"Well, there's nothing physically wrong with you, at least." The Consultant Urologist had the biggest and bushiest eyebrows that Ben Farmer had ever seen. "I would say, at your age, the problem is most likely psychological." Ben nodded. He'd thought that was the case but better to be safe then sorry. "I am reluctant to prescribe any medication. The risks of side effects are always there and medication treats physical shortcomings, er, if you understand my meaning?"
Again Ben nodded. It was what he was expecting. "I could refer you to a colleague of mine, perhaps some counselling?"
Ben found his voice. "No. No thank you, Mr Sandford. And thank you for your time."
"As you wish," said the Consultant. "I am confident the, ah, 'problem', will correct itself in due course. As I said, there are no physical problems, none at all. You are in excellent health, Mr Farmer." Ben had nodded one more time and made his exit.
Ben's 'problem' had first manifested itself some twelve months before. His erstwhile girlfriend had been sympathetic, at least initially. "Poor Darling, I expect you're just tired. We'll try again in the morning." And they had, with no better result. The sympathy hadn't lasted long. Within the month she'd moved on to pastures new. He found he wasn't too bothered. The relationship had been fun but wasn't going anywhere. They had enjoyed each other and now it was over. 'Done and Dusted', as the expression goes.
He felt a vague sense of loss, but nothing more, and this soon vanished when he met Rachel. His 'problem' seemed to have vanished as well. They had made love acrobatically, Rachel seemed intent on working her way through the entire Karma Sutra, but then, a few weeks in, the problem had reared its head again. Or rather it hadn't. Reared, that is. It wasn't too long afterwards that Rachel's toothbrush had disappeared from Ben's bathroom and once again that vague sense of loss came back to haunt him.
Emma had followed Rachel, albeit very briefly. The 'problem' reappeared on their second night together. Not enough time for Emma's toothbrush to have been relocated from her handbag to the bathroom. This time Ben started to worry. The offending appendage seemed to act normally. It was standing to greet him every morning and responded in a perfectly behaved manner to his own ministrations. It only acted up - or rather down - when Ben was with a woman. He couldn't understand it. It had never happened before.
Sarah came next. Or, more accurately, she didn't. That 'amour' lasted one frustrating night. Ben was able to convince himself that he had been distracted by the fact that her tits were noticeably different sizes and her voice had grated on his ears, once it was not disguised by the pounding music of the Disco. But then a nagging little voice told him he was only fooling himself. It was time to seek professional help.
His own Doctor had been distantly professional. After a detailed explanation of the mechanics and hydraulics and an intensive cross examination on Ben's use of illegal substances and intake of alcohol - none to the former, moderate to the latter- he referred Ben to Mr Sandford at the County Hospital. Now, walking back to his car, Ben felt particularly low for the first time. 'My God,' he thought, 'I'll have to see a shrink'. He had the ordinary man's horror of anything to do with mental illness. To be truthful, the prospect scared him. He had debated with himself long and hard before even visiting his GP. The thought of 'someone messing with his head' was anathema.
His gloom persisted through the rest of that day. In bed that night he wondered if he was gay. He tried to masturbate by fantasising about men but he found the mental image of a pair of ample, hairy buttocks less than arousing. There was nothing for it. It would have to be the shrink.
Ben was shown into a spacious office with light décor. He glanced around the room and a female voice said "Looking for the couch?" Ben coloured. That had been precisely what he was looking for but all he saw instead was a pair of comfortable-looking settees each side of a coffee table. There was an antique roll-top desk off to one side and a standard lamp of possibly Scandinavian design. He noticed that none of the pieces really fitted together but the whole was pleasing. He turned now to the speaker and saw a tall young woman with short blonde hair and very large, very round glasses that magnified her eyes to an extent that Ben found comical. He suppressed the urge to smile.
Just plain Ms. I'm a psychologist, not a physician. You must be Mr Farmer?"
"Ben. Please call me Ben."
"Only if you will call me Jane."
"OK then, Jane it is."
