They always arrive alone.
They enter the sanctuary with uncertainty. Their bodies folded gently inward like a mumbled apology. Sometimes they look around them, take in their surroundings. The smooth stone benches. A group of jack pines reaching sunward, the branches a clutch of wet, wattled paintbrushes forever hovering over an empty canvas. The well-heeled wildflowers spread with precision throughout the space in accordance with a proprietary neuro-aesthetic formula I still fail to fully understand. (I received a few pages about this when I began working here. The formula is complex. The goal: "To approximate the moment just before chaos comes into order.")
Sometimes we have the sanctuary to ourselves. Sometimes there are others.
Today, we are alone. The client, today's client, walks with purpose and looks only in my direction. We exchange a tight-lipped smile, some gentle words of introduction. We sit. The client chooses not make eye contact, and, after a stillness, speaks.
I listen. I ask questions. Open questions. Simple questions. The client answers simply, or in serpentine recursions, or not at all. I encourage thoughtful pauses, as we are encouraged to do. The sanctuary, the world here at hand, is enough. (We are trained to trust this.) Today, there is a warm wind pressing gently into us from somewhere across the lake. It is enough.
Eventually, silence comes. Silence. It might take fifteen minutes, it might take three hours. (A friend here tells one mournful tale of a client who took twenty-seven hours diggin to the bottom of a near-endless word-hoard.) Today, the client is not much for talking, and silence comes easily. We sit. Some time later the sadness becomes unbearable, as it always does, and it begins.
There was a time when we would collect a few of their tears into a small, tastefully designed vial. As one of my older clients used to say, "It's so nice to have a thing to take away. Some proof of this. Something to remember." A few months ago, the delicate process of filling the vial was deemed 'unhelpfully awkward' by management, so we don't offer the service anymore. I always thought this shared awkwardness was a nice kind of release for the client, for both of us. A way to let go of the letting go. But this way is fine, too.
The client stands. We exchange an easy smile, some gentle words of parting. Tipping is forbidden, but management rarely inquires. The client walks back across the cobbled path, into the welcome area and out of sight.
A dragonfly lands on a cluster of tiny white flowers (Queen Ann's Lace?), a breath away from my body. I hold my hand out slowly and offer a finger, a childish impulse, quietly willing the little thing to use me as a perch.
The wind is cooler, now.