Archive for September, 2010
‘We should find a little slogan that goes with that. I think it was Locke who said – ‘The great difficulty will be where to find a proper person: for those of small age, parts, and virtue, are unfit for this employment, and those that have greater, will hardly be got to undertake such a charge.” Maybe we should use that?”
“ I once heard a good one that we could use. It goes something like this . I think it was ‘ Self-trust is the first secret of success. –Ralph Waldo Emerson.’”
“Yeah! And then print it all up in one of those purple folders and distribute with a gimmicky little novelty item.”
I listened with growing incredulity. Two years ago, these people had all been rational, sensible, adult people. They now seemed as if they had been infected with a terrible marketing illness. I had been away from corporate life too long.
“Are you left or right handed?”
I looked at him quizzically (I hoped).
“Left or right handed?” he gasped in an increasingly pressured voice.
“Too bad. We could do with some more lefties. We have a Corporate Left Handed Group that meets and brainstorms every second week. Tries to overcome the problem of the lepdidostra in the workplace,” he concluded smugly.
“Meets very second Tuesday in the first Conference room. Just after the Gardening with Orchids.”
I was beginning to feel the slightest bit faint headed.
“You would have had that at the last place you worked at the er…..,’ he glanced down at the piece of paper in front of him, “the Health Clinic?”
I tried to remember if I had even spoken to anyone in the ghastly place in the last six weeks of my employment. “We sort of kept ourselves to ourselves,” I ended up saying. I glanced through the Conference Room window and saw the young women who had ushered me into the building that morning. She was sobbing uncontrollably as she hunched over the wooden garden furniture. Someone moved toward her, put their arm around her shoulder, rubbed, and then passed a brown paper bag to her. Within seconds, she was laughing and scarfing down a cookie.
Day Two. I am informed that we have a new patient on the lower floor ward. I can hardly believe what I am hearing when they announce that she is 200 kgs.
“No not 200 lbs, which would be heavy enough. Two hundred kilograms.”
They giggle into their hands as they recount stories of taking similar patients down to the local gas works that has scales used to weigh the heavy coal trucks as they bring fuel for the furnaces.
“We drive them in on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance, weigh the lot, drive off, unload them, back the ambulance, weigh it again, and bingo, you’ve got the weight of the fatty.”
I blanch. Where is the political correctness that I know slithers around in the basements of these organisations, waiting to rear up and bite anyone who doesn’t toe the line? I rush off into the ward to see if I can see this monster. I return after a half an hour. How can you hide 200 kgs of fat? I haven’t found her.
Day 14. I lunch with a group of co-workers. I have now managed to mentally remember faces that go with nametags and telephone numbers and job positions. If you want such and such then so and so is your person. All firmly ingrained. But, as I look across the cafeteria table, I see a mismatched nametag with a face. I know it’s mismatched because I have talked to Veronica the day before and she was a Clinical Neuropsychologist who had a master’s degree from a prestigious English University. I know because I talked to her about her Masters thesis and about England. We got on. Now she is Dr Carol Neumann, Senior Registrar. I glance across the room. Here is another person who the day before was an aide. The lowest health position. Now she is wearing all the regalia; the watch, the badge, the little symbol thing. She is a registered health professional. Able to make life and death decisions while she hovers on her professional feet. I shake my head. Surely they wouldn’t so this on a ward of people who are confused, unstable, fragile?
I am in a meeting with a senior member of staff when we come upon a vexating question, which demands the consultation of a young consultant. Female. He, of fifty or more years, is suddenly fuelled with energy as he skips across the corridor and bangs on her office door. His sagging jowls and gut have suddenly and miraculously hardened up and his voice assumes a new trill as he enters the office.
“Just need a quicky,” he blurts out arching his darkened eyebrows and sneering with a gauche, mock, sexuality. “Just need a quicky,” he repeats leering now and then if she hadn’t already got the sexual innuendo he turns to me and repeats the performance.
She is quite accommodating and I realise that this is probably not the first time that such an encounter has happened. I don’t know which one to be more embarrassed for.
