It seemed to be an ordinary second-hand chair—but was it?
The chair appeared to be an ordinary wingback chair, comfortably upholstered in a shade of clouded blue. Rhiannon’s client sat down in it, facing her across the desk that stood between them.
“How do you do, Dr. Beddowes?” Rhiannon asked.
The man looked careworn. She noticed a distinct twitch in his left eye and the fingers of the fine-boned hands resting on her desk drummed constantly against the surface as he talked.
“Thank you for asking,” Beddowes said. “Normally, I would have no use for counseling—I’m much too busy—but my employer has ordered me to see you and in fact is paying for this session. My problem is that I can’t sleep and it’s affecting my work. I think I get perhaps two or three hours’ of real rest at night and the rest of the time I lie awake with my mind racing.”
Rhiannon considered him, her head on one side. “What exactly is it that makes your mind race and keeps you from your rest?”
“I’m the task leader of a research team at the laboratory. We’re trying to solve a problem of long standing in whole-genome sequencing. We’ve been working sixty- and seventy-hour weeks for months but we still haven’t produced any quantifiable results. And the deadline is approaching—in the federal government arena, as you may know, the fiscal year ends on the last day of September. If we don’t justify our current budget by finding a solution, we’ll lose our funding for next year’s projects. It’s driving me crazy! It’s driving all of us crazy!”
Rhiannon nodded. “Understood. Your primary problem is that of finding a solution but your secondary problem is that of stress. I can see that.”
“Yes.” Beddowes sighed and lowered his eyes. The pulse in his left eyelid twitched again.
“Dr. Beddowes, I want you to sit back, take a deep breath, and describe to me as well as you can the nature of the problem your team wants to solve. Of course, if it’s classified, you won’t be able to divulge any details, I understand that, but suppose you simply give me a general idea.”
Rhiannon’s study was both uncluttered and quiet. The curtains were half-drawn but a shaft of late afternoon sunlight fell across the wooden floor. A faint scent of roses wafted from the bowl of potpourri on the small table by the window, and flute music, sounding as if it were coming from far away, could be heard from the player in one corner of the room.
As Beddowes began to describe the project, Rhiannon took out her knitting from the bag beside the desk and clicked the needles rhythmically as she knitted. She knew the spell would begin to work very soon.
Sure enough, it did. Her client relaxed almost visibly in the chair, half-way through his description. “Must say… comfortable chair…where was I? Oh, yes, we—“ he gave a huge yawn.
“Yes, of course,” Rhiannon murmured. She clicked the needles again as she finished one row and began the next.
“In fact, I, uh…” Dr. Beddowes’ eyes closed, fluttered open again briefly, then closed again.
His regular, even breathing showed he was fast asleep. Rhiannon wrote down the time, put the afghan away, and reached for her crochet project. Passionata’s baby, expected at Imbolc, would need a little sweater with matching cap and booties.
Rhiannon smiled as she worked, reflecting on the irony of her situation. Years ago, stuck in a dreary administrative position with no prospects of advancement or even job satisfaction, she’d gone back to college at night to earn a master’s degree in counseling. After graduating from the program she set about looking for a position that would put her newly acquired skills to use, but found none. Always, local, state, and federal departments were cutting back their budgets, eliminating positions in counseling, human resources, and similar fields. Disappointed, overqualified, she went to work as an office manager until the downsizing of the early 2000s began. Eventually she and several others in her division were offered a buyout: she took it, as did almost everyone in her department.
With her savings, Social Security, and the money from the buyout she was, ironically, able to do the work she felt she was meant to do, counseling those troubled in mind and spirit.
By the time Beddowes’ stirred in his chair and opened his eyes Rhiannon had finished the back of the little white jacket.
“Good heavens! Did I fall asleep?”
“You did indeed. How do you feel, Dr. Beddowes?”
Her client looked at her thoughtfully. “I feel rested and relaxed. That hasn’t happened in a long time. How long was I, er, out of it?”
“About an hour,” Rhiannon said. She smiled. “You were describing your situation at work to me, about a problem you and your team need to solve.”
