Kate sat alone in her home, in the middle of the day, on a weekday. She couldn’t remember a time in her life when she had ever done that. The apartments or dorms she had lived in throughout her Africa time were always shared and rarely considered home, and her times in Australia were mainly couch surfing or university share dorms. She watched Ludo swim around in circles, completely unfazed by the intricacies of human life as he foraged for forgotten flakes at the bottom of his habitat and flapped his tail when the sun catcher in the lounge room window directed a rainbow of light into his bowl. Her head felt like it was finally clearing, like a fog was lifting. But at the same time it was creating more questions as she saw things in a different light.
Joan had stayed the night last night, it wasn’t often Joan stayed at her house; it was usually Kate going to Joan’s house, mainly because she had a key to the neighbours house, but also because Joan was far more comfortable in her own space. Kate walked into the bedroom and curled back up on the unmade bed. She could still smell Joan’s scent in the sheets and on the pillow. She breathed deep, allowing her brain to process the information it held.
Things were adding up in a peculiar fashion. She didn’t like the line they were forming and she wondered if she was over thinking the whole situation. She liked to believe the best in people; she liked to think everyone wanted the best for everyone else, because that’s the way she was. But that’s not how the rest of the world worked. Kate had learnt that the hard way, too many times. It created more questions in her brain.
Opening the bedside drawer she fished around underneath notebooks, stray pens, abandoned hair lackeys and an assortment of other discarded items to find the business card she had stashed away. The one that held the name and number of the forensic psychologist. She stared at the card for a long time as she held it gently between her fingers as though it might burst into flames and burn her at any moment. It was made from a thick card that felt crinkled when you touched the white surface and was embossed with the insignia of corrections, her name, two phone numbers; an office number and a mobile number, along with an email address and a fax line.
Kate sat up and hung her legs over the bed, her feet finding the cold floorboards. Something caught her attention out of the corner of her eye and she turned to face the open bedside drawer. An open packet of cigarettes peeked at her from the darkness of being half buried. She had completely forgotten about that packet she had stashed for moments when she needed a bit of something to calm her nerves.
“What the hell,” Kate said out loud to herself as reached into the drawer and grabbed the old packet of cigarettes. With nimble fingers Kate fished one solitary stick out of the packet, grabbed a lighter that was also hiding among the treasures of the drawer and tucked her phone under her arm before walking down the hallway into the back yard.
Standing on the back veranda she lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply, savouring the taste of her abandoned habit. Kate leant against a pole and closed her eyes as the head spin hit then took another deep drag. Opening her eyes again she fished her phone out from its safe place and unlocked it with her fingerprint. She dialled in the mobile number on the card. Her finger hovered over the call button.
Another drag. The end of the cancer stick glowed red as she inhaled the toxins and nicotine and she felt her muscles relax more as she exhaled.
The green button to dial glowed at her as though it could do no harm and Kate found herself questioning her intentions. What was she seeking? Why was she dialling this number? Was it a selfish move; something she was doing for herself? Or was it something she was doing for Joan? A million questions chased themselves around her head as she stared at the illuminated screen.
Kate looked away from the screen as she inhaled deeply once more, her bright green eyes gazed around her backyard as she blew the smoke from her lips. The trees were overgrown, they required trimming again. The lawn needed a mow. The garden beds needed weeding. And the reticulation still needed fixing; she had never quite gotten around to that when she had moved in. Kate made a mental list of all the things she was going to do when she secured some proper time off before returning to the task at hand.
Once again her fingerprint unlocked her phone and the psychologist’s phone number shone up at her from the bright screen, just waiting for her to press that green button. One more deep breath and she finally tapped the button to make the phone dial.
The phone rang, three times, four times, five times, “Hello?”
“Oh, hi,” Kate realised was completely unprepared mentally for this phone call and she felt herself clam up immediately.
“Can I help you?” The woman on the other end of the line sounded confused, like someone might have dialled the wrong number.
“This is Kate, I’m Joan’s friend, I mean neighbour, I mean the Governor.” Kate stumbled over her words and felt like a complete idiot unable to string a coherent sentence together. She smacked her palm to her forehead in frustration.
“Oh yes, hi. Thanks for calling me Kate. How are things? Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m okay. I was wondering if we could meet, to talk, today or tomorrow perhaps?” Kate took another long drag on the cigarette to calm herself as she realised her hands were shaking.
