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Short Story
From 'How To Live'

Embarrassed that he might be appearing too obsequious, his sobriety slowly subsiding, he put the dishes down in front of them with less care and attention than usual. The resentment that was coiled up inside him, tightly closed like a clenched fist, was ready to spring open and strike out. "Hello, I'm a person, I'm here," he felt like shouting. Then, he couldn't help it, he turned towards Dr Flinter and said:
"Don't you remember me?"
She stared up at him, her eyes focusing slowly, surprised at the imposition of being forced to take in an underling, and after a minute, as though she hadn't noticed him before or been able to work out who he was, replied:
"Oh yes, how are things?"









"Phil," he said, "Phil's the name," since he saw that she'd forgotten it.
"Yes. And how are you keeping?"
"Oh, still as alcoholic and depressed and paranoid as ever. It's on account of my underlying inadequacy of personality."
"I'm sorry to hear it."
She turned away from him, her face setting in a shield against his torrent of sarcasm. Her companions, especially the males, were indignant at this intrusive outburst, and ready to rush to her defence.
“Who is this guy, Niamh?” a burly bruiser in a blazer, and a blue shirt with a white collar and a garish green tie, asked her.
“Client confidentiality forbids me to tell you,” she smiled dryly.
But Phil was gaining courage now, even if it was Dutch, to the point of becoming reckless.
"Don't you think you might have been wrong?" he persisted.
"What do you mean? How was I wrong?"
"By putting those labels on me, calling me those names?"
"But look at you now Phil, you're drunk."
"You're drinking too."
"In moderation, Phil."
"You were wrong to say that I was inadequate. I'm as good as you are, any day of the week, if not better."
"If you’d like to make an appointment, I can go over these points with you. We can resume treatment or, if you prefer, one of my colleagues could see you."
"You must be joking. Do you take me for a complete fool?"
She settled herself in her chair, as though she would entertain no further exchanges. She was, after all, a woman of some bearing and hauteur, who made a tidy living by breaking the wills of already broken people, and bending them to what the state authorities deemed to be mental health. Adjusting her posture to make herself more comfortable, she smoothed down the skirt of her two piece suit, and looked around the table for support.
"You were wrong to call me a failure," Phil continued, goading her. "I'm not a failure."
"You're working as a waiter."
"There's nothing wrong with being a waiter."
"No, you don't understand. You wanted to be more than a waiter."
"Like what, a psychiatrist? Anyway, I might not be a waiter tomorrow, much less for the rest of my life."
By this time one of the men had called for the manager, protesting about the rudeness of the waiter, and demanding he be sacked.
"What gives you the right to go around taking people's characters? Is it just because you've got a few letters after your name?"
She remained silent.
"People like you shouldn't be practising at all. You haven't got a clue how people feel."
"At least I know how to live."
At this point P J arrived, and after roughly escorting Phil away, went back out with a tray of coffees and cappuccinos to try calming the troubled waters his disgruntled customers were left swimming in.
“The barefaced cheek,” the man in the blazer thundered.
“Absolutely,” the one called Sean agreed, more equanimously. “And things have been so difficult for poor Niamh since Conor left her and the children.”
“Yes, it’s terrible,” another woman of the party added, “these middle-aged men, they get a whiff of young skirt and they throw away fifteen or twenty years of marriage.”
“She was just beginning to get back on her feet again.” said Sean, after Dr Flinter

had slipped away to recover in the ladies’ room. “We were trying to get her mind off it and take her out of herself, and now the whole evening’s been spoiled.”

First published in ‘New Irish Writing’ in The Sunday Tribune, June 2000, edited by Ciaran Carty, and winning a Special Merit Hennessy Literary Award.









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