The first question rattled her. It gave her the feeling of stepping on a step that wasn’t there. But Eva had told her when they first began their sessions that she liked to ask the hard questions and Rebecca had to be prepared.
‘Like George Negus,’ Eva had joked, releasing a throaty chuckle.
Rebecca soon came to realise that this woman spoke the truth, always. Often that was hard to bear.
Today, she had only just sat down on the faded sofa in Eva’s office when she was hit with it.
‘How did you love your brother?’
She wasn’t expecting Luke to be the focus of her therapy just yet. Rebecca had hoped there would be more time before she was forced to go there. Surely Joe would be the logical person to begin with, she thought.
‘How?’ she asked.
The word ricocheted off the surfaces of Rebecca’s mind, but she couldn’t focus; she could only gasp. There were just some things she’d never been able to articulate. Trying to answer Eva’s question was like trying to describe waiting for a set – that potent mix of trepidation and excitement. In the past, she’d attempted to put the experience into words, but nothing she’d ever written had measured up. Nothing had ever truly captured that sensation. Her feelings for Luke fell into the same category. They were indescribable.
‘Unconditionally?’ she replied, her voice rising, the response a question in itself.
‘This isn’t a test, Rebecca. There is no right or wrong answer, just the truth.’ She paused a moment before repeating the question.
‘How did you love him?’
She didn’t have an answer. Rebecca didn’t know how she had loved Luke … or how she loved him still. She tried again to think of a way to say it, but nothing came. She shook her head, defeated.
Eva looked at her for a moment then jotted down an unreadable sentence – her handwriting was a scrawl – underlining the words three times. Her pen left blue grooves in the paper.
‘This will be a good point of reference,’ she said.
Eva’s second question was simpler.
‘Why are you here?’
Even though Rebecca knew exactly how she was going to respond – in fact, she had already played this particular scenario out in her imagination – she took a deep breath before answering.
‘I truly believe I’m losing my mind. Losing myself.’
Her psychiatrist smiled gently and tapped the point of her biro lightly on the notepad.
‘That’s an excellent place to begin.’
‘My brother and I showered together until we were thirteen or so, until my mother found us examining each other’s “bibs and bobs”, as she liked to say. We weren’t regular siblings. Twins aren’t regular. We bathed together, slept together and played together long after regular brothers and sisters would have stopped because, well … we always had. It was painful when Mum forced us to stop, a little like trying to pull apart two pieces of paper after the glue has dried. It’s never neat. There’s always damage. We had an unusual family dynamic, I realise now, although Mum and Dad did a good job of keeping everything as normal as they could. It must have been extremely difficult for my parents at times.’
Eva looked over her bifocals at Rebecca.
‘Do you realise you always refer to Luke as “my brother”?’
‘No,’ replied Rebecca, shivering, suddenly aware of the boxy portable air cooler whirring in the corner blowing cold air on her naked arms.
But she did. It was a conscious choice she made, a way of distancing herself from Luke.
‘I grew up extremely close to my sister,’ Eva said. ‘She was only a year older than me and we were very close. We still are. But your experience must be different. What was it like being a twin to Luke?’ she asked, pen poised.
Turning to the misted, rain-splattered window, Rebecca scoured her mind, attempting to express plainly the nature of existing as her brother’s twin. Her hands began to shake. She pressed them under her thighs, breathed deeply, taking in the pungency of Eva’s coffee brewing in the kitchen.
‘Luke was more than a brother. He was my best friend, my protector and my sounding board. It was freeing, I suppose, to have that person always within reach. But for me, that security brought with it an overwhelming sense of responsibility. It tethered me to him.’
Eva hastily scrawled notes in her untamed cursive, four words to a line. As her pen scratched the paper, Rebecca caught sight of the tattoo on the soft, loose underside of Eva’s forearm. Six numbers faded with time but still present.
‘Describe your most powerful memory of him,’ Eva said.
