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The Letter

by hannahjane 

Posted: 11 May 2007
Word Count: 1994
Summary: An introduction to the character of Mervyn.

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“There’s a letter for you here?”

“Is there?” I replied, staring at the wall separating our two voices, my eye-line uneasy wavering over wonky-edged frames. I refocused hastily, took what had been on off, and put it in the open desk drawer. I put it back on, took it off again – it stuck on a stubborn knuckle, the lump in my throat, my knotted heart – and I put it back down in the drawer and shut it as she walked in.

“Here”, she said, looking into my face, and passed the letter to me.

I put it on the desk surface and thanked her. I drummed my fingers on the wood.

“Are you ok?”

“Hm? Yes, fine. Fine”, I exhaled. “Fine. You’re in early, aren’t you?”

“Ish. I’ve got no sessions until this afternoon but I just thought I’d get some prep done here for the morning”.

“Fine”, I said, and smiled unconvincingly. Her eyes hovered for a second over the letter. I mean, they didn't literally hover. They were still in her head. Her eyes. But her eyes lingered -

“Do you, do you want a cup of tea?”

“No, no I’m fine. Thank you, anyway though. I'm fine".

She nodded, “Well I’ll be upstairs if you want me”, she said, and she left the room shutting the door behind her. After the click I placed my fingertips across the surface of the shiny light brown envelope.

I turned it over twice. I left it and instead picked up my diary and set it down again, so that it looked up at me from my lap. I picked it up again. First session. I sighed and pushed up the skin between my eyebrows. Second session. I flicked over the page. Third session. Fourth session. I flicked over the page, Fifth session, scooping the pages up carelessly as I went, and the next and the next and the next and slammed the book down on the desk. I leant back, my head dangling over the edge of the chair, the eyes desperately trying to push everything from the skull, the blood pooling, then forward so that my chin was on my chest. I took a moment [a moment] before shunting everything on the desk sideways. The contents clattered onto the floor, including a heavy ivory phrenology bust and an in-tray. (I found it less satisfactory than the scenes in the movies). In the dull silence that followed, the sort of fattened silence after-clatter, the sort of minus sound that makes the tiny hairs of the ears strain thirstily, I heard Sarah evaluating the noise from above with the pace of shoes on floorboards, her heel stopping pointedly over my desk.

On my knees I fished through the papers and cases and files until I found the letter. It was the same as looking at an Oxfam-stamped envelope - I knew exactly what was inside it, but perhaps I didn’t want to look at it just now. I held it flat across my palms feeling all at once its lightness, its heaviness, its light heaviness, its heavy lightness. I opened the drawer from where I was knelt on the floor and dropped it in, shutting it out.

Banged my head on the desk corner as I stood up.


“Right. Ok”, I said. I took a huge gulp of coffee, my nose touching the bottom of the cup, nearly choked, died, funeral, hearse. “Ok. Right. So, to a certain extent, you feel she is trying to demean you?”

“Oh most definitely, therapist. There’s no other reason for it. She already had a perfectly good car, huge, great massive family saloon thing it was, it must have been, to fit those two huge lumps of hers in”.

“Her children?”

“Her breasts, therapist. But yes, you are right, mind, her children are hideously obese. You’re completely right”, Mrs. Simmons’ giggles bubbled in her nostrils, she held up her glinting ring to the light. Nails like sigils, she picked off a tiny cilia-like piece of dust from the stone. It was in my face.

“I wasn’t attacking your friend’s children, Rose. And I’m sure you didn’t mean to either but it -

“Oh, no, I definitely did. It’s funny how one is blinded to these sorts of shortcomings isn’t it, therapist? You know, of course. - How one deals with hideous, hideous, trauma. I’m right aren’t I? And she is completely in denial. Fat, fat children. This is how she put it, at the Quarry Bank induction day, ‘Oh yes, Percy is quite excellent at rugby’!”

She took out a powder from her handbag, some designer or other. I took another glug of coffee, nearly choked, died, funeral, hearse.

“Rosaline I was –

“Sumo wrestling perhaps….and cooking! Yes, she said, Our Percy is quite the chef! Rugby, cooking! He would eat the ball, if he could. I said if he did play rugby - and I’m not in the slightest bit sure that he does - then he’s only drawn to it because the shirts remind him of Battenburg cake. And let’s see… what else did she say? Oh yes, chorister. Because he’s fat, you see? And all fat people are good at singing”.

There was a snap of a mirror shutting, sharp in the air. She rifled again and took out rifle, shot herself in the face. She took out a lipstick, started to apply it.

“Rosaline”, I tried again. “You feel…competitive…towards Gloria, that she tries, in her actions, to undermine you, better you. For instance you don’t feel that Gloria needed a new car. You feel that she bought it only as a means of demeaning you, because she knows how much you value…mmm…material things….and you feel, that she feels, that by buying a better car she might… upset you. You sensed it was merely a malevolent act, a way of getting at you”.