We have a lunchtime presentation from the Quality Control police. This is a new thing in the organisation and is supposed to earn them something called ‘accreditation’. From what I can work out accreditation will allow them to do exactly as they were doing before but to have a plaque on the wall that says that there are lots of bits of paper around the building that say that they are good at what they do. Everyone listens in what I think is a somewhat enforced enrapture for the first hour then I hear the occasional beeper going off and certain people disappear never to be seen again. Then one of the presenters makes a foolish mistake and asks if there are any questions. They come and it is evident that, for the sake of politeness or maybe misplaced sorrow, they are malicious attacks on the whole concept of Quality Control. The two presenters are professional and they deflect the moans with faint praise and, increasingly, a kind of practiced condescension. Judiciously, they suggest a break for tea and sandwiches and the charade goes on for another half an hour before bothy sides concede a silent defeat and resume their day.
I am in yet another meeting. We are discussing something which I think is marginally related to anything useful in the sphere of things when my fellow worker suddenly rises to her feet and closes the door. Conspirationally she draws herself behind me and whispers that this is a commercially sensitive subject and we should not send out a memo to certain members of staff who may steal industrial secrets. Well, I’m normally bored nine on a scale of ten so I play along with her game. Next, we have her PA in the room and the three of us hatch an elaborate scheme to safeguard our commercially sensitive information. I am enthralled. So this is how they spice up there humdrum lives. I get home that night and find an email, blinking at me from the glowing screen. It informs me to forget everything that was discussed today. That I am no longer flabbergasted by this request tells me that I am slowly being assimilated into the organisation.
The week after I am innocently clearing my emails when one of the industrial spies sidles into my room, looks back down the corridor, and then whispers that he would like to talk to me about a sensitive subject. He quietly closes the door, peering back through the rapidly disappearing crack to make certain that no-one had glided down the hall and has their ear to the wood as he tells me a story full of conspiracies, plots, and Machiavellian machinations. He has been away from work for a few days because he received a vile letter from the business manager and he has been informed that he is slacking and needs to up his work rate if he is to remain in employment. This has caused so much stress that he has been unable to concentrate on his work and has had to contact a union representative. I listen sympathetically to him and start to realise that he is either seriously deluded or it is about time that I started drawing lines in the sand as to who I trust in this place. Rapidly it is becoming a mirror image of my former job. At least I have not been called to intervene and I make a vow that I will remain peripheral to all of this.
Day 36. She comes into my office again to tell me about her latest reearch idea. I don’t for a moment think that she has any desire to do any research. I secretly think that she is trying to seduce me. She poses on one leg and thrusts her chest out as she talks to me. It is not an unattractive sight. She is maybe in her mid thirties and has a very nice looking body which she tends to put at odd angles suggesting (to my warped mind) that these positions could be interesting sexual mechanics that we might try at some future date. This is perhaps her sixth visit and the time she spends with me gets longer and longer. Today she lets slip that she lost her husband to cancer twelve years ago. She also lets slip that although she looks after herself physically she has a bit of tinnae. I nod wisely and say I have a bit of Menieres disease myself, thinking I will dazzle her with my medical knowledge. She doesn’t even blink as she tactfully tells me she gets it after swimming in the physiotherapy pool and not using the mats properly. Then that moment comes. She is describing a creepy person she encountered when she first starting her working life and she starts stroking my arm and shoulder and rubbing up against me. Is this good acting or am I being made? I not so tactfully look at my clock and suggest that we resume this conversation over lunch with twenty other people watching.
Its time for the troops to be cajoled into another period of work. Patient numbers have been down, patient complaints have been up, and the Gumment is looking at cutting yet more costs. The Chief Executive issues a statement. We are to have a mid-winter celebration and he has promised a speaker, AN ANTARTIC EXPLORER, fine food, wine, and A PRTOMINENT BAND. He also sprinkles his newsletter with little snippets of praise, which are followed by WELL DONE’S and BE PROUD’S. I can just imagine him in his skyscraper office, looking down on his minions scurrying to and fro in the hospital lobby. The capital letters are for when he feels that he needs to yell. It probably doesn’t occur to him that the very people he is praising see him as faintly ridiculous.
