Saturday 20 January 2024

Saturday Sample : Doll Face by Dianne Stadhams



I took Jane with me to meet the psycho. She is spot on about people. Two heads are better than one Jane and me reckon...even if one of us still has a bullet lodged in our brain.

I squeezed her hand, when we entered the room. She knew I had her back. It was an okay place. Didn’t smell like a hospital. Not what Jane and me were expecting. The room had drawings on the walls. Looked like they’d been done by kids...with no talent...very messy...lots of bright colours. Were the artists mad, sad or bad?

Psycho smiled and showed us where to sit. I didn’t smile back. I walked directly to the empty chair and sat down. It wasn’t like a sofa or anything. You couldn’t slob out. But it wasn’t like a school chair either. More like the seats they have in the library at my school, padded. My feet touched the floor. I was wearing my new school shoes. I tugged the hem of my dress so that it covered my knees. Mummy said it ‘was appropriate’ to go to the interview in my school uniform.

‘Boring,’ said Jane. She thought I should look cool and wear jeans and trainers with my biker jacket. It’s got appliquéd roses on the pockets.

The collar on my white blouse was too stiff. It itched my neck. I wanted to scratch. I glanced at Jane. I felt her tremble. Not from fear of course, Jane is brave as bullets. But that’s what lack of sleep does to you.

Me and Jane had checked it out on the Internet – all the symptoms. One website advised us not to appear too agitated or too detached. Another said to refrain from fidgeting or fixating on any one object in the room. I had to look up what those words meant. Turns out they’re gobbledygook for looking and acting normal. Like that was a starter! All the sites agreed that any report would begin with a physical description.

‘Mong porker, that’s what they’ll say,’ I told Jane.

‘Nah de nah de nah,’ she said. ‘Medics aren’t allowed to use terms like that.’

‘Morbidly obese with Mosaic Down Syndrome then?’

Jane had nodded in agreement.

 ‘Matilda, why do you think you’ve come to visit me?’ Psycho asked.

I felt Jane giggle although no sound came out obviously.

‘It’s not nice to call me Matilda.’

‘I’m sorry. I thought that was your name,’ Psycho replied.

‘My birth certificate says I’m Matilda Henderson-Smythe. But I’m called Tilly. Everyone calls me Tilly. I only get called Matilda when I’m in trouble.’

I felt Jane poke my thigh. Score one to me. When we were practising before the visit Jane had told me not to take any nonsense.

Vivir con miedo es como vivir a medias,’ she said. That’s Spanish for a life lived in fear is a life half lived. Jane’s a whizzo on languages.

‘Then I had better call you Tilly,’ answered Pyscho, ‘because you’re definitely not in trouble with me. So Tilly, shall we start again? Why do you think you’ve come to visit me?’

‘PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder. You’re supposed to work out if I’m bonkers,’ I replied, ‘Diagnostic therapy, they said.’

‘Goodness, was that how this visit was described to you?’

 ‘I’m not bonkers, you know. And it’s not a visit. Jane and me were made to come. No choice. The travel insurance pays for it, right?’

‘I see you’ve done your homework, Tilly. I am a psychologist and this is the first of a number of times I hope we will meet. The sessions are not about labelling you. Anyway we’re all a bit bonkers, as you call it, some of the time.’

‘So why do I have to come and talk to you?’

‘Your parents and teachers are concerned.’

‘Oh no, not the sleep stuff again!’

‘I was hoping we might just talk about your holiday during these sessions.’

I winked at Jane. I saw Psycho noted this.

‘Okey dokey, what do want to know?’

‘How would you describe your holiday?’

I looked at Jane, crossed and uncrossed my ankles while I thought about the question. It was a dumb thing to ask. Duh – how could anyone describe the big bazoobo? I leant forward and put on my most earnest voice, ‘It was the bestest ever holiday. Better than Disneyland.’

I squeezed Jane’s hand. Game on.

Psycho smiled. ‘Why was that Tilly?’

‘Cause the cowboys had real guns and the Indians had real blood spurting out of them.’

‘How did you feel when you saw all that blood?’

