Michael J. McCann

Author of the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel Series

TWILIGHT ROAD: AN EXCERPT

DEVLIN

1


The moment she walked into the room, Dr. Dennis Devlin knew that something was different.

It began with her eyes, which glanced around the consultation room as though seeing it for the first time, taking in the steam radiator below the window, the fireplace with its row of white candles on the mantel, and the open doorway into his office.

It extended to her mouth, which, although not smiling—never smiling!—was relaxed, almost amused. An expression new to their relationship.

It included her clothing, which consisted today of a dark blue, ankle-length dress with small grey flowers and four white buttons on the front, a slender navy belt around her waist, and black shoes with thick, low heels. Although she’d occasionally worn a dress or skirt to previous sessions, her preferred wardrobe over the winter had been jeans and a pullover sweater. Simple and to the point. But here they were, on the first Tuesday in March, and Maddie Hubbard had chosen a dress from her closet that he’d never seen before.

“How are you feeling today?” he asked as they sat down, each in their usual brown armchair. Between them was a glass coffee table with a stack of books on pottery, Dutch art, and French rural gardens; a platter of wicker balls painted gold and green that his cats occasionally knocked onto the floor when the room was otherwise unoccupied; and a bowl of dried rose petals that Devlin liked because they had come from the bushes in his garden.

Her eyes found his. “I’m well, thanks. How about yourself?”

He smiled, pleased with her willingness to make eye contact. “Not bad. Happy to see the snow beginning to go away.”

“I agree. I don’t like the winter much, either.” She looked out the window, distracted by a bird passing in her peripheral vision. She frowned, a very brief crease at the bridge of her nose that quickly smoothed out, and turned back to him, ready for his next question.

Devlin crossed his legs. It was his practice to conduct what was called a mental status examination at the beginning of each session with a client. Based on a generic model commonly used in clinical treatment, it was a quick series of observations regarding the person’s mental condition. His exam covered about nine different categories, including such things as appearance and grooming, facial expression, behaviour, compulsive movement, speech patterns, thought processes, and that sort of thing. This morning she seemed to be checking off all the boxes with noticeable improvements from her previous sessions.

“How’s your Aunt Brigitte doing?”

“Fine. I drove myself today.”

“You did?” Devlin was unable to hide his surprise.

She nodded. “I got my licence back last Wednesday.”

“That’s wonderful, Maddie.” He was pleased. After her release from the hospital in November, her doctor had recommended the suspension of her driver’s licence while she underwent treatment. She’d shown very little progress over the course of the winter, and her aunt had assumed the driving chores so that Maddie could attend her various appointments.

Last week she hadn’t said anything about trying to get her licence reinstated, and he suspected she’d been worried about being turned down. As well, judging by her expression as she watched him process the news, she’d probably held it back in the hope of being able to surprise him.

She’d succeeded.

“How do you feel about being able to get around on your own again?”

She thought for a moment. “Satisfied.”

“It was a good week, then?”

“Yes. A very good week.”

When she’d first started seeing him on the first Tuesday in January, she’d said very little. Almost nothing, really. It had taken a while for her to trust him enough to speak in complete sentences, and after that to express thoughts complex enough to require at least a paragraph or two.

Verbally she showed frequent hesitation despite her increased willingness to talk, as though she were having trouble finding the right word. He briefly worried about a speech disturbance of some kind until he realized, with something of a shock, that she was trying to dumb down what she was saying to him. Once he began to elevate the level of his own diction, he saw that her comprehension didn’t misfire and her vocabulary expanded accordingly.

She was incredibly bright, he surmised, and like a tall youth who stoops so as not to draw attention to themselves among shorter people, she’d developed a habit of hiding her intelligence when in conversation with others.

Thinking of a word, but taking a moment to search for a simpler substitute so as not to alienate her listener.

The discovery delighted him to no end.

Today Maddie obviously had something on her mind, and he was very interested to hear what it might be.

“I’ve made a decision,” she said.

Devlin watched her eyes shift to the window again, where a tree branch moved back and forth in the wind. When she’d finished thinking about what she was going to say next, he saw her nod microscopically to herself before returning her attention to him.

“I’ve made up my mind to talk to you about what happened.”

“I’d love to listen.”

“You’re not judgmental. Like the others. That’s why I come back here every week.”

“I’m very glad that you do.” He was aware that she’d seen several psychiatrists after her crisis last October, in the hospital in Kingston and after her release in nearby Smiths Falls, driven back and forth by the saintly Aunt Brigitte. He knew that the experiences had not helped her, other than to provide a new set of prescriptions each time that soon proved ineffectual.

Finally, when her family doctor had suggested a psychologist, her Uncle Robert hesitated. After all, he would be footing the bill for it, as Maddie’s finances had been placed in escrow, and while psychiatrists could be consulted free of charge in Ontario, their services being covered by provincial health insurance, psychologists expected to be paid for their time by the client.

Devlin suspected that Aunt Brigitte had put her foot down. Not only was it she who’d brought Maddie around to his office in rural Kilmarnock every Tuesday, but she was also the one who paid for the sessions using her own credit card.

Their first three meetings had been hopeless. Nonetheless, Aunt Brigitte persistently brought her back, and Maddie doggedly sat through the hour each time, no doubt honouring her aunt’s wishes while staring at her hands and saying almost nothing.

The next few appointments, however, showed incremental improvement, as though she were slowly climbing out of the deep, dark well into which she had fallen. Until now, today, on the first Tuesday in March—Maddie finally seemed willing to trust him with what was on her mind.

“You’ll have to stay that way,” she said. “Not judgmental. You’ll have to suspend disbelief and not jump to conclusions.”

“I promise you, I’ll do my best.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You’ll have to do better than that, Dr. Devlin. Are you up to it?”

“Yes, of course.”

“It’s going to take time. I know you’re expensive, but Aunt Brigitte said she wanted me to keep seeing you until I feel better. And anyway, I’ll pay them back later.”

Devlin nodded, not particularly liking the part of his job that involved receiving payment. Although he was human enough to enjoy having a healthy bank account, the expectation of remuneration, and the necessity of asking for it, always made him feel uncomfortable. Which was why he was glad his wife handled that part of the business.

“I have to do it my way,” she said.

“What do you mean by that, Maddie?”

“I have to tell it my way. And you can’t be jumping in and announcing that I’m psychotic or delusional.”

“I see. Well, I certainly want you to tell it your way. And at your own pace.”

“You’ve been wondering all this time what’s been going on in this strange little head of mine.”

He smiled.

“Well,” she said, “now you’re going to find out.”