the couch by pyritefortune

12 Dec

“You’ve had a haircut. You’ve got a woman on the go!”

“Marsha, you know I can’t talk ab-”

“Can it! Where did you meet her? What’s her name? Has she met Jennifer yet? You have told her about Jennifer haven’t you?”

“Yes, she’s met Jennie”.

“Aha! So it’s serious then! Where did you take her out? Have you slept with her yet?”

“Marsha!”.

My feigned expression of shocked rebuke elicits a wicked grin, but she doesn’t push for an answer. She takes great delight in quizzing me shamelessly, but knows me well enough by now to see intuitively which of my deflections are a token nod toward appropriate professional boundaries, and which she actually needs to respect.

“I hope she deserves you, Mark. She’d better not turn out like that last one”.

She scowls protectively, and I smile back. Time to move on. Marsha knows me better than any of my clients and many of my colleagues, but this is a hard-won concession. She gets away with quizzing me about my love life and playing the scandalous maiden aunt role for a few minutes. In exchange, she finds a way, somehow, to tell me what I need to know.

“And how about you, Marsha? How have you been feeling this week?”

“This cold is playing merry hell with my joints, you know” she hedges. I raise an eyebrow slightly. “Can’t be doing with all those icy pavements, no point going out, I’d just break a hip or something. You can’t be too careful once you get to my age, it’s all right for you young folk”.

So the social anxiety has been bad again this week. Disappointing, she had seemed to be making really promising progress recently.

“Did you try what we agreed? Did you manage to speak to someone new every day?”

“Ha! Didn’t have much choice. Jim from the paper shop is skiving about on sick leave again, some foreigner behind the counter instead. I grinned at her, I did, that taught her. She dropped my change all over the floor.”

The pale scar winding up across her neck and face is startling, but nothing which couldn’t be subdued with a scarf and some good make-up. Instead, she wears it like a weapon; waiting for the patronising looks of pity, and then grimacing to make it pucker up across her cheek toward the staring glass eye. Marsha needs the world to be as fearful of her as she is of them. The slow rapport with Jim was encouraging, but if she’s only left the house once this week I need to get to the bottom of this new slide.

“Why didn’t you go out? It wasn’t just the weather, was it?”

“I told you, I can’t be doing with this time of year. Why should I trudge about in the sodding cold just to keep you quiet. Why do you bloody care, anyway? Sat in your cosy office.”.

The belligerence was expected; she knows I care about her, and needs to feel she has put up some token resistance to the notion.  This time of year… but the anniversary didn’t seem to hit her this badly the past few years. What is different this time?

“I know you find the reminder difficult, but we talked about it last year, worked out ways of dealing with it. It is just another date, Marsha.”

“Ha! You just wait until you get to my age. Dates are all just a way of making you older and more decrepit. You know what birthday I’ll hit next year? Too bloody old, that’s what!”

When I catch the quiet rebuke behind her snappy tone, I realise. I should have done the maths. If she is 60 next year, then this year she is 59, making it a round thirty years. I smile gently, and nod a quiet acknowledgement.

“Anyway, enough of your stupid questions. Some of us have homes to be getting to. And you’ve got a young lady to be wooing. You should buy her something. Flowers.”

The shutters descend, but she knows I understood, and that is enough. As she gets up to leave I hold up her coat for her, and as she shrugs into it I gently squeeze her elbow. She stills, slightly, but doesn’t flinch away. And for today, that is progress.

<><><>

We watched a much younger Marsha in And then there was one, and met Mark and his new sweetheart on the touchline.

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