Rebecca crossed her legs and repositioned the cushions behind her back. The psychiatrist sat in a cracked leather armchair and looked at her from the other side of the vintage steamer trunk that served as a coffee table. Eva was short and round-faced with tight silver curls. In her seventies, Rebecca guessed, but perhaps older if she’d been in a camp during World War II. Her hazel eyes were sharp though, like cut crystal.
‘There’s not just one memory in particular that stands out,’ she lied, running her fingers through the altered texture of her shorn hair, the sensation still a novelty. ‘It’s been almost thirty years. All the memories have blurred together.’
Eva sensed Rebecca’s reluctance to elaborate. She smiled and rose.
‘I’ll get the coffee.’
Making coffee was what Eva did when Rebecca hedged. Heimo had warned Rebecca of the doctor’s eccentricities – this was one of them. Breaking the doctor-patient seal by exiting the room defied current practice. Eva used it as a pause to allow her patient to frame their responses. Heimo had said that her methods were somewhat unorthodox but highly effective.
While Rebecca waited, her eyes moved around the office. Despite the cobwebs in the corners of the ceiling and the peeling paint, she was comfortable in this stuffy room overlooking a laneway lined with wheelie bins. The walls weren’t hung with the degrees and inspirational quotes she’d expected to find in a psychiatrist’s office. The furnishings didn’t match and there was a thick, dull varnish of dust on the windowsill. Rebecca appreciated the unconcealed decay, thinking that if a different, younger, more Bondi owner had their way, they would restore and remodel the apartment at once, thereby stripping it of its charm.
Eva returned with a tray holding a moka pot and two small cups.
‘I much prefer moka to the espresso they make in the cafes around here. It’s so grainy, like molten mud.’
Rebecca nodded. Eva always said this as she poured the coffee, although sometimes she likened it to ‘hot lava’ or ‘warm sludge’.
‘I was thinking when I was in the kitchen,’ Eva continued. Rebecca leaned closer. After almost forty years in Australia the doctor’s accent remained thick and gritty, much like the coffee they were drinking.
‘The 1980s weren’t so long ago. You must remember songs from that time, outfits you wore. I remember my daughter seemed to wear a lot of ruffles and frills back then.’ She glanced at Rebecca and laughed, then took up her notepad and pen again. She scribbled in the corner of a page, testing the ink.
‘Why have the memories of Luke become blurred?’
Rebecca shrugged. Sipped her espresso. Her heart now beat so frantically, she was certain it was visible through the fine cotton of her shirt. Rebecca shook her head.
‘The hallucinations you’re experiencing suggest to me,’ Eva said, taking a different tack, ‘that you’re suffering from post-traumatic stress.’
She paused, staring gravely at the print above her patient’s head. Rebecca swivelled on the cushion and examined it too. During her previous sessions, she hadn’t looked closely at the artwork. It was comprised of boldly coloured geometric shapes and a big red number five.
‘I believe the cause of your trauma has something to do with Luke,’ said Eva.
Rebecca turned, startled. Eva pushed her bifocals along the bridge of her nose then held her pen at the ready. Outside, the weather was beginning to clear and the sun winked off the silver wedding band on her right hand.
‘What do you believe is at the root of your problem?’
Rebecca straightened, gathering herself as she ran her eyes over Eva’s bookcase in an effort to avoid her doctor’s gaze.Crime and Punishment, Heart of Darkness, Wuthering Heights, Atonement, Ordinary People, Girl with No Past, Room. There were no medical texts in the office, just as there were no degrees on the wall. On her first visit, Rebecca had wondered whether if, in fact, Eva Lakatos was actually a registered psychiatrist. Did reading the occasional psychological thriller qualify her to practice?
‘My partner, I suppose,’ Rebecca finally answered.
‘And the aftermath.’
Eva licked the tip of her pen and held it to the page.
‘Where would you like to begin?’