“Yes. Well, as I was saying—“
Beddowes stopped in mid-sentence and stared. His eyes lost their focus, as if his mind were somewhere else. Then he jumped to his feet. “I’ve just thought of something! I’ve been looking at the problem the wrong way around! What if—“ he began to pace up and down the room, screwing up his eyes in concentration, nodding to himself, even talking to himself, “No—yes, we could—but then—“
He continued pacing for a few minutes, then stopped and looked at Rhiannon, eyes alight, his face as eager as a boy’s. “I’ve thought of a way to solve the problem! I can’t wait to get back to work and tell my team–we’ll get to work right away. Good Lord, this is amazing!”
“Well, you know what they say: ‘Sometimes you have to sleep on it.’ You just did that,” Rhiannon said. The difference in his face was profound. No longer careworn, it seemed to shine with happiness.
“I’m so grateful to you for your advice. I’ll tell my employer your fee is well worth it, and I’ll be glad to recommend you to anyone who needs a counselor. What a lucky thing that I came to see you today!”
He leaned across the desk, extended his hand, which Rhiannon shook. Then she rose to see him out the door.
The next morning brought a new client, a Mrs. Franklin, whose age Rhiannon guessed to be late forties. “Call me Leonora,” she said as she sat down in the chair.
Rhiannon noticed that Leonora Franklin was examining her as closely as she was examining her new client. Although she looked tired and sad, Leonora was very well groomed. Her long chestnut hair was fashionably straight, her blue eyes expertly made up, and her nails so perfect they could only be the result of a forty-five-minute silk wrap process.
And what do you see? Rhiannon thought. Do you see just an older woman, a crone, with short salt-and-pepper hair and rimless glasses? Or do you see someone who can help you?
For it was certain that Leonora was a troubled soul. Her voice shook slightly as she said, “I don’t know what to do. I feel I’m living a lie. I would like to live an honest life, but at least three people would be very hurt if I did that.”
“Tell me what you mean by living ‘an honest life,’” Rhiannon said.
“I’m married, with a son in college and a daughter who’s a sophomore in high school. My husband works all day, then comes home and watches sports on TV or he works out at the health club. On weekends he rows with a crew in competition with other crews. Often I get up early to watch him compete in races, but he never wants to go to a play or a political meeting or a movie with me.”
“Have you tried going to a counselor together?” Rhiannon asked.
“He won’t go. He refuses to admit anything’s wrong. He’s a good father but as a husband, he’s hopeless. We haven’t made love for five years.”
“That’s not a normal situation for a married couple. Has he seen a doctor?”
“He refuses to. He says there’s nothing wrong with him, it’s just that he’s not interested in that aspect of married life any more.”
Rhiannon considered. “Do you think he has someone else?”
“It’s unlikely. There aren’t any unexplained absences on his part. But,” Leonora lifted her chin and looked straight at Rhiannon, “I have someone else. That’s why I’m going through such torment now. I met someone at a committee meeting six months ago–I’m very involved in local politics outside of working hours. Anyway, because of the committee work I’ve seen this other man frequently; we’ve gone out for coffee after the meetings. We hit it off in every possible way. We like the same music, we’ve read the same books, we both believe in leaving the world a better place than we found it…”
“Well,” Rhiannon said, “that doesn’t sound very threatening to your marriage.”
Leonora sighed and said, “It’s gone farther than just having coffee. When my husband is out of town on weekends for his frequent competitions and my daughter is spending the weekend with her friends, my friend and I have become more than friends.”
“And that aspect is satisfactory, I take it,” Rhiannon said. “But you’re very uncomfortable with the situation?”
“Yes, I am. I just don’t know what to do! I don’t want to ruin my children’s lives by suddenly announcing I’m leaving the marriage. So many people would be devastated—not only my immediate family, but my in-laws here in town and my parents in Ohio. It would cause an enormous amount of disruption. I don’t want to hurt them, but on the other hand, don’t I have the right to be happy? What am I supposed to do—be married in name only? My husband insists that everything’s fine. But it’s not!”
“Understood,” Rhiannon said. “Now—I would like you to close your eyes, lean back, and take a deep breath. Then I want you to think about what you’d advise someone else to do if she were in your situation. No need to talk…just think for a few minutes.”