“You don’t need to state the bloody obvious, therapist”, she was saying, her head stuck in a side pocket, “Of course she only bought it to piss me off! Great big silver radiator on the front of it”.

The lipstick went back into the bag. Perfume came out, psst, psst, the droplets settled on either shoulder. Psst, she sprayed the couch arm. Psst. Into the carpet. Psst. A potted plant. She clipped the lid back on and put it into the bag. It slouched down beside her.

“How do you think is best to overcome these feelings of inadequacy, how do you feel would be -”

“Inadequate? Me? Oh, gosh, no, no, no; it’s all sorted now”.


“Well it’s not rocket science is it, therapist? I went out and I bought a bigger and a better car. I’ve had it for an age now. Bought it last week. No, no, no. I’m just coming here because Gloria’s been harping on about her cognitive behavioural therapist. Brought her therapy diary in for us all to see, even suggested we have it as the Book Club read! Can you believe it?! I’m surprised she can even fit her fat kids in it – they take after her by the way. She’s started going the gym with him, the therapist! Word on the gated community is they’re having an, you know, a-f-f-a-r-e. Not that I expect you go the gym much, or that…euw! But regardless, she’s been parading him around like she’s some poor troubled artisan who has a genius for baking cupcakes. So I had to get me one”.

This time she scooped around in her bag for longer, and brought out a tiny little dog.

“Do you mind? It’s just Halia – (thinks she’s all that because she’s married to a footballer – ugly one, mind, not even from Liverpool) - said that Gloria had been complaining about how her therapist never lets her take the dog to therapy, it’s the one thing she doesn’t like about him, that he never lets it have a run around in session?” she bent down and the mut’s paws, barely the size of pound coins, connected with the carpet. My eyes and mouth were the same size. It disappeared under a cabinet, where it defecated. Me, I was defeated.


“I can’t”, I was saying. “This is not what I signed up for”, I was saying, snapping the kettle on. Maureen was nodding at the side of my face, and placing a hand free of a coffee mug on my shoulder. “And what with everything…I’m sick to it, Maureen, sick to the back teeth of it, I wish I’d never trained in it even. At least with humanist stuff the ones I did get were interesting, even if I didn’t get many of them”, she was nodding nodding nodding like a nodding dog, like Rosaline’s dog, “Even if I didn’t get any of them. Maureen, I said. “I’ve just had another one in here. They’re all I get. Middle class neurotics and footballers' wives. Maureen, they don’t even have problems, just swanning in for a quick fix for the CBT. Because it’s the fashion. It’s not who I am?”

I leant back onto the units. She had commandeered the preparation of my tea. Opening up the stained cupboard, levelling out with a separate teaspoon three teaspoons of sugar, pouring in the milk artfully, hovering the bottle over, jerking it back, as though she might catch something from having her hand too close to the mug. The foil cap tumbled off the bottle and into the brown. I watched as she attempted to scoop it out with a third spoon. She was humming in agreement with what I had been saying.

“It’s at a point where I’ve totally had to relinquish my core beliefs, Maureen. I thought I could sort of, well, you know what they all say. I thought I might have the client-centred along with the CBT, but it doesn’t ever work of course. I’m not even a client-centred therapist, anymore. They’re just consumed with by this I-want-it-and-I-want-it-now culture. And then these businesses sending me all their OCD inflicted Lady Macbeths. I don’t enjoy it anymore, Maureen. The clients aren’t interesting people”, she handed me the mug, “They’re hideous in fact. All after the quick fix. Which is what CBT is, by the way”. She nodded, although CBT is the only modality she practises in. “I mean of course it works, I don’t doubt that it doesn’t”, I added quickly, “But it’s not a long term solution is it?”

“And especially with the stress you’re under”, she was saying, our shoe-capped toes touching in the gallery kitchen, her resting on one side of units, me on the opposite.

I didn’t say anything. Sarah, the only psychologist at the centre, peered into the room from down the hall, stepped forwards, and then walked away again.

“Snotty cow”, said Maureen. “Did she make you your tea earlier? And did you tell her? You like three sugars now, not two?”

“She didn’t make me tea”.

“Well of course she put three sugars instead of two, that’s the kind of person she is”.

“No, she offered, but she didn’t -

“I would have been here, you know what the traffic’s been like recently. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the time. I thought Oh Christ, poor Mervyn, his tea”.

I nodded.

“So…”, she said.


“Has it?”

“Pardon?” I sipped at the ah hot hot hot tea. I straightened up and moved past Maureen’s shoulder to the unit she was leaning against to stir my tea some more. She turned at a right angle – towards me and my tea. “Has it…you know…come through?”

