Counsellor in the Mirror by Bruce Costello

Sunday, February 22, 2015
A counsellor is feeling the stress of dealing with difficult clients and his own personal problems; by Bruce Costello.

The man across the room had dark, unblinking eyes.

Brian shuddered.

"Can you fix us?" the man asked, his body turned away from his wife. Petite and pretty, she sat two chairs along, head down, her face red from crying.

"Welcome to you both," Brian said. "My role is not to fix, but to assist you to..."

The man interrupted. "How long have you been a marriage counsellor?"

"Twenty-six years."

The man gaped.

Brian continued. "Perhaps you could start by telling me how you've been feeling within the marriage."

The man rolled his eyes. His voice was quiet, like snake's breath. He spoke about his needs and his rights. And his wife's stupidity.

"This is rubbish, a waste of my time. She'll never change," he hissed, then turned away, his face to the wall.

Brian turned to the woman. "How do you feel in the marriage?"

She stared into her handkerchief and crossed and uncrossed her legs.

"I don't ask for much. All I want is some kindness, a few nice words, a cuddle. I need him to listen to me because he doesn't. He either finishes off my sentences which makes me feel dumb, or goes, 'Yep, yep, yep,' as if what I'm saying isn't important. I feel like I don't have a voice anymore and I don't matter to him. It's like he hates me."

The man snorted.

"Okay," said Brian. "You both have strong feelings in this. That's natural. But if you want to improve your relationship, we need to..."

"If you can't fix us, I've got better things to do with my time." The man leaned forward, elbows out and palms pressing down on his knees.

Brian motioned for him to stay. The summer sun was high in the sky. It streamed into the little office through partly closed blinds. Brian's head ached.

If anyone has better things to do with their time, it's me, thought Brian, touching his cheek protectively where the doctor had excised a melanoma the day before.

A voice inside his head said, "You've got enough worries of your own. Why don't you just stand up and leave? Or, better still, tell the man he's a creep and he treats his wife like dirt. Just tell him to slither off and come back when he's ready to change and take some responsibility. It will be simply delicious. Say to him, I'm not in the mood for your nonsense. Get out of my face!"

Brian undid the buttons on the cuffs of his shirt and pushed back his sleeves with a silent sigh.

It's not wrong for a counsellor to have these personal reactions, he reminded himself. We all do. It's only wrong if we act on them.

"How was your day?" Yvette asked, as she often did, taking off her glasses and laying the magazine down on the sofa by the cat.

"A bit tiring, no more than normal," Brian replied, as he always did. He bent down and gave her a kiss.

"Yes, all right," he said, patting the cat now stretching itself full length and yawning, "but no kisses for you, Fish Breath."

He changed and strolled into the vegetable garden. Dark eyes seemed to stare up from under the dwarf beans, the bushy tops of new potatoes, the leaves of tomato plants bowed with their red baubles. Weeds reared up and hissed at him, but vigorous hoeing cut them down. He worked his way through the rows, eyes fixated on the blade, his mind a hushed, expectant stage.

After a while, panting, he paused to rest. Mopping his brow with a handkerchief, he could feel his heart pounding as scenes from recent days flashed before his eyes.

An elderly woman with a much younger husband. "Come home, John, come home, where you belong."

"No, Annie. It's finished. It was over when you pushed me over and sat on me."

"I felI. I fell."

A middle-aged man in a pin-striped suit streaming tears at the shame of his wife's affair with his best friend. "A double whammy, a double betrayal."

A young fellow with a tattooed face crying because his ex had accused him of molesting their daughter.

A politician confessing to an affair and his wife punching him as she ran from the room.

Brian dropped the newspaper onto the tiles beside the patio chair. He ran a hand across a bald forehead and gently touched the stitches on his cheek.

"It's looking good," said Yvette, leaning forward from her wicker chair.

"What is?"

"Your wound, silly."

"Oh, that,"Brian said. "The least of my worries."

Yvette patted him several times on the leg, slowly.

"Don't know how long I can keep doing this kind of work," Brian said. "I nearly lost it with a chap today. An impossible case."

"You can't make silk purses out of pigs' ears," she reminded him, as she had a hundred times before.

"I know. But I like to help."

"Help? Help who?"

"My clients, of course!"

"Your clients?"

"There're so many stressed people out there. And stress is a killer."

"Have you looked in the mirror lately? Or at me?"

Brian stared at her. She was sitting bolt upright in her chair, her chin thrust forward. Her eyes were half-closed, her lips pressed tight. Tears were streaming down her face.

"Heal thyself, physician," she murmured, "before you turn me into a widow."

Brian's mouth dropped.

"I think it is time for you to make a change," Yvette continued, her voice rising. "If you won't do it for yourself, do it for me."

She stood, smoothed out her dress, walked through the french doors into the lounge and pressed a button on the stereo.

The sound of Michael Jackson singing The Man in the Mirror wafted out on to the patio.

From the garden came a light breeze, the hopeful smell of freshly hoed earth, and the good, honest stink of compost and dung.

Brian closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.


  1. Hi Bruce, the moral of the story was loud and clear and a poignant reminder that we all should stand back and examine our own lives critically, more often than not. I could see that Brian found it more and more difficult to remain professionally detached from his clients, an indication it was time to retire, just as Yvette was hinting at. A good short story that as a reader made me think about my own current situation. I am not sure about the time frame of the growth in the garden, but then it depends where you are located. My new potatoes harvested and eaten long before the tomatoes are ripe... An enjoyable read..


  2. Excellent in it's conciseness - but it also left me wanting to now more: more and Brian and Yvonne and their story? Powerfully engaging, perhaps the remaining questions are exactly what you wanted to leave the reader with? The hope remains, dare we hope?
    Many thanks,

  3. The characters in this story, vivid and lifelike, are what make this story a terrific read.

  4. This is a timely story - so now! It flowed and I could feel the stress. It kept me on the edge. This could be a longer story or a sequel. Keep writing.