Remedial

This entry is part 10 of 11 in the series Issue IX: Summer 2011

by Michelle Baker

His room was dominated by a large clock. Six feet wide, it hung on the wall like an oversized school room clock; its upper edge just two feet below the ceiling. It stared down with big block numerals – Arial, that most non-descript of fonts – selected by the clockmaker to be legible from hundred yards though this room was only twelve feet across, a perfect and, nearly perfectly empty, white-walled windowless square.

The only other item in the room was a long, low, Dada-ish couch. Its back a few feet from the wall, centered, facing the clock. It was the color of a maraschino cherry and upholstered with an unmarkable, heavy plastic stretched tightly across the frame. There had never been an occupant who’d revealed even a slight release or depression in the garish, shiny surface.

Tick, … Tock. Tick , … Tock. Tick, … Tock. Tick, … Tock. The life of the room, even when he was present, was unmistakably that of time itself. It was as imperturbable and relentless as the couch. Yet, where the couch impressed one with the cold fixity of the world even as its color unconsciously heightened all one’s senses, the clock with its ever present tick, tock…. tick, tock, could not fail to give certain, steady knowledge of numbered days, a heartbeat sensation of inhuman regularity.

He never sat. When a patient arrived, he would open the door with a serious, quiet
graciousness and gesture to the sofa. If necessary, he’d say “sit”. That was all. And then he’d position himself, standing, against the left wall of the room, beside the door and in line with the couch, so that his patient couldn’t see him unless they turned their head or sat uncomfortably askew, one cheek on, one cheek in midair.

He almost never spoke. Sometimes they also remained silent for most of the session; listening to the clock, hoping for a word from him, losing themselves in thought. If they returned, the therapy almost never failed. They’d talk and shift uncomfortably on the couch. They’d grow frustrated with the room, with the quiet, with the clock, and curse. They’d grow angry with him and curse. They’d cry and plead with him to respond. But they’d hear nothing, nothing but tick tock, tick tock, tick, tock as he stood motionless, expressionless, like a mausoleum.

When they grew tired of spinning abuse at the room, they’d rail at life’s hardships,
complain bitterly of abuse and betrayals long past, and launch tirades about the failure of government. Often they’d leap from the couch, stomping or pacing violently, hurling invective against one wall then the other. In desperation they’d sometimes hurl themselves against the walls. And always they would cry for the injuries they’d endured as children. And always they would condemn their parents – sometimes for being ignorant, sometimes uncaring, sometimes harshly authoritarian, sometimes manipulative, sometimes overbearing. Some could recite in meticulous detail specific incidents of parental neglect or wrenching emotional harassment. Others attacked the person of their parents; their physical bearing or looks, failures of character, ethics, or intellect.

As they talked the stories they told would circle, spiraling inwards from friends to lovers to parents to themselves – always to their parents, always to the beginning, always to themselves at the center. And as the sessions continued, the stories repeated and each repetition would be a little less insistent, each repetition a little less personal. Then slowly they would realize that nothing they could do or say would ever be of note here where unmarked perfection of the upholstery and the procession of the clock endured; that all of their emotion, all of their longing, all of their anger meant nothing to him. And though it was theirs, and though it once had power and meaning, it was becoming insignificant, boring in fact, to them as well. And, with only a few exceptions, solipsists in the extreme, each would discover their own value was only a relation to those friends, lovers, family, and enemies who filled their lives – those who reacted, those who cared.

The therapy almost never failed for those who had the courage, the openness to return again and again, to face the clock, the couch, and the wordless man.

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