‘It looked just like tomato sauce. You know, like when it shoots out the side of the burger and runs down your hand. Jane’s still got some on her dress. See that.’ I pointed to a faded stain on a frilly cuff.

 ‘It’s hard to eat hamburgers without getting in a mess,’ agreed Psycho.

‘Mummy says it’s a sign of good breeding to be able to handle your food with decorum. But Mummy doesn’t eat hamburgers...on holidays or at home.’

‘Doesn’t she like them?’

‘Jane says it’s because Mummy is an arsehole.’


‘I told Jane she’s spot on but it isn’t cool to say so. Especially if Mummy’s in radar range.’

Psycho asked me if she could tape our conversation. I told her I would have to consult with Jane as she is the legal brains for us both. Psycho just nodded and I whispered into Jane’s right ear. She doesn’t hear so well out of her left one now.

‘Collateral damage,’ my Dad said. That’s one way of describing a gunshot wound.

Jane was okay about the tape. I guess we both felt quite chuffed. It was just like the movies except we weren’t going to be tortured first. Psycho seemed pleased and put her notebook on the glass table between us. I winked at Jane and directed her eyes toward the jar of chocolates that was also sitting there.

‘How do you feel about your mother Tilly?’ asked Psycho, switching on the recorder.

‘You going to play this back to my mum?’

‘Absolutely not,’ said Psycho, ‘nobody but you and I know what’s on the tape.’

‘And Jane,’ I reminded her.

‘And Jane,’ Psycho agreed.

Jane nudged me so I asked, ‘Then why record us?’

‘It means I can sit and listen without having to make lots of notes. Later on, after you’ve gone home, I can go back and think about what we’ve discussed. It’s easier for me to help you this way. Okay?’

Jane and me figured it was reasonable. We know that sometimes grown-ups have selective memories when they want to wriggle out of doing things with you. Psycho was just being normal...for a grown-up, I guess.

‘Me and my Mum have what they call a dysfunctional relationship that is not conducive to healthy pre-adolescent development.’


‘I learnt all about it, on one of those chat shows.’

‘That’s interesting. I didn’t know those sort of programmes were popular with your age group.’

‘Jane and me love them. ’Specially when they have the freaks and geeks together. The best one was a man who worked as a computer whizzo in a dog refuge. He got the lost dogs back to their owners by recording their barks and storing them in a data bank. Then when people rang up and described their pet, he could not only check out what the dog looked like, he could play the bark to the person. Clever hey?’

‘It’s novel, I agree,’ said Psycho.

‘Anyway,’ I continued, ‘this dog man used to dress up in his wife’s clothes, not at work of course, and go to a house where everybody was in fancy dress. Like proper party kit – soldiers, devils, that sort of stuff. They played really mean party games. Like the man in the dress had to be tied up and then a soldier hit him with a whip. The man said he never cried. He said it made him feel frisky. True, that’s what he said.

Jane said the game’s called say-doe-mass-kiss-em. Lots of grown-ups play it. Jane and me wouldn’t like it though...too rough. Some of the boys at my school would be up for the whip bit. But not if they had to wear a dress. I think some of them would cry, specially that Jeremy.’

Psycho thanked me for telling her all that. She said she’d think about those games later. She said grown-ups call it sadomasochism and it’s definitely not part of the school curriculum. Then she got stuck into stuff about my mum again.

‘Do you understand what dysfunctional means, Tilly?’

‘Duh – of course. Doesn’t wotk properly.’

‘Very good. How do you think your dysfunctional relationship with your mother affects things at home?’ she asked.

Tell me how it doesn’t. Jane says that it means my mother has an issue with trust and independence. Jane calls her she-who-must-be-obeyed, SWMBO (sch-w-umbo) for short.

Psycho wanted to know why?

‘Cause SWMBO has said I’m not allowed to watch chat shows, reality shows or soap operas. Basically, anything on TV that’s fun,’ I told her.

‘Why do you think your mother does that?’

‘Says it’s all in my best interests. “You’ll thank me one day,” she says.

