This is a novel-in-progress. It’s called The Couch.
As I write, I will be posting it chapter by chapter on Medium. When it’s finished — some time in or after 2020 — I will iron out the inconsistencies that will inevitably arise from writing sequentially, get it edited, and publish it so you can read it all over again on a Kindle for $7.
And now, let the story begin…
The worst has happened.
I turned the final corner of the drive home, letting the wheel straighten through my fingers, the tension draining from my body. The immaculate lawns and bespoke letterboxes of my neighbours passed by on either side. Mass-produced antique streetlights cast spotlights on dogs pooping and owners scooping. The roar of tires from the main road faded away behind me.
My life is a series of intimate relationships, in a way. Perhaps ‘series’ is the wrong word — the relationships take place simultaneously. Today, there were four. Two were quite serious, none of them enjoyable — not that they could ever know.
Perhaps you’ve seen a blurb for this book and already know I’m a psychologist, so I can quit it with the mysterious reveal.
The point is, today was not a particularly good day. I felt drained, like I’d given so much by not giving up anything. I was looking forward to an evening spent with the other half of my only meaningful relationship.
But then, as the car’s suspension dealt with an undulation, the dual beams of the headlights jerked upward to reveal something truly terrible lurking in my driveway: a Mercedes, black as the devil’s eyes.
This is the downside of being married. I think the only people who should be allowed in my house are people that don’t mind if I’m not wearing pants. But there is no such law of pant in my house. Alice loves ‘entertaining’ and I love Alice. Ergo: dinner guests.
She has learnt that the path of least resistance is to simply not inform me in advance, and hope that I don’t make a U-turn upon seeing the unexpected unempty driveway.
I edged my car past the more-expensive-than-mine Merc, requiring the folding of the side mirrors (like an elephant’s ears as it enters a room). I booped the nose of the car up against the pool-noodle-on-a-rope that tells me when to stop, and pressed the off button.
As the engine ticked and cooled in the darkness, I simmered for as long as I could get away with — right up to the point of “what were you doing down there, I was about to come and check on you”. This is a common theme in my life — avoiding as much as I can before the avoidance itself becomes a topic in need of discussion.
I took a final breath of solitude before diving into into the underwater world of entertaining guests.
Alice, bless her soul, had come downstairs to intercept me, to apologise unnecessarily for the surprise guests and allow us to greet in the way that has become customary. I feel a strong affinity with the common hot air balloon. I can stay aloft all day, brightly coloured and happily airborne, drifting with the winds, letting them take me where they may. But slowly, imperceptibly, as the day unfolds, I lose altitude, until I’m clipping the tops of trees as the sun nears the horizon. Every day, for many years, I’ve come home to Alice, who will wrap her arms around me and squeeze — tighter than a normal person would — and it seems as though she’s pulling on the cord in the hot air balloon that makes the fire and the pfffssshhhhtt sound.
It fills me up, sets me floating again.
Did I say Alice is my wife? She’s my wife. Should I do a physical description? Sure, why not: brownish hair, I’m, like, 90% sure she has brown eyes. Not exactly pretty, if I’m honest, but on the inside, she’s a stone cold fox. And this is what really matters, now that I’ve gotten over the looks thing.
It seems only fair that I describe myself, while we’re at it.
Where to start… I too am not easy on the eye — a couple of uggos, we are, and I like that. Neither of us suitable prey for a frisky yoga instructor.
I am tall. And I don’t mean that in a “tall dark and handsome” way. It’s more of a “what’s wrong with your bones” situation. To illustrate: I was once in a lift with a woman and her child. I would have thought the child was too young to speak, but after staring up at me for a dozen floors, the apparently precocious little twerp managed to say, in a singsong tone, “you’re too tall”. The mother covered the child’s mouth with one hand and her own with the other, but the damage was done. Her eyes said sorry but we all knew the child was right. I got out of the lift with my head hung so low I didn’t even need to duck.
What else about me. In terms of Guess Who? characters I suppose I’m an amalgamation of Paul, Robert and Tom. Vanilla ice cream left in the sun. Personality-wise I’m Bernard in the morning and Anne in the evening.
Alice releases me from her embrace/vice-like-grip and we head upstairs. She ahead of me, me checking out her ass.
