“How long have the two of you been married?”
Arla’s nose was irritated by a pungent aroma emanating from two smoking joss sticks perched in a plant pot at a rakish angle.She sniffed and looked up from the carpet with its many dog hairs towards the friendly smile worn by Antoinette Beecher, and waited for her husband Ric to say something; anything.However, Ric was remaining as silent as the proverbial tomb.
“Twenty eight years, and we’d known each other a year before the wedding.”Arla nodded towards Ric to confirm her statement.
“And has the marriage been generally happy up until now?”Toni Beecher wondered if pulling teeth would be easier than trying to make this couple open up.
“We’ve had our ups and downs, as does anyone, but now I’ve finally decided that we can’t go on like we have been, and that something needs to change.”
“Well….er… someone more like.” Arla replied and looked at Ric, confident in the knowledge that the ‘someone’ was not going to be herself.
Toni briefly wondered if the morose man sitting opposite her and trying to shut out the world, was in fact mute.
“What would you both like to get out of these sessions?”
Arla thought carefully before replying.
“Perhaps you can get out of Ric why he’ll never voice an opinion on any subject, and why he’ll never tell his mother anything that she doesn’t want to hear.”
“And you, Mr Deane? What are you looking for here?” Toni smiled as pleasantly as she could, and strived for eye contact.
Concentrating her gaze on the tassels fringing the moth-eaten rug under the coffee table, and with a growing disappointment at her husband’s continuing silence, Arla then looked up and let her eyes stray about the room towards the counsellor’s overflowing bookshelves, trying to catch a glimpse of their obscure titles.When her eyes did focus on a book’s spine, she realised that the wording on it made absolutely no sense to her whatsoever.
“So…what problems have brought you both to see me today?”Toni changed the subject and again tried for eye contact from either one, but gave up.
“There aren’t any problems as far as I’m concerned.” Ric cleared his throat and shifted about uneasily on the sofa. “I’m fine; life goes on as always, doesn’t it? It was Arla who suggested we do this; I’m not really sure what the problem is.”
“Only because you can’t see what’s going on right in front of your nose.” Arla looked at her husband and nervously twisted her wedding ring around with the forefinger and thumb of her right hand.
“Mrs Deane, would you care to elaborate a little bit please?” Toni was relieved to have heard Ric Deane’s deep, resonant voice.
Arla was soothed by the seemingly young-looking counsellor’s velveteen voice and unfaltering smile. Strands of dark fringe touched her eyes, and she pushed them away impatiently.
“As I said before, it’s his bloody mother. For years I’ve put up with it, but no more. He doesn’t want to admit there’s a problem. The woman is slowly but surely ruining us.” Arla wiped away a stray tear and sighed.
“Mr Deane, would you like to comment on your wife’s statement?” Toni jotted down some notes whilst waiting for a reply.
Arla heard Ric’s familiar ritual of pre-utterance throat-clearing, and braced herself for the answer.
“She doesn’t understand; I’m piggy-in-the-middle here. She doesn’t fall out with her own mother, and I don’t want to argue with mine. Mum’s getting on a bit now, and it’s my job to look after her. She’s not too well these days, and the last thing I want is to cause her any stress.” Ric ran a hand quickly through his greying dark hair.
The sound of a ticking clock was deafening in the silence of the room.Arla swallowed her anger and waited for the next question.
“I always advise couples that a good marriage is all about trust and open communication. I encourage both parties to set aside time to talk to each other about their problems. If you’re finding it difficult to speak about what’s bothering you to me, then I suggest maybe pick half an hour about three times a week where you can talk privately at home and focus on your issues.”
“I’ve tried that, and it doesn’t work.”Arla shook her head. “We need to speak with you about it. That’s why we’ve come here.”
“Okay, well of course I’m here to help.” Toni put down her pen and looked Arla. “For this first session then I’ll ask you, Mrs Deane, to speak first and for your husband to listen. Hopefully you’ll be able to discuss things more when you get home, and when you come back later in the week then your husband will get the chance to talk uninterruptedly.”
Arla nodded in agreement:
“That sounds fair.”
“Would you like to begin then?” Toni Beecher gave what she thought was an encouraging look.
“Where do I start?”Arla shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know.”
“At the beginning.”Said Toni with a smile. “It’s always a good place.”