“I must say, I was impressed,” he said, taking the seat she offered. “The way you guided her to acceptance was masterful indeed.”
“Of course.” His mentor sat back in her chair, one hand cradling a steaming mug. “But I’m not seeking praise. My role here is to ensure that you learn. So let us analyse the session and uncover the machinations behind my performance. To begin, describe the setting.”
He knew what she wanted—a bare-bones description, with no conjecture. She wanted to hear what she already knew.
He took a sip of his own drink, the coffee too strong without milk, but it kept him alert, as it always did in these meetings.
Then, he told her of how the room was set up with sofas and easy chairs, soft music on the edge of hearing, lighting subdued. He spoke of the choice of beverages on the counter, and the plate of biscuits on the low table.
“And is there some importance in these biscuits?” she asked.
“Many residents find food a comfort,” he said, “and your subject for this session has a fondness for particular varieties of biscuit. The resident’s agitation and simmering aggression toward direct questioning is well documented, so by offering her something pleasurable, you were able to present a non-threatening opportunity to dialogue.”
“Exactly. And by expressing my preference for oat-flats, when I knew her favourites were creams, I was able to encourage discourse without, as you say, direct conversation.”
He was thankful for the reminder—he so often missed the finer details. “And with food the topic on the table, as it were, she opened up, and you were able to draw lessons from her recollections.”
“Very good. It’s an oft-repeated tenant that continuing a dialogue requires far less effort than initiating one. Ambiance is important, but so often overlooked.”
“And this, I’m sure, is why you hold these discussions in a space with such a relaxed atmosphere.”
“You would analyse your mentor?”
Was he overstepping some line here? “I apologise. I meant no disrespect.”
She smiled, and raised a hand. “Nothing to apologise for. Analysis is a skill that requires constant practice. But continue. You mentioned recollections.”
He coughed into his hand, knowing that she would pick up on his embarrassment. “Recollections. Yes. This resident struggles with empathy. She cannot imagine the world from another’s viewpoint. But when she talked about that dinner party, where her blinkered preparations caused such clear discomfort to one particular acquaintance, you were able to utilise that as a pertinent lesson. You presented her with similar scenarios, separate from her direct experience but based on this personal incident. After a half-hour of guided conversation, she eventually admitted that, if she were able to return to that dinner party, she would do things very differently. It was a major step forward in her recovery.”
His mentor nodded. “A succinct summary. And using memories in this manner is one of the fundamental techniques we have.”
“But your execution of it was exquisite. I believe I’d struggle to hone in on the apposite memory. What would happen if the resident had no suitable recollection?”
She did something he’d never seen before—she laughed. It was a short bark, a single ‘Hah!’, and she threw her head back, exposing her long neck.
“I apologise. Did I say something wrong?”
She shook her head, holding up one hand. “Oh, my dear student, how wonderfully naive you are! You believe I capitalised on a fortuitous recollection?”
“It would appear that way.”
She gave that laugh once more. “Oh, appearances! Yes, it appears that way. But let me ask you—are your memories true?”
“I have to believe…”
“I’m not asking about belief. Are they true?”
He hesitated, seeking but failing to uncover her angle. “Yes,” he eventually said.
“So you recall the biscuits in the session room?”
He pictured the scene as vividly as he could. “There was a mixture. Oat-flakes and creams, of course, and a few chocolate slims. There might have been others. I can’t recall.”
“So you remember those three varieties, correct?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Or did you name the first two varieties because I mentioned them earlier, and the chocolate slims because you enjoy them?”
In his mind he again saw that plain white plate, the broken flats near the edge, the crumbs that brushed free when the resident selected a cream. Why would she make him question his memories like this?
“Our memories are fickle and fallible,” she said, “coloured not only by our desires but also by those around us. For the sake of clarity, none of the varieties you named were present.” She tilted her head. “Do you see?”
The memory of the plate wavered, and now the biscuits were unclear. He understood, and he swallowed. “But isn’t this … lying?”
“Call it ‘embellishing’.” She placed her mug down. “Memories are of vital importance. A lesson heard is a lesson forgotten, but one understood through recollection is a part of our very being. But we can’t rely on chance in finding the perfect memory. Rather, we have to form those memories. At its core, our work involves remolding minds, and there is no harm in some small subterfuge toward this end. Correct?”
He nodded. They had to remain focused on their mission, for the good of society.
“Besides, I don’t believe that wretch of a woman ever held a dinner party in her life.”
She stared at him, her mouth thin and harsh, and he shuddered. Was his mentor actually creating memories for the residents? No—that was impossible, surely. How could a person be hoodwinked to such a degree?
The corner of her mouth remained twisted, and her eyes bore into him. He lifted his mug to his lips, the disgusting bitter aroma hitting the back of his throat. And he tried to recall the last time he’d eaten—and enjoyed—any kind of biscuit.
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How Legends Are Born