The Reserve : Unfolding – Chapter 1 — Counting Days
“I could make you happy, make your dreams come true. Nothing that I wouldn’t do.
Go to the ends of the Earth for you, to make you feel my love, to make you feel my love.”
Vanessa sings the lyrics to herself in a loud whisper. Loud enough for her company to notice that she is no longer committed to their conversation. Lynda wondered if maybe she probed too much or maybe this was her trying to run from vulnerability once again. She always worked so hard to control the image of the person she was and who she wanted people to perceive her as, but this was the first time it seemed like she lost the battle and she was caught in a memory triggered by that song. In that moment, she was no longer focused on being perfect but rather just keeping herself together.
She often referred to Lynda’s home as an open plan womb. It was a birthplace for emotions, sheltered in a glass-frame from ceiling to staircase in perfect rectangular symmetry. The house was situated roughly an hour out of town in Blouberg with a beach-front view that would be a shame to not look at with every opportunity given. The two had an uncanny friendship, especially because Vanessa struggled to understand the relevance of Lynda’s profession. She felt those with no problems never cared and those with too many over-shared, but she could never understand those who got paid to listen to them and called it their purpose. However, the irony of their meetings was not lost on her. This is, perhaps, because that’s where she found herself; using what she worked for to pay for something she wasn’t sure would help.
“Is it distracting you Vee, is the radio distracting?”, Lynda asked as she pulled her hair to the side, “I can turn it off if you find it distracting.”
It often baffled Vanessa why Lynda carried on this pretence, with her sleek jet black hair and Chanel glasses, it was clear that Lynda didn’t need to work and if she chose it, she could live a peaceful life basking in luxury. Maybe she didn’t want her family to feel like she was having it too easy, or she was merely looking for reasons to indulge others with her French accent but being a psychologist was merely a hobby and something she used to occupy the time.
“No”, Vanessa shook her head, “I’m just admiring your home. It still gets to me every time I see it. I was raised in a world where women weren’t allowed to amount to anything, so you and I are anomalies. You and your glass palace; me and my stubborn ambition.”
She said the words with a sarcastic smile, not hiding it, clearly to let Lynda know that they are not equals, and she continued staring at the beach. They were two sides of a coin. They had nothing in common other than the parts between their legs.
Vanessa was a woman inclined to being direct while Lynda on the other hand, true to her profession, loved mind games. The layout of her home office was testament to that. It resembled a chess board. White walls and a black rug with furniture in different grey undertones. She fashioned herself a queen, her desk was her black throne and the white couch she had for patients clearly meant we were her opposition.
It was in these subtle hints that she showed power, a silent exchange encountered the moment you walked through the door. It was not that she saw her patients as beneath her but rather they were experiments, puzzles she needed to understand. Impatient with the silence, Lynda spoke out.
“Your world? You always avoid the topic about who you are or even where you come from. Are you comfortable enough to discuss it now?”
Her piercing blue eyes looking directly at Vanessa, trying to jolt a response out of her but to no avail. Vanessa continued admiring the surroundings while playing with her glass. Lynda could tell that she had not done enough to garner Vanessa’s trust yet, she needed to try a different approach on her subject, an act Vanessa always found amusing. Lynda would try different methods, but none would get past her defences.
“You know we had a deal.”, Lynda said while smirking, “If I drank you under the table, you would give me an honest answer. An honest session and if I remember correctly, I won that bet 3 months ago. I’m using my win now.”
Vanessa laughed in disbelief. She looked at Lynda amused, almost impressed, “Okay… I have never heard of a psychologist who encourages her patients to drink but okay. What do you want to know?”
Lynda’s lips quickly formed a thin line, suppressing a smile. It has been 4 months and 3 weeks of sessions, and this was the closest she has ever found herself with any hopes of exposing Vanessa’s vulnerability. She wanted to bask in the small victory but restrained herself and focused on how to keep her ‘emotionally available’.
“Just now, while you were listening to that song, you went somewhere, I want to know about that. I want to know why you feel you need a psychologist and as for the drinking, it was a trust exercise.”
Vanessa laughed and said, “A trust exercise? Do you think it worked?”
Lynda paused and then responded, picking her words wisely so that she does not push Vanessa back into her cage. “Yes, it is unconventional but I’m the only shrink you’ve ever gone to see for longer than a month, so I suppose it worked.”
She smiled to herself because Lynda wasn’t wrong. Every psychologist Vanessa had visited in the past was focused on fixing her and not understanding her. They emphasised letting go of the past and working on being a better version of yourself with no regards for how the past has impacted the present; she felt like they wanted to make her the best version of what society would deem an acceptable broken woman.
