Clients sit before me, an accusing silence filling the distance between them. I take note of their matching stony expressions and how their bodies angle away from one another.
“Life is a road.” I begin sagaciously. “It can be travelled alone, or it can be travelled with a companion. At times, the road will fork and sometimes, we can take a wrong turn.” I pause, waiting for the gravity of my words to hit the mark. “The question is, has your relationship taken a wrong turn, or has the road split into two separate paths.”
I let my well-rehearsed introduction hang in the air as they stare at me. I enjoy first sessions and have crafted its structure so precisely I could deliver it in my sleep. It is also the session in which I learn the most. I predict with 94% accuracy which couples will overcome their problems. I sit still, straight backed, and tall in my sleek leather chair. The only movement is my bobbed blonde hair as the rotating fan wafts my direction. A mixture of perfume and aftershave drifts past. The silence stretches, but I will not break it.
The man begins to shuffle. He must be the passenger, the woman the driver, I realise. His dark eyes flicker from the door to my face. I know instinctively what he will say. The signs are there- the way he looked me up and down at the office door when he arrived; how he steals looks at my legs.
He leans forward, elbows on knees, making himself small. “I had an encounter…” he mumbles.
The woman’s eyes snap into focus as she wheels around to face him directly.
“He had an affair!” she spits, a slender finger jabbing towards him, then wraps her arms tightly around herself. I notice a flush creep up her neck beyond the expensive blouse.
I say nothing, remaining as still as before. My eyes rest momentarily on the woman before serenely returning to the man’s. This couple need my expertise. His gaze has dropped guiltily to the floor. The woman crosses one long leg over the other, where it bounces vigorously.
“My role is to direct you to a resolution,” I purr gently, “whether you wish to part ways or remain together.” The man sneaks a furtive look at the woman, assessing her reaction. I know they can recover if they follow my expert advice of course. I guide them through carefully designed questionnaires which prompt reflection on how they have been shaped by life experiences. They discover things about each other, the different paths of their lives before they merged. I have planted a seed of mutual understanding, that there have been sharp bends and hidden dips before their journeys merged.
“For next week,” I conclude on the hour mark precisely, “swap roles at home. Each of you do the chores and tasks the other normally does. We will talk through your perspectives when we meet again.” The couple nod awkwardly and politely mutter their thanks. I remain seated, watching. The woman takes her designer handbag from the floor without looking at the man and strides to the door. He follows the woman with his head down.
I shake my head as the door shuts, readjust my skirt. I will be their crash barrier. In the half hour between sessions, I revise my notes and review the next couple's last session. I am always prepared. This is my way. I revel in structure and have established a reputation for successful reconciliations. I have published a book bringing my methods to a needful audience. ‘Wrong Turns’ details a marital road map exactly. I expect it to sell well.
My twenty-year marriage is an example of boundless success. John and I are solid. I know my wealth of education and professional background gives me an edge in marital navigation. John understands- always deferring, ready with agreement. We have a focused union; I have a duty to help others traverse theirs. John supports my book events, walks me in and out, smiling. I understand why he does not stay – he does not like photographs or mingling. I buy presents spontaneously, compliment him, and celebrate his successes. He books me writing retreats or stays in a hotel if he knows I have a deadline looming. I use examples from my marriage to help clients, who listen with admiration.
At the end of the day, I reflect on one unpredicted session. Two of my older clients announced their divorce following a year of my techniques. I do not like surprises. I analyse their notes, grasping for understanding. No arguments or infidelity; no secrets or betrayals. After twenty years they simply realised they want different things. Biting my lip; a strand of hair falls into my frowning eyes. This couple do not fit my published paradigm for a successful marital journey.
I think about this couple driving home. Distracted, I take a wrong turn. I rectify the curious error by driving to John’s practice instead. I will buy his favourite coffee and surprise him as he leaves.
I park my car with the usual precision, using my state-of-the-art parking sensors, and my composure returns. Checking my reflection in the car window, a sudden realisation arrives. The couple will naturally reunify. New relationships will show how they are suitable companions on their life journey, once the appeal of the unknown wears off. I smile, relieved, wondering how I missed this obvious deduction.
Serenely I glide towards the barista’s, the bitter aroma of fresh coffee greeting me. I look forward to the pleasure on John’s face at the treat of my unexpected visit. I check my reflection again on the glass of the door as I reach for the handle. Movement beyond the glass draws my gaze beyond my own reversed image.
Startled, I see John straight ahead. He’s not alone. An unfamiliar man. Sitting close. Too close. An arm around John’s shoulders. Laughing. Smiling. I freeze. Clogging the doorway. Horrified. Watching. John’s companion turns. Kisses John’s lips. “You’re going the wrong way, love!” a voice behind me cries.