But I won’t you know. And if I ever have kids I’m going to get them the biggest plasma screens that you can buy at John Lewis. I’m going to hang those TVs above their cots. And I’m going to ban all educational programmes.’

‘So what do you do if you can’t watch television?’ Psycho asked.

I looked at my shoes and scratched the back of my neck. This was not going in a good direction. Jane winked at me. I reckoned she was giving me the thumbs up...our go-girl-go sign. So I whispered, ‘I’ll get into trouble if I tell you.’

‘Not in my office Tilly. No one gets into trouble when they’re here with me. What you say in this room is always okay. I don’t tell.’

I stared at the ceiling and the floor before cocking my head to one side, ‘Poke your eye and hope to die?’

Psycho leaned forward and held out her hand, ‘I promise Tilly. I promise. Can we shake on it? Will that do?’

I snorted and thought about the question. I held Jane’s hand really tight.

‘Jane and me are not sure what the right answer is if I’ve got to talk about my holiday. We saw what grown-ups say is not what they do.’

‘Can you give me an example, Tilly?’

‘Like Yousef said one thing. And Giselle shook his hand and said, “It’s a promise.” But then look what happened. So not fair.’

‘Mmm, that’s an interesting way to look at it,’ Psycho agreed. ‘I’m just one adult, Tilly. I’m paid not to tell what people who sit in that chair, the one you’re sitting in now, say to me when they’re in that chair. It’s my job and those are the rules that I agree to work by. Does that make sense?’

‘Yousef said that the world had lost all sense of fair play.’

‘How did you respond to that, Tilly?’

‘Didn’t get what he meant then. But Yousef did what he said he would do.’

‘So will I. I’ll do that because I said I will. And because I’m paid to.’

‘Okey dokey,’ I said and put out my hand. Psycho smiled. We shook. Result...a temporary peace agreement! I knew Jane was impressed at what I’d done.

‘You going to ask me about Yousef now?’ I asked.

‘No Tilly, not now, another time. I’m more interested in you and your family and what you do when you’re not allowed to watch television.’

Hmm, I could see she wasn’t going to give up. So I filled her in on our boring life.

‘Daddy lets me watch football with him. When Mummy’s out. “It’s our little secret.” That’s what he says.’

Psycho nodded, ‘You like your dad?’

‘Yeah, whatever. Jane says he’s a metro sexual.’

‘Oh, what’s that?’

 ‘Jane says it’s something about being an all round rent.’

‘What’s a rent?’

‘It’s short for parent. Daddy’s a kind of new man. Jane said he’s like a born again Jamie Oliver. You know that man on the TV? Wrote a book called The Naked Chef about smashing potatoes? We’ve got a copy of it at home.  I told Jane that it was just too gross. How could she imagine the rents running all round the kitchen, with no clothes on, whipping cream? Ugh.’

‘You have any other secrets that you keep from your mother, Tilly?’

I shook my head. I avoided looking at her. It all went silent. I didn’t feel good about it but I wasn’t saying anything more after I had felt Jane’s nudge. I glanced at Jane. She wouldn’t meet my eyes.

‘Would you be comfortable telling me about Jane? It sounds like she’s very important in your life,’ Psycho asked.

I smiled, ‘This is Jane, my best of bestest friend. We’re going to be together, forever.’

‘So Jane went with you on your holiday?’

‘Yes, Daddy stood up for me. So I got to take Jane on holiday. “She’s a little too old to be dragging that dirty doll everywhere she goes,” SWMBO said. I could feel what Jane wanted to say back, so I told her to shhhh.’

 ‘So you talk to Jane and Jane talks back?’ Psycho said.

I settled back into the chair, cradling Jane close. Here we go, I thought.

‘You sound like my Mum,’ I said. ‘She said to my Dad, “See, she’s talking to it now. Whatever will people think?”  Duh - that maybe I’ve got my friend with me.’

‘What did your father say?’

‘Jane’s likely to keep Tilly occupied on the flight.’

‘So what happened then?’

‘Game over. Jane came too. She got to have her very own adventure before we started on THE HOLIDAY TO END ALL HOLIDAYS. That’s what the rents call it now.’

 See on Amazon




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