Truth to tell, Ben was far from happy discussing his particular problem with a young woman. He'd rather imagined some elderly gentleman with wild hair and a Viennese accent. He decided that he'd better just make the best of it.
"Well then, Jane, where is the couch?"
"I don't 'do' couches. Actually, I don't think anyone does these days, outside of Hollywood. Just sit down and make yourself comfortable."
She paused to read the contents of a slim buff-coloured file. He watched as her nose wrinkled and her lips made a sort of sideways twitching movement.
"Hmmm. Erectile dysfunction. You're very young for that. Good, I see you've seen Mr Sandford. No physical causes, good. Look, I know it's embarrassing, but can you give me a history? When it first started and what the circumstances were, that sort of thing?"
" Oh Jeeze! Uh, I guess it started with Chloe. Everything was all right, you know, normal and then one night, umm, I just couldn't manage, er, to perform."
"How long had you been together?"
"About four or five months."
"And you found her attractive?"
"I suppose so."
"Put it another way; what didn't you like about her?"
"Oh I don't know. I guess that she was just a bit, well, shallow somehow."
"Well, look, please don't get me wrong, Chloe is a nice girl but just not for me. I mean we used to go out and then go back to my place or her place and... What I mean is we never talked. It was like we had to have sex to fill in the silences."
"I see. What happened to Chloe?"
"Well, when my problem came up - or actually stayed down, if you'll forgive the expression, she split."
"And what did that suggest to you?"
"That she wanted regular sex and I wasn't providing it?"
"So your relationship was entirely based on sex?"
"I suppose it was, now you say it."
"And how do you feel about that?"
"Great! I mean what man wouldn't? No complications, no emotional hang-ups, just good old fashioned bonking!"
"I see. What happened after Chloe?"
"I met Rachel. It was fantastic for a while, six or seven weeks at a guess, and then back came the problem."
"Tell me, Ben, do you still have the desire or does the desire go along with the, er, performance?"
"Oh no, I want to do it. I want to do it like crazy but the old equipment won't co-operate."
"Are you concerned about your size?"
"Have any of your partners ever intimated that they were unsatisfied with the size of your penis or have you ever felt that your penis was somehow inferior to other men?" She gave a tight smile.
"I have to ask, you know. It's a common problem."
"No to both. I'm no pony but I know that I'm OK there. A good average, as far as I know. I mean you could get a complex watching these porn stars but they're freaks of nature."
"Do you watch a lot of pornography?"
"Christ, No! I mean I've seen a few videos - stag nights, that sort of thing, but it's not a hobby!"
The session continued in a similar vein until Ben's time was up. Jane Williamson instructed him to make a follow up appointment for the following week and Ben left, feeling just as confused and depressed as when he'd arrived. He couldn't see what the session had achieved. He simply couldn't picture how any future sessions would help. He thought about Jane Williamson; she seemed to be hiding behind those monstrous spectacles. Looking at her glasses somehow prevented him from seeing her face. 'Physician, heal thyself,' he mused. He tried to picture her without the glasses but it didn't work. He grunted. "Camouflage!" And found he was wondering why.
Over the next few weeks they explored Ben's dreams, his childhood, his relationships with his father and then his mother. They examined the causes of stress in Ben's life - none, other than a dysfunctional penis. At last Jane told him that she could do no more. "I cannot find any root cause," she said. The magnified eyes conveyed concern. "I could refer you to a colleague, someone more experienced?" Ben shook his head. In all their sessions, he had tried hard for that illuminating flash, that moment of insight. It had eluded them both. He shrugged; his worst fears had been confirmed. The problem was intractable.
"Jane, do you mind if I ask you something?"
"Have you ever considered contact lenses? Oh God, that sounded all wrong. I mean I was wondering why you hide your face behind those huge specs. That sounds wrong too. I just think that you're really pretty but you seem to want to hide it."
To his relief she burst out laughing. Her sincere, unaffected laughter was infectious. He found himself chuckling and grinning for the first time in weeks.
