Swimming With Goldfish

She looked squarely at the woman sitting opposite her.

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The psychologist squirmed under her direct glare and pulled at the hem of her skirt. It suddenly felt too short. Why did she allow Lucy to make her feel so inadequate? Her client was intimidating her.

"I asked you a question Lucy." she said sternly. "Answer me please."

Lucy belligerently lowered her gaze from Helen Chalker and examined her fingernails for a full thirty seconds. She counted them off in her head, playing the game, always playing the game. Satisfied that her nails were clean of underlying debris she spoke slowly in her own time, making her therapist wait until she was ready to speak.

"I refuse to swim in a goldfish bowl."

"Is that how people have made you feel? As though you are constantly swimming against the tide, against society?"

"Is that how you analyse my comment? How can you assume that is what I meant? What makes you so sure of your interpretation of my thoughts?"

The blue eyes bore into Helen's until the therapist dropped her gaze and picked at a piece of imaginary fluff in her lap, Lucy had the advantage again.

"Well why don't you explain to me Lucy, tell me what you are thinking."

"Wouldn't it be more logical to assume that I meant my world is closing in? That I feel trapped with nowhere to turn, ceaselessly swimming in small circles? Just one more mindless goldfish in a bowl with blue Chippings and a stone castle covered in algae?"

Damn her! She had blocked every question with a question of her own. It was a common symptom of denial. Helen knew that it was early days with Lucy. She had to face up to what had happened, come to terms with it, and accept responsibility before being able to properly deal with things. Helen had to be patient and tread carefully. At least Lucy was skirting the subject. Although she hadn't directly referred to what had happened she was subconsciously expressing a need to talk about it by mentioning things that were connected to her crime.

"Is that what you meant?"

"No."

"Then why put forward that interpretation?" asked Helen.

"Why not?"

"Why are you being purposefully obtuse?"

Lucy's brow furrowed in concentration. She twined her fingers and shifted in her seat. Helen had shaken her for the first time. She struck her advantage home with a small surge of power.

"Well?"

"What does obtuse mean?" Asked Lucy in a small voice. She seemed to have diminished; Helen knew that Lucy wouldn't like admitting that she didn't know what the word meant. Part of her condition was her need to feel superior, to feel all knowing and better than her contemporaries. She shrank so far into her seat that Helen felt a momentary pang of pity for her. She had to bring to mind the scene-of-crime photo to dispel the sudden feeling of compassion for the broken person in front of her.

"Difficult. Awkward. Obtuse means that you are trying to sabotage our session. Why do you feel the need to do that?"

Lucy looked at Helen from beneath her luxuriant eyelashes. Nobody should have lashes that long or naturally black, thought Helen. They offset her sapphire eyes perfectly. The small smile that trekked in the wake of the look was sly. Her elfin face turned again to Helen; the eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly and shimmering ebony hair framed a face that was the epitome of beauty. A perfect mask of carefully constructed innocence belying the pure evil that lurked behind those pretty blue eyes.

"I think you'll find that obtuse is a blunt angle, or then again it can be used to describe someone being purposefully slow." She opened her eyes wide and looked at Helen with a mixture of sly cunning and feigned childish innocence.

"Do you find me slow Miss Chalker? Do you think I'm a retard, a dimwit, an imbecile? Perhaps I should take another IQ test; the results of the last one may have been inaccurate. I wonder Miss Chalker…what is your IQ?"

Helen knew that Lucy's IQ was not only higher than her own, but almost double that of her rating. The session was being led by the nose at the hands of her client. She had to try and regain some level of direction.

"Lucy, nobody is doubting your intelligence or indeed your almost savant abilities." Helen clasped her hands together to quell the tremor that she felt; Lucy had surely noticed.

"Lucy. Tell me about your Mother." Helen had raised her voice to make it not a request but a command.

Instantly Lucy's head shot up. She sat erect in the chair and her hands churned round and round and over themselves in her lap. She began to rock violently in the seat, each forward movement bringing the back legs of the chair off the ground, each backward motion causing them to crash to the tiled floor with a bang. Helen was worried that the chair was going to topple over backwards and that her client would be hurt, but she determined not to show any weakness.

"Tell me about your Mother, Lucy." she barked.

"My Mother's a cock sucking whore. Mother's a bastard, bastard, bastard. She's a cum-swallowing dog. I hate her. I'm glad she's dead. Rot in hell Mother!" Lucy screamed the last four words. Her face had contorted into a grimace of rage and a vein pulsed visibly in her temple. She clenched her fists into two tight balls and a trickle of blood dripped from the palm of her right hand.

