The room smells. It’s subtle, not strong or overpowering and not exactly unpleasant but there enough for it to be distracting.
Most people probably wouldn’t notice. Some—like the kind who come here—definitely would. It’s in their nature to notice. Which is why the scent is off putting.
I wrinkle my nose. Try to settle back into the couch. Glance around and try to pinpoint the source of the new smell.
A door opposite me cracks open. There’s a gold plaque with the words Dr Alice Brooks printed in slanted cursive across it, and it catches the faint afternoon light as the door swings open all the way.
Two familiar faces exit. The first, male and in his late twenties, pauses just passed the threshold. Dark blue eyes narrow at the sight of me.
‘Freddie,’ he says curtly, offering me a brief nod.
I return the nod with as much stiffness as I can manage. I want to return his greeting with one of my own. I imagine saying it. Pitching my voice low with deliberate, over the top gruffness.
Behind Jerry, Dr Brooks is fighting a smile. I see the corners of her mouth twitch as she maintains a straight face—no doubt amused and exasperated by the solemn exchange.
Jerry passes by, casting me a suspicious look before he pushes through the reception door. I look down at my hands, consider making some smart retort.
‘I see he still hasn’t gotten over that yoghurt incident?’
But the effort just doesn’t seem worth it. Besides, something about the quip looses it’s touch without that added sting of being spoken verbally.
I sigh and push up to my feet.
Dr Brook’s eyes narrow in concern, and I avoid looking at her face as she steps aside, gesturing me through without greeting.
Without a word she closes the door and walks back to her desk, shoes clacking on the dark wooden floor. She sits, shuffling together the papers strewn across the tabletop before reaching for a purple manilla folder on the left hand side of her desk. It’s thick and full of loose sheets of paper, most of which are folded and stained with use.
With another sharp exhale of air I sit, and it’s like coming home after a long trip away. A trip were you’ve changed and home isn’t quite what it used to be anymore.
My fingers tap on the armrest as Dr Brooks shuffles through the papers. She pauses for a moment, one sheet of paper in her hand that she’s only pretending to read. I wait for her to decide which approach she’s going to take today.
‘How’s your sister?’ Dr Brooks asks, laying the sheet of paper on the table.
I shrug, stop tapping long enough to offer a thumbs up, and settle down in my chair a bit lower. Dr Brooks smiles and nods, jotting something down on a pad of paper as if I’ve just said something profound.
Who knows, maybe I have?
I frown and my fingers stop tapping. I shrug, look away. I make some vague, half hearted gesture, waving the question away. Tim was Tim.
She jots down something else and glances up to peer at me. ‘Last time we spoke you and Tim were considering purchasing some cattle. How did that go?’
I sign the word ‘expensive’ and make a face.
‘I see. And the foal? Did it sell.’
‘I’m sure that made Tim very happy.’
I resist the urge to roll my eyes. Of course it made him happy. Though I’ve no idea what that has to do with me and this round of 20 questions.
She seems to read something in my face and her lips twitch almost imperceptibly. Like my silence is an old game between us, rather than the mountainous wall I can never seem to climb.
‘And what about the band, how is that going? Still getting weekend gigs?’
My fingers start to tap again and I stare out at the passing cars through the window. If I concentrate I can hear the low rumble, feel the soft vibrations pass through the building as heavy vehicles trundle pass.
I shrug again. I lift my hands, palms flat, facing down and shuffle them from side to side. Left, right, left, in one short movement.
‘Who is too busy? You?’
I shake my head. Lift my shoulders again. Start to wonder if I’m going to develop a twitch from all the shrugging.
‘That’s a shame. You enjoyed the band. Do you think it will pick up again once the others aren’t quite so busy?’
She’s fishing. The tilt of her head, the darkening of her eyes, that slight lift to her shoulders, it all tells me things. Communicates more than her questions ever could. She’s unhappy that the band has stopped. Why? It’s not like she’s the one who plays.
I sigh. Shake my flat palm from side to side. Drop it back down to my lap and stare at it.
‘And sports? How are they going? Are you still running track.’
I assume that my nod will please her, but her mouth tightens and she scrawls something else across her page.
The air feels stiff and the new smell in the waiting room has wafted into the office somehow. I sink further into my chair and glare at the pedestrians outside.
‘Joe Dench called me last week,’ she says.
My gaze flicks to her and then back to the window. Of course he did. That was the whole reason I was here, wasn’t it? Therapy in exchange for dropped charges over minor assault. I scowl and pick at the threads in the armchair.
‘He mentioned that Dr Rolfe has a new dog. A staffy that almost got put down at the shelter. Apparently someone stapled a flier for the dogs adoption on his front door? But you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?’
I lift one shoulder, offer her a half-hearted shrug.
‘You’ve been spending a lot of time at the shelter lately.’
‘Why is that?’
‘Volunteer. Help walk dogs.’
Hell, did I?
She regards me for a long moment, and I wonder if she’s going to bring up the fight (if it could be called that). Is she going to address the issue that is the proverbial cat in the bag.
‘Alright, Freddie,’ she says, and I wait for the disapproval, the “you-need-to-find-another-way-of-expressing-yourself” speech that I’ve heard so many times before. ‘Tell me why you’re trying to talk.’
For a moment I’m frozen and left stumbling for a response. I shake my head, staring at her. My eyes feel too wide, my face too surprised. I try to control my expression but I can’t. I’ve never been able to.
‘You’ve been using your log in for the speech exercises I set up for you,’ Dr Brooks says, tilting her head as she watches me scramble for a denial. ‘You’ve never used them before. Fought any attempt to help bypass your inability to access words. What’s changed?’
My fists clench. There’s a long moment of silence in which Dr Brooks waits with an expectant expression and I remain silent and still. After a minute or two passes she sighs and closes her folder of notes.
‘I would like to reinstate regular meetings,’ she says, regarding me with an unhappy expression. ‘I think it was a mistake to let our meetings slip so far apart and I would like to…reassess things. We’ll have a full hour next time, if you’re agreeable?’
Her gaze holds me, and though her tone is questioning, I know there’s only one right answer. In truth, if I really want to refuse I could, but her fingers tap lightly on my folder, and I see the top report—the Police stamp in the top right corner. I wince. She has me over a barrel and she knows it.
We agree on bi-weekly meetings. I’ll have to miss two days of track, but it’s better than anyone at home finding out I’m back in therapy. God knows we’ve had enough of it in our family and besides, it’ll only make them worry—something I’ve so far managed to avoid.
I step out onto pavement, feeling the summer heat slip around me like a second skin made of heavy sweat. The afternoon sky is blue and devoid of clouds. There’s the barest hint of a breeze trying to stir, but unable to quite build up the momentum to be relieving.
I sigh and stare down at my hands. Dr Brooks is right. Once upon a time my inability to talk never bothered me. People assume I just don’t try. That I don’t want to. It’s all mental, they say. Maybe it is? I don’t know. I only know that I can’t, and that’s okay. Because I’m fine the way I am. Or…at least I was.
So…what has changed?