Secret Family Business (UG)

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Ginny and Bert sit rigidly side by side in matching leather armchairs, their backs to the stunning view of the harbour through the window. Dr Ingles, grey-haired, bearded and immaculately suited, sits with his legs crossed, holding a notepad and ballpoint pen. Ginny has just finished telling him about the jam jar incident. He's been listening attentively, but has stayed calm even though she's red-faced with fury.

Bert says, "And that's not all. Do you know what Susie did the other day? She put a can of dog food on the wrong shelf in the fridge!"

Dr Ingles frowns and scribbles in his notepad. "Which shelf did she put it on?"

"The top one. Or maybe it was the middle one. I don't remember. But everyone knows it belongs on the bottom shelf on the left hand side, two and a half centimetres away from the cucumbers."

"What if there are no cucumbers?"

"We always have cucumbers," Bert says self-righteously.

Dr Ingles nods. "So what did you do when you found it on the wrong shelf?"

"Screamed at her, of course. I just can't believe anyone could do such a terrible thing. I called her a useless piece of garbage."

Ginny pats Bert's hand. "Don't get worked up about it now. It's not your fault she turned out bad. Doctor, you can see she has a problem. Dropping things, putting things in the wrong place in the fridge... she's obviously retarded."

"Didn't you say you dropped the jam jar yourself?"

"Oh. I mean, if she drops something, it's her fault, and if I drop it, it's because she didn't put the lid on tightly enough."

Dr Ingles looks thoughtful. "The psychiatry manual doesn't cover complicated logic like that. It's not written specifically for you."

"Well, it should be," Ginny snaps.

"It's intended for the general population."

"I'm more important than them."

"Is there anything you can do about Susie, doctor?" Bert asks anxiously.

Dr Ingles leans back in his armchair. "The problem is that jam jars and dog food cans aren't actually mentioned in the manual."

Ginny and Bert look at each other in consternation.

"But it's so important," Bert says.

"An outrage," Ginny says.

"Nevertheless, I am concerned about what you've told me."

"Yes?" Ginny leans forward expectantly.

"It's not so much what she does or fails to do. It's her attitude. The fact that she doesn't take these matters seriously. A normal person is angry all the time and obsesses over trivialities."

Ginny nods. "There's nobody more normal than us."

"I believe she's suffering from a mental illness."

"A serious one?" Bert asks.

"Yes, I think so."

Ginny looks at her partner triumphantly. "See? I was right."

"You're always right, dear."

"It's number 518.42(b) in the manual. 'Cheerfulness'," Dr Ingles says.

Bert looks slightly puzzled. "I've never heard of that before."

"It's a recent addition. We had to find something to replace 'homosexuality'."

"You mean, now that it's acceptable to be 'gay', it's not acceptable to be gay?"

"Yes, something like that."

"So you're sure of the diagnosis?" Ginny asks.

"The symptoms you've described match the listed ones perfectly. Telling jokes, laughing, being optimistic, spontaneity... it's a classic case."

"Is there a cure?" Bert asks.


"Oh, dear."

"It gives us more to worry about," Ginny says. "That's what we wanted."

"Yes, well, we don't promote cures," Dr Ingles says. "It would put us out of business."

"So you want us to keep coming back for years and paying you thousands so that you can tell us to be miserable," Bert says.

"Yes. So we're all happy - I mean, unhappy - now, aren't we?"

"But what are we going to do about her?" Ginny asks.

Dr Ingles studies his notepad. "I could have her committed."

"It's that bad?" Bert asks.

"It can be, if you pay me enough."

"Are you sure a mental asylum would take her?" Ginny asks.

"They'll take anyone. They have a new admissions policy. People have to prove they're not crazy to avoid being admitted."

"Does anyone succeed?" Bert asks.

"Of course not. How could anyone memorize every symptom of every mental illness in the book and prove they don't have it? Even I couldn't do that."

"Who ends up in mental asylums, then?"

"Generally, whoever you dislike the most."

"Then what's there to stop any of us from being committed?"

"Don't be silly, Bert. Nobody could dislike us," Ginny says.

"Yes, you're quite safe. You two are very serious, act irrationally and scream a lot. Those are the qualities people look for in their friends," Dr Ingles says.

Bert looks at Ginny. "Do we have any friends, dear?"

"Can't think of any," she says.

"Yes, well, let's not worry about that," Dr Ingles says. "We'll have your daughter committed and she'll stop being cheerful in no time."

"But you said it's incurable," Bert says.

"Officially, it is. It doesn't matter. Standard hospital policy is to hold patients indefinitely regardless of whether they show any symptoms of mental illness or not."


"It makes it look like they're serving some sort of useful purpose in the community. Also, there's the government funding to consider."

"Ah, money. The most important thing in life," Bert says.

"Apart from jam jars, of course," Ginny says.

"Of course," Dr Ingles says. "I have another patient to see now. Thanks for coming in. I'll see you next week."

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