My aunt grows special rhubarb in dark sheds. They keep it dark and warm all winter and harvest it by candlelight and it’s the best stuff. She sells it for a fortune, btw.
So what, I’m rhubarb?
Why not? If rhubarb needs time in the dark maybe you do too.
There’s a long pause. Then the paper arrives back under my nose. He’s done a drawing of a rhubarb stalk with dark glasses on. I can’t help a snort of laughter.
“So, I’d better go.” He gets to his feet.
“OK. Nice to…you know. Chat.”
“Same. Well, bye, then. See you soon.”
I lift a hand, my face twisted resolutely away, desperately wishing I could turn towards him, telling myself to turn—but not turning.
They talk about “body language,” as if we all speak it the same. But everyone has their own dialect. For me right now, for example, swiveling my body right away and staring rigidly at the corner means, “I like you.” Because I didn’t run away and shut myself in the bathroom.
I just hope he realizes that.
At my next appointment with Dr. Sarah, she watches my documentary so far, while making notes. Mum has come to the appointment, as she does every now and then, and she keeps up a running commentary:
“I don’t know WHAT I was wearing that day…Dr. Sarah, please don’t think our kitchen is usually that untidy…Audrey, why did you film the compost heap, for goodness’ sake”—until Dr. Sarah politely tells her to shut up. At the end she sits back in her chair and smiles at me.
“I enjoyed that. You’ve been a good fly on the wall, Audrey. Now I want that fly to buzz around the room a bit. Interview your family. Maybe some outsiders too. Push yourself a little.”
At the word outsiders I clench up.
“What kind of outsiders?”
“Anyone. The milkman. Or one of your old school friends?” She says this casually, as though she doesn’t know that my “old school friends” are a sore point. For a start, what “old school friends”? There weren’t that many to begin with, and I haven’t seen any of them since leaving Stokeland.
Natalie was my best friend. She wrote me a letter after I left school and her mum sent flowers and I know they call Mum every so often. I just can’t reply. I can’t see her. I can’t face her. And it doesn’t help that Mum kind of blames Natalie for what happened. Or at least, she thinks Natalie was “culpable” for “not acting sooner.” Which is so unfair. None of it was Natalie’s fault.
I mean, yes, Natalie could have said something. The teachers might have believed me sooner then. But you know what? Natalie was paralysed by stress. And I get that now. I really do.
“So you’ll do that, Audrey?” Dr. Sarah has this way of pressing you until you agree to do something, and she writes it down like homework and you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist.
“Good! You need to start widening your horizons. When we suffer prolonged anxiety, we have a tendency to become self-obsessed. I don’t mean that in a pejorative way,” she adds. “It’s simply a fact. You believe the whole world is thinking about you constantly. You believe the world is judging you and talking about you.”
“They are all talking about me.” I seize the opportunity to prove her wrong. “Linus told me they were. So.”
Dr. Sarah looks up from her notes and gives me that pleasant, level look of hers.
“A boy. A friend of my brother.”
Dr. Sarah is looking back at her notes.
“It was Linus who visited before? When you found things difficult?”
“Yes. I mean, he’s OK, actually. We’ve talked.”
A pink tinge is creeping over my face. If Dr. Sarah notices it, she doesn’t say anything.
“He’s a computer game addict, like Frank,” says Mum. “Dr. Sarah, what am I going to do about my son? I mean, should I bring him to see you? What’s normal?”
“I suggest we concentrate on Audrey today,” says Dr. Sarah. “Feel free to consult me at a different time about Frank if you feel it would be helpful. Let’s return to your concern, Audrey.” She smiles at me, effectively dismissing Mum.
I can see Mum bristle, and I know she’ll slag off Dr. Sarah a little in the car on the way home. Mum and Dr. Sarah have a weird relationship. Mum adores Dr. Sarah, like we all do, but I think she resents her too. I think she’s secretly poised for the moment when Dr. Sarah says, Well, Audrey, of course it’s all the fault of your parents.