A Soft Landing for a High Flier

Contributor: Bruce Costello

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Another sleepless winter night. The sky is huge from my veranda, the stars luminous, the moon near and motionless. The trees are buried in slumber, not a movement, not a sound. The fields, bathed in silver, stretch to the hills with here and there the gleam of a pond.

It’s hard to believe that nature can be so still. The stars gaze down with tenderness, as if there’s no unhappiness and all’s well in the world.

They say you should close the clinic door and switch off to the voices of the day.

I was a high flying psychotherapist, well-known and in demand. I thought I was forever. But my brain became a sponge for the pain of troubled people. Day after day with patients, night after night with a troubled husband whose needs I failed to satisfy, whose constant, punishing putdowns were badgering me into becoming what he accused me of being.

My mother died. One straw too many. I gave away my practice, left my husband, fled the city and came to live in this ramshackle cottage that I bought over the internet one sleepless night.

Here there are no discordant voices. The dishes sit on the bench and dry themselves. There is no carpet to vacuum and no lawn to mow. I see few people. I have no telephone.

I took up writing. My computer and I created a new world of fictional people that I can change or eliminate with one stroke of a finger. Back space or delete key, my choice.

Each morning I make syrup for the birdfeeder. Some days I sit for hours watching and listening:- blackbirds, thrushes and waxeyes, in tune with their world as I have never been with mine.

A black dog visits. He rolls onto his back, stretches out his legs, so big he fills the room, wall to wall. I rub his tummy. He licks my hand.

Yesterday, a woman called Lynette knocked on my door. Said she’d heard about me and wondered if I’d like to serve on some committee. For the community. No thank you, I said, as I hurried her down the garden path.

From my veranda I watch as the stars dim and the sun rises. Over the river hovers a haze. A streak of sun touches the trees on its bank and races to the far-off hills. I see a grassy meadow. I would like to lie on it or touch it with my hands. Today I will walk there.


Summer arrives and I am starting to feel human again.

On a stroll one day, I came across that woman, Lynette. She was gazing up into a tree, while her dog on a pink leash was peeing against a gatepost.

“Hello,” I breezed. “Look, I’m really sorry about how rude I was that time you called around, you remember?”

Lynette stared at me.

She was about my age with blonde hair and intelligent blue eyes. It was early in the day and we were on a country lane, miles from anywhere, but she was smartly dressed, and her breasts stood out perky and attractive in a tight, red sweater.

I had been slopping around without a bra for months.

“Oh, it’s you, Jennifer,” she said, pointing to a pair of pigeons flapping up from a branch. “I was just watching those birds.”

“Lovely, aren’t they!” I answered, and we began to talk.

In the weeks that followed, Lynette and I became friends. She was a gentle soul, the first person I’d felt safe with since my burn-out. We shared meals and went on walks. She loved to read the stories that I wrote. Her comments were perceptive and encouraging.

Lynette had separated from her husband after twenty years of marriage. It took her that long, she told me, to figure out that no amount of love and forgiveness was ever going to make him better or stop him abusing her.

She studied for a teaching degree, then landed a job as a college English teacher. After three years she suffered a major depressive episode. She went onto an invalid’s benefit, left the city and bought a country cottage, close to mine.

Lynette took charge of her own recovery. She kept herself busy in the garden and in community affairs. To maintain morale, she told me, she liked to dress well. She walked lots, both for health and for the sake of her figure. Her cottage garden was a wonder.

“It would’ve been so easy,” she told me one day, when we were strolling through the forest, looking for mushrooms, “to let myself go and turn into a frumpy hermit.”

“Like me?” I said to her.

Lynette laughed and whacked me on the backside. She was fun like that.


We were on my veranda one evening, sipping red wine, watching the sky as the peace of night enveloped the earth around us. The conversation had lapsed into cosy silence. A bird called out as it flew low overhead.

“Do you recall,” I said, “that first time we met, months ago, when you came to my door, and I chased you away?”

Lynette nodded.

“Was that very upsetting for you?” I asked.

She glanced at me, then looked down and turned away. I moved across to her, took her hands and pulled her to her feet. We hugged.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, my voice breaking.

Lynette sighed. We held each other. For the first time since mother died, I experienced the soft intimacy of another woman.

The moon smiled and the stars gazed down tenderly on our world.

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New Zealander Bruce Costello semi-retired from his profession in 2010, retreated from city to seaside, and has now had forty stories published in literary journals and popular magazines in five countries.
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