Story synopsis: Vianne Zedala is eccentric. Dressed soberly always, nobody could guess the kinds of things that runs through her mind. She ain’t psycho, but she’s not your idea of Saturday night fun. The story revolves around her appointment with her psychologist whose helping her get through the death of her husband.
But, Vianne’s trying to prove something.
Her psychologist and she, share a story; a secret.
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“Welcome Mrs. Zedala. This is your tenth session if I’m not wrong?” She smiles warmly. The room pale and brown and so sanitary with not a speck of dirt anywhere is humbling. The most imperfect thing in the room, I, stare blankly.
“It’s Miss Zedala. He died, remember?” I reply quietly.
“The past sessions have well-informed me.” Her crisp gaze follows my lead as I sit. I take my legs up on the sofa as I place the brown loafers away. The sand in them leaves grainy marks on the sofa. My legs still stuck with fine minute particles, the dry skin not letting the sand go. I dust my legs against the sofa. She clears her throat, eyes the sand speculatively and then gestures me if I’m comfortable enough. I’m still blank.
“The past sessions have been tough . . .” She cuts through the awkward silence.
“I have decided that I will be truly honest today and not hide anything.”
“That’s the psychologist’s dream.” She’s relieved; I have saved her and her dignity.
“I won’t burst into tears today. You can ask me anything about us.” I continue.
She nods, as I begin.
“Today was one of those days when I stayed in bed, crawled next to my books of imperial China and thought. I’m studying like I promised, I’m working hard like I promised but on days like today, I just can’t.” I watch her make notes. I wonder what is so thrilling or fascinating about my lack of purpose. The only thing fascinating in that statement was ‘Imperial China’ and taking in her pink suit and her air of over-confidence; I know that she hasn’t ever touched a history book. She’s cold, with warm eyes. The kindness behind her spectacles has built trust between us. I know that her empathy isn’t rehearsed almost allowing me to confide in her over-confidence.
“Do you still miss him?” She asks.
“I miss him so much that it makes me want to cry. I keep myself away from the things we loved. . . But our garden makes me so weak, so desperate. I’ve become so vulnerable that I tell everyone everything. I’m so brutally honest: they think it’s out of malice but you understand me better don’t you?”
“Honest how?” She asks, ignoring my remark.
“The other day, I was at the supermarket and the lady in front of me was wearing such tight pants – her underwear mark could be seen you know? I explained to her that though it’s a liberal world, such things are indecent. She just burst out at me! She stomped off after she argued that I should mind my own business. The staccato of her red heels just left me speechless.”
Perhaps she was judging me now, but her cool exterior didn’t give anything away. She tapped the pen to the cardboard and asked, “Weren’t you honest earlier?”
“Not like this.”
“Because, well, he asked me to stay docile?” Wrong answer. She knows I’m lying but doesn’t say anything.
“Sorry. I’ve promised to tell the truth. I lied. I never was that bold earlier. Before dying, he asked me to speak my truth. And, so, I’m practicing.” I ponder, “It’s sort of fulfilling his last wish.”
“But he didn’t teach you when to speak your truth?” I look at her angrily. I watched how calmly and effortlessly she proposed something so controversial.
“Your eyes are distracting me, could you please stare straight at me?” She asks defiantly, definitely ignorant about how I felt about her remarks. I’m wordless most times. She thinks I’m weak; I have my eyes down always. But she doesn’t understand how he used to influence me. He sort of always understood and made people understand – I never had to react.
“I see your pictures sometimes.”
“Huh?” I ask.
“You keep posting pictures with your dead-husband.”
“It’s a little . . . disturbing.” She’s uncomfortable now. I can almost sense her hesitation. She’s wondering whether she has crossed the limit or whether this is the chance to break into the cold, ice-hearted Vianne Zedala.
“Yeah, sometimes, I scroll through my phone’s album and find his tongue-sticking out selfies and other times, his voice notes reminding me of commonplace things. So I share them on social media. Isn’t that Facebook and Snapchat are for?”
“To post videos and pictures of dead people?” She asks skeptically.
“No, you stupid woman.” I pause. I’ve never swore at her before. I watch her fold her hands and leave her notepad aside. She’s angry but intrigued. Maybe, now she understands that my depth isn’t like some well, a hollow place where my end can be analyzed calculated and controlled. My depths are more like a pancake. You feel that there’s only one layer, but if you try to separate them and study them – no fork in the world can help you.
“Why do you do it?”
“Is it important?” I ask exasperated. Her silence enthralls me. If only I could break her icy exterior. “I do it because he promised to call and stay in touch even when we departed – but he doesn’t. I understand that such communication could be hazardous, but sometimes couldn’t he pick up my call or reply to my social media status?” Yup, she thinks I’m crazy. I like this every one bit.
“You tried calling him?” She’s astounded. I don’t know if she’s fuming or if she’s unhappy. We’re both here to share secrets after all.
“It goes into voicemail all the time – I don’t understand. But I’m glad that it’s not like he’s ‘showering always’ or out to ‘get the paper’. My friends who drop by every now and then, complain how they’re partners are being distant. Their suspicions just make me laugh. They don’t and will never understand what distance is. We’re so distant, that a billion light years couldn’t make this ache go away. The nurse makes sure I go out now and then. Thank you for making sure that her salary is paid for the next one year.” I gush out. She’s sighing. She tries to pick up her notepad, but leaves it right there.
