The Counsel: A Conversation
Sophie Guan | Art by Megan Xu
“Mr. Moreau? Are you with me?”
The long, slender fingers drumming the soft leather armrest paused, but only briefly, as the dark eyes snapped to focus. Opposite to him, the therapist sank into her armchair. A little farther behind her stood a wall, blank except for a plaque with her name—Mary Dubois—and her therapist certification. Lights bounced off the rims of her gold-framed optics as she adjusted them.
“If you don’t mind,” Ms. Dubois said, “I’m going to ask you some questions. Feel free to interrupt me at any time and navigate the conversation to where you need it to go.” In her notebook, she started a new page. “So, Mr. Moreau, what brings you here today?”
The fingers drumming the armrest stopped. A pregnant pause accompanied but it soon dissolved when the silence prolonged. She nodded, accepted the brevity, and gave him a quick glimpse of her white teeth behind a courteous smile. “Have you seen any other therapists before?” When he shook his head, she made a small note on her paper.
“You mentioned you are a lawyer.” Her voice rang throughout the room like the solid toll of a church bell.
“Yes, but I’m not here as one. I’m here as a patient with an inquiry.”
“Of course.” She smiled pleasantly. “What seems to be the problem?”
The fingers picked up the rhythm again. Two floor lamps, one by each armchair, illuminated the faces of the room’s two occupants. The thin veil of the curtain over the large glass window still left much of the nightscape visible. Beyond the window, the faint honking of the cars on the roads far down weaved in and out of the interlude of the two occupants’ conversation.
“I’ve been hearing things,” replied Moreau. He turned from the window. “My dead mother’s voice.”
Amid making another note on her paper, she stopped and looked at him. “What does she say?”
“She asks me why she’s dead.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, how did she pass?”
“Beaten to death by my drunk father.”
Her face, for a brief moment, contorted and she flinched. To cover it up, she searched his face but found nothing. “When did you start hearing her?”
Moreau closed his eyes for a moment, collecting his memories even though he needed no recollection. A chill crept up his body and slowly dragged his curved lips downwards until they were straight lines again. Footsteps in the hallway outside the closed door penetrated the wood. Muffled voices like the murmured prayers of the churchgoers seeped into the room—then they recoiled, jerked back when Moreau opened his eyes.
“Last friday when I took on my latest case.”
“Tell me more, Mr. Moreau, if that’s alright with you.”
When Moreau blinked, his dark lashes drew curtains over his dark eyes and their brief movements gave birth to flickering shadows across his smooth features. The hand on the armrest moved, and the arm went along with it. Its owner settled it on his lap and laced his fingers together. The movement drew a response from Ms. Dubois as she too sat back in her armchair. The light rescinded from her face. She stayed where the soft glow of the lamp did not fully reach her eyes and waited for the man’s quiet voice to resume.
“My client is a young woman charged with the murder of her father,” Moreau began, his voice expanding the dim, quiet room. “When I first met her, all parts of her exposed body—her neck, arms, face, her feet, the bottom of her feet—were streaked with dirt and blood. She claimed she was forced to live in a cave-like basement by her father whom she described as a habitually abusive drunk. However, her statement differed drastically from the glowing commentaries of her father’s colleagues and friends. The police searched her and her father’s house but did not find anything resembling a basement.
“At the station, the woman claimed self-defense and ripped up her shirt to show cigarette burns on her arms and welts on her back. Her display made everyone uncomfortable, except for the chief and me.”
Ms. Dubois asked, “Why were you not uncomfortable?”
“I’m a lawyer, Ms. Dubois. I have seen a lot of things.” Softly, Moreau breathed out. “The disorganized marks on her back stood out to me: there is no order; there’s just chaos—chaos unfitting of the neat, remarkably well-acquainted businessman her father was.
“I have my doubts, but you must know that it was her story, and not her appearance, that had me agreeing to this case. So while I have doubts, I also admire her—my own father was very much like hers in all aspects: strict, smart, well-polished, a people’s man, and a liar. His smiles were so charming that my mother had once described herself as the luckiest woman alive.”
At that moment of quick pause, Ms. Dubois entered. “You said you admire her. Why?”
“I admire her boldness; patricide is not something a person wakes up and decides to do. It must’ve taken her an unimaginable amount of courage.”
“Why do you consider patricide a courageous act, Mr. Moreau?”
