
‘Automated taps won’t turn on for me, no matter how long I wave my hands around,’ says Wendy.
‘Interesting.’ Forsyth’s knuckles visibly tighten around the pen, which knuckles seem almost to choke themselves past whiteness into a kind of sickly blue. The rest of her is perfectly composed and neutral and attentive. ‘Go on.’
‘The other day, cars with number plates that were only one digit different were parked either side of me. I’ve been swooped by four magpies in four different post codes this week and it's not even September. I feel like I finish the toilet roll every time I take a shit.’
The pen has become a kind of frantic blur. There is simply no time for the leg crossing. Neutrality oozes from every pore but everywhere from the elbow down is starting to shudder slightly. There is a creeping agony in the hand of Catherine Forsyth but she ignores it. Like a pro.
‘I saw a woman on the train last week and I was so sure that I knew her that I said a really soft, “Hello,” when we made eye contact—we got off at the same stop. She looked at me like I was psychotic, and I felt psychotic, and I was so embarrassed all day and then when I got home from uni and turned the TV on she was right there on the screen, a background extra in that ANZ ad about home loans.’
The pain is a kind of early onset arthritisy sort of thing, some ligament stuff too, and it's spreading up the arm into Dr Forsyth’s shoulder. Her hand is on the cusp of cramp and she’s still at least two sentences behind.
‘It has never once rained on a day when I’ve taken an umbrella to uni, no matter what the forecast says. My shoes are… squeaky?’
Here Wendy draws a deep breath, a courage summoning breath. Forsyth perceives this in her peripheral vision and makes a mental note to make a physical note of it whenever she catches up.
‘And then there are the pens. Around one third of the pens I’ve used in the last month have died in my hands, inexplicably. The ink gets jammed, the spring breaks in half, one time the bottom part unscrewed itself. One time it just exploded and completely fell to bits in my hand. If I am consciously expecting it, or if I’ve told someone nearby to watch real close because my pen is about to kark it for no reason, it doesn’t. It also happened with a whiteboard marker but I don’t know if that’s related.’
There is a pause of maybe four minutes while Dr C. T. Forsyth brings her notes up to speed, nods twice in an understanding and judgement free way, does the leg thing again, and prepares herself to speak.
‘And how does that make you feel, Wendy?’ Forsyth asks. Another little trick of hers.
Forsyth’s momentary reverie ends with a bang and she curls her body around the pen once more, her shoulders hunched at the strain of it, the tip poised millimetres from a fresh page.
Wendy is pensive. Wendy lets the doctor’s entire body start to shake with anticipation before she answers.
‘It seems illogical and delusional to think that,’ Wendy begins, and the pen pounds into the paper, ‘since I am cosmically, mathematically insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe,’ oh boy is the pen moving now, ‘it seems just straight up bonkers to genuinely believe that these, I’m sure, meaningless albeit absurd coincidences are not only related but somehow for my benefit,’ the paper is starting to melt and rip at the speed of the metal tip, ‘and yet I am so, so certain it’s all happening for a reason,’ the agony from the hand is felt in every single bone, ‘it’s happening to me, for me, and it means something,’ more weight, more force, more energy goes into the tip of pen, ‘and you’ve got a lot of certificates on your wall so I’m going to entrust you with this…I guess, this fantasy,’ the tip of the pen wobbles, warps, from all of the pressure from above, ‘I feel like I need you to either talk me out of it or help me understand. What do you think it all means? How does everything that I told you make you, a highly trained professional, feel?’
The tip of the pen shatters into seven distinct pieces.
Forsyth feels hot ink ooze all over her hand, which still shakes. Her body feels like it is stuck stooped over the paper and with effort and cracking vertebrae she pulls herself up. There’s a ringing in her ears, like the magnet in her brain has been struck by a tuning fork. The doctor looks slowly up the page at the notes that she has taken, which appear to be total gibberish, as if scribbled in windings. Slowly up and up her gaze rises, till it is levelled at Wendy Lee-Staples.
The birdness of the woman is now gone. Catherine T. Forsyth is softened and spooked. The putrid green walls are not helping. The couches feel way, way too close together. The paintings are weird. And as they look at each other properly for the first time, Wendy can think of only one adjective that accurately describes the look in her extremely accomplished psychiatrist's eye: Distressed.