A wide-eyed lady frantically pushes buttons on the security door, which prevents our ‘at-risk’ patients from venturing out into areas where they may be unsafe. Dressed in yellow, her hands shake as she cannot work out the simple four-digit code that releases the catch. She looks furtively along the corridor, as if she is trying to avoid meeting someone’s eyes. I ask if I can help with the door and she indicates that she wants to see one of the therapy staff but her husband must not know that she is in the building. I am puzzled but take the staff members name and go looking for him. She stands at the door, looking left and right and I am afraid she may try and escape before I can do my simple job. I notice that she has something large and shiny sticking out the top of her bag and I hope that this is not some instrument of destruction. I find the person she requires and she brushes past me as they move toward his office. Another staff member approaches me and asks where they have gone because yet another staff member wants to see the woman in yellow. I fight my need to find out what this is all about but I suspect it is a common occurrence. A stay in a hospital is often a time to enrich and strengthen a relationship. It is also a time when the bonds or chains are finally broken.
There were images of dead infants and toddlers, lovingly dressed and photographed for posterity. Although some of the children were shown simply lying on their beds, others were carefully posed with dolls or personal belongings. One picture taken by an unknown photographer was particularly haunting: a young girl had been propped up and made to hold drumsticks. In a small, hand-coloured daguerreotype framed in velvet, the little girl played with her favourite toy, even in death.
These family keepsakes may strike contemporary viewers as odd and perhaps even grotesque. Producing and circulating pictures of dead relatives or famous people is no longer an acceptable, everyday practice, even as there is a fascination with dead bodies in films and on television. When photographs appear at funerals today, they are more likely to replace the corpse than to image it. Typically placed atop a closed casket, modern pictures feature the deceased individual in life, often at a younger age or before illness struck
I don’t know if it was the light but he looked as though he were made from alabaster. His head was stretched backwards as if he had been straining to see something on the roof of the room. His mouth was open, jaw slack, and a fine line of spittle had spread down the left hand side of his chin. His face was stubbled with grey and white hairs; the nurses must have forgotten to shave him that morning or, figuring he was close to death, left him alone. His wife gently tried to close his mouth but, encountering pressure, her gentleness turned to anger as she forced his lower jaw shut. She wept inconsolably and, looking around her at the silent and unmoved gathering, she expressed loudly that he didn’t look good in death. His previously large vibrant body was parked now. Its engine had finally stopped, position at top-dead-centre. His pyjama top was open to waist level and his singlet barely covered the matt of grey hairs that grew form his chest. The bottom half of his body was discretely covered with a red hospital blanket, concealing the tubes and drains that punctured his body. He had not died peacefully. He appeared as though he had to be have been wrenched from life, unwilling to commit to this final ignominy.
So it was a shock to see the room where he lay the next day. He had been stretched out, dressed in his best suit (and underwear) and a thin smile had been carved on his face. He was wearing the blue shirt that he hated so much in life and what had the wife been thinking when she matched the suit with his cross trainers. He, who had been so conservative in life with clothing, was going to his final resting place dressed as bizarrely as the pet dog they dressed up and photographed when they had several gins on board. The coffin lay open and the lid was propped up incongruously on the nearby sideboard. A series of photo’s showed the man as he had been in life. Here he posed on his retirement day, hair brylceamed; tie gracefully tucked into his service jacket. Here he reclined on a bench in what must have been his trip to Italy to revisit his wartime haunts. Here, he playfully held his partner in a death lock while grinning at the camera. And here, on the front of his funeral eulogy was the same image. The ultimate revenge.
They spoke of him. Here was a man I didn’t recognise. Had I grown so distant from him that I had forgotten the tenderness he could show to a young grandchild? Had I grown so distant that I didn’t believe the words he said of his son? I didn’t recognise the man or myself.
Then I find myself working in a rehabilitation hospital whee a large part of the client group are males with strokes. I wander down the ward and look into bright, airy rooms, some with beds surrounded by deep blue curtains. I see men, not much different in age to myself, bent over feeding trays, arms dangling uselessly mouths dribbling as they try to move neglected limbs and muscles to give a greeting. A cold, icy fear grips my chest and I hurriedly complete the tasks I have and return to the haven of my room. Did I notice cards and balloons? Did I notice the one litre bottles of sugar filled drink? Did I not detect the faint whiff of cigarette smoke and, in one instance, alcohol?