Helen was shocked by the vehemence in Lucy's words and the aggression of her actions. Still she rocked her eyes blazing, the chair now leaving the floor in both the backward and forwards tilt. Helen was shaking visibly; she was at a loss what to do as the girl continued to scream profanities about her late Mother. Helen glanced at the two-way mirror as though her colleagues on the other side could give her the answers. Should she call the session to a halt? Request sedation? She was used to behaviour of all kinds from her clients and had a panic button two inches from her hand should she need back-up, but this sudden change in Lucy's demeanour was so unexpected that she had been taken by surprise. And then there was Lucy herself. Distaste had to be covered on Helen's face as she watched her client's tantrum.

As suddenly as Lucy had begun to rock she stopped. A wide and disarming smile spread across her face and her features set into a serene and pleasant countenance. She giggled softly. "Is that what you want Miss Chalker? Is that how I'm supposed to act? What should I do now? Chew my fingers off? Defecate myself? That's shit to you Miss-Chalker-with-the-limited-vocabulary." With cool appraisal she noted Helen's reaction.

Helen drew a hand across her eyes. She'd seen some cool clients in her time, old hands that knew how to play the system, but this one was remarkable. A true sociopath without any hint of remorse or regret over what she'd done.

"Tell me about your pictures Lucy."

"I draw, what's to tell?"

"Your subjects are a little unusual."

"So are Escher's."

"Escher used mathematics to produce his work."

"And your point is…?"

"Tell me where you get your inspiration from."

"From my imagination of course."

Helen picked up the A3 sketch pad from her desk and began leafing through the work. She felt the gorge rising in her throat as she flipped from piece to piece and fought it down in an effort to concentrate on the style of the artwork rather than the subject. Perhaps flattery would reap rewards.

"These are fantastic, the perspective is perfect, and the colours are so," she gulped. "Vivid. The craftsmanship of your work is exquisite."

Lucy looked bored. "Please don't insult me with false praise and insincerity Miss Chalker. You don't like my Pictures, they make you feel sick don't they? You want to puke right there on the floor don't you? Be warned though. You'd better keep contracting that scrawny throat of yours because if you do vomit, I'll paint it, only I'll paint you sitting by your waste eating it with a dessert spoon. Would you like that Miss Chalker?"

Helen swallowed again and quickly closed the book. The picture she had finished on was fantastically drawn in pastels and pencil. The detail was fine and precise with the quality of photographic reproduction. The work had been appraised by some of the world's most prominent art critics and though the subject matter was shocking and distasteful, the quality was said to be among the best they had seen. Helen tried to focus on Lucy, forcing the image of the Python eating a human baby from her mind.

Some of the pictures were sexually explicit; showing acts so obscene in nature that Lucy had been interviewed for hours over their content.

Had she ever been sexually molested, abused, raped? Had anybody ever done any of these things to her? Helen had counselled many people from supposedly 'perfect' homes who had been abused, yet there was nothing to suggest that anything of the sort had ever happened to Lucy.

"You have quite an imagination Lucy," said Helen.

"Thank-you, you have quite a nose, have you ever thought of having it done?"

Lucy had gone back to looking at her fingernails. She seemed to have tired of the session and slumped in her chair giving off waves of bored indolence.

"Is there anything you want to say before we finish Lucy?" asked Helen. The session still had over twenty minutes to run but she felt that she was getting nowhere with her client and that it was better to end the session and begin fresh another day when Lucy might be more co-operative.

"Yes I'm sorry the fish died."

Helen was instantly wary. Was this another of her games? Lucy's eyes had clouded with unshed tears. She seemed to be genuinely upset.

"Why Lucy, why are you sorry about the fish dying?"

"Because they didn't deserve it."

"And your Mother did?"

"She made her choices, she chose to have me."

"Because she chose to have you, she deserved for you to kill her?"

"Not deserved exactly, but she made herself open to that eventuality."

"Why did you kill her Lucy?"

Helen tried to control her breathing; she was aware that her heart rate had risen and didn't want to give any indication to the girl sitting opposite her that she was excited. Finally they had broken into the taboo subject after weeks of consultation, and Lucy seemed to be amenable to talking about it.

"Because I needed a new picture."

"So where do the fish come into it?"

"They needed a new home. Can you imagine living your entire life in that little glass bowl? Going round in endless circles, your entire view of the outside world distorted and horribly misshapen? Their perception of us was warped. It's offensive."

"You were offended by the fact that the goldfish didn't have clear perspective?"

"Aren't you?" Lucy looked genuinely shocked. "And anyway it's modern art. Monet said that you must never be frightened to experiment with form and texture to give your subjects expression."

"You knocked your Mother out and then cut off her head."

"Oh please don't look so horrified. You would have done the same thing in my position. Anyone would."

Helen felt slightly queasy again. The room seemed suddenly smaller, the force of her client's personality seemed to be sapping all the oxygen from the room. She pulled distractedly at the collar of her blouse. "You see no wrong in what you did?"

"Not at all. She deserved it, and you have to admit the end result was worth it. Apart from the poor fish, it is one of my best pictures."

