Madeleine Penner wasn’t exactly as I’d imagined a psychiatrist to be. Neither was her consulting room. For a start, where was the high-backed swivelly chair, and where the hard-padded psychiatrist’s couch? Instead, a couple of sofas faced each other, so big and soft you could lose yourself in them, and yet something of them firm enough to provide support.
“Now . . .” Madeleine motioned me to sit on the sofa beside the rather flash tablet (this lady was up to date on technology; I doubted it was NHS-funded). She took the sofa opposite where an ultra-sleek laptop hummed as it waited. “I need to verify certain aspects of your GP’s report, those not sufficiently covered by your self-assessments.”
At the mention of my GP I picked up her feelings of dissatisfaction; an irritation and anger for which she berated herself as unprofessional.
“By the way, have you come straight from school?” She made it sound as if casually asked but I knew it was otherwise.
“Yea,” I said. “I’m not usually so scruffy—not ‘less I’ve been to the hen-house.”
So much for my GP with his ‘unresponsiveness.’ If Madeleine was well-named for her job, then my GP, Dr Snide, was equally well-named for his personality. I hadn’t seen the report, but I caught snippets leaked from Madeleine’s unguarded thoughts. As well as unresponsive, he had reported me as ‘sloppy in dress and hygiene’. The bastard!
That day—and I remember it well!—my mother had dragged me away from my chores, no chance to wash, still wearing my wellies, clothes smeared where I’d wiped my hands still dusty from chicken feed—and I probably had feathers in my hair, too, since I’d been in the hen-house collecting their eggs. I was a mess. This was not my usual appearance. But the bastard never thought to ask, and my mother made no attempt to excuse it. It was at that point I wondered if she was pushing for a schizoid diagnosis to get me locked away. Though for the life of me I couldn’t imagine why. Was I that much trouble to her? And after all she’d gone through to have me, all those—exaggerated—years of fertility treatment (as she never stopped telling me).
Madeleine nodded acceptance. That wasn’t the only contradiction to Snide’s report. Emotionally blunted, he had said. But the self-assessed personality test had totally negated that. Though against that, one of the self-assessment tests had confirmed his reported ‘gaps in her working and long-term memory’. But then, against that, as Madeleine’s eyes scanned the GP’s referral, I caught an amended label: Openness to Experience.
“I’d like to run a test,” she said. “It’s very simple; you’ll probably enjoy it. Word association. Classic stuff since the days of Freud though now with a myriad of other uses.”
In other words, kid, don’t try to guess what we’re after. Okay so I didn’t hear her think it, yet I knew that’s what lurked behind her words.
She gestured to the tablet. The app was already set, all waiting for me to play. My friendly psychiatrist explained it, though that hardly was needed.
The app would display a word for which I had 60 seconds to input as many associated words as I could think up. I wasn’t to worry, I wouldn’t have to explain the associations—unless, of course, something of astoundingly weird cropped up.
“It’s a cognition test,” she said and leaked words at me that I didn’t understand till later, when I got home and Googled them. Words like tangential thinking, perseveration, neologisms (though that one I could at least guess at) and thought blocking.
Sixty seconds doesn’t sound long, yet I averaged 41 words a go for each. Apparently my tablet was synced to her laptop where the results were displayed. She pouted—then realised what she was doing, and stopped. But she couldn’t stop her annoyance at Dr Snide from seeping out.
“Did I pass?” I asked, trying to make light of it.
“What, you want a badge? A gold star?” she responded in like. “So, Arwen, what are your plans now that you’ve finished exams? You must be thinking of college or . . .?”
“Wish,” I said. And immediately realised how that must sound. “If I say that my father has had my future mapped since the day I was born, would you take that as ‘lack of motivation’?” Cos I knew that’s how Dr Snide had taken it.
“I would say it’s unusual in Western society, but not entirely unheard of. Though I would think it more of a cultural thing.”
“Yea, well,” I said, “my father’s stuck in the culture of being a farmer. His family has been at Failans Farm since . . . well, forever. Way back in 1835 his so-many-great grandfather, Elias Elvin, married the-then Failan heiress, Felicity Fellan—yea, I know, the whole family were hooked on alliteration—almost as bad as my mother’s Arwen Elvin and I’ve fucking suff—Oops! Sorry.” I slapped hand on mouth.
She smiled. “Go on. Tell me more of your father’s plans for you.”
I ‘um’d as if I was giving it thought, but that was only to give me time to carefully arrange my face. I didn’t want her thinking I resented his plans; I got enough stick about that at school.
“September I’m off to Agricultural College—if I get the grades, which probably I will, even with the thoughts and disturbances. After that, I go work on his farm.” I tried to laugh. “I must be the only kid this century to leave school knowing I’ve a job for life. Mostly the kids at school don’t even know what they want to do. But I’m proud to take on that farm. It’ll be mine when my father dies, which mayn’t be long. He’s no frolicking lamb. Mum’s old enough, and he’s even older.”
“How old?” she asked.
Oh, had Dr Snide forgotten to include that little detail? He had noted my mother’s age. I shrugged, like it didn’t matter. “Seventy. Yea, another reason for the kids at school to take the pee. Bad enough that he’s a fu—he’s a warlock.”
She ignored my lapse in language, and didn’t outwardly bat a lid at the ‘warlock’ yet I knew she had stored it. “Is there no other career you’d rather have? I get the impression you’re university material.”
I shrugged. “But being a farmer won’t stop me from studying other things. You know, Open University, night classes, correspondence courses. Self directed,” I added that cos that’s what appealed to me most about it. “I want to learn Old English. And Church Latin. I want to be able to read all those ancient scraps of vellum that our family has so jealously guarded all these centuries—we’ve an old oaken chest full of them. I want to know the history of our farm.”
For an inexplicable reason I felt a tear begin to well. I blinked it back. But it made me think: this wasn’t the first time I’d come over all sad at the thought of that farm and its history.
My friendly psychiatrist, Madeleine Penner sat in silence for a while, just nodding. Odd, I couldn’t catch her thoughts. Maybe she wasn’t thinking?
Then came the question I’d been expecting, the reason I was there. “Tell me about these voices you hear.”
Next episode, And The Rain Torrenches