Penelope stood in the doorway of Dr. Fraud's consulting room and screamed. She screamed continuously for three minutes and eighteen seconds, and then she closed her mouth, blinked twice, and walked into the room as though nothing had happened. Only when she sat down, her knees pressed carefully together despite that she was wearing jodhpurs, did Dr. Fraud look up and half-smile at her, in what she thought was a very European way, and ask her how she was today. At the other end of the room Dr. Fraud's secretary carefully closed the door and wondered why it was that neither the patient nor the psychiatrist ever seemed to notice the screaming.
"Penny," said Dr. Fraud.
"Penelope," said Penelope immediately. "I hate being called Penny, Doctor. You've written that down at least eight times now."
"My dear Frau," said Dr. Fraud, "you've only been to see me three times!"
"And yet," said Penelope firmly, though her face was going pale, "you've written down at least eight times that I hate being called Penny because you write it down every time I tell you."
"I'm sure that's an exaggeration," said Dr. Fraud, forcing himself to stop writing before he completed the sentence woman does not like being called Penny. "How have you been for the last week?"
"Better," said Penelope, though there was an obvious reluctance to her speech. "I managed to visit the library, the grocer's and the swimming pool without saying anything obscene or untoward."
"Really?" Dr. Fraud thought he sounded too surprised, and toned it down a little. "Reeeeeealllly? That is good news, it would appear that you are starting to get better. You will soon have repossessed your own sense of words, and with it your own sense of identity."
In the corner of the room all the leaves fell off a rubber plant. Penelope stared at it.
"So, our next step must be to discuss why you feel that you have to speak other people's words when you meet them. Tell me about your mother."
"All the leaves just fell off your plant," said Penelope, pointing. "Look!"
"Ah yes," said Dr. Fraud, not looking. "Rubber plants are well known to have depressive tendencies."
"Are you saying that your plant is committing suicide?"
"No. I regularly talk to it about its issues. I think my secretary is weeing in its plant-pot. It's probably a kind of inter-species-jealousy."
"Oh," said Penelope.
"Tell me about your mother. What did she make you do when you were a little boy?"
"I've never been a little boy," said Penelope.
"Come now," said Dr. Fraud. "You were a child once, there is no shame in that."
"Yes, but I was a little girl," said Penelope. "Isn't that obvious?"
Dr. Fraud's eyes went wide as he realised that yet again he had the wrong patient's notes in front of him. With a snarl he tapped several keys on his keyboard, trying to find the right file. "There is a conspiracy!" he shouted, his Austrian accent suddenly coming out thickly. "Yes, of course you were a little goat. Who isn't at that age?"
"Girl," said Penelope, trying to be patient. "Girl, Dr. Fraud."
"Yes, yes, that's what I said," he said. "Now, Penny, tell me about your mother."
"PENELOPE, Doctor," said Penelope. "How many files have you now written 'Does not like to be called Penny' in? And why are none of them mine?"
The rubber plant in the corner spontaneously combusted, tiny orange flames licking at the central trunk of the plant and causing the edges of the nearby fallen leaves to curl up and go brown.
"It is part of your therapy, you see. We continually push the edges of what you'll accept so that you can regress inside your own psyche and we can find out why you feel that your words are so often not your own."
"They're not my own. I read minds and then I say what I've just read. Your rubber plant just caught fire."
"Aha!" shouted Dr. Fraud, his eyes gleaming. "I was NOT thinking that!"
"No," said Penelope, "but it's happened anyway."
As Dr. Fraud turned round to see the flames the tiny white wisps of smoke finally set the smoke detector off, and the sprinkler system engaged, spraying the office with something orange and sweet-tasting.
"Orange juice?" said Penelope, tasting it.
"I hope so," said Dr. Fraud, sounding slightly hopeless. "I shall see you next week."