Michael knows exactly how to irritate me. Even when I control myself and pretend I’m cool, he somehow knows I’m not. And the bloody amazing thing is; he can even anticipate the evolution of new pet-hates of mine. From dirty socks in the bath to toilet seat in the up position to talks from concerned teachers whom I agonisingly hope will never ask what I do for a living.
After all, I sometimes need to remind myself that I’m the psychologist.
And Michael is just my fourteen-year-old son.
Today, he throws his school bag across the room as he comes into the kitchen. Buckled and zipped, the bag scrapes over my newly laid pristine wooden-floor. It feels as if it’s scraped my skin. I grimace, back turned to him, trying to control the harsh words that want to burst out. Behavioural extinction is needed. A dead calm lack of response.
“Stop doing that, Mike!” I snap as I turn.
He’s already slouched on a kitchen stool, face dark and sullen, heavy bodied. My response makes him smile slightly.
Bugger. He’s won the opening salvo.
“What, mum?” His feigned innocence is designed to rub it in even further. This time, I manage not to rise to the bait.
“Never mind,” I’m tired and dispirited, “How was your day at school?”
I know nothing more will be forthcoming. I don’t know why I still persist with that hoary opening line. It feels like it’s just etched and perseverating verbal routines, nothing more. Except that I really do want to know.
The phone rings. I sigh.
Upstairs, I know Jack is probably reading the paper, with no intention of talking to us, let alone responding to the outside world.
I make my way into the hallway.
“Hello,” I said, “Dr. Brandon.”
“Dr. Brandon? It’s Tom.” The voice is officious, deep and confident, ringing slightly with its narcissistic surety.
Great. The Major. I still have to smile every time he uses his first name, though.
What crippled mind did he want to me assess now?
“Eva, we have another case for you to look at.”
Why else would you phone me, idiot? I keep it a thought. As I mostly do with the Major. He makes you feel vaguely guilty of something (everything) — even when he just looks at you. So I try not to see him too often.
“Eva,” He says and his voice sounds different, strangely tight and anxious. “Eva, we need you to section a policeman who has found God.”
I’m aware Michael has come into the corridor and is hovering behind me, breathing heavily.
“I’m sorry, Tom,” I am sure of this one, “Religious belief is beyond my clinical jurisdiction.”
“I don’t think you understand. He claims to have brought God with him. We’ve got both of them locked up.”
I startle a bit, uncertain as to whether I have heard right. “Uh — what exactly are you saying, Major? You’ve got God there as well and you want me to section them as both insane?”
A little deep chuckle — most unusual for him. “No, Doctor, just the policeman will do.”
I turn to look at Michael. He hasn’t heard anything, but he knows.
“I’ll make my own dinner.”
I feel a pang. He looks so goddammed resigned and distant.
* * *
The Institute — Bayford Military (B.M.I.) — is not that far.
It’s based in a large old mansion house — hidden by trees — close to the University where I do the bulk of my teaching. The B.M.I. was established as an army research lab — one of about twenty throughout Britain after the Terror Wars — to document the human and military fall-out from the war.
My job was to assess the human side. I generally had to evaluate what mental and neuro-psychological damage was manifest in the military — and occasionally civilian — population. One of the perks of employment was that I was paid extra to be ‘conservative’ with disability assessments involving compensation suits from soldiers following the Wars.
Which is why I’m still in a 2 bed-roomed terrace on the outskirts of London...
Major Tom (smile) Stone was a tough Military man, but a damned fine scientist too, specialising in neuro-biology. (He liked his science hard too.)
He had a lot of clout at the Institute and was the liaison person for neuro-psychological assessments. Me, I was just one of several external consultants they pulled in. They had offered me a full-time post once, but I’d turned it down, for fear of seeing the Major every day.
Not that he was bad looking. A smallish man with a tight handshake, and razored grey hair on top of his sharp, finely featured face.
It’s just that he was an awkward argumentative bastard.
“God, my arse!” I say to him, after I’d tried to squeeze his hand as hard as I could.
He waves me to a chair. His room was brown and warmly furnished, if a touch Spartan in the decor.
He came around his desk to sit opposit -- [End of Preview.]