“Yes”, I said. I brought up the spoon and clinked it on the side of the mug, put it on the side. “I assume it has come through, yes”.

“But you haven’t looked at it?”

I coughed a low, groggy cough. “Not yet, no”.

“Oh Mervyn!” she said.

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Comments by other Members

ericadrew at 17:48 on 12 May 2007  Report this post
I love it,
i want to know more about Mervyn and what's in that letter he got. Some of the lines were a little more poetic than the rest, but they fit. You started off grabbing my attention with the letter and kept it flowing.

the line; I opened the drawer from where I was knelt on the floor and dropped it in, shutting it out.
you could take out the word 'was' and just have where I knelt.

Can't wait for more.

Becca at 12:11 on 13 May 2007  Report this post
Hi Hannah,
I noticed the phrase with 'knelt' in it, as Erica did, and yes the 'was' needs removing, or it could be 'I was kneeling' instead.
I have to say that I'm bewildered by what's happening - is there a chapter or a section before this that I should read first so I know what's going on?
The mention of the letter in the beginning is brought back again at the end, and I was glad about that because all the time I was wondering about it, as the first scene regarding it was highly dramatic.
Although I'm in the dark here a bit because this is in Fiction, so could be part of a short story, or a novel, I would ask if all the repetition is serving a good purpose. You've got a scene about a letter, a scene with a therapist and a scene about a cup of tea, yet I haven't a clue what's going on, there doesn't seem to be any forward movement. If in fact what you'd doing is describing the state of mind of the main character, I think you could do it very briefly, and then maybe at a later stage, if this is part of a novel, deepen it. So that way it doesn't come in one big clump.

I think a lot could be clarified by dealing with the dialogue, which in this story is more like spoken conversation, and so it's not functioning well for you. Dialogue's a means of furthering the storyline, exploring the characters, imparting information, and building atmosphere. Maybe if you were to restrict the dialogue to no more than 3 lines for each character, as each of them speaks, it would crystalise things a bit. The dialogue in the beginning is much snappier, except the MC keeps on saying 'fine', and although I see that it was meant to be deliberate,(the MC trying to hide her feelings from the other character), it seems a waste to always use the same word.
'I mean they didn't literally hover. They were still in her head. Her eyes. But her eyes lingered - ' Would it not be simpler to say she glanced at the letter, or stared at it? How you've written it has the effect of jogging the reader out of the story and into the writer's thoughts about the use of words.
There's a lot of energy in this writing and it would be good to see it contained, disciplined and working better for you. Yes, what's in the letter? Lol!

Becca at 12:18 on 13 May 2007  Report this post
Hi again Hannah,
Sorry, I see now it's an introduction to a chapter about Mervyn, so there must have been a lot going on before, however, even read in isolation, the sense of the story moving on isn't strong. It's a lot to do with structure I think. What's the function of the scene about the cup of tea, and does it achieve what you want it to?

Corona at 14:56 on 14 May 2007  Report this post
Hi Hannah,

Some good comments from Becca above regarding furtherance of the story. You have quite a delightful, quick-paced dialogue going on here. What I felt though, was that the story stood spinning on the spot and wasn't offering a way forward. As said above; if a part of the story doesn't actually move the story forward - you should cut it out! If you have a scene like the tea-scene for example, which no doubt is fun writing, make sure what's being discussed actually has some bearing to the story as a whole. I'm convinced you could tweek it to make it work!

Also, be careful of repetition of words and slang etc. I enjoyed your colloquial manner of dialogue, but felt it slightly annoying with the overuse of; 'fine', and double-words like; 'hideous, hideous, trauma...' and' fat, fat children...' I know it colours the character, but it just came too often for my liking - sorry!

I took another glug of coffee, nearly choked, died, funeral, hearse.
-This sentence was used twice in the same dialogue sequence - a bit too close as it was too fresh in mind I felt.

She’s started going the gym with him, the therapist!
- A missing 'to'!
stepped forwards, and then walked away again.
- forward (without 's'?)

Enjoyed your 'free-spirited' writing! A quality you need to hang on to!

All the best!

E- :)

BobCurby at 01:38 on 24 August 2007  Report this post
Hannah - I find this so refreshing! I need some of your talent of expression. Your ability to write like a butterfly in flight is attractive and once channelled in the right direction will go places. I particularly liked:

“Snotty cow”, said Maureen. “Did she make you your tea earlier? And did you tell her? You like three sugars now, not two?”

“She didn’t make me tea”.

“Well of course she put three sugars instead of two, that’s the kind of person she is”.

“No, she offered, but she didn’t -

I could be there and hear it! Just a note though, shouldn't that last sentence have ended with quotation marks?

Keep it up.

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