"OK, Doctor, " she said, "What's your diagnosis?" Ben smiled. He half shut one eye, raised the opposite eyebrow and leered at her before replying in a fake German accent:
"Vell, I sink ve haff a classical case of sormvun who vishes to be taken seriously. Sormvun who sinks zey are too Jung!"
She groaned at his pun.
"You could be right, Herr Doctor, but on the other hand it could just be that my eyesight is terrible - as bad as your accent in fact! Not that it's any of your business, but I do wear lenses sometimes. My eyes are quite sensitive, as it happens, so I can't wear them often. Can you imagine the effect on my patients if they thought their therapist was constantly in floods of tears?"
"Good point! You'd get their sympathy, though. Take their minds off their own problems."
"Hmm, I never though of that. Sort of displacement therapy." And they both laughed.
She saw him to the door. He hesitated, his hand upon the handle. "Look," he said, "I expect there's some deep and binding laws against it, but could I phone you sometime? I mean I'd like to see you again, but not, er, professionally, if you know what I mean." She almost laughed at the look on his face. Like a guilty schoolboy looking for mercy but expecting none. "Mr Farmer!" she said, and thought she saw him wince, " It's 818213. Can you remember that or shall I write it down?" But Ben had beaten her to it, scrawling the number on the back of his hand. "I think I can manage, " he replied, and left with a smile and a lighter heart.
They met six times over the next two months. A few drinks in a fashionable Tapas Bar, a trip to the Cinema and dinner, twice. They had been wary of each other at first. Ben couldn't get over the nagging feeling that she might analyse everything he said while Jane thought that he was editing every utterance carefully, choosing his words so as to keep all conversations on neutral ground. She found herself growing frustrated with him. She recognised this behaviour. Other men in her life had displayed the same symptoms. It was as if they believed she could hold up a mirror to their innermost thoughts and secrets. She decided to tackle it head-on.
"Ben, how much do you know about clinical psychology?"
"Not a lot, other than what I've experienced. Why?"
"You seem to think it's like some sort of witchcraft. Mostly what I do is to get to people to recognise things they already knew about themselves. In the old days, people had family and priests and what-have-you with whom to discuss their problems. Today, those supports have gone. They talk to me instead. I'm a sort of surrogate granny!"
"Ok, there is more to it. I have to be able to recognise those serious cases, but mostly it's true. People know they have a problem. They often know the solution, too, but are afraid to implement it. I help them come to terms with doing what's good for them. I can't read minds, I don't try to analyse my friends and I definitely don't make judgements!"
"Ouch! Was I that obvious?"
"Yes, Ben, you were. Now, can we start again and can you stop being so bloody careful and defensive when you talk to me?
"I'll try. I won't make excuses. It's just the thought of someone interpreting everything one says that is a bit, well, off-putting. I know you wouldn't do it intentionally, but what if I let something slip that made you think 'psycho'? I'll make you a deal, you lose the scary specs and I'll lose the paranoia. How about that?"
"If that's what it'll take, it's a deal."
Things got better after that. When next they met, Jane, true to her word, was wearing her lenses. Ben was taken aback. Without the visual impediment of those huge frames, her face was elfin. The short blonde hair framed her small, regular features perfectly. It was like seeing her for the first time. "You look utterly fabulous," He said. In fact, she looked so different; he had no trouble in forgetting that she had been his 'shrink'.
They drifted into those small intimacies that stand as landmarks on the way to love. Holding hands, finishing each other's sentences, finding little private jokes. Finally, one evening, Ben kissed her goodnight. It seemed the natural thing to do. Her face angled towards him as he moved towards to her. There was no self-consciousness. It was as if they had arrived at the same point of the journey simultaneously. They broke the kiss and smiled deep into each other's eyes, storing away the moment in memory. His heart sang as he walked back to his car.
His euphoria continued until the weekend. Then he was gripped by the terror of knowing that, sooner or later, they would go to bed and he would have to perform. There had been no women in his life after Sarah and until Jane. What if he still couldn't do it? How would she react? When next they met she sensed his sombre mood. She guessed the reason and resolved to take matters into her own hands.