Dr Rachel Hawke, a couples therapist and consultant, tries not to take her work home with her. No easy task for a therapist, whose work is more than capable of calling her up during dinner.

‘No, no wine, thank you.’

(Oh, please not the raised eyebrows.)

‘No, not giving up for Lent, I’d just rather have water.’

(Anything but your horrid wine. It’s like drinking a hangover.)

‘I’ve been well, thank you. Yes, work is good. Spring is here.’

(I sound brittle as hell. You agreed to come to this dinner Rachel, so don’t be difficult. Be present. Remember how much you used to loathe your mother’s ‘party’ voice. Be genuine. Be interested.)

‘Where did my father go to school? Oh god… that’s lost to the mists of time.’

(Oh just play ball, Rachel. He’s only following the commands that lead him through life. And besides, he hasn’t had an easy time. You know better than most about that vicious stepmother. Not to mention the brother that died. Lean into this evening.)

‘He went to the local comp near where he grew up in Kent. Loved it, by his own account. And then trained as an architect at night school while working as a foreman.’

(Thrown him momentarily. I’ll play ball.)

‘Where did you grow up, Andrew? Your father was from Yorkshire wasn’t he?’

(Whoops, doesn’t like that. Oh please not holiday plans.)

‘We’ll be at home for Easter. Just John and me… Yes, we’ve decided to do away with the in-laws this year… Our New Year’s resolution. No, not kill. Just not invite.’

(Bad sign when your laugh is irritating to your own ears… Oh God, holiday plans. I knew agreeing to dinner was a mistake.)

‘Yes, parts of the Balearics are still lovely.’

(John’s looking at me with that accusatory face. Well he shouldn’t. I’m making an effort.)

‘So tell me, Andrew. What made you want to work in corporate law? Is it that you don’t like daylight?’

(Oh god, he thinks I’m serious.)

‘No, I didn’t know you suffered from that. Severe prickly heat… How awful, I’m so sorry.’

(Why on earth is he going to Majorca?)

‘So no sunbathing? Gosh. Lucky you live in London, really.’

(Revert revert)

‘Have you and Joanna been to Majorca before?’

(Smile and nod.)

‘Yes, Ibiza’s weird. John’s mother used to live there, but she says it’s changed beyond recognition.’

(I must move us on. Maybe I’ll edge away.)

‘Yes, as long as you stick to the North.’

(Enough.)

‘Could you point me towards the… thanks.’

(Beautiful house. Slightly chilly. Cleaned to death as usual. And not by Joanna, that’s for sure. The pristine cistern. Lots of photos. Aha, here’s the school ones. There’s Andrew in socks, there he is in trousers, he’s got a hat this time, playing rugby, another school… none of Joanna. Perhaps she doesn’t want guests with cock in hand staring at photos of her in her school uniform. Don’t blame her, judging by who’s here tonight. I wonder who I’ll be siting next to at dinner… I hope not that journalist. Actually, he’ll just talk about himself, perhaps that’s a blessing. I’ll go and see if Joanna needs any help in the kitchen first. Can’t hack any more crisps and mingling… Oops, she and Andrew are having a row… Bickering about who has to go and socialise with their guests. My parents used to do that. Better go in.)

‘Can I do anything to help, guys?’

(They know I heard.)

‘It’s so kind of you to invite John and me. Although I thought that after we had that huge row about who was going to drive last time we probably wouldn’t be darkening your door again.’

(Well there was an opening… no avail… fixed smiles in place.)

‘Yes, it’s so much warmer, isn’t it. Someone was wearing sandals on the tube. Her feet were blue, but I commended her optimism. Shall I make a dressing?’

(He’s keen; she’s not.)

‘I use my grandmother’s recipe. Vinegar, oil, a little garlic, salt and pepper, Maggi if you have any and a touch of sugar. Delicious.’

(Good question: what the hell is Maggi?)

‘I’m not sure how to describe it… it’s a sort of flavouring. Packed with MSG… Yes, very bad for you. Well, it’s important to resist some health advice or we’d all go mad… Oh no, I never use mustard. It doesn’t agree with John, which is a shame as I love it. You’re a lawyer, Andrew, perhaps you can try and get the two of them to reach a settlement?’

(Oh god, my laugh. I’m not even drunk.)

‘I really don’t need to make the dressing, Joanna. It was only if you wanted some… shall I get out of your way?’

(The no that means yes.)

‘Yes, I’ll go and tell everyone it’s time to eat.’

(Yikes.)

‘Have you ever thought about war reporting?’

(No, happy as a wine-drenched clam in the cultural section. Ego and gut expanding in direct correlation.)

‘No, we get the FT at the weekend, so I don’t often catch your piece I’m afraid.’

(Oh Rachel, just pretend. One day please learn to just pretend.)

‘I’m a psychotherapist.’

(Told him that last time we met.)

‘No, not Freudian. Jung was always more interesting to me.’

(He’s got another thing coming if he thinks I’m going to mine his depths.)

‘Perhaps you should book an appointment with someone and try. You never know, it might suit you.’