The Hunting Party
The boy didn’t know if he had woken of his own volition or the hand that gently shook his shoulder. He blinked and tried to focus his eyes in the gloom of the pre-dawn light. The man, his father, whispered to him,
“Its time. Get your things together. I have some breakfast on the go. See you in five minutes.”
He closed his eyes and then jerked awake fully, guilty hoping that it had only been seconds, not minutes that the first awakening had happened. He knew his father would be furious if he didn’t get up in time and it would be likely that he would leave without him. He could hear the clinking of plates in the kitchen and he could smell cooking bacon so he guessed that time was on his side. The boy rolled out of bed and his feet hit the cold planks of his bedroom floor. He shivered as he struggled into his underwear, a new pair of long johns his father had paid for but his mother had gone to the menswear shop to buy for him. His father would not have the time to spend on such frivolities as shopping for his son but he was adamant that he had to be properly equipped for his initiation into manhood. This morning’s excursion was the first time the boy had spent any time alone with his father who was usually distant or absent. It wasn’t that his father was a monster, he was just away from home at his work or immersed in something in his study. He pulled on a heavy woolen shirt, then a woolen jersey over that, then struggled into a crispy new pair of denim trousers. He felt like a monster and his mood lightened as he saw himself crashing through the countryside, arms outstretched and frightened girls screaming and fleeing. He heard his mother’s voice rising in urgency and he hurried into the kitchen. His father looked at him and then the big clock on the kitchen wall and the boy could sense that he was annoyed with him. His mother, still in her nightwear but concealed beneath a bulky red dressing gown, pushed a plate of eggs, bacon, toast, and fried tomatoes, in front of him.
“Eat up. You’ll need your strength,” the whispered sotto voice “and hurry.”
He didn’t feel hungry but forced the greasy food down. It was rare that he had a proper breakfast just like he imagined his father had every morning and he liked the idea. He looked across at his father as he hovered on the doorstep, alternately looking back into the warmth of the kitchen, casting a warm light in the morning light, and the gloom of the morning. His father was dressed in a tweed hunting jacket with a jerkin over the top, which had ammunition pouches around the waist and breast pockets. He had his navy cap, pulled tightly (and to the boys eyes uncooly) down his forehead, and trousers with sharp ironed creases. On his feet were a pair of new boots, which he had highly polished, and obviously a great source of pride to their wearer. The boy gulped down his glass of milk and was amazed that he was allowed to leave the table without a stern reminder to brush his teeth and comb his hair. His father just tossed him one of his old woolen caps and the boy, almost with reverence, put it on. They murmured good-byes to the mother and then hurried down the drive to the waiting car.
The car was stifling hot. Dr Steven, the local doctor, and Mr Middlemiss sat in the front seat and the boy and his father had the spacious back seat to themselves. The old and cranky doctor had the heater cranked up to maximum and he still fiddled with the thing, murmering obscentities, as if that would coax more heat out of it. Outside the morning was crisp and the boy was grateful for the cars heater but it also made him feel sleepy and the greasy breakfast sat heavily on his stomach. The men talked about the weather and then passed a silver flask around the car. They laughed as his father took a drink and then looked uncertain about where to hand it next.
“Be a few more years before the boy takes his full part,” Mr Middlemiss laughed and the three men laughed together. The sweet smell of alcohol permeated the car and the flask did another round. The level of conversation suddenly increased and the boy nodded off as he tried desperately to keep up with what was being said. He jerked awake at the same time as the car came to a halt.
Doors closed with hollow thuds and the boy could see two other cars with men standing in groups, passing around flasks, talking in soft voices, shotguns under their arms. Dogs yapped around their feet and it looked to the boy that some of the animals were reacquainting themselves after a year’s absence. The men moved toward the back of Dr Steven’s car and started sorting out their own guns. He saw his fathers new Beretta for the first time as he unzipped it from its leather case and the boy’s breath held for an instant. It was beautiful. The blue-black of the steel glowed in the light and he could make out the beautiful wood grip and the intricate silver scrolling on the bright metal bits. His father broke open a box of cartridges and started inserting them into his ammunition belt. Dr Stevens made some remark about new fanged contraptions as he broke his Bernardelli in two and inserted two orange cartridges into the barrels. Mr Middlemiss lowered the flask and looked over at the boy and winked.