The man smiled a little at the disguised disapproval and tentatively lifted a finger. “Perhaps you associate courage with a certain degree of heroics or righteousness, Ms. Dubois, but, to me, it’s merely confrontations despite fear.”
The woman made a note on her paper. “That’s an interesting take on the word, Mr. Moreau.”
“Not more interesting than traditional,” he replied. “May I ask you a question?”
“Would you drown your husband?”
Ms. Dubois narrowed her eyes and her pen didn’t move on the paper. Moreau watched her thumb moving slowly toward her ring finger, caressing the silver vow gently. “It is unimaginable—but let’s turn back to you, Mr. Moreau. Why do you admire her courage? Have you considered…patricide?”
“Many times, Ms. Dubois, ever since my mother’s death. But, outside this room, I’m a lawyer; I’m supposed to abide by the laws.” Moreau smiled and shrugged his stiff shoulders.
Then, he continued. “Given the resemblance between her and my father, I naturally have quite the empathy for my client. She did not believe me. After all, she has only seen me as an adult in suits and not a young child in rags. But she was more willing when I showed her my father’s reminders on my arms. I told her I would clear her name but I know I should not have made any promises.”
“Because it gives her power over me.”
“Do you prefer to be the one in control, Mr. Moreau?”
“I’d like to be in control of myself. Nothing more, nothing less.” Moreau glanced at his hands briefly He clenched them before letting go, the crescent moons in his palm lingered like an aftertaste. “The problem with this case is that there’s no evidence against her father besides her claim—but nobody trusts a delusional woman who spends most of her time castigating her father. She insists that there is a basement but all the blueprints of the mansion indicate that, besides the wine cellar, there’s nothing else matching her descriptions.
“I went to investigate the mansion because I needed to make my own observations. Out of curiosity, I went into the woods behind the mansion, as many of the officers had done. But what was different was that I went farther. Half a mile from the mansion, I found an abandoned shack filled with empty beer cans and wine bottles—the police, even as we speak, haven’t found the place yet. There were cigarettes scattered everywhere. At the corner, there was a small statue of Christ.” A small chuckle escaped Moreau. “Imagine my surprise, Ms. Dubois, to find religion at such a sacrilegious place. There was also a whip coiled around the statue; it was matted with dry blood. A quick look around the shack confirmed much of my client’s descriptions. But there was one thing that puzzled me.”
“…What?” Ms. Dubois asked but found her voice coming out more like a hoarse whisper in the hollow chamber.
“Besides my intrusion, there’s only one set of footprints in and out. One pair of boots, one tattered coat. A feminine touch to the place. Everything is shorter than her father’s eye level. You must imagine my surprise when I realized that. It makes sense; the early people considered whipping themselves as a way of purging sins.”
A pause. “Are you saying she did…everything to herself?”
“Not everything. People like her, people like me, we don’t let things go that easily. To get what we deserve, some people take control of it themselves but some people, like her, lose control and become trapped.”
“So she thought—”
“No, it wasn’t just a hallucination; it was a flashback, a revisit. She was trapped in a cycle of her childhood nightmares. The alcohol and cigarettes found in the house would all point to her as the indulger.” Moreau leaned his arm back atop the armrest. The rhythm of his fingers’ drumming fell apart in discord.
“This will prove her guilty of her father’s murder.”
“So what did you do?”
“I rearranged the shack,” Moreau said as if it was logical. “I made everything taller to match the height of her father; I burned the bottles and dropped a few cigarettes from her father’s ashtray that was in his bedroom; I laid pieces of his garments where necessary. I had an advantage, because I knew clients and people like him. It was easy to recreate my client’s cauchemar.”
“After I’d done what was necessary to the shack, I had some time to think. And it was then I heard my mother’s voice again, saying why she is dead.” He paused, breathed, and Ms. Dubois caught the quick glint of excitement before his blink washed it away. “That was when I understood my mother’s statement.”
His gaze roamed the dim room and settled on the still curtains. Her eyes followed in seek of his quiet answer. In the background, the clock ticked. The honking of the cars broke through the glass windows and drowned out the ticking clock. He turned to watch the blinking eyes and smiled.
“May I ask you a question?”
All sounds went out in a deafening silence. The cars didn’t honk; the wind didn’t whisper; the lamp stayed still. Then, tap—tap—tap, went the fingers on the leather armrest. Soft, innate thuds rushed by both of their ears and became the interlude.
“What does my mother want from me?”