That declaration spelled long days of gloom, effectively driving a wedge between Jemima and I. She was taciturn after the encounter at Lakeside, quickly getting out of the car the moment I drove up to the garage and walking away without a word.
On the weekend, she stayed over. Her body language clearly screamed that she stayed only because weekends were a Stanley-Jemima tradition. We could have been an elderly couple or a brother and sister for all the passion bubbling between us.
A single, strict, unspoken rule existed. Thou Shalt Not Touch. Chiefly because she believed I had done some touching somewhere else.
I had never given her any reason to doubt my fidelity before and she couldn’t openly confront me with her doubt and say, “Have you been sleeping with someone?” Nonetheless, her attitude dished out stiff accusation.
There was no need to say out loud what idea she had firmly fixed in her head—that something beyond a counsellor-and-patient relationship existed between Prisca and I. It was every woman’s deepest fears, the notion that anything sexual might develop between her man and some poor woman. There definitely was something sexual. With Prisca Braithwaite, there could be nothing else! The only difference: sex wasn’t involved. At least, not with me.
My involvement in other ways came the next week. Monday, first day of my week, went fine. The faculty met, a brief meeting at which the board discussed a timetable for tests and the director requested lecturers to begin compiling questions. It didn’t matter that the faculty was two weeks ahead of the rest of the school. Only two students on follow-up called at my office. Two more well-meaning ones dropped in to say hello without chatting me up, which seemed a boring endeavour until I realised I was waiting, with bated breath, for the excitement of Prisca’s visit.
She spent a quarter of an hour outlining her progress. Actually, she simply mentioned what things she’d had to do when the urge came pounding against, as she put it, her solar plexus. One more new word lifted from a short story she found in Redbook or some other women’s magazine. She was racing through so many wholesome stuff, she didn’t really remember which she was reading at any moment. Good enough for me. What really mattered was staying away from publications with a string of X’s attached to their ratings or those that flaunted how many ways you could take off a bikini instead of modelling them.
She talked like a girl, a typical girl whose daily existence was incomplete without a dose of a guy, a handbag and Victoria’s Secret. She wasn’t her usual sex-on-the-brain self. It was easy to notice, and for a crazy moment I missed the old Prisca and her fantasies that perpetually threatened to drive me over the edge.
What was I thinking? She was doing a challenging job channelling her desires into wholesome things and I was missing her old erotic self!
Well, Stanley Mala, Ph.D, what do you want?
I considered that question after she left. Two hours later, the time drew on six—one hour after classes went out for the day—and I still had no answer.
Nothing more to do, I was gathering files into a pile on my desk when a knock sounded at my door. I wasn’t expecting anyone and, while informing the visitor the door was open, secretly assumed Prisca was returning.
“Dr Mala? Dr Abdel Gilpin,” my visitor said. He walked in, indicated the seat opposite me. “May I?”
I knew him even before he spoke, not simply as a fellow Ph.D, but because he was a high profiled psychiatrist who repeatedly made headlines when television journalists seasoned mental health issues with sensationalism. Grey hair spotted his temples, but he wasn’t much beyond fifty. A tie and starched white shirt covered what I knew was the start of a middle-age spread. I called it Michelin while growing up. He was only about a decade older than I was, making me wonder how much longer I had before serious ageing began stealing over my vitality.
The greetings were brief, while I wondered what the heck a psychiatrist I’d never spoken to was doing in my office.
“You must be wondering why I am here.” I still was, naturally, but I was also patient. “It has to do with a patient of yours, one I believe you are counselling.”
“It’s a common mistake to assume I am a psychiatrist, Doctor Gilpin. I counsel students, not patients.” I busied myself pushing the last of the files into my briefcase, then hit a button to shut down the computer. It wasn’t needed.
“My mistake,” Dr Gilpin admitted.
“What have you got to do with any of them?” Was he a parent to any of them? I couldn’t remember any student with Gilpin for a last name. Too bad the computer was shutting down. I could have unobtrusively done a fast check.
“One in particular—Prisca Braithwaite.” The name got my attention, held it. “I wasn’t sure she was seeing you”—the phrase took on its most obvious suggestive meaning until he clarified it—“for counselling, I mean, until a few days ago. After I ran into you two at Lakeside, I had to check.”
“You checked on me.” My voice was flat. First Cecilia Braithwaite, now Abdel Gilpin. Welcome to the Stanley Mala Checkers Club. What was up?
He caught the question in my tone and said hurriedly. “Not in the manner you think. Just your name and how to contact you. I wasn’t looking for anything disreputable. And if I were you, I’d keep it that way.”
I sensed trouble. “What do you mean?”
“How long has Prisca Braithwaite been seeing you?”
“There are certain ethical lines you are better off not crossing whether as a counsellor or psychiatrist. One of them is called confidentiality.”
“Continue seeing that girl and confidentiality will be the least of your problems.” He suddenly looked ragged. How come I hadn’t noticed that look before?
