Cerebral and Contemptuous
By Mike Hickman
Cerebral sidled up to Contemptuous, eyed up his suit and his batwing glasses and then lifted his sherry. ‘Chin-chin, old chap,’ he said.
Contemptuous raised a shaggy eyebrow. ‘And you are?’
‘Just arrived,’ said Cerebral. He was over a head shorter than Contemptuous, so he wound up looking mostly at shoulder. ‘She called me up.’
‘He said something about reading a book or taking an interest and – well – there you go, Jack Robinson quick, here I am. Interesting crowd, isn’t it?’
Contemptuous looked over the top of Cerebral’s head at the entirely empty room. ‘If you can call it interesting.’ He looked down. His steel-grey hair was parted and waved in precisely the way it might be if he didn’t want people to think he was vain. But didn’t mind if they said so, anyway. ‘I suppose you would. I’ve got your number. I know who you are. What’s a synonym for interesting, then? Come on, chop-chop, with your big words there.’
‘You heard her then?’
‘No. There was nothing to learn from her. But, mark me, it’ll have been the big words that got her goat, not some vagary like reading a book.’ Contemptuous snorted. ‘Read a book! That’s not her problem. She won’t mind him reading books.’
‘She minds him reading the books she ought to have read.’
Contemptuous paused over his drink. He reached out for a passing vol-au-vent and examined it closely for stray hairs. ‘I say, old man, that’s rather good.’
‘Showed her up, did he? Made her all umpty because he’d read something she was s’posed to?’
‘Only by accident. He wasn’t to know.’
Cerebral turned to look at the new arrival, a disreputable looking little man in shabby, ill-fitting suit and Hush Puppies that had seen better decades. He was fiddling with a very small wrapped cigar. As Contemptuous and Cerebral watched, the cellophane tab broke off in his hand and he resorted to picking at the seam with a bitten fingernail.
‘By accident?’ Contemptuous snorted. ‘Are you telling me that he went in there and started quoting CBT theory at her or whatever…’ He looked at Cerebral; Cerebral nodded – he was near enough right. ‘…and he didn’t know what he was doing?’ Fleshy lips pouted, before parting to receive the vol-au-vent in one.
‘He was trying to – you know – say why he thought it was the right thing for him.’ The shabby man succeeded in breaking into the cellophane seam. The cigar promptly snapped in two.
‘I think it’s our friend here’s job to provide that kind of analysis,’ Contemptuous said.
Cerebral nodded and raised a confirmatory finger.
‘Well, wasn’t he?’ the little man asked, holding Cerebral’s gaze firmly while Contemptuous decided to flag down a blini. ‘He needed her to know how much he needs the sessions. Of course he’d read up. He thought that was what was…needed.’ He trailed off, had a go at putting the two ends of the cigar together, before ending up with one in his top pocket and the other behind his ear.
‘That’s a lot of needing, there,’ Cerebral said.
‘Why shouldn’t he ask why he needs her help, especially?’ Contemptuous asked through salmon and avocado. ‘Well?’ He regarded Cerebral, disregarded Needy, regarded himself again. ‘She’s a professional. She should expect it. The reading up; the…yes…needing to protect himself by knowing something of her business; the expectation – the absolute expectation – that a therapist might know what she was talking about and, if necessary, could persuade him of the…the…’
‘Efficacy?’ Cerebral ventured.
Contemptuous attempted to click fat, sticky fingers. ‘Exactly. He should have expected nothing less than her ability to convince him of the efficacy of the treatment, not least in his first assessment. And what does he get instead? When she damn well labels him when that’s not what the therapy is supposed to be about. Well?’
‘Us,’ says Cerebral.
‘Precisely. Us.’ Contemptuous flared his nostrils and swept sour cream back through his Mr Whippy hair. ‘She tells him we’re his problem before she’s made any effort to work out where he’s really coming from. And now here we are. And he’s got us to carry with him – if he agrees to the sessions. Which he shouldn’t.’
Needy produced a crushed cigar packet from his back pocket. The next cigar to come out was a perfect right angle.
‘Absorbing,’ said Cerebral.
‘Synonym for interesting.’
‘Ah.’ Contemptuous clapped Cerebral on the back, circled Needy, helped himself to another blini and watched the door as the next arrival shrugged his way through. ‘Like a 400-page book on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I suppose?’
‘I wouldn’t quite go that far,’ Cerebral said.
‘Evening,’ said the newcomer, looking at his shoes, comparing his shoes to Needy’s and immediately trying to clean them off on the back of his trouser legs.
‘Evening,’ said Needy.
‘She called you up, too, then?’ Cerebral asked.
The nod-shrug practically collided with itself.
‘Typical,’ Contemptuous flounced. ‘Pseudo-intellectual, redbrick University therapist type like her – of course she’d go for you next.’
‘I hope you didn’t…’ Cerebral began.
‘I hope you did…’ Needy interjected.
Shame looked from one to the other to the other. ‘Of course I did,’ he said, ‘after she’d told me what my problems were and how much trouble I’d put her to by being so difficult, of course I had to agree to the sessions.’
‘40 quid a time,’ sighed Contemptuous.
‘Twice a week,’ said Shame.
‘Over a grand,’ murmured Cerebral.
‘Oh, well,’ said Contemptuous, passing round the sherries, ‘I suppose we’d better make ourselves comfortable. It’s going to be a while before any of the rest of our fellows show up.’
‘If at all,’ said Cerebral.
Mike Hickman (@MikeHic13940507) is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including a 2018 play about Groucho Marx. He has recently been published in the Blake-Jones Review, Bitchin’ Kitsch, the Cabinet of Heed, the Potato Soup Journal, and the Trouvaille Review.