Architect

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Iris felt as if she had been sitting in silence for most of her working life. More often than not, her clients remained enmeshed in their own silent Gordian Knots for much of their allotted fifty minute slots too. Whilst she believed in the process, whilst she stressed to the buttoned-up men and women that it was they that needed to ‘do the work’, and if that meant silence with their thoughts, then so be it, more and more these days, she was finding it hard to prevent her own thoughts from ruminating on her own troubles.

Forty seven years old and not a sniff of a relationship for eight years. Was there something wrong with her? Did the men she met every now and again find her too strong, too professional, were they afraid of her chosen career? She sometimes looked in the mirror and saw shades of Lilith from Frasier staring back at her. Same severely drawn-back dark hair, same black suit, same eyes that could wilt a flower at a thousand paces (her ex-husband’s words that had remained, eating away at her since the bitter divorce). Oh, she had continued with her own psychoanalysis as all good mental health professionals should, but after some time she had used her own silent fifty minutes to mentally redecorate her apartment, to compile shopping lists, to think of the ballet she had so enjoyed last night. She wasn’t, it was fair to say, doing the work.

Don, the jailbird, was waiting in the wings. Just as soon as he got out from his stretch inside for a string of tax infringements, he’d be at her door, smiling and expectant. Much as she enjoyed writing to him and visiting him when the penitentiary allowed, she wondered if their relationship was doomed to failure. His idea of her was of a downtrodden divorcee, a poor shadow of a woman who needed a strong, capable man to protect her. He adored her sweet, feminine ways, or at least the ones she portrayed to him in her letters and on her visits. Observing her female clients over the years had given her plenty of material on which to base her alter-ego. She though of herself as a thief, no better than Don really. She stole people from themselves, and was paid handsomely for the privilege.

Iris stepped out of her court shoes, sighing at the relief of stockinged feet flexing on the shag pile carpet. Shaking her hair loose from its tightly knotted bun, she stared at herself in the mirror. She could do faded, timid, eager to please, if it meant having Don’s strong, capable arms holding her close every night, if it meant that she would no longer be on her own. Hell, most of her clients came to her because they were making compromises every single day of the week, and saw her as their safety net, their place to accommodate all that accommodation. If they could do it, so could she. Anything had to be better than sitting at home in silence with only her thoughts for company.

She checked her calendar, counted the days until Don’s release. Twenty seven. Time enough to hang up her psychoanalyst’s metaphorical hat and reinvent herself. Time enough to learn domesticity. She checked the small ads in the local paper and found just what she needed. ‘How to be a Fifties Housewife: Cookery to please your Man’.

She picked up her phone, found who she was looking for and waited to be connected. “Hello Darrell? It’s Iris here. Yes, I need to resume my sessions with you. Tuesdays at 3pm? Perfect. Looking forward to seeing you then. Bye.”

Fifty minutes of constructive silence once a week was hers once more. ‘Worth it for true love,’ thought Iris.

Wasn’t it?

 

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Parallel

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Angelo had been visiting his lover in Long Island for seventeen years. Regular as clockwork, reliable as always, he would take a week’s holiday in March, June, September and December and make the long trip to spend some quality time with Dennis, a British ex-pat who loved all and everything about the good old US of A. Secretly, Angelo would have loved to escape from the clutches of an America that had become an alien concept to him over the years. If he could have achieved his dream, emigrating to the Highlands of Scotland and Dennis’s native home, he would have been one hundred percent happy.

Oh to be young again, to have the conviction that Dennis would be content with him no matter what, that he would move mountains for him. But Dennis had become old and set in his ways, refusing even to leave the small coastal town where he had set up home, paying a fortune for Angelo’s first class flights from San Francisco, just so that he could stay put. Sometimes, just sometimes, it would have been wonderful to open the front door of his second floor walk-up and see his favourite man in the world standing there with his battered Louis Vuitton luggage, with his arms outstretched waiting for a welcoming hug. But it had never happened yet, and never would.

Dennis felt the age-gap between him and his darling Angelo more keenly than he would care to admit, even to himself. Thirteen years was almost indecent, he believed, and even though a smattering of grey had begun to appear at his young lover’s formally jet black temples, he still ruefully believed himself to look like Angelo’s father, rather than his lover. He had no idea what Angelo saw in him. His young paramour was successful in his own right, was independent, didn’t need him, he was sure. There was no way he was going to confess to a fear of heights that had crippled him since childhood, since he had seen his father fall to his early death whilst clearing out the guttering after a particularly violent autumn storm. Angelo’s walk-up with its vast windows and balconies made him feel queasy even just looking at the photos, and after all, there was no way he would even step foot on a plane. Angelo, he just knew, would laugh at him and find a younger, more confident man to love if he ever found out.

Dennis sighed, his finger hovering over the screen of his iPad. Angelo was due to visit soon, he needed to make a decision. The image told him all that he needed to know. It would be perfect for the dressing room, just the right size, the perfect style to match the Shaker-built house that was his pride and enjoy. And besides, it would block out the view across the valley from his side of the bed. He could pretend he was on the ground floor, and that he was safe. He hit the ‘Enter’ button and watched as the transaction completed.

One day, maybe one day, he would explain. But not yet. Definitely not yet. He wanted Angelo to be one hundred percent happy with him for just a little bit longer.

Launch pad

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The woman stands, flexing her long toes over the edge of the brickwork.

Her arms are held outwards, elbows so slightly bent that unless an observer chose to look closely, they would think her arms were ramrod straight. Her wrists are loose, flexing to allow her hands to rest, palms down as if on pillows. In her mind’s eye, she is poised like a ballerina en pointe, giving the illusion of effortless grace.

And yet all her muscles are screaming with the effort to hold this pose.

She looks outwards, eyes trained towards the horizon, over and above the valley in which is nestled her home town, the place she had fled a lifetime ago, jettisoning herself towards a life of excitement, discovery and more than anything else, freedom.

She had high hopes, exacting ideals. She would never have to scrimp and save, buy own-brand cereals or watch everyone else sipping cocktails in bars whilst she nursed a diet Coke, nose pressed against the window, on the outside looking in. Energy bills would be an irritation rather than something to lose sleep over. She would blossom, become a man or woman’s one desire, have children, grandchildren, be surrounded by love. She would succeed.

Oh, she knows this town like the back of her hand. The petty resentments and gossip on which it thrives, the sideways looks, the pitying whispers, the ‘thank God it’s her and not me’ huddles on corners of streets, they are like a film playing over and over in her head, clouding her vision, thrumming in her ears.

How much is a person supposed to bear? How long can the distractions of life fill those empty nights? What is the point if behind that veneer of success, there is nothing? No family, no partner, no children, nobody to care whether you had a good day, an easy journey home, whether you eat dinner or not. What is the point?

She had only wanted to escape from the dullness, the loneliness, the relentless grey of small town life.

Too late she had realised that no matter how far you fly, you are always there, dogging your own footsteps like a ghost.

So here she is, toes curled, gripping tight to the brickwork, focusing grimly on the horizon, the setting sun, the silhouetted hills.

She leans forwards. She launches. She sets herself free.