"Why did she deserve it? You said earlier because she chose to have you?"

Lucy laughed her eyes crinkled in amusement. She had a sweet laugh. "Of course not, I've already explained all that. I thought therapists were supposed to listen. By having me she made the possibility of matricide an option, but she didn't deserve to be killed just because of that. The stupid cow wanted me to draw a vase of flowers. Can you believe that? Someone of my ability being told to draw a vase of putrid flowers for goodness' sake. Have you any idea how many people who think they have talent have drawn flowers and blasted fruit bowls? She placed the vase of manky old flowers on the unit and was sickeningly condescending."

"So what happened?"

"Draw these flowers darling, she said. They will make such a pretty picture. She said. I was standing by the windowsill at the time. You shouldn't keep fish in strong sunlight you know, it turns the water green, but we did. I wanted them to be able to see me climbing the oak tree in the garden from their distorted little outlook. I lost my temper and swept the goldfish bowl off the windowsill. It smashed. There was a lot of water on the carpet and all those little blue stones. Thousands of them. The fish landed on the carpet too amidst all the glass. It was Mother's fault. She shouldn't have asked me to draw flowers. I wanted to draw the fish, floundering like that on the carpet, but by the time I'd drawn them they would have been dead."

"Oh so the fish were already dead when you put them..." Her voice tailed off not sure how to continue.

This time Lucy's laugh was rueful. "No. No the fish were fine. I put them in a mug of water. No, their death was an error of judgement on my part. Stupid, Stupid. I didn't think it through properly. They shouldn't have died, not with the carrier bag in there. Must have been toxins. Why did my fish die Miss Chalker?"

She seemed so vulnerable, sitting on the green plastic chair with one leg pulled over her other knee. She was fiddling with her trainer lace. In other circumstances the mourning of the goldfish would have been touching. In this instance it was sickening.

"I don't know Lucy, but I don't think it was good for them."

"No neither do I. It made a good picture though."

Helen shuddered.

"I'm tired now Miss Chalker. May I go to my room and draw a picture please?"

Helen motioned in the two-way mirror for orderlies to come and collect Lucy and take her back to her room. She shook her head sadly as the eleven-year-old girl allowed herself to be meekly led away. Helen wondered how a child so petite and dainty ever found the strength to cut through her mother's head with an electric carving knife.

A neighbour had called at the house that Saturday afternoon.

She knocked and walked through into the kitchen as was her custom. Lucy turned her head as Mrs.Ellis walked in and put her finger to her lips. "Sshh, Mother's sleeping," she said.

Mrs. Ellis looked at the still form huddled in a duvet on couch against the far wall.

"Okay Pet I'll be quiet." she whispered.

"Do you like my picture Mrs. Ellis?" Asked the child. Lucy was sitting at the kitchen table with a huge sketchpad spread out before her.

Mrs. Ellis walked over the thick carpet, her blue mule slippers flapping onto the soles of her feet with each step. The skin at the back of her heels was hard and callused. Lucy thought that out of human decency she really should wear full slippers.

The frumpy, overweight neighbour stood solicitously behind Lucy preparing to ooh and ah over the child's picture. She was nervous around Lucy, lots of people were. There was something disconcerting about such an astute intellect coming from a child so young, but it was more than the Mensa membership; the child was just plain weird. If Linda was asleep then she wouldn't bother waiting for a cup of tea, the child made her feel uncomfortable with her direct questioning and forthright manner.

There was a moment of confusion as the image on the pad made its way from Hilda Catlow's retina, along her central cortex and into her brain. Then there was a split second of stunned silence.

Four seconds later Hilda followed Lucy's gaze to the unit in front of her and she forgot her promise to be quiet. She ran from the house screaming.

Two police officers left their burger lunch in the late Linda Taylor's geranium beds. Even the more world weary seen-it-all-before officers from the scene of crime team couldn't equate the grizzly tableaux in front of them with an eleven-year-old child.

After she had scooped out her Mother's brains she liquidised them and fed them to her houseplants. This had nothing to do with disposal of body parts, for indeed the rest of her Mother lay lovingly covered up on the couch. Lucy said that she thought her Mother might have a headache or something. She fed the brains to the yucca and rubber plant in the hope of giving them artificial intelligence.

After she had scooped everything that could be removed from her Mother's skull, she turned the head upside down with the face pointing outwards and her long brown hair arranged prettily so that it cascaded over the rim of the unit. She put a carrier bag inside the severed head and slowly filled it with water, then she put Atlas and Ulysses her into her mother's head. The goldfish seemed to like it and swam quickly round. She was pleased with their new home and felt sure that they'd find it far more interesting than their former glass bowl.

Lucy was still sitting quietly at the kitchen table when the police broke the door down and burst in. They were just in time. She was adding the finishing touches to this, her best picture to date.

"Do you like my picture?" she asked with a smile.

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