Broken was a label Vanessa never wanted to attach to her existence but she also felt ‘survivor’ was pretentious because it sought to trick one into believing that they are okay; that they have moved on and ‘victim’ was someone who settled in the pain and didn’t want to move beyond it. Broken was the perfect middle because it acknowledged that something bad happened to change who you are but it also meant there was hope for you to fit some of the pieces back together.
As she began reliving her life story, her smile started to fade. It had been so long since she had to share it with someone else. One deep breath and then another, and then she began.
“You can never stop counting the days”, she said to herself, breathing steadily and looking at her fingers while trying to avoid eye contact with Lynda. Lynda could tell Vanessa was opening up not because she was ready to but because she wanted to keep her word. The way in which she retold the story of her life seemed like it wasn’t a lived experience but rather the telling of another’s story.
“I’m here because of him… I’m trying to get him out of my head… I’m trying to forget them. You asked about Adele, she was part of my ritual, it’s still my ritual. Drink whiskey, put Adele on repeat, dress in my most expensive fur and fall asleep on the sofa. It is a ridiculous ritual, but I haven’t slept in my own bed in 17 months and 13 days.” Vanessa let out a sadistic chuckle and fell out of the trance. “I was in love and he was my world, my everything and eventually my everything gave me something I didn’t want but never thought I could live without… If you can even call this living.”
Once again, she looked at her hands and Lynda took it as an indication of progress but also a clear sign that a stiff drink was required. Vanessa was speaking in metaphors, so Lynda knew she was doing her best to detach herself from her past. In an attempt to make her feel more comfortable, Lynda went to her cabinet and poured them both a whiskey neat. She looked at Vanessa and said, “Bottoms up.”
Vanessa smiled, appreciating the gesture and in a playful tone said, “Don’t go soft on me, Doc. This is a once in a lifetime show. Come on enjoy it.”
She took a deep breath, held her glass out for more whiskey and continued telling her story, taking a sip every so often.
“I fell pregnant. He got me pregnant. I didn’t want it but with time he made me love it, the idea of it. It was just us two, the rejects of the world and we were bringing in a third party. I was happy, I had a family. After being rejected by my own, I had a new one. They say you overlook the flaws of family and so I did. When I first heard that heartbeat, I forgot all the times he made me cry, all the times he reminded me I was nothing and all the times he made me bleed. He made sure to remind me of all those things. Five months in and he sure as hell reminded me of the flaw in my new family. I should have gotten away but I was too weak, too scared, too young, too in love and naive.”
She looked to Lynda, fighting back the urge to cry. In her eyes Lynda saw the anger Vanessa hid behind her walls but as she looked on, she watched as the anger turned into pain and sorrow. “4 years, 2 months and 13 days ago, he beat the life out of me. Literally. The little life, my light… he dimmed it.”
Vanessa stood up, moved to the other side of the room, and looked out to the swimming pool. As the words struggled to come out and her voice began to break, Lynda could tell Vanessa walked away to hide that she was in tears.
“What did I expect, right?”, Vanessa said, “You see, my biological father chose his career over us. His replacement did the same, among other things. Whenever he had a bad day, I was his comforter, either with his fists or with the only tool a man is really equipped to use, and my mother turned a blind eye to it. He liked to drink a lot, you know, to take the pain away and sometimes he would pay the bills. Isn’t it ironic that I would fall in love with a man who was just like my step-father, I tried to build a home with someone who only knew of control as a form of love. He loved bragging about it, always telling me that he is the Man of The House. Man of The House my ass…”
Vanessa’s fist was clenched around the glass but quickly she released her grip and her tone softened. “…but he never used to be like that.”
Lynda wondered if maybe somewhere on her trip down memory lane, Vanessa recalled a time where she and her lover were happy. She had more questions but didn’t want to push Vanessa even further. So she sat quietly and allowed Vanessa to finish her last thought before ending the session.
“But isn’t that how every story of a jilted ex-lover begins? In essence I traded one demon for another and allowed the latter to shadow me and encompass me. You never stop counting the days, the days between the first time someone hits you or the day you let the abuse get too far and you have to clean your blood off the floor. You keep track of the nights you cried yourself to sleep because on those nights you didn’t have the strength to fight back before you let a beast lay on top of you… You never stop counting the days between what was or what should have been, each moment that was taken away from you. The day your child would have taken her first steps, when she was supposed to start teething or all the happy tears you will never get to cry because you don’t get to say goodbye on their first day of school.”Vanessa let out a deep sigh and stared into Lynda’s eyes, “Lynda, you can never stop counting the days.”
Chapter 2 : All White Everything (Out October 22nd)
Jade Novelist ©️ 2021
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