Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Unwelcome Intruder - True Story


Image: Microsoft

When I’m not writing psychological suspense thrillers, I’m a Psychotherapist. Having a consulting room in my own home means I don’t have to pay room rent, but it also has its down side: unwelcome visitors – and I don’t mean the ones who turn up ringing the doorbell, trying to sell me alarm systems (and I’ve had a lot of those recently).

Let me set the scene. My consulting room is quiet, the phones are switched off, there are long silences and the conversation is difficult. My client is upset – she has post-traumatic stress syndrome and she’s talking about panic attacks. She had one only yesterday when the postman suddenly appeared behind her when she was watering her front garden. She’s shaking throughout the session, her eyes are bright and on full-alert and her voice quivers.

I hear a noise behind my chair – a kind of scratching sound, like a piece of paper slowly sliding down the wall. It stops. I’m listening to my client, my eyes are on her, but my mind is trying to figure out what’s behind my chair. Then I hear another sound – a scrabbling. It’s under my seat this time and my heart jolts, racing at twice its normal speed.

Image: Microsoft
We have a cat called Tigsey. Occasionally he brings in ‘gifts’, but from time to time these gifts – a mouse, a frog, a bird – are still alive. Tigsey is a rascal; he plays with his toys for a while and then gets bored and walks away. My husband and I have found mice behind bookcases before, wings and body parts on the front mat under the mail.

Then it hits me. I had a brief conversation with my neighbour yesterday and had thought no more about it. It was about poison. She’d put pellets down in her backyard after discovering she had rats in her raised flower beds. My brain darts through the likely course of events., meanwhile I’m still trying to empathise and console my client. Poison means rats who are on their last legs; it makes them easy prey and Tigsey isn’t one to let an opportunity like that pass him by. A fresh worry occurs to me. Tigsey is in danger, not only from picking up the poison himself, but from secondary poisoning if he’s got hold of a rat.

But I’m not in a position to act on anything, just now. We have twenty minutes of the session left and my heart and brain are doing overtime. The last thing my client wants to see is a rat idly padding across the room. She would no doubt erupt into some kind of manic seizure. It could seriously damage her, psychologically, and would ruin our therapeutic relationship – this is one of the few places where she feels safe, right now. Besides – there’s health and safety - I could get struck off.

It was the longest, most strained twenty minutes of my life, I can tell you. I was begging the rat to stay put under my seat. I didn’t know whether to sit perfectly still (would it venture out, thinking the coast was clear?) or to shuffle around a little in my seat so it would be wary. What would happen when the session ended and we both left our seats? Would the rat sense movement and make a dash for it? Should I warn my client now, before she saw it – or suggest we continue the session in another room? Had she already heard the strange scraping sounds, herself?

All the while, I was trying to stay engaged with her; offering suggestions, talking her through hyperventilation techniques - ones she might need to call upon sooner than she expected. I was serene and terrified all at once. Talk about a split personality!

My inner pleas were answered and the hour was over. My client left, oblivious to the situation. I pulled out my chair and sure enough a large rat darted across the room. I shut the door and rang for humane pest-control to come as soon as possible. My next client was due in an hour. I went to the bathroom to splash cold water on my face. On my way, I passed Tigsey curled up on the bed. He opened one eye as if to say, ‘You found it, then?’

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