“I’m booked out most of today with inmates but I finish early, we can catch up at three if you like, a coffee shop maybe?” The psychologist kept her voice friendly and approachable, she had questions and needed answers, plus if she was right in her assumptions she knew Kate would be working within a schedule that was not entirely hers, she would be working around the movements of Joan and it would be important that she wasn’t caught. She didn’t really have an early finish but she would arrange it to be so, she felt like Kate would be a flight risk if she left it too long now that she had actually finally reached out.
“Yes, three, that will be fine.” Kate racked her brain for a location that would be suitable.
“Great, how about Teddy’s on Strickland, do you know where that is?”
Kate knew the place; they had good coffee and a relaxed atmosphere with plenty of space. “Okay, I’ll be there.”
“Okay, see you then.”
Kate’s heart was racing as she ended the phone call and her fingers were trembling. Was she doing the right thing? Or just jumping to conclusions? She didn’t know what to think at that moment, even her gut had two different minds on the situation she was facing. Her head was a mess and she knew it, there was nothing to do now other than bide her time until 3pm and try not to dwell on the situation she had just created.
At 2:10 she left home and drove to the place they were meeting. She parked two blocks away, in a supermarket car park, and walked to the cafe with a cigarette held delicately between her fingers as she puffed courage into herself. Walking into the cafe she saw there were few people occupying space and none of them were the woman she was meeting with yet. Walking up to the counter she smiled politely at the young woman serving her, Kate wondered how long she had been working for, she barely looked like she should have been out of school. Gathering her nerves once more Kate ordered a cappuccino and took a seat at a table against the back wall while she waited.
Her drink was delivered to the table as the woman she was waiting for walked through the door. She was very memorable from the first time they had met, short and slight, blonde hair with brown streaks throughout cut short and styled as though she had been in a wind tunnel. Kate wondered if it was because of the adrenaline that was coursing through her body that night as to why she had remembered the woman so well, or if she was just one of those people.
The psychologist was wearing black slacks with a floral blouse that didn’t suit her at all; perhaps it was a statement of some sort Kate thought. She watched as the woman ordered herself a drink and joined Kate at the table in the back. “Thanks for meeting with me.” Her voice was crisp and clear, chirpy and feminine, as it had been each time Kate had spoken with the woman.
“I’m not really sure why I’m here,” Kate quietly confessed feeling slightly foolish. But deep down she did know; she just didn’t want to admit it to herself.
“Sounds like there is a battle between brain and heart happening.” Her smile was warm, inviting, comforting like she already knew what Kate was going to tell her as she sat in the bentwood chair opposite Kate.
“Joan and I are in a relationship.” The words tumbled from Kate’s mouth before she had a chance to catch them. Her hands immediately clamped to her mouth as she realised what she had said and the repercussions her carelessness might have.
The psychologist simply smiled at the slip, already having an inkling that Kate was under orders not to tell anyone about the state of her and Joan’s affairs. “Yes I figured as much,” she offered simply to allow Kate the space to know that she hadn’t let the cat out of the bag. “How long have you been together for?”
Kate took a deep breath and relaxed a little. “I’m not sure I can put an actual date on that, things seemed to happen different for us, it was a natural progression from friendship to more than friendship over a long period of time. One day we were simply sitting there on the couch and while I was comforting Joan through her stress our lips just found each other like it was perfectly normal, like they had been waiting lifetimes to finally meet and she just felt like home. I guess it’s been at least eight months now I suppose.” Kate’s eyes were fixated mostly on the table and her coffee mug, occasionally flicking up to meet those of the psychologist sitting opposite her.
“And what was your first impression of Joan?” The woman was very professional about the meeting, not giving away her hand yet as to her concerns regarding the Governor. It would take time to get to the information she was seeking, and if she was correct in her assumptions then Kate would be out of the cafe as soon as she felt like her, Joan, or their relationship was threatened. She knew she needed to approach with caution and come at the subject from an unseen angle.
“That she was strong, independent, formidable, and bloody gorgeous.” Kate smiled with an attempt to hide a giggle as she remembered their first encounter as their eyes had met across the street. She had caught Joan staring at her, it had felt good. Kate had snuck several glances at the woman across the road earlier in the day but with Joan so intent on watching her movers work Kate had been fairly safe in her spying. “I think I loved her from the first time we looked into each other’s eyes. She had been starting at me from across the street and when I looked up our eyes locked, a lifetime seemed to pass in the second it took for Joan to avert her eyes in embarrassment from getting caught and I knew she was my future.”
“That sounds like an incredibly powerful connection.” She knew that by putting a positive retrospect onto the relationship and whatever it was the two women shared it would make Kate feel less like there was going to be an attack. She wanted Kate to be friendly, to open up to what her true concerns were so she could have a better picture of what Joan really was. “So what made you call me today then?”
