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191

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To tell the truth, after seeing people with mental illnesses constantly passing through my consulting room, I sometimes wonder how I have managed to keep my own mental health intact up to now.
Depressive women are the ones who exasperate me the most. Note that I specified depressive women in particular. Depressive men bother me less. There is a sort of virility hidden in many of these cases that you don’t find with women. Women really do do everything badly, even their nervous breakdowns.
And they are all depressive for the same reasons. They have had problems… An unfaithful husband, problems of communication, husband no longer wants to pound away at his wife so he turns to the woman next door, or sometimes his own daughter, and it all ends up in a huge drama at the police station, a family torn apart, depression, suicide. A guaranteed clientele.

I was not going to come across any rare gem among all these nervous wrecks. In fact, my own personal goldmine came into my consulting room early one morning in September. Mr Stern was a man with perfect hair, who smelled of after-shave and wore a well-cut suit. He had greeted me politely, pulled out a chair for himself and another for the imaginary friend he claimed had come with him.
“What is your friend called?”
“Well ask him yourself, doctor, why don’t you?”

I may be fifty-six years old but I still have a playful spirit. So I looked at the chair and I said hello to the invisible man who sat there. Then I turned back to Mr Stern and we began his first consultation.

Stern’s imaginary companion was called Jonas. According to his delirium, they had been friends since childhood. They had grown up together on the beaches of Normandy. For the first few weeks I did not broach the subject of the existence (or rather the non-existence) of Jonas. We focused on the problem which was the subject of his consultation: the death of his father. I saw Stern’s wish for Jonas to exist as a need to embody the spirit of his father in something he could believe was alive.
The first major error I made was to try feebly to demonstrate that Jonas did not exist. I had prepared a cold drink, some iced tea. And when I pretended to offer him a glass, in order to force his creator to face up to his lack of reality, Stern claimed to be scandalized that I had not taken any account of his friend’s disability. He then explained to me that he could not hold out his arm to grasp anything because of a car accident which he had never mentioned to me before.
How fortuitous.

After six months of weekly consultation, Stern had managed to accept the death of his father. Jonas, on the other hand, was still there. So I decided to try a radical method which Doctor Harry Wilson had perfected in the middle of the nineties and which was called “therapy by death”.
Stern came into my consulting room one Thursday morning. He sat down after pulling out the chair for Jonas, as he was in the habit of doing.
I then took out the .357 Magnum that I use at the shooting range, and I emptied my magazine into the chair where Jonas always sat.
Screams and yells followed.
I had never previously observed what is known as a collective hallucination. The police, the fire brigade, the nurses, the juries, the judge, the media, and the staff of the psychiatric institution where they locked me up from then on and where I have been living incarcerated for more than six years … they were all contaminated by Stern’s hallucination. They all saw a body covered in blood, Jonas’ body, inert on that chair I shot at and riddled with bullets from my revolver… So they say.

This collective foreclosure is fascinating.
All the more fascinating because my gun was loaded with blanks.

Translated by Wendy Cross

191

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