Dr. Stefan was what my mother, and perhaps yours also, would have called a finicky little man. When Judy and her own mother first met him, they both found themselves thinking of an unfriendly little squirrel, which would prefer to remain just beyond the reach of human hands. Dr. Stefan looked natty and faintly splendid, with a spruce little beard, a shiny fawn jacket, and a tartan bow tie. The last was worn not to indicate jocularity or eccentricity, but because it was a scruple of Dr. Stefan’s and he would be incomplete without it. One may have imagined that in a natural state, Dr. Stefan would have been unpleasant and agitated, but that he had decided – a little ungraciously – to be temporarily agreeable, because the world demanded it of him and he was not quite ready to be rid of the world.
Judy was tyrannised by unruly nerves. There were occasions at school, or at the bus stop in rush hour, or outside a nightclub, when she would find herself suddenly jostled within a crowd, carried along and unable to detach herself from its blind ebb. She would be overwhelmed by the fear of drowning, and she would sense herself wobbling on the brink of implosion, as if her mind was slipping away like dropping trousers. She was terrified that she would degenerate into a totally animal state, screaming and clawing and biting rabidly.
Her G.P. had no time for this sort of thing. He could tell that this fifteen year old schoolgirl was haywire inside, a hysteric, and that patient hands would have to unravel all of the knots in her psyche, searching and testing for the loose strands which would lead to a breakthrough. The G.P. referred Judy to Dr. Stefan, the Morningside aromatherapist who was useful at getting such patients off his books.
After the first session, Judy’s mother was very pleased with Dr. Stefan. She regarded him as “a find,” and she freely relinquished her duty as chaperone. During her after-school sessions with Dr. Stefan, Judy underwent a herbal massage – in which his clammy, stinking hands worked away rather inconsequentially at the muscles in her back – and then she would lie on the couch and answer his questions.
She told him about school, and the teachers whom she liked and those whom she disliked, and the things she talked about with her friends, and the afternoons they spent at the Ocean Terminal cinema, and the boys whom she had kissed, and whether they had tried to touch her in personal places… And Dr. Stefan would pretend to listen carefully to these answers and type them up on his computer, but in reality he was fascinated and aghast, and he was distressed by some of the things which he heard, but he could only urge both of them on deeper into this frightful wilderness, and further from his mild, orderly existence.
When Judy left the clinic, Dr Stefan sat stupefied at his desk. Outside the day was failing and the room around him was fading in the gloom, but it did not occur to him to switch on his office light. Like a great lion which has suddenly learned that his kingdom is a small enclosure in a zoo, Dr. Stefan realised that his hitherto comfortable and satisfactory world was actually pokey, squalid and rather ridiculous. He now sensed the airy, unobtainable freedoms beyond its confines. Judy’s youth seemed like a mighty power or a sort of majesty, and in comparison he cut a sorry little figure.
In his despair he became naked and real – the incessant fretting of his mind was seemingly concluded – and his silent cry of pain called up wisdom from fathomless memory, from long-faded books and spells unuttered for centuries. He dreamt of a door of light, and stepping through this portal he became a black dog which capered eagerly at Judy’s feet, as they together tore over the hills. His mind flickered impatiently, scribbling away the shape of the door and composing a fresh one, through which he stepped and became a great black bird, soaring over Judy’s head as she ran over the hills. Finally, he imagined a door through which he crashed into a mass of spray, which toppled as a deep, spreading pool of water. Judy plunged into the pool and Dr. Stefan’s watery mass lapped impatiently at her swimming body, fondling her breasts and legs, filling her clothes and every dry patch and line, until her body was in the teeth of the cold, full in the water’s body.
Dr Stefan was deep in his trance. He stepped out of his clothes, threw open the window of his clinic, and climbed out into the night. In the darkness, he dropped on to the light feet of a cat, and then trotted softly down the path from his surgery to the main road. His blank cat head was full of Judy’s scent and he followed the smell of her body through the Edinburgh night, audaciously scampering across roads, slinking around dustbins, until he finally reached the front door of Judy’s home. With his cat-knowledge, his secret cat-intuition, he found Judy’s window, pressed against a pane, nosing insistently, until Judy was awakened from her sleep, she opened the window, and the cat tumbled into her arms.
Judy was surprised and amazed by this night visitor. The armful of cat was wriggling in rapture, in cat-bliss. Judy dropped to her feet, murmuring to the cat, depositing its squirming weight gently and untidily on her bedroom floor. She repeatedly stroked its pert head, cooing to it, and rhythmically, mechanically, fondling it, jerking its tail, and fluffing the soft fur on its belly. And from its ancient memory, from centuries of human soul and animal will, the cat began to purr. A deep, majestic growl, as grating as a tractor engine, a wondrous note from beyond this world.