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Page 1

Mark Haines

Fiona is half-slumped in her swivel chair, explaining the process to Rachel once again. Rachel has never really grasped the purpose of Fiona’s talk, but knows it must be reiterated, and she must hear it, about once a month. Fiona’s expression of plodding fatigue is now quite familiar, as is that of the sardonic receptionist who says, each month, precisely twenty minutes after the appointment time, ‘You can go in now’.

Rachel has endured some disturbing hours at the government school that day, where it has quickly appeared that she is weeks behind the other students, dresses differently, and has little to say for herself. This taciturnity is highly contextual, however; when visiting her brother Dan, in her frequent messages on social media and, most of all, scribbling only half-legible notes to herself in the dark hours of the night, words and energy pour from her.

But with Fiona, now, and with all those like her – the official, the important, the powerful, the strong – Rachel keeps a careful, canny silence. Whatever the reasons for this strategy, it always works to irritate Fiona, whose real altruism and concern for homeless young people have steadily dropped with the years, from too many explanations, too many decisions, too much trouble.

The questions continue. Has Rachel been in contact with her mother? Is there some reason why this hasn’t occurred? Does Rachel need some additional assistance with communication strategies? [This remark seems to refer, not merely to Rachel’s relations with her mother, but to her relations with Fiona herself and, by implication, with other people]. Rachel gives her now practiced, minimal responses, but this reticence is ceasing to satisfy either party. Rachel can feel an anger beginning inside her, and suspects Fiona can see this too. Indeed, she does, and the discussion, or interrogation, starts to assume the air of a stand-off, a deadlock.

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