“Okay.” Leonora closed her eyes and leaned back. “’M’mm, this chair is so comfortable…”
Rhiannon reached for her knitting. Soon her needles were clicking busily as she worked on the afghan.
Leonora stirred in the chair, then her head fell against one wing and Rhiannon could see that she was asleep. She wrote down the time and continued to work as she waited.
Three-quarters of an hour later Leonora opened her eyes and sat up. “Good Lord, I fell asleep! What on earth happened? We were talking, then all of a sudden I was out of it.”
“So tell me,” Rhiannon said, “before you dozed off, did you think about what you’d advise someone else to do?”
Leonora looked thoughtful. “I did. And while I was asleep I heard a voice in my head that said, ‘The only way to go through a situation is to go through it.’ So that’s what I’m going to do.”
“It’s not going to be easy, I know that,” Leonora said. “There are going to be scenes and tears and hurt feelings. I’ll just have to deal with them. I’m sorry for the impact it will have on my children, but my wanting to be happy doesn’t mean I love them any the less.”
“Of course not.”
“People will criticize me,” Leonora went on. “They’ll ask, ‘How could she leave her kids?’”
“My dear, you are a woman,” Rhiannon said gently. “Whatever you do or don’t do, you’ll be criticized. That’s a given for women in the patriarchal society we inhabit.”
Leonora leaned forward and spoke with great intensity. “This is the only life we can be sure of. I want to live it with someone who satisfies my emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs.”
“Your children are old enough to understand,” Rhiannon pointed out. “Your son in college has already left home, in a manner of speaking. Your daughter is old enough to understand that nothing she did caused the divorce, and you’ll still be her mother. And your husband, from what you’ve told me, seems to have made no effort at all to sustain the marriage.”
“That’s right, he hasn’t. Well,” Leonora said, getting to her feet, “I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to talk to you. I feel so much better! You know, for the first time in months, I actually feel—“ her eyes widened—“happy and kind of hopeful!”
“I’m glad,” Rhiannon said with a smile. She rose to her feet to accompany Leonora to the door.
Returning to her study, which she thought of as “the session room,” Rhiannon glanced at the chair with affection. After finding it in a consignment shop in Middleburg a year ago and bringing it home, she had discovered its unusual properties quite by accident.
At first she’d placed the chair on one side of the fireplace in her living room. Evening after evening, while waiting for dinner to cook, she sat in the chair to read the part of the newspaper she hadn’t had time to read in the morning.
And evening after evening she fell asleep, waking up with a start to find that considerable time had passed. In fact, on two occasions she was roused by the smell of her dinner merrily burning to a crisp. She analyzed the situation: it was before dinner, so the sleep wasn’t occasioned by a full stomach. It was summer, so there wasn’t a wood fire using up the oxygen in the air. She kept the windows in the room partly open at the top, so it wasn’t lack of ventilation. It had to be the chair itself.
Full of curiosity, she began inviting other people to sit in it—friends who came for tea or drinks or dinner. Without exception they dozed off anywhere from twenty to forty-five minutes. Her circle sister Arielle had slept peacefully for an entire hour, then got up and announced that she felt ten years younger.
Rhiannon concluded that a powerful sleeping spell had been placed on the chair by a Witch or Witches unknown. After considering the matter, she decided to use the chair in her work. Of course she’d been managing perfectly well without it, but the chair would confer an additional benefit on her clients. The sad fact was that the stress and busy-ness of modern life deprived too many people of their inalienable right to eight hours of solid sleep every night. Worries, illness, too many chores, too much job-related responsibility, bad health—all these robbed people of their precious nightly sojourn in the Dreamworld. After all, a psychologist had once remarked to a reporter, it was not normal for an entire planeload of adult passengers to be fast asleep by the time the plane had climbed to its cruising altitude, even on daytime flights.
The next morning brought another client, this time a very young woman. Pale and thin, with lank fair hair parted in the middle, Prima Lennox looked haunted.
“Sit down, dear,” Rhiannon said gently, indicating the chair. “What brought you to my office today?”
