In my last extract, traumatised Kitty O’Hara gate-crashed the graduation ball of her ex-colleagues at St Andrew’s University. Reaching rock bottom, she now realises that something has got to change in her life.
Okay, let’s take a step back.
For the first six months after the incident, I fought bitterly against the idea of a therapist. But when that nasty shop manager in the flower section of Tesco’sactually phoned the police (normally they let you off with a warning when they think it’s your first time), my mother became adamant. I had no more excuses to think up. The silent remonstrations no longer worked. So I finally caved in, and Mum put me in touch with Brain Pundit Patterson.
During our very first session, all of eighteen months ago now, Patterson suggested that I keep a journal. Apparently it can help, following a trauma – something about expressing your inner anxiety. I never took her up on the actual writing part of the journal, but I did start ‘journalising’ everything in my mind from that point onwards. Like what I’m doing now. Another thing she suggested was that I jot down a few notes about myself. I reluctantly did as she asked and surprised myself by quite enjoying the exercise.
I’ve kept those notes to this day, as a matter of fact. As a reminder of who I am. I know that sounds a bit weird, but it isn’t really. I mean, how many of us truly know who we are? If you were asked to define yourself, would you be able to do that? I wouldn’t! Far easier to fill in a multiple choice paper on calculus, I’d say – not that I’ve ever done such a thing.
So here’s what I wrote.
For the attention of Mrs Patterson.
As I gather this assignment is a non-negotiable task, I might as well get on with it. So here goes.
I’m Kitty O’Hara, university-drop-out from Pickering in North Yorkshire, where I gather you hail from too. (My condolences.) I’m twenty-two, unemployed, and do not have a problem with this state of affairs.
The name Kitty is thanks to a whim of my mum’s when she was pregnant. She’s always loved second-fiddle female characters in Russian novels – weird penchant, when you consider she didn’t even finish her modelling course due to getting knocked up by my dad, who promptly married her and then buggered off back to Ireland. Can’t even remember him, and no, his absence is neither here nor there in my life. So I was named after Kitty Shcherbatsky in ‘Anna Karenina’. Personally, I think that’s crap. Names should be meaningful, not whimsical.
I like taking long walks in the countryside near our house, which is in a dull council estate on the outskirts of town. No one can bother you when you’re surrounded by sheep. Especially not therapists. I also like reading, my preference being for anything that does not include second-fiddle female Russian characters.
I used to love dancing to 1980s punk – especially White Wedding by Billy Idol. Except I called it Black Wedding, which is exactly how I’d like to dress at my own wedding if that ever happens, which it probably won’t and that’s absolutely fine by me.
I also like collecting flower seeds, which is how I got arrested and forced at gunpoint into therapy. It’s like this. You spot an enticing sachet in a shop; you think how nice it would be to add it to your growing collection of other unopened sachets – African Violets, Scented Geraniums and Poinsettia – all of which line your bedroom windowsill like a miniature bookshelf. When no one’s looking, you help yourself to five or ten packets of this latest botanical acquisition, making sure to eliminate all boring financial transactions in the process.
I think I’ve become what you’d call an Angry Young Person since the incident that happened half-way through university – which, by the way, I have no intention of talking about. Best to concentrate on my seed-pilfering habit instead. Such harmless addictions are much more straightforward to deal with.
So there you are. That’s me. Kitty O’Hara, who sometimes has the funny feeling she’s not there at all.
* * *
“I must say I was surprised to hear from you, after all this time. Though pleased, of course. It’s good to see you again, Kitty.”
“It hasn’t been that long, has it?” I glance at Mrs Patterson a touch guiltily.
Three weeks, to be exact. Three weeks of missed therapy sessions that Mum hasn’t got a clue about. When she thought I was safely cloistered in Mrs Patterson’s minimalist room at the clinic every Tuesday morning, I was in fact enjoying long rambles in the countryside. As far as I can ‘enjoy’ anything these days.
“So what inspired you to phone me?” my brain connoisseur presses from her velvet-padded chair across the coffee table that divides us, centred by a large box of tissues. I haven’t used them once over the last eighteen months. Not once. “Considering you never returned my messages?”
“Sorry about that.” I fidget on my matching velvet-padded chair. Truth is, since coming back from the graduation ball, my initial whoosh of determination to find Dianne has whooshed right back down into my gut. I am a walking bundle of nerves, and I need something to calm me down.
Mrs Patterson continues to sit there, immobile, Dalai Lama-like. She has these shrewd brown eyes that never blink (at least not when I’m looking) and this technique of weighing me up which makes me think she knows, even though she can’t do, because I haven’t told her everything. She always wears tight knee-length skirts that cling to her skinny legs and remind me of Montpellier and how Pierre Boutellier adored my legs. Especially when I donned the lingerie he was forever buying me. Stockings, stockings and more stockings, generally with suspenders, thongs, and of course beautiful matching soutien-gorges.
“Hello? Earth to Kitty? I see you still like evading questions.”
I jolt myself back to the present. “Sorry. Okay. I decided it’s time I finally got a job.”
She looks genuinely surprised. “Well, that’s certainly good to hear.”
“But the trouble is – I mean, to be honest, I’m not sure if I’m capable of getting a job, let alone sticking one out.”
“Oh, I’m sure you’re capable of more than you think.”
I bite my lower lip. Sometimes it swells so much, it looks like I’ve had a lip plumper injection. “So I was thinking – if you could prescribe me something, you know, to calm my nerves, that would be really helpful.”
Mrs Patterson laughs. Somehow, this riles me. I’m on the brink of coming out with a particularly caustic remark, but manage to stop myself in the nick of time. These past eighteen months we’ve been working a lot on anger management, amongst other things.
“Okay, Kitty, so let’s take one thing at a time, shall we? The very fact that you’re even considering looking for a job is a huge improvement. You didn’t need any medication to come to that conclusion, did you?” Not giving me the chance to reply, she goes straight on: “What sort of job did you have in mind?”
“Au pair,” I reply without hesitation.
“Do you have experience in that field?”
I nod. “After my first year at uni I spent three months in Montpellier.” Ah, that golden summer! Hot Mediterranean nights, the rhythmic din of cicadas, Pierre’s long legs clambering through my wide-open bedroom window, getting tangled in the gossamer curtains, then between my thighs …
“And you enjoyed it?”
“Very much.” I do not allow myself a smile.
“So you clearly have a way with children, then.”
Again I nod. “One of my ambitions was to be a mother of six.” As it’s obvious she can’t tell whether I’m being serious or not, I decide to spare her the embarrassment of asking, and swiftly move on. “That family in Montpellier cried when I left. I mean the kids cried. And the parents wrote me a brilliant reference.”
“Well, there you are then. Looks like you’ll have no problem finding a suitable position. Have you updated your CV recently?”
I shake my head. “What’s there to update in it?”
“I assume you’ve included your exam grades? They were rather excellent, weren’t they?”
You can’t use ‘rather’with a word like ‘excellent’, but once again I refrain from saying anything contentious or rude. The thing is, I’m beginning to feel fractionally better. I might not have a dazzling honours degree, but Mrs Patterson’s right, my school exam results were bloody good. Apart from French. Anyway, who cares about French? At least my level was proficient enough to give intimate directions when required, eg. un peu plus bas, plus haut maintenant, a gauche …
“They weren’t bad,” I say, tossing Mrs Patterson a rare smile. She probably thinks it’s my usual barbed type, but actually, this time it’s genuine.
I really am ready to get a job. And I already know precisely which job it is that I want to get. Even if it doesn’t exist yet.
Extract from ‘Her Last Coherent Thought‘