9 May

Story first written for Illicit Ink‘s ‘Verbal Medicine’ on 6 May 2012.

What I love about talking to people is that you don’t have to listen to a word they say. There’s just a rhythm to the way they talk.

The mornings were simple stuff of course. I woke up and my husband said ‘Good morning’ to me, and told me that I’m beautiful.

I said ‘Good morning’ too.

It’s not what I was thinking about.

Really it’s just a pointless exchange of noises.

After these preliminaries, we normally had sex. That’s too easy of course – no-one’s supposed to use real words in that situation. It’s more honest in that sense, which is what I like about it. Otherwise, of course, it’s terribly boring. With my husband, I could get into a good rhythm of where the noises happen, and a sense of when it’d be finished. If I got up on time I’d put an egg on to boil beforehand. Whole food.

My husband thought we were trying for a baby, but I got that seen to years back. I suppose I should have mentioned that when we, apparently, agreed to the project, but you can absolutely tell in these situations that a ‘yes’ and a smile is the done thing.

It wasn’t what I was thinking about.

My husband had some kind of job; he wore rather marvellous ties that I occasionally stole for more useful purposes; silk is incredibly durable. If he ever looked a bit confused, I thought he might be asking about them; I’d giggle and tell him it must have been the goblins in the washing machine.

He thinks I do the washing. I don’t.


Thought I did the washing.

I’ve not the faintest idea what his job was, but he must have been quite high-powered. I went to some sort of an event with him once and you could tell from the way people laughed at him that they must have wanted him to like them.

There was one woman in particular with the most amazing pair of fuschia stilettos. I still have them.

Laughter’s a big part of not actually having to listen, of course. It’s the skill of the stand-up comedian, you know; not to be funny, but to inculcate the audience into the rhythm of when laughter is expected. It’s why musical comics are such cheats.

And useless at really effective reef knots.

Today, I’m talking to a policeman. He’s asked me what my memories are of the 17th of October.

On that particular day, I had to get the bus to work. This was a bad start for several reasons. There’s a man at my stop who always talks to me. I think he’s having a hard time right now. There’s less laughter expected of me, more frowning. It’s just as easy: mirror the facial expression and throw in a couple of ‘of course’s and ‘Oh dear’s. I’ve no idea if he’s upset about the bus fares (10p increase across the board!) or whether he’s dying. The expressions are much the same.

It’s not what I think about.

Being a doctor gives me a very handy sense of authority that’s got me out of quite a few scrapes, but I was determined to qualify as a GP: no specialism, so it’s all delightfully vague.

I can generally tell what’s wrong with people before they’ve sat down, and the majority of them are suffering from one of three things:

One:  they’re depressed. Easy one. I look pensive whilst they talk to me for, oh, anything up to four days, I think. Sometimes I get hungry. Normally they smile at the end and tell me something, I think, along the lines of being terribly grateful. If they still seem upset then I prescribe a large amount of SSRIs or, if I’m feeling itchy that day, warfarin.

Two: they’re old. A variety of symptoms might present themselves, but that’s the nub of it. Often these old folk just want to talk at me, too. Laugh in the right places and integrate some ‘isn’t that just the way’s, and they tell me I’m such a personable doctor.

‘Personable’. I roll the word around in my head for a while, then think about something else. Finally, I write a prescription. This prescription will do one of two things:  make them better (I believe that’s what’s generally expected of me, God knows what kind of miracle-worker they think I am), or kill them, in which case few people tend to be surprised.

If I don’t see them again I presume the latter has happened. If I do see them again, it happens eventually all the same. Quiet, out of the way; not at all like the younger ones. They take far more effort to dispose of.

And despite what you might think, I dislike that sort of effort.

Three, they have a cold. I tell them to eat an orange and stop wasting my time.

(Oranges are useless, of course, but they’re such a beautiful shape.)

The annoying little everyday aspects of life taken care of, I have time to think about other things; to really focus, very calm, very Zen. I think about food a lot; what I might have for lunch, or whether I need to buy more eggs. I also like to make lists and plans.

I plan to make things quiet. I like things quiet. That’s all. Surely not too much to ask?

The world is so loud. And asymmetrical. I just need things to be symmetrical and balanced. This is the unfortunate thing about medical practice. You can’t cure people; you can never guarantee to cure people. Sickness is pervasive and dirty and gets in the way of perfect shapes, tidy columns, and even numbers. These people will come into my office time and again until I just want to shoot them through the temples.

Which is terribly messy. It’s so difficult to get a perfect straight line; I can spend all day tracing over it and trying to get it right and it’s worse than when I started.

So I rise above it. I practice yoga and meditation and I try to get beyond the everyday things, to not sweat the small stuff, like healing the sick and tending to the needy. Then I can focus on what matters.

On the 17th of October, for instance – the day this little man is asking about –  I was planning what to do about the car. I really didn’t want to have to keep taking the bus, but the car was starting to smell. Unclean. I was going to have to get someone to sort it, like with the laundry, but I suspected it might lead to conversations I need to be present for, which I’ve successfully avoided since… I was nineteen.

When I was nineteen, things were dirty. Everything was made of off-white crockery – the sort where it looks like it’s covered in tea stains, but it’s actually the pattern and you’ll never get it off. So I covered everything in bleach.

Being suddenly without a family got me free university tuition and an early marriage. It all worked out rather well in that sense, so that’s all I’m going to say about it.

I did like being married, you know.

Anyway this policeman isn’t interested in any of that. He wants to know about the 17th of October. There didn’t seem to be any patients in my office that afternoon, so I ate a Polo, sucking it down until it was terribly thin, but still a perfect circle. Clean. Calm.

I got a text from my husband. Texts irk me; there’s nothing to be done but read the actual words.

‘My car’s broken down. I’ll have to borrow yours. Hope you don’t mind x’

I thought about it. I assessed carefully how likely it was he would open the boot, and I got frustrated because things would be so much easier if it was a Monday. Such strong, bold letters

It was an assessment, you know.  It wasn’t a snap decision. Now I’m single, and I hate odd numbers.

That’s not what I say to the policeman of course.

I stare, I look like I might cry (I‘ve never mastered actual crying) and tell him I don’t remember.

I repeat statements at random:

‘We were trying for a baby.’

‘Oh God, I still have his tie in my handbag.’

‘I can’t believe he killed all those people.’

‘I’m so hungry.’

These statements are delicious because they’re all perfectly true but I know that this little bespectacled man will misinterpret them. I hope so. He has very neat hair and a well-arranged office. He locks up the wrong people, and he makes the world tidy.

I wonder if he’s married?

4 Responses to “Thinking”

  1. Ever May 10, 2012 at 8:57 am #

    I really do love this story – pefectly creepy 🙂

    • admin May 10, 2012 at 9:09 am #

      Thank you 🙂

  2. Sil May 11, 2012 at 12:36 am #

    I’m with Ever 🙂 it’s deliciously creepy, half Dexter and half absolutely logic 🙂 sorry I had to leave after my bit (previous commitment)! This is lovely 😀

    • Lizzie May 11, 2012 at 8:45 am #

      Thank you! I liked your story too – didn’t get a chance to say so as you’d left!


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