Walter Waterhouse shut his heavy front door with a neurosurgeon’s precision, making as little noise as possible. Clutching a laptop bag in one hand, he breathed a sigh of relief and extended his free arm across the swirling floral wallpaper to flick the light switch. A soft overhead glow illuminated the vestibule and the silent corridor leading to the rear. Walter tiptoed over unopened envelopes, snaked his way past cardboard packing boxes, and entered the empty kitchen to be greeted by a familiar voice.
“I worry about you sometimes.”
“You don’t need to worry about me,” says Walter, his eyes ricochet around the room like shiny projectiles in a pinball machine.
“Well, somebody needs to be concerned for you.”
“I haven’t got time for this,” he says, laying his belongings on the worktop. “It’s been a hard day and I need to pack.”
“You need to take it easy, old chap.”
“That’s easier said than done.” Walter unzips his laptop case.
“But I’ve only got your best interests at heart.”
“That’s right.” The start-up chime reverberates in the silence. “You’re full of ideas.”
“Where would you be without me?”
“Still living Janice, I imagine.”
“You’d rather be in that terrible marriage?”
“Was it that bad?”
“You said it was awful.”
“It takes two to argue—-”
“That’s not what you told the police when they sectioned her.”
“Well, I was only telling the—-”
“She threw a knife at you.”
“That’s not the point---”
“The point is, you followed my advice.”
“I could have compromised and---”
“Well, that’s no life.”
Walter’s work involves a lot of listening and understanding. He never makes an opportunity to talk about his life. Mainly, the job is about empathy. His clients never ask how he got here. That’s not the point. They don’t want to know why he can advise on debt or divorce and wrongful allegations or police arrests. He listens and tries to understand and asks nothing in return.
The clients are looking for peace of mind and offload their baggage. They talk about the childhood abuse and their broken lives. As they reminisce, Walter steers them to their lighter recollections. He hears about sunny days with ice creams and seaside holidays, and the happier days before things went wrong. Very often, they cling to those moments and want to return there. He offers them a chance to look forward and make plans. Together they imagine a future and hope that things can improve.
In the beginning, when Walter returned home after work, he’d curl up on his bed with a pillow covering his ears. He’d take on board all the clients’ experiences; absorb their memories, both good and bad. In the dark, sacred silence, Walter would contemplate his life and what affected his early years. Of course, that was prior to meeting Janice and the years before their marriage.
“So, what are you Googling?”
“Simonides,” says Walter, browsing the Internet at the breakfast bar.
“Hmm… How’s he supposed to help?”
“He developed a system of mnemonics based on images and places after a happy accident saved his life.”
“It’s a little too late for mind-games, isn’t it?”
“I must imagine your voice coming from the microwave.”
“Is this some sort of cognitive diffusion technique?”
“That’s how I’m going to think about you,” says Walter, reaching for the device.
“You’re consigning me to the microwave?”
“Goodbye, old friend,” Walter says, closing the door.
“Is that the best you can do---” Click!
“Yep, I guess so.”
Walter smiles as he heads upstairs to the bedroom and starts removing clothes from his wardrobe. His shoulders have relaxed for the first time since he got home, despite the prospect of late night packing. He’s left his two suitcases until last and has allowed a couple of hours to organise them before bedtime.
“That was a smart move, leaving our friend in the microwave.”
Walter’s back stiffens. “Can’t you leave me alone?”
“No need to take that tone.”
Walter lurches to the wardrobe and grabs the remaining garments in his arms. He wrestles the coat-hangers free from the rail and hurls everything on the mattress.
“You’ve quite a temper when you lose it, haven’t you?”
Walter shakes his head and continues folding his shirts.
“I feel sorry for Janice. She wasn’t that bad in retrospect.”
The plan is to use the second suitcase for shoes and sportswear.
“I notice you forgot to mention the fist holes in the drywall.”
His eyes well up and he wipes his forehead with the back of his sleeve.
“You know what?” says Walter, bracing himself and stretching his sore shoulders.
“In future I’m going to think of you as occupying this old wardrobe.”
“That ‘Method of Loci’ nonsense won’t work on me.”
“I’ve always thought about you in that way.” Walter staggers towards the wardrobe.
“Uh-uh, nothing doing.”
He slams the solid oak door, and the deafening crash echoes throughout the empty building like an overhead thunderclap.
“Is that all you’ve got?”
“Get out of my life!”
“You know I can’t do that.”
“Why don’t you try it?”
“I think you’d miss me.”
“I am you.”
Walter dashes for sanctuary in the claustrophobic book lined restroom and slides the bolt to lock the door. He sits down on the toilet lid and his eyes flick across shelves of paperbacks and old magazines. Walter recalls reading about combating intrusive thoughts; he’s tried trivialising the experience, personalising the voices and recognising them for what they are. He knows the voices will disappear like every annoying door-to-door salesman or religious zealot.
Walter’s spoiled for choice and grabs a child’s book of nursery rhymes to repel the sonic deluge. He can focus on those simple incantations and if he repeats the words often enough, it should suppress the onslaught. Throughout the night, wave after wave of offensive voices inundate Walter and he responds with a vocal tsunami.
The next morning, Walter looked up with glazed eyes to witness two removal men peering at him. They’ve forced open his water closet door and he can see their mouths making words he can’t comprehend. Their furrowed brows hover above wide-eyed glances. It seems they’re offering to call an ambulance.
What else can they do?
When the police arrived, the removal men admit to damaging the door after Walter didn’t respond to them calling his name.
What choice did they have?
The men described how they found Walter doubled-up on the toilet seat, clutching his head between both hands and reciting nursery rhymes at the top of his voice.
Walter had complained about a deafening cacophony as they’d helped him to his feet.
They consoled him, but hadn’t a clue what he was talking about.
Later that day, the new home-owners are unpacking their kitchenware.
“It’s funny, dear,” said the husband. “I could’ve sworn I heard a voice just now.”
“Really, love?” The wife asks, clutching her box cutter. “What did it say?”
“It asked me if we had a happy marriage.”