It's the opening chapter of a novel I started last year but abandoned when it took a severe swerve away from my original idea and left me a bit stunned; unsure where to go next. I've never gone back to it but I still quite like it. Maybe I should give it another look.
It was a crazy idea but Judy Fry did not think she was crazy. She sat alone at a table in the city centre coffee house while she pondered the question. As she turned over the possibilities in her mind her body mirrored her thoughts and she turned over a gold-coloured metal disc in her left hand. It was heavy, shiny and covered with intricate patterns and it looked a lot like a £2 coin. In fact that was why she had bothered to bend down and pick it up in the street in the first place. She wasn’t desperate for £2 but any kind of lucky chance was worth taking and free cash was always welcome. It wasn’t even enough to pay for the coffee that was currently cooling on the table beside her. But £2 was £2. Or at least, she had thought it was.
She had put the find straight into her coat pocket without looking at it, confident that she was £2 richer, and it was not until she was sitting in the doctor’s reception lounge waiting for her appointment with her new psychiatrist that she even remembered it was there. The waiting room was sparsely furnished, taking minimalism to extremes, and nothing so untidy as a magazine was allowed to disturb its clean lines, so she had little choice but to think about her current situation. Time was dragging slowly as she sat worrying about what the man would ask and how the meeting would go, and she was stressed. She realised she was tapping the chair arms as she waited, so she put her hands into her pockets to stop herself from fidgeting. That was when she remembered the disc again as her fingers caught its coldness. Something about its feel made her take the coin out and look at it again and that was how she realised that it was not what she first thought. If it was a coin it was certainly not legal tender in her high street and she was unsure which exotic location anywhere else in the world might accept it. At the time she had been deeply disappointed but, if what she was slowly being forced to accept was true, this medallion was worth far more than the £2 she had first believed.
In the café she weighed the disc in her hand and it felt heavy, just as it had on that first day. She looked closely at the markings on it to see if they made any more sense today than they had then. Try as she might she could never make them form into any definite pictures, but she could imagine shapes within the entwined swirls of gold. It was like looking at clouds or staring into a fire and seeing pictures form in them. The patterns did not move in any way but as she turned the coin the shapes suggested different images to her. It was clearly some optical illusion - a trick of the light – but it was pretty. Perhaps that was one reason why she had kept the object. After all, it was of no use that she could see at the time. It was just a lump of goldish metal that looked a bit like a £2 coin. She wondered if she could use it in a slot machine, or if a parking meter or ticket machine would accept it in part payment. But she knew by now she was unwilling to part with it. After all, the day she found it was the day her life had changed.
Looking at the coin in the coffee shop she thought back to the afternoon in the waiting room and could remember the efficient lines and relaxing tones of the walls and furniture. It was no NHS clinic, although the man had agreed to see her without charge because her doctor said he was owed a favour. Her GP had told her that she was very depressed and they needed to try a new approach. All the treatments they had tried in the past were of little help and a succession of pills and talk therapies had made little impact on her overall state of mind.
“I really think you need to see a specialist, a psychiatrist” he had said, “I know just the man. You’ll like him. And he’s very good.”
She hadn’t wanted to see a stranger, to talk over her fears and the voice in her head that criticised and nagged at her throughout the day and in the dark hours of the night. Not that she heard voices or anything like that, oh no. This was no alien invader in her mind that fed her strange instructions about papering over the windows or wearing foil hats to keep the radio waves out. She knew whose voice it was. It was hers. And it really should speak to her more kindly than it did because she didn’t deserve some of the things it said even though her life was a bit of a mess and she had difficulty thinking of a single achievement she could be proud of in the last few years. But somehow she could not silence it. Her. The other her. The voice had been there for as long as she could remember, with its sarcastic commentary on her life and its little hints about how much better she could be doing for herself if only she had a better job, concentrated more, spent less, lost weight, and all the hundreds of other great improvements she could make.
A politely smiling man came to the side of the room and called her name. “Judy? Hello, I’m Dr. Pandanista but everyone calls me Pan. Come through to my office.” The face was brown, and creased and looked not unlike a small monkey with bright, dark eyes that looked intelligent, and sparkled as if they were planning something mischievous. His hair stood in spikes on top of his head, and he had a small beard around the end of his chin, that only added to the monkey illusion. In spite of her misgivings she felt she might be able to like him. He guided her smoothly through the corridor to a small room with a desk and two arm chairs and gestured with an open palm and a broader smile that she should sit down in one of them.
“So. Judy. Your doctor says you need to see me. Why do you think he said that?” She began to tell him a prepared answer about how she had been crying a lot and unable to sleep and just needed a bit of space and time but somehow her carefully rehearsed speech turned into something unplanned. She realised as she continued to talk that her tale had taken on a more personal note and that she was telling this monkey man the truth. How everything in her life went wrong and how she tried very hard to be a success but she didn’t seem to manage and she had very little to be depressed about actually because on the outside she appeared to have everything she needed but she didn’t think she could take much more and how why was the world out to get her and what on earth had she done to deserve all this chaos? The words she had tried so hard to keep in seemed to break through like the tide overcoming sea defences and flooded the office around her. She even took out the coin from her coat pocket and showed it to him. “I thought I’d made a lucky find but it turned out it wasn’t £2, it’s a worthless lump of shiny stuff. All image and no substance, just like the rest of my life.”
He listened with a concerned expression and his head tilted slightly to one side and looked directly at her as she spoke. At the end she slowed and realised that she had been crying for some time. He handed her a tissue from a conveniently placed box on the desk and nodded slightly. For quite some time he was silent, just looked at her with a concerned and patient expression as if he was checking that she had nothing more to say before he began.
“Well you can change that. You can change a lot of things,” he said eventually.
He went on to explain a few ideas behind the latest theories in psychiatry. About how moods are affected by one’s thoughts and how, by taking control of those thoughts, depression can be overcome. He taught her some relaxation techniques to slow her breathing and release the tension in her neck and soon her hour-long appointment was over.
“It really is just a matter of changing your view. If you change your approach to life you’ll find that your life changes too,” he said as he escorted her back to the waiting room.
It was true. Her life had changed from that day, but she still had no idea how much it had to do with the psychiatrist’s theories. It was becoming increasingly obvious that the changes were little to do with her. In fact it seemed as if they were totally out of her control. She sipped at the coffee, not noticing that it was now completely cold, and considered what exactly had changed since then. It was nothing major, in fact it was very difficult to pinpoint exactly what was different. There had been no significant improvements in her life, but since that day at the psychiatrist’s office there had been a lot of small victories. At least she felt as though her daily life had fewer hiccups and challenges. Maybe it was just that she was noticing the good things and ignoring the bad, as Dr. Pandanista had suggested. He had also persuaded her to keep hold of the odd coin, as a symbol of her new approach to life. The object she had thought of as worthless was now an amulet that represented the possibilities in life, rather than the disasters.
“How do you know it’s worthless?” he had asked, “For all you know it could be the best thing that ever happened to you.”
At the time she had no idea how that could be right. A piece of metal could not affect the world around it, and certainly could not affect the events around her. But sitting in the café with a cold coffee by her side she considered some of the incidents of the past few weeks and was increasingly facing a difficult conclusion. In spite of her doubts, it was slowly becoming more difficult to ignore the fact that the coin she had picked up in an ordinary shopping street held the power to grant wishes.