Last week, I went for my appointment with Dr Butler, but she had disappeared. Gone off on sick leave, I was told. Cracked up, more like.
They had a substitute in called Dr Grayson, smooth and businesslike, but I didn’t warm to him.
Then today, after I taught a class in the West End, I took a stroll around Regent’s Park. I saw a figure walking in front of me that looked familiar. Surprisingly, it was Dr Butler. She was wearing a Burberry coat, her straw coloured hair loose around her shoulders.
“Dr Butler?” I said, tapping her shoulder.
“Oh, hello Jane,” she said, looking startled. She was pale and drawn, like she hadn’t been sleeping.
We walked along for a while, a little awkwardly, beside the boating pond. The air was fresh, chill, but exhilarating.
“When are you coming back to the clinic? I don’t like Dr Grayson.”
“Oh, Dr Grayson’s probably a lot more qualified to deal with your case than I am.”
“I prefer you.”
“I know you do. I think you’ve formed an attachment to me.”
“I can’t deny I find you very attractive.”
“That’s just your way, you sexualize everyone, so that you can be in control. You think everyone desires you.”
“Well, don’t they?” I can’t help the cocky edge from creeping into my voice.
“In any case. That’s not what I meant. There are a few things going on in my personal life. I needed some space. If you want me to be honest..."
"I’m beginning to think you might be a hopeless case.” She was put her index finger in her mouth, and pulled at her cuticles, which I noticed were ragged.
“I don't know about that.”
“Well, do you actually want to stop stealing?”
“Of course I do.”
“All right.” She nodded. “Let’s try something. Let’s go to Selfridges and see if I can help you get rid of this impulse once and for all.”
I agreed. We left the park and took a taxi to Selfridges.
As we stood outside the store, she said, “When you get the urge to steal, tell me, and I’ll try and talk you out of it.”
“Once I see something I want, I can’t control myself,” I said, staring at the patch of bare cleavage that was peeking out from behind her silk blouse.
She reddened, closed her coat. “You’ll be able to, I promise.”
I followed her in, and we walked through the handbag selection. She walked behind me, staring ahead.
At first I thought that just her being here would inhibit the stealing impulse. That it would be like having one’s mother or a teacher there, knowing I would get the telling off of my life if I dared to lift anything.
But then the familiar prickling started in my fingertips. I had my big Louis Vuitton handbag with me. How easy it would be, I thought, to just slip a slim crocodile leather purse into it.
The thrill returned with a whoosh. I felt like I was travelling up on a very fast elevator. My head felt light and hollow. My hand was grazing the leather.
“No.” A voice, her voice. Her breath on my neck. My nipples stiffened. “Tell yourself, I don’t want that. I can survive without it.”
My hand hovered over the purse. The prickling stopped. I felt sick to the stomach.
I felt the vomit rise up inside me. I ran to the toilet and threw up.
When I came out of the stall, Dr Butler was standing there, smiling.
“I think it might have worked,” she said.
“I think so too.”
“In that case, don’t come to any more sessions. And please don’t contact me.”
With that, she strode out the door.
I stared at my face in the mirror.
Could it have worked?