(An hour of being able to talk about nothing but himself. He’d adore it.)

‘I’m sorry… it’s my work phone. Forgive me, I’m going to have to take this.’

(What on earth is she doing calling me after ten?)

‘Hello Alice. Is everything okay?’

(She’s crying. Unusual. She’s never done that before.)

‘What’s happened? Wait give me a second. I’m just going to go outside… Okay, I’m here. right… right… okay. Perhaps it’s better we talk about it in our session… What? You mean he’s just proposed? Where are you? In the bathroom… And he’s downstairs waiting for your answer? And you’ve called me. Oh Alice… that’s quite sweet of you. No, it’s okay. Of course you can talk to me.’

(Not sure this is setting a good precedent, but I can’t hang up now. And to be honest… anything’s better than going back in there.)

‘What are you feeling, Alice?’

(John’s looking disapprovingly through the window. He looks ancient when he frowns like that.)

‘So you’re worried about the age gap… that you’re trying to replace your father… Those are valid worries Alice, but we have talked about them. Tell me again what you said at the end of our last session… Well, as I recall it, you ultimately felt that even if those feelings are marbled through your attraction, there’s still a solid, loving relationship between the two of you. You also said that you feel happy. Those were your words, not mine.’

‘You’re worried that he’s going to age quickly and then you’ll hate him for being old.’

(Nothing like commitment to pull the scales from the eyes. I wonder if women are universally less romantic these days, or if it’s just my clients.)

‘You’re worried he’s too square… that you’re going to end up at dinner parties talking about Netflix and property prices and not ever saying what you mean…’

‘You know it doesn’t have to be like that Alice. Those are clichés!’

(Well, the property prices are a cliché; I did hear someone talking about The Two Popes earlier.)

‘And getting married does not mean an end to wild sex.’

(It doesn’t.)

‘You think commitment inevitably leads to hatred. That may have been true for your parents, but it doesn’t have to be true for you.’

(John just spilled wine down his front. Oh lord.)

‘Alice – marriage means love, it means being with the person you love day in and day out until you soften towards them. It means becoming kinder and more patient. It means better sex, not no sex… I’m not telling you that you should get married. You must do and will do whatever you think is best for you. But don’t be put off doing something wonderful by stereotypical fears. You are you, and no one but you can shape your life. You and Robert can form the relationship you want and live your lives in the way you want. You will not become your mother and he will not become your father. You have the great gift of awareness and that will hold those blind repetitions in check… Alice? Are you still there?’

(Shit, I just broke the covenant rule. Thou shalt not try and convince your clients.)

‘Sorry, yes I lost you for a moment. Look, Alice, if you push all the words away, mine included, and you just breathe into this moment, what do you feel?’

(She’s a sweet girl. Rather telling, the way I favour my pliant clients.)

‘There you go. Then that’s what you must do.’

‘So sorry… work call.’

(John’s beckoning me over. Probably wants me to save him from Louisa the hungry divorcée.)

‘Hi, nice to see you Louisa. You look wonderful, as always.’

(That’s nice. She needed that.)

‘Things are great, thanks. No, no holiday plans. How about you?’

(Houseboat in Kerala. I’d love to do that but John would rather die.)

‘We’re staying firmly at home. Yes. Staycation? God, is that an expression? How depressing. Makes me want to go away, immediately.’

(John’s filling his glass again. Time for the signal.)

‘John… Yes, so sorry, we can’t stay late. I’ve got an early train tomorrow and I still need to pack.’

‘Where did you park?’

(He’s going to ask/tell me how lovely it was.)

‘You mustn’t disguise statements as questions John.’

(Oh Lord, he’s off.)

‘You are allowed to enjoy it, and you are allowed to say so. Just don’t harness me to your opinion, that’s all.’

(Well that’s productive. Swearing and walking ahead.)

‘Are you sure you’re alright to drive?’

(Don’t be a dick Rachel.)

‘John!’

(Well, I suppose him getting in the driver’s seat is an answer of sorts.)

‘John I wasn’t “unspeakably rude”. A bit rude, perhaps. But that’s overkill.’

‘We’re both exhausted. I can’t see the point I’m trying to make, let alone yours.’

(Stroke his hair. Gently, soothingly. Oh that’s good. He’s closed his eyes and is leaning his head back. Sweet, silly John.)

‘I’m just being difficult. Your friends are fine. Our life is fine. You’re right to ignore me. I was being a bitch.’

(He’s softening.)

‘Let’s have a whiskey when we get back. Yes, while you watch the news.’

(Good, that gives me time to hang the washing. Must remember to iron my shirt)

‘Don’t forget your appointment tomorrow. And the cleaner’s coming at 8, we need to leave the money out for her. She’s going away to Malta for Easter.’

(He needs a haircut. Lovely that he’s still got so much of the stuff.)

‘Let’s take a shower together.’

(Now that’s a clear look.)

‘Oh John.’

(A proper kiss. I can taste that wine.)

‘Take me home. I want to be unspeakably rude to you.’

As imagined by Tamara Colchester, illustrations from Olga Prader.