At the Doctors
Kim saw the girl walk in, chewing gum, looking as though she hadn’t a care in the world, pushing her buggy laden down with shopping, baby squalling, toddler holding on to the buggy handles. The kerfuffle of their entrance made everyone turn and look, some with a slightly disapproving air. She wasn’t noticing any of that. She looked breezy and untouched by anyone, never mind her own children. She went up to the receptionist’s desk, lifted her gum from her tongue with wet fingers and offered it to her toddler. “Here, you, look after this for me” she commanded. The child put it in his own mouth, and started chewing it.
“I’ve got a 3.50 with the nurse” she said to the receptionist, “Kelly Sharp and kids”. The receptionist ticked off her list, and told her to wait.
Kelly Sharp looked around the room, eyeing up the available seating and location of kid’s toys. Kim suddenly noticed he was sitting right next to the storage box full of Duplo and other bright plastic bits. He had a sinking feeling. The toddler came and plonked himself virtually at his feet.
She smiled as she sat down next to him. “Lovely day, innit?” she breathed, almost sighing. Kim wasn’t sure how it could be. But he said yes anyway. He stole a sideways look at her. She was staring at him quite directly. “I’ve seen you before, you’re Kevin’s mate aren’t you?”
“Well, I do know a Kevin, but we’re not exactly…”
“Oh, I know, he’s a bit of a Wally, but he’s my boyfriend’s brother so I don’t have much choice, know what I mean?”
There was a brief lull while she poked her toddler’s arm and pointed at the baby, who had a big white sicky-looking dribble hanging from his mouth. The toddler wiped it with his sleeve.
She turned towards Kim again, “She’s got a bit of a temperature” she said, jerking her head towards the baby, “thought I’d better do something to check it out, couldn’t get in with the doctor though, so they shoved us in with the nurse. I bet there’s nothing wrong with her, all this bloody effort for nothing”. Kim was surprised she thought it was an effort, she seemed to be so free of anything that could be described as effort; she wasn’t exactly calm, just supremely untouched, unconnected.
Her skin had a smoky sheen, pale and milky white. It was so close-textured that it seemed to have no pores at all. He wanted to touch it, not because he had any desire for her, but in the same way a child reaches out to touch something of unusual texture. He tried to pay attention to what she was saying, as though it mattered.
“I was at that fair last night, have you been? Saw the most blindin’ ride, I wanted to have a go but of course no money, so I says to him, go on, give us a few quid, but he’s so bloody mean, and anyway he spent it all on drink…” she rambled on. She was fishing for the baby’s dummy all the time she spoke, while the infant cried. Eventually she found it, jabbed it into her mouth like a plug into a sink, and looked up. She seemed to expect he was going to participate in a conversation. He wished he could stop the noise; see her in sleep or some unconscious state so that he could just look.
“Mr Kim Stanley!” A voice called from further down the corridor. It was his appointment, so he gave a half-wave to Kelly Sharp, and lumbered off towards the voice.
He sat and shuffled in his seat. How is it possible to say things that are unspeakable? You just get it out, quickly. He looked up, as the doctor was doing her “what can I do for you?” routine, a kindly look on her face. Kim lurched headlong into speech, feeling as though he had decided to take two steps of a downward staircase at a time, but gradually realising he was falling down the whole lot in a crumpled heap. “The accident…you must have heard about it…the girl…I was there and she…she was so happy…and she was killed, right there, in front of me, it hit me, the blood…look…” He offered up his hand for inspection, “I can’t wash it off, it won’t go, I don’t know what to do.” He was breathing hard, and the doctor took hold of his shaking hands. Her eyes looked shiny with compassion.
“Calm down, there, there, dear, it’s alright now”, she said, “you’ve had a nasty shock and it’s quite normal to feel like this. I did hear about it, a real nasty one – and you saw it did you? Dear me. Did you know them?”
“No, I was just passing. She was really lovely. The sort that people turn round to watch, you know? I saw her run towards this bloke, she was so happy, they both were, she jumped into his arms like she was really free, just got out of jail or something, she let go of herself completely. He was twirling her round, and she leaned back like a child on a roundabout. It just made me keep staring. God, I wish I hadn’t…” His voice started to break.
“It’s OK, really, go on, you have a cry”, she soothed, putting the box of tissues closer to him on her desk.
“She didn’t know anything about it, that’s for sure”, he gathered himself together, sat upright and stared at the wall opposite with an unfocussed look. “It’s slow-motion almost, now, I can see it all, and I can’t stop seeing it, all the time…”
“Just tell me what you see, it’ll really help if you can talk to someone. Take your time, I’m here to help you, and we’ll take as long as you need…”
“They were hugging, and she turned her body, like this”, he demonstrated, shifting around in the chair and lifting his arms out, “and the motorbike just knocked her out into the road, straight out of this guy’s arms, he can’t believe it, but there’s nothing he can do…she went straight into the path of that car, and it decapitated her, I don’t even understand how that happened, even though I can see it, again and again. Her head just went flying, I can see it flying through the air, she still had a smile on her face, the blood just gushed over me”, he held his hands out yet again as evidence, “and I got these marks that won’t come off, I never had them before, I know it looks stupid and I’m not mad, I’m not, I’m not…” His voice trailed off. He looked down at his hands, started wringing them together, and then looked at them again. “I don’t know what to do to make it go away, what can I do?”
The doctor reached for her prescription pad. “I know you won’t like this, but I’m going to prescribe you some Prozac. It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with your mind, I don’t think you’re going crazy or anything, its just you’ve had a really big shock and it’s natural to feel bad about what you’ve seen. After the shock wears off you’ll probably get a bit of depression, that sort of thing. It will fade in time, believe me, but these will really help you to get through.”
“It’s my hands, doctor,” he said, confused.
“I know, I know, but really this will help with the hands. You must know, if you think about it, that the blood isn’t really there, it’s just your way of saying you feel stained by what you saw, it touched you really deeply, so much that your skin felt connected to what happened. Just think of it as your little helper so that you can let go of that. Let me know how you get on, and make an appointment for next week so we have another chat. OK? If you still feel you need someone to talk to, I’ll arrange you an appointment with the counselling service.” He felt himself being dismissed, eased out.
Kelly Sharp didn’t have the kind of skin that could connect with anything. You couldn’t imagine her flesh raw, like his was. He was thinking of her as he walked out through the automatic doorway, into the sunshine. He took a minute to adjust to the brightness. She was outside, there next to him, and he became slightly terrified at the prospect of having to speak with her again.
“You know, you looked like you could do with cheering up mate, so I thought I’d walk back with you. Can’t be that bad, eh?”
“Oh, er, that’s kind, but I’m not walking,” he gestured to the car park. He realised she would expect a lift if she thought he had a car, and explained “I’m on my bike”. He was horrified at the idea of walking back through the estate with her.
He waited until she had given him a little wave from the corner, and disappeared from sight. He got his helmet from the back carrier on his bike, switched on and revved the engine, then rode out.