“I’m not sure you can,” I said bluntly. “I’ve never done this before, and I doubt it will work, but I may as well give it a try. How do I go about making an appointment to see the headshrinker?”
A moment’s sour pause, followed by, “Dr. Kilpatrick is fully booked for the rest of the week, but he has some time available next Wednesday. I assume this is a first-time appointment?” and at my mumbled assent, she gave me several choices, morning and afternoon—I gave her some pertinent details about myself, and then chose the earliest time-slot. “Best get it over with sooner rather than later,” I explained, and was treated to another frosty silence before she confirmed all the details again, wished me well, and hung up.
When I strolled into the doctor’s tastefully beige office at half-past 8 the following Wednesday, wearing my burgundy trouser suit with the 2-button jacket and only some maternity lingerie underneath, Rilla perched over my shoulder, the receptionist (blonde, I knew it) didn’t know where to look. Her head kept swivelling from my cleavage, to Rilla’s curl-covered head, back to my cleavage again… finally, she found her voice (one of consternation) and said, “Miss Murphy, I presume?” At my nod, she said firmly, “You can’t take your… daughter?… in with you.”
My pretence at a relaxed entrance disappeared. “Well, I certainlyamtaking her in with me; perhaps you’ll need to let the shrink know?” I said, letting my irritation show as plainly as the fact that I wasn’t wearing a top under my blazer.
Mouth pursed, she hopped up from behind her antique-looking desk (rosewood, I thought) and scuttled into an adjoining room tapping anxiously on the door. A minute or two later, a middle-aged-heading-towards-old man stepped out, and smiled the worst approximation of a welcoming smile I’ve ever seen, looking straight at me. “Miss Murphy,” he said, the warmth in his tone as inauthentic as his smile, “Why don’t we step into my office, so our session can begin? Of course you may bring the child in with you.”
“She’s called Rilla,” I said sharply as we began to walk, willing either the doctor or his secretary to acknowledge her as something other than an inconvenience.
“Rilla,” he repeated dutifully, wrinkling his pruny mouth at her in another attempt at a smile. “Is that short for Marilla?”
“Amaryllis, actually,” I said, entering his office and heading for a nearby settee. He said something inconsequential about that being very pretty, before shutting the door behind himself and walking over to an armchair in front of the settee. “Would you like some tea? I was just about to have some,” he said, gesturing to the silver (real, I’d bet) tea set on the coffee table between us.
I asked, “Got any coffee?” and at the shake of his head, I said carelessly, “No thanks. If I were drinking, I’d need something stronger than tea, today.”
The shrink’s face smoothed out in surprise, then went back to its crumpled-up look of concentration as he asked gently, “Is that why you’ve come to see me? Have you a drinking problem, Miss Murphy? Or do you prefer your Christian name?”
I snorted a little, amused. “In order of importance: no, I do not have a drinking problem, and sure, you can call me Anais—but I’m not sure it’s a ‘Christian’ name, being as I’m agnostic and I think my mum was a Hindu; I can never remember.” His eyes widened and he took a breath to ask me something else; then, I became distracted as Rilla, who’d been nestling peacefully over my shoulder whilst I stood, and who’d settled comfortably in my lap as soon as I’d sat down, turned her face against my chest and began nuzzling.
“Oh, excuse us; Rilla’s hungry,” I said as he opened his mouth to speak, and I turned half-away from the doctor, unbuttoned my top button and my right bra cup, and lifted Rilla to my breast.
“What on earth are you doing?” the doctor exclaimed. I looked up from Rilla’s cherubic face to see that he’d gone from a sort of old-person ecru, to a vibrant, horrified plum. “You can’t… you can’t expose yourself like that in here!”
Bemused, I looked down, to see if either of my nips, or even an undue amount of breast, were on show. Satisfied that the angle of my body and Rilla’s busy little face were almost entirely obscuring me from his line of vision, I said, somewhat incredulously, “I haven’t exposed myself—you can’t see anything at all.”