I continue, “I’m such a wreck, that I don’t even remember our ATM codes. Your lawyer keeps asking me to come finish the last rites – he said it’d set me free. But freedom makes me miss him more.”
“He’s a whole different world away, Vianne.”She replies gently.
“I’m like unhappiness.” I don’t even care if she heard. I don’t like facades. “Do you see anything happy about me, Doctor?” I put on my best patient voice. The first time in ten sessions, I’ve called her Doctor. She’s surprised but not as much as I am with me. I’ve begun to rant for the first time in three months.
The sunlight’s getting dim outside. She’s tired, and I’m still angry. She stands up, her hips swaying so smoothly. I wonder why he would even leave her. I stare at my reflection in the phone’s blank screen. My hair, high up in a ponytail, my white T-shirt with tomato curry spills from lunch and my lips so petite. She pours her alcohol so flamboyantly, not giving a damn that I, her patient could judge her – or even report her for drinking on duty. Her sass irritates me as I try to sit straight up and show her that I too have the cool ‘tude.
“You know Vianne, it broke my heart when I realized we: he and I can never be like that again. He said that he couldn’t get himself to hurt me, but I didn’t make him happy either. I loved him with all my heart and he never loved me back.” Her outburst surprised me. I didn’t expect her to speak so directly with me. This place becomes so true to me as she speaks. Though in a pink suit, her white hair so glossy. Though in heels, her hips so well-maintained. I though, an heiress to his – her – my fortune, so poor.
“I feel like a pauper Matilda.” My words echo. I know that it still hurts her somewhere; she just doesn’t show.
“I’m not accusing you of not loving him.” She takes a sip. Her scotch so dark, so lustful, that I can almost taste it. She moves the glass, playing around. She also pushes her glass forward, nudging me to take a sip.
“I wish you would’ve said those same words when he has asked you for a drink that night.”
“There was no love in your marriage.” My voice shrilly, the bitterness in them like cold chops.
“Marriage doesn’t survive on love. Tell me, Vee-iaa-nne, did he pay you? You were build on lust.”
She’s crude, she’s badass. I like her. I should be offended, but instead I laugh.
“Look at how I’m dressed.” I stand up, pointing at the curry stains and dentures. She’s happy. She’s sneaky. She’s snide. She knows that she’s won after all these years. White hairs and social media don’t blend together, white hairs and dressy gowns don’t blend in together, but for her, white hair and young smiles did. She is radiant and charming even in spite.
“Why would he choose me over you? I have wanted to ask that question since day 1. But he never let me.” I doubt whether I sound as aggressive as I should.
“He was something.” She hands me my own glass. I raise my eyebrows, she traces her psychology Doctorate. Though I’m drinking now, clarity comes to me in so many memories. The holidays we had taken over the years, the parties thrown, the weddings organized – my own self so happy and my clothing revolving from funky to classy – to now almost bland. Everything came to me like an epiphany in cold, dark twilight.
“He never stopped loving you, you know?” I announce.
“We took that oath at the altar.” She smiles, sad.
“Until death doeth us apart, eh?”
In a way, I’m glad that I’ve chosen a Friday and the last appointment. She’s setting her things straight, closing all files, switching all phones to voice mail. She’s probably wondering why I chose her. We were so quiet at the funeral, so quiet at the lawyer’s office, so cordial at the dinner and so amiable at the cemetery.
“You didn’t expect me here at your clinic right?” I ask.
“Not in my wildest dream. I thought you were lost or in the mood to fight.” She scoffs.
“Oh you know, ask me to show you our divorce papers. Plead and beg you for mercy – publicize and prove that I didn’t keep in touch with him for these years.”
“You really didn’t.” I chuckle. She smiles and then, almost as if her eyes sought dawn she lowers her head. She’s praying I think. She’s chanting, she’s whimpering, she’s broken. She looks up, “I do not accuse you for his death.”
“But I accuse him of not loving me enough because he made me give him his death. ‘Death served with wine’ he joked as his last words.” She’s silent.
“I saw him gulp it down and how he didn’t say a word. I saw him die . . . it wasn’t that sad then. It was almost liberating. But now it’s sad.” I press further. She still doesn’t speak.
“Staring in the mirror has become so weakening. It’s overwhelming. I do it once a month and when I see myself staring back, I feel that I’m not good enough. I take my medicines like promised and the anti-depressants are keeping me low key. But something’s always incomplete, Matilda.”
“You’re adding to the existential crisis of the world, Vianne. Just stop.”
“Go to coffee with me.” I demand.
She drives as I’m still lost in my thoughts. I didn’t cry on the campfire night, years ago when he propsed. I didn’t cry when we had kids or at their marriages, I didn’t even cry when he asked me to kill him. But the tears dropped now. I am trying to be human; I fell in love twice during the past twenty years. I married one. I confused friendship for love. I mistook love for lust. I misjudged lust as happiness, but I’m still okay.
“You are your own person, and you will try to be enough for you.” I recite his last words like prayer. I don’t know if she’s listening to my intones, but her humming to radio tunes, satisfies me.
She orders. The man behind the Starbucks counter asks for our names.
“Zedala.” I say.
“Zedala.” She replies after a pause. “I never changed my name back.” She shrugs with a wink.
“Zedala, it is then.” The man at the counter eyes us as we call out our names. It’s a different name, different like a Halloween costume in the middle of summer; different like our stories.
“Different people always have different names.” I touch my Latte to hers and walk-off as she eyes my sashay now.