Chapter Two: Bursting with Life!
“Take a seat,” the woman said from behind her desk. The pristine surface devoid of all clutter screamed, ‘Order above all else’.
Thanks heavens she didn’t insist on shaking his hand. One of the therapists who replaced her from time to time not only insisted on shaking your hand but had a nauseating habit of hanging on to it while he spoke. What’s more, nobody had dared tell him he had bad breath.
Vint sat in the chair farthest from her and glanced up at the painting on the wall behind her. The artist had painted the head of a woman using only vegetables cleverly pieced together to create the illusion of a face. Surely the woman must have known such a portrait would be deeply disturbing for many of the children who came to consult her. Maybe she thought it was funny. More likely, judging from the way she blundered through their sessions, she considered upsetting kids to be therapeutic.
His eyes slid from the painting to her face. For someone supposed to be there for others, her cold manner, her piercing eyes and the hint of a sneer on her lips hardly inspired confidence. She returned his stare, her regard unwavering. He couldn’t help feeling like an insect pinned to a board awaiting dissection.
“How did your week go?”
He shrugged. He certainly wasn’t going to tell her about the swirling colours even if they were occurring more often. He’d made that mistake once. When she berated him, he’d got angry. It’d taken him weeks to recover from the extra pills she’d prescribed. He’d felt as sluggish as a heap of vegetables. Maybe that was the sense of the painting staring down at him.
An image of the girl in the lift stole into his mind. He shoved her aside for fear the thought would conjure her up again. If word got out about the hallucination – he couldn’t see what else she could be – they’d lock him away faster than it’d take him to swallow his daily dose of pills. And once inside there’d be no surreptitiously slipping the pills into his pocket instead of taking them.
“Uneventful,” he replied, knowing if he didn’t answer it would count against him. He listed a series of innocuous events. School. Writing an essay about wearing school uniform. A load of nonsense about it being a great equaliser. Running a paper round and being chased by a neighbour’s dog. He didn’t. He wasn’t. But they seemed like good things to say. Looking for a lost ring under his bed only to find a coin. Fetching in the washing for his mum. Her worries about losing her job with the phasing out of secretarial staff…
“And the swirling colours?” the woman probed. “Did they recur?”
He shook his head. Seeing the doubt on her face he realised he’d responded too quickly. “Those pills seem to have done the trick,” he added, hoping the comment would convince her. He certainly wasn’t going to admit to flushing them down the toilet. The thought of drugged fishes cavorting near the local sewerage farm would have had him smiling were it not for the tight control he kept over his expression.
“You did take them?” she asked.
“No. I gave them to the cat. He rolled onto his back with his paws in the air and snored noisily.” It was meant to be a joke, but even to his own ears it sounded aggressive.
Her face darkened. “Why does your impertinence continue to surprise me?” she muttered, more to herself than to him. She got to her feet and, pushing back her chair, moved to the door. “Wait for me here. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Left to himself, he slumped in his chair bemused. How odd. She’d never abandoned him in mid session before. Surely he hadn’t been that aggressive. Maybe she’d forgotten something. Or perhaps she’d had to hurry to the toilet. The idea of her submitting to basic human needs disgusted him.
He got up, meaning to look closer at the vegetables in the painting when the door creaked open. His face reddening with embarrassment, he retreated to his chair only to realise it was not the woman, but the girl from the lift. She peered round the door and beckoned. When he crossed his arms and refused to budge, she beckoned again, her lips pursed in frustration. No way was he going to follow a figment of his imagination.
“Hurry,” she said, glancing over her shoulder at the landing outside. “She’ll be back in a sec.”
“Why should I follow you?”
She planted her hands on her hips and stared at him in disbelief. “Cause if you don’t, she’s going to have you locked up…”
“What!” he exclaimed, springing to his feet. “You sure?”
“Yup. She phoned for the strong-arm gang.”
He’d heard about the tough male nurses who worked at the local psychiatric hospital. Enough regulars at the Centre told tales of being frog-marched away that it had to be more than just the wild stories of kids who had a reputation for spinning impossible yarns.
“Hurry!” she said, holding out a hand to him. After a moment’s hesitation, he took it. The feel of her fingers in his sent a thrill down his spine. For an illusion, her hand was remarkably soft and warm. She tugged him out onto the landing, almost causing him to stumble. When he opened his mouth to ask where she was taking him, she held a warning finger to her lips. Below he could make out a muted conversation. The woman was saying, “Yes … unpredictable … might be … yes … aggressive … a danger to himself and others…”
They were trapped. The only way out was down and, judging from the deep male voices that replied from the landing below, she really had gone in search of reinforcements. He couldn’t just stand there, but fear had him frozen to the spot. It was the girl tugging on his hand that roused him. She pulled him towards a small door he’d never noticed before.
Expecting a cupboard, he was surprised to discover not a storage space but a narrow passage between the wall and the roof with sunlight streaming in the occasional crack between tiles. Once inside, the girl pulled the door closed and strode confidently from rafter to rafter making her way towards the far end of the building.
A fully grown adult would have had to duck but both he and the girl were able to move freely. That didn’t stop him treading gingerly, afraid he’d slip and plunge through the ceiling into a room below. From time to time he halted and glanced over his shoulder. No one was following.
He’d just reached the girl when a male voice called out, “In here!”
The girl hurried away down the next side of the building till the passage was blocked by what must have been a chimney. She squeezed past and he followed, dislodging a tile as he did, flooding the passage with light. He heard it slither down the roof only to stop with a clunk in the gutter. Judging from the shouts that went up behind them, their pursuers had reached the corner of building and must have spotted him in the light.
The girl halted on the far side of the chimney where a narrow door stood. She cracked it open and peered inside. With a grin, she glanced back at him, saying, “Come on.”