“Nothing beats the old Browning and you don’t have to walk around with your thing open.” He giggled as he reflected on his last comment and the boy looked at him trying to fathom what he had missed. The men ambled toward a low-lying punt that was tethered to the wharf. Within minutes they were looking back at the misty shore as the silenced motor whirred away at the back of the punt. The boy was forced to squat on the floor of the vessel with the two dogs, and quickly found himself wetted as the water sluiced around the bottom of the boat. He could only see the forest of rubber and leather booted men and the quiet conversation and the occasional cough. Then he heard a series of load blasts coming from up ahead and he sensed the tension in the boat.
“Cheeky lowlifes,” he heard Dr Stevens mutter and then a general agreement from his father. Mr Middlemiss was noticeably silent and the boy recalled his father talking at the rare dinner when he was home of the new group of men who had taken up duck hunting in the past years and who had cheapened the sport. The boy could recall words like ‘lower class, uncouth, ruffians, new rich’ but they had little meaning at the time. Now her could place it in context and possibly would be able to put faces to names. He started shivering just as the boat bumped to a stop and the men scrambled over the gunwale of the punt. He felt a hand on his shoulder and his father’s stern voice urging him to get a hurry on. The dogs leapt form the boat and rushed and they scrambled through some prickly bush, which clung to the boy’s jacket, and he had to stop twice and extract himself from the thorns. They settled into a small mai-mai and the boy closed his eyes as he listened to the racking of shotguns and the clunk as Mr Stevens put his gun together and flipped off the safety catch. He was also aware that he felt cold and when he put his hand to his head he discovered that his hat had gone. He suddenly felt much colder than the outside temperature as he realised what fury this could arouse in his father. Perhaps he could creep back and find it on one of those branches. His thoughts were suddenly interrupted.
“Just watch where you fire and keep your safeties on until we see birds,” whispered Mr Middlemiss and the other men grunted but seemed more intent in peering out into the dawn which had got just a little brighter. He looked across at his father and despite the turmoil inside of him, he couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pride at this tall elegant man, intently peering out into the morning with his new gun. His eyes scanned down to the ground and he saw that his father’s new boots were covered in a thick steaming layer of sticky mud which had splashed up over his newly creased trousers. Just then there was a flurry of activity and three guns roared in unison. The boy almost wet himself as he had not been warned of the loud sound of the guns and he fell to the ground and put his hands over his ears.
‘Damn! All missed. How can three of us all miss at the same time?’ grumbled Dr Stevens and then the boy looked up and saw his father turned in his direction with a look of disgust on his face.
“What the hell are you doing down there, like a little girl?” he asked in a loud and sarcastic voice, “and where the hell is my hat?”
The boy gulped and was about to say something when Mr Middlemiss chirped in,
“The boy gave it to me to hold. Give him a break Donald. He’s never been hunting before. Can’t you remember your first time?”
The boy heard his father’s sharp intake of breath and waited for the inevitable explosion that would result if it had been his mother who spoke in such a way. Any thought of that happening was suddenly shattered as a screeching and quacking sound was accompanied by a flurry of feathered wings.
“Birds, birds, reload-snap it up,” shouted Dr Stevens and the three men turned and scanned the horizon in front of them. The boy lost count of the number of shots but he could hear cries of triumph from the doctor and Mr Middlemiss and, after what seemed an eternity, he heard them counting. “Five or six I reckon,” “three at least-how many for you Donald?”. There was a silence and that tension in the air again, which was only broken by the sounds of the dogs bringing the killed birds back.
It was obvious that his father had not shot any birds and he was now looking down at his new boots and trousers and the boy could almost see the rage rising in him.
The boy held the gun to his shoulder. The smell of cordite, gun oil, and rubber filtered back to him. He felt like sneezing but he knew that would infuriate his father. They had been bird spotting before and his allergies had overtaken him and that disastrous outing had ended in tears and slammed doors and silence. The sun was just starting to show its colors over the horizon and the boy hoped that no more birds would take off before the morning was over. He was terrified of firing the gun although his father had shown him how to hold it and what to do when he fired to minimize the kick. He started daydreaming about being at home when Dr Stevens gave a startled cry.
