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The First Time

Time’s hands tighten, knuckles stubborn and grimacing.

A slow and certain sunbeam reaches through the window, streaking light on vinyl floorboards. A company of sensible chairs gathers in its shadows, arching themselves around an aspirin-white coffee table. Atop, magazines casually loiter.

A man’s body folds into the chair across from me, wearing long years on his face. Two chairs to the left, a younger man makes swift flicks to his phone, and has flicking eyes to match.

I burrow my hands into the grey and white folds of my school dress. Inside my stripes, my body feels hot and urgent.

Beside me, Mum sits stiff and sips her lips.


Her room is polite.

Packaged neatly into blouse and skirt, she tucks herself into her desk chair and wheels towards me, notepad in hand.

On the flax-coloured couch with raw woollen fibres, scratchy on my calves, I quiver.

“You are how old?”


“Grade 8?”


“Started high school this year?”


Her questions feel like the unyielding stretch of hospital bedsheets.

New edges form in me.

“Do know why Dr Stanley wanted you to see me?”

My answer shuffles out. “I’m not eating as much as he wants me to”.

The clicking of her pen, metronomic.

I study the small pearls in her ears.

“Do you know what will happen if you keep not eating?”

Her stare slides off her face and scrapes the underside of my skin.

Indignation falls silently from my mouth.

Where are the gentle hands to eviscerate tight-fisted fears?

“I am eating”.

The room contracts. Timorous, the potted fern in the corner tucks itself behind the curtain.

“This is serious, Renée”.

A pair of tears bite my eyes. I bite back with a hard blink and a vow of silence.

More clicking of her pen, and then a convoy of terrible happenings marches out of her. Weak bones. Muscle atrophy. Hair loss. Heart failure.

From her lips, they sound punishing.

I feel the steel bars of her eyes and thoughts.

Mum enters the room, touches my leg, her smile small and gentle.

“She’s textbook, as far as symptoms go” I hear as I shut the door behind me and return to the waiting area.

Yeah, so did you notice my aching pages?

Did you try to read my pain?

Later, outside, our steps are quick and relieved.

A bougainvillea gushes over the fence, ostentatious in the afternoon sun.

Car doors open and close.

“I didn’t really like her”, I offer nervously.

Mum takes her eyes from the road and finds mine. “Neither did I. We won’t be going back”.

I soften into my seat, and let it and the gratitude that I’d never have to have anything to do with psychologists again curl around me.

The car hums home.


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