The Art of Denial

A work of fiction that plainly exposes the lengths so many go to enshroud the reality of their flaws…

by: Susan Wardlaw

As soon as she walked through the door, she began cursing every person who had conspired to get her there. The community hall smelled of bleach, coffee, and strangers, three of the things she avoided most in life. She had made a promise however, and her son had smiled at her hopefully when she exited his car. His declaration that he’d park and wait for her had been pitched as being a supportive move, but she knew it had more to do with his suspicion — which was sadly accurate — that otherwise she would leave as soon as he did.

She perched on one of the blue plastic chairs and subtly glanced at the people occupying the other seats, arranged in a haphazard semi-circle. The whole setup made her feel like a child waiting for their teacher to start reading them a story. She had to concede that her fellow captives were an interesting bunch. From the skinny young man who seemed glued to his phone, to the elderly lady who was happily dunking biscuits into her tea, she surveyed each as though they were animals at a zoo.

A clap of hands and a “Right then!” from a friendly, if tired-looking, older man to her left, signalled the meeting would begin.

Several of the other participants spoke up willingly, sharing stories from their week and any incidents that had left them “tempted” or “triggered.” She listened with a detached sense of fascination, sympathetic to their woes but feeling very much at a distance from the problems they all seemed to have in common.

After the older, biscuit-dunker had finished speaking, the facilitator looked her way and asked if she would introduce herself.

“My name is Joanne. I don’t have much to say really”

The facilitator, “Tom” she thought she had heard him say, smiled and asked if she felt like sharing why she was at the meeting.

“Well, it’s all a bit unnecessary really. I had a minor mishap…” Joanne trailed off, experiencing a sudden onslaught of memories: Taking more pills than normal that night; being half-aware of her son trying desperately to rouse her; the ambulance siren; vomiting; the doctors and their prying questions; having to admit just how often she drove from pharmacy to pharmacy to stock up, and how many of the sleeping tablets she normally used; the deep desire to be numb to life rather than experience it; the insufferable psychologist; the promise to her child.

“Yes,” she continued, “Just a misunderstanding. I shouldn’t really be here at all. I’m not like…”

Nine pairs of eyes narrowed in on her at once, some sympathetically and some with an edge of resentment.

“That is to say, I feel guilty for taking up any time when my little predicament seems so trivial compared to all of yours.”

That had not been the correct thing to say either. She was met by shaking of heads and patronising laughs.

“Sure love. I’m sure. But none of us started coming here because we wanted to. We all had a “minor mishap” that landed us here. You’re not so different.”

Joanne glared at the man who had spoken to her, but he just grinned back, knowingly.

“I most definitely am different! I haven’t been drinking myself to oblivion or injecting all sorts into my veins. I take a few sleeping tablets in the evening to take the edge of my day. It’s not a crime, and I certainly don’t need any of you people feeling sorry for me!”

The chair was scraped back and she was on her feet before anyone else could reply. As she pushed the heavy security door open and fled, she was aware of voices calling after her, but a mixture of pride and embarrassment kept her momentum going in only one direction.

Her son, the best thing in her whole, unbearable world, was drumming his fingers on the steering wheel in rhythm with whatever song was playing on the radio. As he noticed her approach, she saw his peaceful expression transform into one of disappointment. Her pride fell away and was replaced by a swell of guilt as he briefly glanced at her entering the car, then released an audible sigh.


Susan Wardlaw is a writer from Scotland. She has been published in Tealight Press, Tipping the Scales Journal, Idle Ink and others. She enjoys attempting to describe the indescribable. 

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