Our guests are long time friends and the only people allowed in our house without written consent. Felix is my friend and has a great name. Felix. Monica is his wife. She is beautiful, yet somehow not attractive. She reminds me of all the things I have worked hard to change about my personality over the years.
Have you ever disliked someone in such a manner that they’re actually fun to be around? This is how I feel about Monica. Don’t worry she’s not a love interest and never will be, so you don’t need to keep an eye on us.
Or do you?
As dinner guests go, these two are not the worst I could imagine (I have an excellent imagination), and I always look back fondly on time spent with Felix. Although tonight will turn out to be an exception; I’m about to find out my father has died.
Drowned, but we’ll get to that; as far as story timelines are concerned, Dad is alive and kicking, so wine was poured and banter ensued.
Felix, like myself, is a psychologist. We met at a sexual abuse conference many years ago (about the treatment of victims, to be clear), and discovered a shared passion for drinking a little too much wine and a mutual appreciation of our beards.
We fell easily into a weekly routine of Wednesday evening drinks at a bar equidistant from our practices. I’m a better psychologist for our conversations, maybe even a better person, but that’s a stretch. I consider Felix to be the more successful of the two of us. Not that it’s a competition, I just want to paint a picture for you.
Monica likes to talk about cruelty to animals (she’s against it) and being a vegan, failing to read the room as the rest of us chomped at cute little sea creatures that have been skewered right up the bum hole and out the face. The torment in her eyes so sweet that no dipping sauce was required.
Alice — the hostess with the mostess — had prepared dishes especially for the vegan. A salad that actually looked pretty good and a slab of something I learned is called ‘polenta’, which if presented to Oliver Twist, I’m quite sure would have said “please sir, no more. I’ll do anything. Anything.”
I asked: if cows were made out of boiled cornmeal, would you eat them? She didn’t understand the question and Felix gave me a look that said dude-that’s-my-wife. This is why she’s fun. Totally not a love interest.
I like our house. It is very much ours. Aspects of it are me, aspects of it are Alice, but for the most part it is something that has come to be a place that reflects us as a couple, a museum of our lives together.
It is, as it turned out, too big. We sat, the four of us, at the dining table, nestled between two large rooms that serve the same purpose: lounge chairs, TVs, coffee tables. One with a light theme, one in dark. I have my study, Alice has her sunroom-cum-library. There’s a master bedroom, guest bedroom 1, guest bedroom 2, and at the end of the hall, a nursery. Painted pink but never used.
There is something intimate — that word again — about having guests over, having them in our home. I want to whisper it’s like you’re inside of us to all comers but have been informed that this is not acceptable behaviour.
Dinner was finished, a third bottle of wine edged toward the end of its life (Monica was designated driver), and the phone rang.
Alice got up to answer and the last laugh of the evening was had.
I didn’t know my father.
That is to say, I knew of his existence, but I hadn’t seen him since I was a child. My only memories of him are probably manufactured, not even worth a description. He died last night, the foreshadowed drowning, fishing on the rocks at a beach near his house. His secretary had tracked me down and the funeral was next Friday. Those are the highlights.
Have you ever felt sad that you don’t feel sad?
What is one supposed to think of the passing of a father one never knew? It’s not just that I never knew him, it’s that I’ve had a lifetime of coercing myself into not letting his absence affect me emotionally. I’m basically a Navy Seal at not caring about my father’s existence, so what am I supposed to feel now that his existence has come to an end?
I insisted to all attending that this news was not to mark the end of the evening, that it was not a big deal. It was like Princess Diana dying — sad as any death may be, but not personal. Monica started crying at the thought of Princess Diana. Alice consoled her while Felix and I retired to the balcony with a pair of port glasses and a bottle of the only booze that seems completely at home in a port glass.
It’s a funny thing, psychologists socialising. There’s so much going on: analysing, trying not to analyse, acutely aware of being analysed, all the while just trying to be a human and a friend. We sat in silence for as long as it took to gingerly remove the cork from the bottle, fill two glasses, and become one with our respective chairs. Giant wooden contraptions looking out over the garden through wrought iron bars.
The air was still and the stars were out, but only the best and brightest were able to shine through the light pollution that cloaked the city.
“So, how does this make you feel”, said Felix.
I didn’t know the answer.