SECOND PLACE: The Shrink’s Appointment

HE sauntered into the consulting room. Black skull T-shirt and ripped jeans invading clean furniture, soft carpet and silence.

The thin, neat doctor held the door open for him.

"Hi, Michael. Nice to meet you."

"Not Michael. Mick." He threw himself into a chair. Only one person called him Michael.

"Okay, Mick." The shrink sat down next to his desk.

"You deciding what type of nutcase I am?"

"I’m not into calling people nutcases." The shrink smiled. "Let’s just talk a bit."

"Whatever."

"You know why you’re here?"

Suits. Mum crying. Lawyers. Pale wood panelling. A woman behind a large desk.

"The court ordered it. It’s on the forms."

"Yes, it is. And how old are you?"

"Sixteen. That’s on the forms too. People keep asking me dumb frickin’ questions when the answers are on the dumb frickin’ forms."

"Do the forms annoy you?"

"Nah. Just people asking dumb frickin’ questions. Aren’t you gonna ask me why I did it?"

"Not right now. I wondered how you felt about being made to see me."

He shrugged. "Better than juvie."

"Fair enough. So, how about we start by talking about school."

Green uniforms. Blue uniforms. Brown uniforms. Always somewhere new. Daydreamer, head in the clouds, haven’t you done your homework? You can make new friends, you can make new friends, you can make -

"I don’t wanna talk about school. Didn’t go much once I got to high school, anyway."

"Okay. Is there anything you’d like to talk about?"

"Leaving."

The shrink laughed.

"Yeah, but seeing as it’s court ordered we’d both get into trouble for that. So, why don’t you tell me about your family?"

Mum’s smile. Rachel’s laugh. Warm hugs. Fear. Booze on Fartface’s breath. Green and purple bruises. Mum’s broken arm. Welts on his legs. The cut on Rachel’s face.

"What, I’m supposed to tell you what a terrible childhood I had and crap on about how I’m emotionally scarred and I’m having all that Catcher in the Rye teenage angst shit?"

"Are you?

"Am I what?

"Having Catcher in the Rye teenage angst shit?"

"No."

"You’ve read Catcher in the Rye?"

"Yeah."

"Do you like to read?"

Shelves of books. Every school library. Going places inside books, better than school, better than home. Better than anywhere Fartface was.

"Yeah."

"What sort of stuff?"

"Crime." No reaction. "Spy, action, sci-fi, fantasy, horror. And classics."

"Favourite author?"

"Matthew Reilly. And Dostoyevsky."

Yeah, shove that up your Dickens.

They talked books for a while, and how they helped him relax. Then the shrink suggested visualisation might help him relax too.

"People who read a lot are usually good at it. Are up for it?"

He shrugged. "Whatever."

"Close your eyes," said the shrink. "Think of the most peaceful place you like to be, and describe it."

"Dixon Park beach. Hot, late afternoon, reading a good book."

"Good. Remember that. Now, remember the incident that led to your arrest and describe what happened."

"I took the train to visit Mum and Rachel in Maitland. Fartface was out for the day. They both had bruises, and Rachel’s eleven, and I’m scared stiff that he’ll try - doesn’t matter, just they’re both so scared of him they won’t say anything. I walked to the shops to get them milk, and I hear his voice going off in the next aisle. I thought, stuff the damn AVO, and I go and he’s grabbing this girl the same age as Rachel and shaking her like mad. So I grabbed him and started beatin’ into him.

"Don’t remember much else. A few blokes pulled me off and held me down."

Blood. So much blood. On his knuckles, on the floor, on the hands of the girl kneeling, crying.

"Okay, go to the beach now."

So much blood. Creeping along the square tiles in shiny red puddles.

"Mick?"

Not Fartface. Not Fartfaces’s blood. Not Rachel.

"Mick!"

The little girl crying, blood on her face where she’d wiped away tears.

"Mick! Mick, you were in Maitland, in the supermarket. See yourself getting up and walking out of the supermarket."

Huh? "I didn’t walk out. The cops came."

"This time you’re walking out. Into the street. Can you see yourself in the street yet?"

He forced his mind away from the blood, away from the man and the girl, and pictured the men letting him go. Then he watched himself getting up and walking out of the shop.

"Are you outside?"

"Yeah, I’m outside."

"Okay, now picture yourself rising up and floating, like you’re flying. Can you do that?"

That was easy. Just like his daydreams. "Yeah."

"Float to the train station, then follow the tracks back to Newcastle. Go as fast as you can. Then head to the beach. When you get to the water, zoom down the coast to Dixon Park and lower yourself to the beach. Dunk yourself in the water. When you come out - "

"The blood’s gone and I’ve got my boardshorts on. I’m running up the beach. It’s late afternoon. It’s hot. I sit down on my towel and dry my hands. I pick up my book - the new Matthew Reilly - and start reading." He smiled. "And I’ve got a pie and cold Coke."

The shrink sighed. "Sounds like a good place to be."

"It is."

"Open your eyes now, Mick. It seemed like it was hard to pull yourself out of that scene."

He shrugged. "Nah. I was waiting for the cops to turn up."

"That was polite." The shrink sat back. "Life’s been tough, hasn’t it?"

Mum crying.

"Please son. Please talk to him, Michael."