“Doctor Gilpin, I simply don’t understand what you are trying to say.” My mind was running quick calculations. “You have never met me until two minutes ago. You admit you had me checked out because you saw me with a student at a restaurant—she and a thousand others on this campus. You come in armed with plenty of information about a student you think I am counselling. You are warning me to stop working with her. What is it you really have to do with Prisca Braithwaite?” As I fired the question, the answer was staring me in the face. It seemed ridiculous but it was so obvious. Cecilia’s words returned to my mind, specifically the nameless shrink she’d mentioned in connection with Prisca. “You used to be her psychiatrist, didn’t you?”
“She made my life a living hell,” he snapped. Anger ate up his face. “The little bitch! Do you know how hard I am fighting to keep my licence? And it doesn’t seem like I am succeeding.”
I put on a poker face. “You should have thought what you stood to lose before you thought about scratching a crotch itch with a patient.”
Abdel Gilpin froze. He had assumed no one knew what happened between him and Prisca. But he was wrong. If he moved, he would have fallen out of his seat in shock. Even Cecilia hadn’t mentioned his name. I didn’t owe Cecilia any confidentiality, but Prisca was right in the middle and I had no business saying what I had just said.
He cleared his throat as though making certain he could speak without choking on the words. “She told you that?” he whispered.
“No. And it is nothing to you what she told me.”
“I can’t explain how it happened,” he said, his voice hoarse. His posture yielded even more in shock, his rigid shoulders dropping a couple of inches. “I have practised for twenty-five years—psychiatry, nothing else ever—and never ever has anything like that happened to me. There are always girls throwing themselves at you, you know, even nurses. Nothing.”
“You were happily married and any indiscretions were discreet, if any.” That was always the mantra.
“This Prisca thing walked into my office.” Derision filled his voice as he recollected. “She had a problem. I didn’t get what her mother meant until the girl herself agreed to attend sessions. She would lay on the couch and just talk—nothing more. She didn’t do anything else. Just talked and talked. The things she said,” he groaned. His eyes were haunted and one fist rested against his brow in self pity as though he couldn’t believe what he’d heard. “The words that came out of her mouth. They practically drove me wild.” He suddenly gazed at me with a question. “Have you heard her talk about herself? The things she says?”
No sexual fantasy could hold a torch to Prisca’s. Her narratives sent hormones sky-high, unleashed temptations, promised blissful depravity. Her words drove men to sin. I had heard them myself, over and over, and battled to maintain rigid self control. I pitied the psychiatrist.
“The wild things that came from her mouth!” Gilpin groaned, assaulted by memories. “My blood always burned hot. I looked forward to each session. Listening to her was like having the most mind-blowing sex you could imagine. My wife, my girlfriends, nurses, everything in skirt around me, they all became boring as hell compared to Prisca Braithwaite. I don’t know how many times I locked my door after she left my office and was strongly tempted to do something desperate to myself.” He didn’t use the word, but I knew the temptation to take himself between his hands. It was a familiar temptation.
Calmly, not wanting to shatter the tenuous understanding we’d established by both being victims of Prisca’s guileless teasing, I said, “What do you mean by desperate?” He wouldn’t answer, I thought, but he did.
“It is shameful what that girl made me think. Most time I felt like grabbing her and she wouldn’t have minded.”
“Seriously?” I had to be understanding. “She was your patient.”
“Who knew exactly what she was doing. I thought it was just the direction of her problem, that she was some helpless thing battling a terrible addiction. Until she made a move on me.”
“Is that what you have been telling yourself to help you sleep at night or is that the story you told the practice board?” I had no idea where that waspish comment came from, but it was out before I could think.
“I did no such thing!” he blurted. “Why is it everyone invariably thinks men always take the first step? Prisca is a man-eater.” Cecilia’s words came to mind. “Once that urge takes over and she sets on you, there is nothing stopping her. I didn’t believe it until her mother opened my office door.”
Another door for Cecilia Braithwaite. Twice in a row, she’d opened doors to confront unspeakable images. What was it with her and doors?
“I don’t blame the woman. She started suing outright. In her place, I would have done the same thing. I was shocked how I could have stooped so low, I couldn’t even defend myself properly.”
The story was familiar, the part of it Cecilia Braithwaite volunteered the first time she visited. The details of what happened before she knocked on that door were restricted to Dr Abdel Gilpin and Prisca Braithwaite. I had heard the doctor’s version, and it evoked both pity and disgust. The patient’s version would evoke something baser. I wanted to hear it and I didn’t want to hear it.
“I understand the charges were dropped.”
“It didn’t matter. The damage was already done. My reputation was shot to pieces.” With a groan, he met my gaze directly, challenging me to a stare-down for a heartbeat to prepare me for his next words. “You don’t want the same thing happening to you. Let Prisca Braithwaite go.”
One Ph.D to another, one psychiatrist to a counsellor, the warning defied logic.
“Just because you say so?” I questioned, slightly offended. “Come on, Doctor Gilpin, what is it you really want? Vengeance? You couldn’t keep your hands off a patient so she becomes a plague to be avoided.”
“She is a sex addict!” he accused.
“That didn’t make any difference to you.”
“You can’t help her! She will bring you down!”
“Then we can compare notes on who took the longest time to eat the forbidden fruit.”
He did a double take; disbelief filled his face. “Doctor Mala, if you had any brains, you’d be dangerous.”
At that insulting remark, I abruptly ended the meeting with a response that made the psychiatrist wither like vegetables in hot water and leave in a huff. My response was unrepeatable.