71. A Threat from Irene
“Now then, Bertie,” said Irene Pollock, as they walked up the hill towards Queen Street. “As you know, Dr. Fairbairn has gone to Aberdeen.”
Bertie nodded gravely. He had been thrilled by the news that Dr. Fairbairn was leaving, but his hopes of being released from psychotherapy had very quickly been dashed.
“But don’t worry,” his mother went on. “He has not left you floundering.”
Bertie thought that there was no danger of his floundering. He had never seen the point of his weekly psychotherapy session; nothing that Dr. Fairbairn said had ever changed anything for Bertie, and now that he was going to see Dr. Fairbairn’s successor, the same would apply.
“Is Carstairs near Aberdeen, Mummy?” Bertie asked.
“Goodness me, Bertie,” said Irene, throwing him a curious glance. “Why should you want to know about Carstairs?”
Bertie did not answer this question. He knew that the State Hospital was at Carstairs, and he knew too that this is where Dr. Fairbairn was likely to end up. There was so much proof of his instability that it would not need any testimony of Bertie’s to make the case for the psychotherapist’s detention. You only have to listen to him for five minutes, thought Bertie, and you know that all is not right with Dr. Fairbairn.
“They’ve made Dr. Fairbairn a professor,” said Irene. “That is a great honour for him, and so he felt that he had to leave Edinburgh to take it up.”
Bertie thought for a moment. “You’ll miss him, Mummy, won’t you?”
“We shall all miss him, Bertie,” said Irene carefully. “Dr. Fairbairn’s move is a great loss to the psychotherapeutic community here in Edinburgh.”
Bertie reflected on this. He would not miss Dr. Fairbairn at all. But this was not a time, he thought, to be mean-spirited.
“And it’s a pity that he won’t get to know Ulysses,” said Bertie. “Ulysses looks so like Dr. Fairbairn, Mummy. Have you noticed that too?”
Irene brushed the question aside. “Aren’t you looking forward to meeting the therapist who’s taken over from him?” she asked. “I’m sure that you’ll get on very well with him.”
Bertie looked down at the pavement. It was important to be careful not to step on any of the lines. Vigilance was all. One did not see the bears, but that did not mean that they were not there; the Queen Street Gardens provided an ideal habitat for bears, Bertie felt.
“Do I really need to see him, Mummy?” he asked. “I’ve stopped doing naughty things. Wasn’t that why you sent me to Dr. Fairbairn in the first place? Because I’d set fire to Daddy’s Guardian while he was reading it? Wasn’t that the reason?”
Irene looked down at Bertie with disapproval. “What’s past is past, Bertie,” she said. “We don’t need to go over those old things. No, your psychotherapy sessions are designed to help you understand yourself.”
Bertie thought about this. “But I do understand myself, Mummy,” he said. “I don’t see why I need psychotherapy for that.”
“Well, you do,” said Irene. “There are some things that you need that you don’t know you need. And it is Mummy’s business to make sure you get those things. Later on, Bertie, you’ll thank me.”
Bertie said nothing. In the most profound and hidden corners of his soul, he wished that his mother would just go away. But at the same time, he dreaded the prospect of losing her, and felt that even to entertain such thoughts was dangerous. It was like believing in Santa Claus after the time when such beliefs become untenable: one did not want to relinquish the belief lest the loss of belief had dire consequences, such as no presents. So one believed just that little bit longer.
But now they were on Queen Street and close to the door that led up to Dr. Fairbairn’s consulting rooms.
“Will Ulysses come for psychotherapy too?” asked Bertie, as they climbed the stairs. “I think that he will really need to understand himself.”
Irene laughed. “Why do you say that, Bertie?”
“Because when he gets bigger he might wonder why he looks different from me,” said Bertie.
“But that’s nothing unusual,” said Irene. “Members of families often look different from one another.”
Bertie conceded that this was true. Olive had a sister who looked quite unlike her, and Hiawatha and his brother certainly did not look remotely like one another. But was it not unusual, he pointed out, for a baby to look like the mummy’s friend?
Irene stopped. She crouched down so that she was at eye-level with Bertie. “Bertie, carissimo,” she whispered. “Ulysses’s daddy is Daddy. I’ve told you that before. It’s just a coincidence that he looks like Dr. Fairbairn. These things happen – and it doesn’t make it very easy for the mummy if her little boy says things that some people might find a little bit strange. So, never, ever talk about it again, please.”
Bertie stared at his mother, wide-eyed.
“I mean it, Bertie,” she said severely. “If you mention it once more, just once more, then…” She paused. Bertie was watching her closely. What sanction, he wondered, did his mother have? He had no treats that could be taken away. He received no pocket money that could be cut. There was nothing that his mother could do.
Irene glanced over her shoulder. “If you say one more word about it,” whispered Irene, “Mummy will smack you really hard. Understand?”
Bertie reeled under the shock of this threat. His parents had never raised a hand to him, not once, and now this. He was stunned into silence, just as Little Hans must have been when, as reported by Freud, his mother threatened to castrate him.
“So,” said Irene, standing up again. “That puts an end to that.”
Nothing more was said as they made their way up the last flight of stairs and entered the consulting rooms. Bertie noticed that the brass plate, which had previously announced that these were the premises of Dr. Hugo Fairbairn, had been replaced with one on which the name Dr. Roger Sinclair PhD had been inscribed.
Bertie sat down in the waiting room while his mother rang the bell. He was still smarting from his mother’s unexpected threat when Dr. Sinclair appeared in the doorway and led Irene inside. Bertie reached for a copy of Scottish Field on the waiting room table. Scottish Field – his consolation, his reminder that there was a world in which psychotherapy, yoga and Italian lessons did not exist; where fishing and climbing hills and freedom thrived; a Scotland quite different from his own. Yes, it was there, but it was tantalisingly out of reach, and nothing seemed to bring it nearer.