Kate had to think about it for a minute to work out how to word her concerns correctly. She took a sip of coffee and played with the foam on top with the back of her spoon. “Joan seems to have an emotional distance with many things; it makes me wonder what she might be capable of if anything were to happen.”
There was an opening for the angle right there and the psychologist leaned forward on the table, her voice dropped low as she approached cautiously to see what kind of reaction she would receive to the question she was about to ask. “Are you scared for your safety?”
“Oh god no.” Kate dismissed the question without a moment’s hesitation ad a flick of her hand as though it was the furthest thing from her mind. “I don’t think she would take her anger out on me.”
“What if her anger was directed at you?”
Kate paused and absorbed the question. She found that she couldn’t answer it at all; she had never thought about it and had no idea what Joan’s reaction might actually be in that instance.
“Has Joan ever displayed to you empathy for others? Care? Compassion?”
“Of course she has,” Kate answered without actually thinking.
“I mean true empathy, the kind that can’t be practiced or rehearsed, the instantaneous kind where it’s displayed with immediate action.”
Again Kate had to think about situations she had been in with Joan. Last night was a prime example of a lack of empathy, but that was only one time, right? Again Kate couldn’t answer the question and her eyes remained locked on her emptying cup of coffee.
“I have been watching how the Governor interacts with inmates and staff alike. I’ve been taking note of her behaviour and emotional capacity, the indicators so far are pointing toward a complete lack of empathy and compassion. I’ve not once seen her display any emotional connection with anyone which is why I was wondering how she interacts with family and friends at home.”
“She doesn’t have any family, or any friends as far as I am aware.” Kate’s admission was quiet, barely more than a whisper as she soaked in the words she was hearing and her eyes remained connected to her coffee cup.
“That could explain some of it. But I am concerned about her mental state and her fitness to govern the prison, both the inmates and the staff with her lack of emotional depth. I have watched her exhaustion grow over the last year that we have been working together. Not once has she appeared to make a friend. Not once have I seen her be lenient for any due reason. Not once have I seen her show any kind of emotional balance at all. What I see is a vacuum.”
“Maybe that’s all she wants people to see.”
“Perhaps. Or maybe that’s all she is capable of other than negative emotional reactions.”
Kate let those last words sink in as she finished her coffee. “What should I do?”
“You’re neighbours, yes?”
Kate nodded yes to the question.
“Then step very cautiously if you want to poke the emotions of the bear.” She refrained from saying ‘monster’ only for Kate’s sake. “You have two options as far as I can see; either you end it all if you are fearful of your safety, or you keep doing whatever you are comfortable with and gently seek reassurance of her emotional presence. You are obviously very in love and I admire that, perhaps she is also very in love with you – if she is capable of such emotions in their true form. But I would advise you to proceed with caution.”
Kate watched the woman finish the last of her coffee and place her cup down gently on the table. “This is all confidential right?” Kate asked quickly, knowing how devastating it would be for her relationship if anyone at the prison found out personal details about Joan. It made her wonder if such an act would cause Joan to direct her anger at Kate, and what that might look like.
“Of course, I’m actually seeing my doctor right now getting a skin cancer checked on.”
Kate relaxed a little again and laughed. “That’s funny, I am a doctor.”
The psychologist smiled warmly. “I know, Kate. You’re not that hard to find.”
A blush crept up Kate’s cheeks and she stood to leave. “Ah, one more thing.” Kate was tossing up whether or not she wanted the confirmed answer of her question. She remembered some deeper psychology from her major in mental health through med school, but she was vague in some aspects. And as much as there was great information around on the internet, it wasn’t the credible source that many believed it to be. She had done the research earlier in their relationship when she was first growing concerned for the reactions she was seeing in Joan, or the lack thereof. This woman could confirm whether or not she was directing herself down the wrong path, the rabbit hole of internet diagnoses could be a warren of misinformation sometimes. “What would it mean if Joan did have a complete lack of empathy?”
With a wry smile and cautious eyes the forensic psychologist searched Kate’s face for any sign of trauma or fear as she attempted to form her words carefully, but in a way they wouldn’t be confused or misused. She had been calculating this herself for the past many months and she wasn’t surprised that someone as smart as Kate was also asking the question now, despite the fact that she was obviously very devoted to her lover, or perhaps it was because of the fact she was so in love with Joan that she was forcing herself to seek the answers to her questions. “It would mean she’s a psychopath Kate. Be careful.”