Prima sat down and promptly burst into tears. Rhiannon handed her a box of Kleenex, placed a wastebasket near the chair, and waited.
At last Prima regained control of herself. “Three months ago my twin brother Peyton died in a motorcycle accident,” she said, looking at the thin hands clasped in her lap. “I feel as if I’ve lost half of myself–I don’t want to go on living! Sometimes I think I’ll join him…you know, overdose on something and end it all…”
“But you have doubts about doing that, right? That’s why you’re here.”
“Yes.” Prima sniffed and raised her eyes to look at Rhiannon. “The thing is, I begged him not to go to the motorbike rally that day. I had a bad feeling about it from the start. I asked him to go to the movies with me, but he just laughed. Said he’d be fine. Hours later we found out he’d had a crash with his bike and he was dead. Killed instantly.”
“It’s very hard to lose a brother, especially a twin,” Rhiannon said. “You must have been very close. Were you best friends?”
“Yes, we were,” Prima said. “We each had our own friends, of course—obviously, a guy and a girl have different interests—but we could tell each other anything. I mean, he was just always there, and now he’s gone. I can’t believe I’ll never see him again!”
“Take a deep breath for me, please,” Rhiannon said. “Now I want you to lean back in the chair and close your eyes. Listen to what I’m saying as I lead you through a meditation, okay? Now: I want you to imagine yourself walking through some woods. They’re very dark and rather nasty—the branches of the trees are gnarly and they try to grab you as you walk past. But you keep going.”
“Keep going,” Prima repeated, eyes closed, beginning to relax.
“You’ve left the dark, horrible woods. You see a beautiful little temple on a slight rise in the ground. You walk toward it, up the steps, and through the door. There is a wise woman there, waiting for you. She wants you to take a dip in a sacred pool, so you take off your outer layer of clothes and walk into the pool.”
Prima’s breathing was becoming soft and regular.
“The water is warm, blue, and inviting. You feel refreshed. You look at the wise woman and she beckons you to come out. The water falls off your body as you walk up the steps out of the pool and she hands you a wonderful warm, soft, fleecy garment, like a bathrobe.”
Prima’s eyes were still closed, so Rhiannon continued.
“The wise woman indicates that you are to lie down on a day bed. She wants you to have a healing dream. So now you’re sinking down on the comfortable day bed and letting your mind drift away into dreamland.”
Prima’s head fell against one wing of the chair. Rhiannon reached for her crochet project, wrote down the time, and waited. It would be interesting to see how long Prima slept and what she would say when she woke.
An hour passed. Passionata’s baby, when it arrived, would be greeted not only with a knitted pram cover but a little crocheted cap, jacket, and matching booties.
After forty-five minutes, Prima opened her eyes and sat up. She looked different, interested and hopeful.
“Did you have a healing dream?” Rhiannon asked.
“Ye-es,” Prima said slowly. “I can’t believe it. Peyton came back, still wearing the same leathers he wore the day he died, and spoke to me.”
“And what did he say?”
“He said that I could stop feeling guilty about the accident because nothing I could have said or done would have dissuaded him from going to that rally.”
“And did he say anything else?”
Prima smiled. “Yes, he did. He told me he wants me to be happy for all my very long life and that one day there will be another twin soul for me. And although I can’t see him, Peyton is still with me, watching over me.”
“Good. And did he leave after that?”
“Yes, he said he was very happy where he was, waved goodbye, and then—puff! He was gone.”
Prima rose from the chair and smiled again. “I’m so glad I came to see you. You’ve helped me so much! I—I’m really looking forward to the rest of my life now.”
“I’m glad,” Rhiannon said.
As they reached the front door, Prima turned and said, “You know…there was one strange thing…well, the whole thing was strange, but this was really odd. The wisewoman…”
“She looked like me. Much older, with white hair, but with my face.”
Rhiannon raised her eyebrows, then nodded thoughtfully.
“Goodbye, and thanks again.” Prima went opened the door, lifted a hand in farewell, and went down the path to the driveway.
Rhiannon stood in the doorway watching her and thinking of a quote:
For if that which you seek you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.