Mimi Ma sits in her shade-drawn first-floor office, preparing for her second and final client of the day. The first lasted three hours. It was his contractual right to stay however long he needed. But the session polished her down to a blunt nib. The second one will suck the day's remaining life from her. She'll retreat to her apartment in the Castro tonight to watch nature documentaries and listen to trance music. Then sleep and rise to face two more clients tomorrow.
Unconventional therapists flood this city--counselors, analysts, spirit guides, self-actualizin assistants, personal consultants, and borderline charlatans, many as surprised as Mimi to find themselves in the trade. Bu her reputation has spread so well by word of mouth that she can afford the office's absurd rent while seeing only two clients a day. The real question, session by session, is whether she can stay sane herself as her clients eat her soul.
Many of her prospective patrons suffer from nothing worse than too much money. She tells them so, at the screening interviews every other Friday. She won't see anyone who isn't in pain, and she can tell how much pain a person is in within twenty seconds of their sitting in the wing chair that facers hers in her bare session room. She talks to each applicant for a few minutes, not about their psyches, but about the weather, sports, or childhood pets. Then she'll either schedule a session or send the seeker home, saying "You don't need me. You just need to see that you're already happy" For that advice, she charges nothing. But for a real session, there must be some sacrifice. Two such sacrifices a day suffice to keep her afloat.
Stephanie N, her afternoon guest, arrives in the front office. Mimi presses a button, telling Catherine that she's ready. A soft knock on the door, and Mimi rises to greet an ample, wiry-haired redhead with tortoise-shell glasses. The hunter-green tunic and its half cape fail to hide her paunch. It doesn't take a rabid empath to feel the visitor's broken mainspring.
Mimi smiles and touches Stephanie's shoulder.
-- Relax. There's nothing to worry about.
-- Stephanie's eyes widen.
-- There isn't?
-- Hold still. Let me have a look while you're standing.
You've gone to the bathroom? You've eaten? You left your cell phone, watch, and all other devices with Catherine? Not carrying anything? No makeup or jewelry?
Stephanie is clean on all counts.
-- Good. Plese sit.
Stephanie takes the proferred chair, unsure how this can lead to what her brother-in-law called the most bruising, profound experience of his adult life.
-- Wouldn't it help to know a little about me?
Mimi cocks her head and smiles. There are so many names for the thing that everyone is scared to death of, and everyone wants to tell you theirs.