“The Happiness Gene” by Cheryl Powell, read by Saffron Chan

Performed at “Shadow & Substance” on February 25, 2019.

Malc was in the therapist’s consulting room brimming with happiness. Miss Dankworth was wearing her pinched face again and Malc smiled, trying to put her at her ease.
“Why, Miss Dankworth, that pink sweater really suits you,” he said. “Such a pretty colour.” He thought that if her ice-blue eyes ever softened, she might be quite enchanting. Even so, his pulse galloped a little and that made him smile again. She was his future wife, for sure.
“Make yourself comfortable, Malcolm,” she said, and glanced at his crutches.
“New leg,” Malc explained. “You know, after the….procedure.”
The amputation had been Miss Dankworth’s idea, thought it might recalibrate his sense of well-being, dampen his spirits. It was only from the knee down, to start with anyway, but now, judging by her face, Malc wondered if he should have gone higher.
“I don’t believe a prosthetic was mentioned in your behaviour management strategy, Malcolm?” She opened his file.
“Malc, please. Call me Malc. May I call you Lizzie?” He loved saying her name. The buzz of it on his lips. Lizzie. Lizzz…ie.
“I prefer Miss Dankworth.” Her face had settled into a frown and Malc felt he had disappointed her.
“It’s a state of the art leg, Miss Dankworth. Got microprocessors and an integrated stumble recovery function.” He’d hoped she’d be pleased.
“I’m sure it has,” said Miss Dankworth and took up a sharp pencil. “And how do you feel now, Malcolm?”
“Same as ever.” said Malc. “Still ridiculously happy.”
The corner of her mouth twitched. “I see. And how would you rate your happiness today on a scale of 1-10?”
“Oh, easily ten.”
She pressed with her pencil, a deep line appearing between her eyes.
“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” Malc rushed on. “I’ve been doing all the exercises you gave me: writing down six bad things that happened, thinking miserable thoughts, watching that serial killers box-set you gave me. But, I’m really sorry, none of it’s worked.”
“Tell me the very worst thing that that happened this week, Malcolm.” Miss Dankworth’s fingertips were white where she gripped her pencil.
Malc mulled it over. “Well, I had a nasty fall on Tuesday, still getting used to the ankle hydraulics.” He pointed to a rash of stitches from his eyebrow to hair line, hoping that would please her. “And I smashed my new glasses. Silly me toppled off the kerb. Suppose you could say the road came up and hit me.” He chuckled, thinking she would appreciate his little joke.
“Are we looking at a drink problem here, Malcolm?” Miss Dankworth scratched some marks on her pad.
“Alas, no! You know I don’t touch the stuff.” Malc had tried alcoholism several times but somehow could never stick at it. “I’m afraid it really was only a misshap with the leg.”
“Shame.” Miss Dankworth’s frown got deeper. “But how did that humiliating fall make you feel?”
“Jolly silly at the time,” Malc rolled his eyes.
“Must have utterly destroyed your confidence,’ she added helpfully. “Given you negative thoughts.”
“Oh, good heavens, no. Vinny was there, took me off to hospital and then bought me pie and chips afterward. So it turned out well in the end.”
Miss Dankworth looked at him sternly. “Malcolm, we’ve talked about friends before, haven’t we?”
Malc pulled a face. “I know, I know. But it was my best mate, and he called round unexpectedly. What could I do?”
“Not open the door.” She passed him a copy of the behaviour management strategy he’d signed up to. It stated very clearly: 1. Stay indoors 2. Don’t talk to friends or family 3. Focus on despair.
He grinned sheepishly at her. He’d failed on all three fronts.
“Sorry, Miss Dankworth.” But even as he said it, he couldn’t keep in the smile. She really did look awfully pretty, even with that little cross puckered up face, and surely it was just a matter of time before she realised that he really was the only man for her.
“Let’s move on,” she put the strategy into his file and closed it. “Are you taking your depressants regularly?”
“Absolutely am,’”Malc thought she’d be pleased at that. “But no effect at all.”
Miss Dankworth pressed harder with her pencil. “I sometimes wonder, Malcolm, if you really want to be normal. Nobody can help you to feel wretched unless you want to make that change.”
Malc stifled a laugh. He knew she only wanted the best for him, but he wasn’t ready for help yet. His GP had referred him; such a glum little man, though Malc had only gone to see him about his fungoid toenails.
“Truth is, Miss Dankworth, I come from a long line of deliriously happy people. I must have the happiness gene. My mother soldiered on with profound jubilation all her life, always refused intervention, and practically died laughing at the age of 93. My brother Charlie swears his prolonged bouts of euphoria are completely untreatable – and he had both legs off. I’m probably a hopeless case.”
Miss Dankworth was working her jaw awkwardly, as though chewing on rubber, and she laid out her words slowly. “It might be, Malcolm, that we have to accept you’ll never be truly miserable. Depression will always evade you.”
Malc shrugged and watched, beguiled, as a little vein throbbed teasingly at her temple. “If you say so, Miss Dankworth.”
“Nevertheless, I think you should keep on with the medication and spend more time alone, in a darkened room. That should lower your mood and give you a heightened sense of melancholy.”
Malc thought about the last time he’d tried that. He’d imagined the room full of stars, and a full moon all lit up in yellow, and he had felt elated with the beauty of it all. But he wouldn’t tell Miss Dankworth that. Not yet. And his thoughts ran on to the day she would finally be his.
But now Miss Dankworth was looking at her watch. “Our session is over, Malcolm.” She stood up. “Shall I help you out?”
Malc was looking forward to this bit, a chance to show her his crutch-dexterity. “No need, Miss Dankworth, just hold the door open if you would. Yay! There I go, down the step.”
She said nothing and Malc realised the new leg was a mistake. It made him even happier; elated. It didn’t help his therapy at all.
“Till next week then Miss Dankworth.” Malc paused and wondered if he should tell her about the frontal lobotomy he was about to have that afternoon, or whether to surprise her next week. And then, on a blissful impulse, he thought this might be the very moment to propose to her. He turned, a smile brimming on his lips.
But Miss Dankworth had already shut the door.


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