And indeed, he could not. Still sitting, but facing a window on the wall behind his chair, the doc was turned almost completely away from us, and appeared to be rocking back and forth slightly in an agitated manner. One hand was up shielding his eyes; I suppose he thought I might get up and try to flash him, or similar. Before I could think of anything to say, he cleared his throat, and said shakily, “I don’t believe I can help you, Miss Murphy; please finish the, uh, activity in which you are currently engaged, and leave once you’re done. I’ll certainly have Ms. Bennett send you list of therapists whom I feel are more qualified than myself, to meet your needs. I’ll send an invoice for the cost of this session at the same time—“
“Oh, no, you won’t,” I said, incredulousness and nerves turning into genuine anger. “You’re not charging me for the privilege of being thrown out of your office, because you’re frightened of my tits!” As the tone of my voice went up, Rilla started fidgeting—moderating my tone, I added firmly, “We’ll be out of your way in just a few minutes, don’t worry about that, but if you try to bill me for this session, I’ll sue the pants off you. It’s outrageous,” I carried on, forcing my pitch down again, but adopting my best offended-lady voice, “Absolutely outrageous, to think that you would try to prevent a mother from caring for her child. Breast milk,” (he visibly winced at the words) “Is far and away the BEST source of nutrition for a child of Rilla’s age; as a doctor, you should know that, or don’t you get any medical training alongside your ridiculous headshrinker qualifications?”
“I’m a respected member of the British Psychological Society,” he mewed, “I don’t believe my qualifications are the issue here, and of course I’m aware that current medical thinking upholds breastfeeding (slight grimace) as the ideal—”
“Oh, current medical thinking?” I broke in, absentmindedly shifting Rilla to my other breast as she started to wriggle again, “So not the way it was when you started practicing medicine, hmm? Not how it was done in your day? I bet you were one of those doctors who went around in the 50s and 60s telling mothers to let their babies self-soothe, and pushing the use of pacifiers, and telling them that formula was better than breastmilk—”
“Your information is incorrect, Ms. Murphy, those aren’t the same movements at all; but more to the point I certainly never—”
“And why are you so afraid of a pair of tits, anyway, doc? Are you gay?”
That was a cheap shot, but it shut him up. His face, already approaching a colour between magenta and violet, went 2 shades darker, and he actually turned around and stared at me for a moment. Finally, he squeaked, “If I were, it would be no concern of yours, Ms. Murphy. I apologize for my involvement in the direction this conversation has taken, and I sincerely hope you find someone to help you. As I said, I’ll make a list of other therapists that I think might be more suitable for you, and I’ll see that you get it straight away. I understand we have all your details on file, so you should expect an email within the next 2 or 3 days, or a letter by post within the week, if that’s more convenient.”
I looked at him, confused. “Either’s fine, but… Why are you so calm, now? What did I—oh, shit, you ARE gay, aren’t you?” He just looked at me, saying nothing, and I went on, “Hey, listen, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, my best friend’s gay, I just assumed that someone of your generation would be offended, I was just, well, I was pissed off, is what I was, but I didn’t mean to—I mean I did mean to offend you, obviously, but I was just blowing off some steam, I don’t want you to think that I think less of you as a person, not that I thought much of you to begin with, but your being gay doesn’t make me like you any less—”
When he held up his hand, it was my turn to just shut up.
“Ms. Murphy, although it is none of your business, I want to assure you that I am not, in fact, homosexual. Nor am I offended by your question regarding my sexuality. If I were to take offence, it would be based on your blatant disregard for the effort I have put into becoming an esteemed member of a challenging and time-consuming profession—a profession to which I have devoted the entirety of my adult life, and which has left me no time for a family of my own.”
As I was processing that, somehow he motioned me up off his couch, and he was carrying my bag (Rilla’s bag, really, it was full of nappies and the like) for me, and he was getting the door, and suddenly I was on the other side of it, with him wishing me well, and instructing his secretary to wait in his office because he had a dictation he wanted to do right away, before his next appointment showed up. As I turned to leave, he said gently, “One thing, Ms. Murphy; I don’t know why you came to see me today, but in my opinion, you should probably see someone about your temper. I’m a professional, and although you may not believe it, I’m quite used to dealing with emotional outbursts and personal insults; not everyone is. If you don’t get a handle on your emotions, one day you’ll go too far.”
Seeing the genuine concern on his face, I cracked a half-smile and said wryly, “Already have—more than once. But I’ll keep looking for someone to talk to, just the same.”
“I’m glad to hear it; and I’m sorry I can’t help you myself,” he said, offering me his hand, and finally turning to look at Rilla. “She *is* beautiful,” he said to me as we shook hands, and then, he turned and went into his office, and Rilla and I headed home.