The new room was a top floor, end-of-corridor, corner room.
He unlocked the door and stepped aside for her. ‘Sorry about the hike to get here. And the smell. Sodding cuts…’
She shrugged. She liked it. She liked corners. She liked having no one above her. And in the chair she chose to sit in by the windows, facing the door, there was no one to the left and no one to the right, no one behind her.
Through one window, the morning sun jutted into the room at a low, harsh angle, shooting blindingly sharp skinny triangles of light onto the desk and wall. She turned and looked through the other window. West? she thought, noticing straight shadows, stretching away from the office blocks, throwing the streets and smaller buildings into darkness. It was grey there now but tonight it would be flooded with evening sunlight, the sunset would fill the room with soft colour, and no one would see it.
In the aluminium window frame she saw a distorted reflection moving up and down, and coinciding with the sound of a jacket being removed and hung on the back of a chair.
She wondered, did she look strong and independent turning away from him like that – as if looking out on the world? Even though she was really watching him.
He liked to be called Paul. But she avoided names. In her head he was The Therapist. As he moved back and forth, opening and closing drawers, and switching on a laptop, a bright reflection flitted across the window frame.
He was wearing a white shirt.
She wanted to say, mysteriously, ‘I see a man wearing a white shirt,’ as if looking into a crystal ball, and then turn around and laugh with him. But instead she said nothing, and watched the window frame.
They weren’t here to have fun – she learned that months ago. When she’d made jokes in the past he looked patiently at her, waiting to continue. No, they were here to “get to the truth” the “real” her. She mustn’t deviate from the task, the questions, the going over old ground. So she’d chosen early morning appointments to get them out of the way. She didn’t even have breakfast. It was like waiting in a long, long dinner queue: something to be endured patiently whilst holding one’s instincts in, politely and unnaturally.
This wasn’t the real her. And yet she had to keep coming, keep pretending, as some sort of evidence that she was functioning properly. Her teeth tapped together inside her mouth and her toes tapped up and down within her boots.
The white reflection enlarged and the triangle of sunlight in her peripheral vision disappeared.
He was TOO CLOSE.
She pushed a hand to her mouth and breathed juddery breaths through her nose.
Don’t panic. You’re in control.
Oh God… He’d never spoken her name like THAT before.
‘What, what?!’ She span around, and pressed her back into the chair putting her hands up in front. Ready.
He stood looking down at her. ‘We need to talk.’
A rush of terrifying possibilities played in her head:
‘You’re madder than I thought. You need locking up.’
‘This isn’t really a new therapy room. I’m a rapist and I’ve brought you here to have sex with you.’
‘You know when you lost your memory? Well you murdered someone and the police are waiting outside the door.’
‘Maggy…’ he continued.
‘ “Maggy”?’ she shouted. ‘Who the hell’s Maggy?’
He sat down, at last.
‘A colleague. She’s agreed to counsel you. I think we have a problem – a wall – here – with me being a man. You’re not telling me much… You’re… Well I think you’d be less… Nervous… Worried… I don’t know. You might find talking to a woman… Easier? Perhaps.’
She said nothing.
‘She said she’d be here in a minute and then we could all have a chat. If that’s okay, of course…? Do you…? Well. Would it be a good idea, do you think?’
She looked at her feet; invisible toes tapping. ‘Whatever. I’m not sure what difference it would make.’
‘Memory loss is memory loss.’
‘But…Your… Fear. Do you think you’re uncomfortable around men?’
There was a knock at the door and a woman entered. They talked. In front of her. She was merely required to nod where appropriate.
He told the woman everything about the head injury, the memory loss, the escape from hospital, the fear of being touched.
‘Do you want to remember what happened, Helen? Or do you feel safer not knowing?’ asked the new therapist.
Ah. The old sprouts or cabbage question… She shrugged honestly.
Mummy and Daddy were shouting as if she wasn’t there again, while she sat in the corner shaking her head and biting her nails. It was always about how naughty she was to run away. Why did they say that? That wasn’t how it happened. She would close her eyes and think of funny things to make her smile.
‘Well. That’s it. Thank you.’ The female therapist approached, grinning, grabbing her hand to shake it. ‘I’ll see you…’
Helen snatched back her hand, ‘Don’t touch me!’ she yelled, punching the therapist in the stomach. She stood up, slapped her hard across the face. ‘Don’t you ever, ever touch me!’
She ran from the room, wailing. As she slammed the door behind her, she saw the keys were still in the lock. She turned them and leaned against the door, breathing heavily.
‘Well that went well,’ she heard the woman laugh. It was a deep, natural laugh. ‘But Jeez, Paul, didn’t you ever stop to think that this touching stuff goes back further than the memory loss?’
Feeling tears build, Helen unlocked the door and stared at her.
‘Do you like jokes?’ she asked.
‘Just don’t touch me again. I never could shake hands.’