Though Zara could afford the apartment (her couch probably cost about as much), she wasn’t interested in buying it. She went to the showing earlier, but even her superior demeanor couldn’t hide the “lurching grief inside her.”
While this passage confirms that Jim was right to suspect that Zara didn’t want to buy the apartment, her reason for going to the showing remains unknown. However, this reveals that she’s hurting—and her emotional pain is, perhaps, ruling her life.
Readers must understand that Zara recently began seeing a psychologist, as Zara has the kind of career where eventually you need someone to tell you what else you can do with your life. Stepping back in time to Zara’s first disastrous appointment, Zara notices a framed photo of the psychologist’s mother and asks how psychologist’s relationship to her mom was, and whether any of the psychologist’s patients have committed suicide. Zara wants to know if the psychologist is any good and can help her with her trouble sleeping; her doctor won’t give her more sleeping pills unless she starts counseling. She denies that her job has anything to do with her insomnia.
The implication that this passage makes right away is that it is Zara’s job that leads to her seeking counseling; needing sleeping pills is beside the point. However, the fact that Zara denies this later in the passage suggests that Zara isn’t particularly self-aware or reflective. Indeed, this comes through clearly as Zara insults the psychologist’s competence and flat-out refuses to talk about herself. She seems to believe she knows exactly how the psychologist-patient relationship is supposed to work, though she seems to miss the mark.
During the second session, Zara asks how the psychologist would describe panic attacks. When the psychologist uses computer terms to describe them, Zara insists that the psychologist’s parents are programmers and asks if the psychologist is ashamed to work with “fripperies” when her parents did meaningful work. The psychologist, offended, asks why Zara is here. Zara says she needs sleeping pills.
Zara only sees psychology as useful in that undergoing counseling is a hoop she must jump through to get her sleeping pills. She doesn’t see it as a valuable tool that can help people cope with trauma or develop healthier thinking habits. Indeed, referring to mental health as “fripperies” devalues the field and plays into incorrect, outdated stereotypes about psychology and mental health.
The psychologist quickly realizes that Zara is suffering from loneliness. But she starts asking questions about, for instance, what Zara thinks the world’s biggest problem is. Zara answers, “Poor people.” During their third session, the psychologist realizes how unwell Zara is after Zara abruptly says she has cancer. Zara reveals that this is a joke, but “that’s how [she’s] feeling.” The psychologist can’t sleep that night. Zara considers showing the psychologist the letter in her bag, which explains everything.
Put simply, the psychologist believes it’s a lack of connection that causes Zara to feel so anxious and terrible. Zara’s joke about cancer is darkly humorous, but it also suggests that she feels as though something (presumably her role in the man’s suicide) has condemned her, as a terminal cancer diagnosis might. But even as Zara opens up to the psychologist this little bit, she refuses to take the final step of admitting that she denied the man a loan and still feels immensely guilty and responsible for his death.
During their fourth session, Zara stares at the painting on the psychologist’s wall of a woman staring out to sea. They discuss what the woman is thinking and if she’s happy. Zara insists happiness is beside the point: people need purpose, and most people want money, not happiness. Zara also wonders if the woman in the painting is considering suicide—doesn’t everyone, at some point? When the psychologist asks what stops people from actually killing themselves, Zara says it’s a fear of heights. Unsure if Zara is joking, the psychologist asks if Zara has hobbies. Zara seems to suddenly break and leaves abruptly. The psychologist stares at the painting, which she painted. She never noticed that the woman in it is standing on a bridge.
Zara simultaneously dismisses certain aspects of mental health—such as the need to feel happy and fulfilled—while also acknowledging that lots of people have more in common than they think, simply because experiencing periods of poor mental health is so common. For now, the psychologist isn’t entirely sure how to manage Zara. When the psychologist asks Zara if she has hobbies, she’s essentially asking if Zara anything in her life that makes her happy—and it seems, from Zara’s reaction, that Zara doesn’t. Noting that the woman in the psychologist’s painting is on a bridge reinforces the bridge’s symbolism as a connecting force: here, it highlights what Zara noted earlier in the passage, that perhaps lots of people occasionally entertain suicidal thoughts.