This is the first in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds.
If you would prefer me to read it to you, you can find the audio version here.
The Good Client
The client arrived on time in her usual timid manner.
“Hello Doctor Tate,” Meryl said. The woman’s voice, clothes, and the way her shoulders rolled forwards broadcast her insecurity.
“Good morning,” Tate replied, standing to shake Meryl’s hand briskly to mark the beginning of the session. Just like every week, she waved a hand at the large sofa, the coffee table empty except for the usual box of tissues and elegant blue glass bottle.
“I haven’t had a very good week,” Meryl said, her voice starting to waver before she’d even sat down. “I tried to put my weekly plan into action, but it never works out the way it should.”
Tate sat down in the large leather chair on the other side of the table. “Tell me what your secondary goal was this week.”
“My secondary goal was…” Tate corrected.
Meryl squirmed slightly, tugged at her skirt. “My secondary goal was to cleanse my environment of toxic influence.” Already her bottom lip was starting to quiver.
“Let’s talk about that toxic influence, and why it’s important to remember your secondary goal.”
Meryl sagged. “I’m finding this very hard.”
“That’s good,” Tate soothed. “It means we’re doing some work.”
Meryl soaked up the tiny bit of reassurance like water to a wilting flower. “My husband is my major toxic influence, and my secondary goal last week was to throw him-”
“Was to remove that toxic influence from your environment.”
“Yes. To remove his toxic…” Meryl’s voice cracked, her hand flew to her mouth. “I’m sorry,” she gasped as the tears broke free and tumbled down her cheeks. “We had a terrible row, he just doesn’t understand what I’m going through.”
Tate nodded, pushed the box of tissues across the table. Meryl plucked one out gratefully and blew her nose. “The toxic influence is always resistant to cleansing. By challenging its presence in your life, it can resort to hurting you in an effort to weaken your resolve.”
Meryl nodded. “He did hurt me. He said the most awful things about me, about you!”
Tate straightened. “Me?”
“He says you’re a quack, and a charlatan and that I shouldn’t see you anymore.”
“You do understand why he said that, don’t you?” Meryl just sobbed into the tissue, so she carried on. “It’s because he’s threatened. For the first time in your life, you have an advocate, someone fighting in your corner and helping you to evolve.”
“And that’s what this is all about Meryl, that’s what your primary goal is after all. To be a strong, independent and powerful woman.”
“Do you really think I can be that?” Meryl sobbed.
“Oh I absolutely do Meryl. But you have to follow the plan. Are you still committed to your primary goal?” Meryl, unable to speak, resorted to frantically nodding her head. Tate leant forwards. “Then let’s examine why you’re struggling to make progress.”
Meryl looked up from her tissue, her bloodshot eyes wide with the fear of having displeased her. “I’ll try harder, I will!”
“What held you back this week?”
“I was feeling a bit low. About my weight. I know I’m not ever going to be a supermodel, but just being a bit slimmer would…” her voice trailed off.
“I want you to explore that,” Tate said. “I want you to imagine you’re standing in front of a mirror. You hear a voice inside you when you do that, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Meryl was curling like a fern leaf in frost.
“It says ‘You’re so fat, you’re so ugly, no-one else will ever want to be with you’, doesn’t it?”
Meryl was back to just nodding again.
“Don’t be afraid of how it makes you feel, you’re in a safe place,” Tate said, reaching silently for the large glass bottle. “I want you to feel that self-loathing. Let it fill you.”
Meryl was shaking now, oblivious to the slight smile that twitched across Tate’s face as she eased the cork out of the bottle. “How can you make progress when you’re a fat, ugly woman?”
That did it. Meryl gasped and Tate thrust the bottle in front of her. “Blow it into the bottle Meryl! Blow that self-loathing out!”
The client bawled into the glass neck, her wailing sobs filling the room too. At the end of the breath, Tate stoppered the bottle swiftly and smiled broadly. “There, it’s not yours anymore,” she cooed, barely heard above Meryl’s hysterical crying. “Another barrier gone. There, there.”
By the time Meryl was able to string two words together, the clock was chiming in the hour.
“Good work this week Meryl. That’s the end of our time I’m afraid.”
Blinking, Meryl wobbled to her feet. Her blotched skin and puffed eyes disgusted Tate, but she didn’t show any of it. The client allowed herself to be steered to the door, and delivered to the waiting receptionist to be taken to the recovery room.
Tate swept the sodden tissues into a wooden box ready for later processing and washed her hands. She checked the cork was still firmly in place and went to her desk.
Shoes kicked off, she flopped back into the grand chair, put her feet up and pulled the phone out of its cradle, dialling the number from memory.
“It’s me. I’ve got some good shit my friend.”
“Tell me more,” the client’s voice didn’t lose its velvet, even over the telephone.
“Pure self-loathing, very strong, very fruity.”
“Excellent, I’ll pay the usual for it. What about the other order?”
“Oh, the one for distilled loneliness? That has a longer lead time, you know that. I estimate two to three months, but it will be absolutely pure.”
“It’s good to have such a reliable supplier,” he said. “I don’t know how you do it, but you’re one of the best.”
“Why thank you.” Her toes wriggled. “Always a pleasure to do business.”
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