“Swans. A dozen of them. Coming in low. Perfect shot. Can’t miss.” The boy looked down the barrel of his father’s shotgun at the group of beautiful black birds gracefully slicing through the thick morning’s air. He heard the click of Dr Stevens gun and the obscenity he uttered, He heard his father tell him that it was down to him and his eyes started to tear as he lost sight of the swans but he had the presence of mind to swivel the gun away from where he had sighted them last, and he pulled the trigger of the under and over shotgun. He was thrown about four feet back from where he was standing as both barrels exploded and the gun flew out of his hand and he vaguely saw it landing in a patch of mud then slide into the deep water surrounding the mai-mai. His ears were ringing, his shoulder felt as though it was broken and he couldn’t work out whether his trousers were still wet from the boat journey or he had soiled himself. He could hear his fathers swearing and Mr Middlemiss’s attempts to calm him, which were largely going unheeded.
He couldn’t explain to his father about the ugly duckling or the beautiful pictures of swans he had drawn in art or about his nature study project on swans. His father sat in a silence full of threat, regret, and malice all the way back to the house. Dr Stevens seemed equally as angry but the boy didn’t know what that was about. Mr Middlemiss tried to cheer him up but the boy felt more embarrassed than cheered.
The Grizzly Bear and GE
Bob Cloud, a 38-year-old lawyer, would often doze off in mid-sentence. He once fell asleep during an opposing attorney’s closing argument, and again sitting in front of a judge. Bob is a narcoleptic. He also suffers from cataplexy, in which he can collapse in a heap on the ground, conscious but essentially paralysed. Cataplexy is often brought on by intense emotion, so Bob can’t even play football with his kids. Bob is now trying to piece his life together after his wife of ten years, Denice, suddenly announced that she was going to ‘find herself’ and uplifted her Neal Diamond CD collection, all her books on needlepoint and embroidery, a complete set of Japanese Global kitchen knives, and the tin full of Northland heads that Bob kept in the back of his sock drawer.
Bob sits at the kitchen table after the two-hour ordeal that was ‘getting the kids off to school’. He had fallen asleep through narcolepsy twice, and once has faked sleep as the noise reached a level where even tolerant Bob could not cope with simultaneously arbitrating over Super Sugar Coco Pops or Extra Sugar Coco Nuts as the more suitable choice for his offspring. Denice, never one to share anything useful with Bob, has neglected to provide a list of the best way to go about these tasks so Bob is left, as the children tramp down the long pathway from door to road, as to how he will re-organise his life to cope with this new situation. As he sits, head bowed, at the nuclear blast site, that was his kitchen table, Bob’s head gently slumps forward, and lands in the remains of an open peanut butter sandwich which has failed to make its way into a lunchbox. Welcome to the world of Bob’s narcolepsy.
Meanwhile, downtown a group of scientists are huddled over a blueprint, which has been reproduced eight times and placed before them at 9 am, the nominal time for meetings to start at the Ibis Development Corporation. Dr John (PhD) Koffen is holding the floor and as he outlines the new wonder drug he would like to trial on the ten lucky narcoleptics he has chosen from the hundred or so that are on his books and lining up to do anything that will stop them from falling asleep on a regular basis. Dr Gwen (MD) Gallantry, looks up at Koffen, over her bifocal spectacles and furrows her brow.
“But this is an untried treatment.. The animal trials look promising, I’ll grant you, but its never been used on humans subjects before.”
Koffen looks at her and despite himself he can’t help giving a cynical response to her contribution.
“If Rutherford or Fleming or Curie had halted at a little ethical dilemma like that we would not be living in the enlightened time we are now,” he gruffly retorted, then looked around the table for agreement. He was met by a sea of downturned faces; faces tied to bodies and minds that largely tried to stay out of any confrontations between Drs Koffen and Gallantry for fear of being left as the drying remains on the floor of an academic battleground.
“Look. The GE debate is a dead duck. Lets face it, people have been eating GE modified food for centuries and, if anything, there are less illnesses and health complications from some of the so called organic products that we are forced to pay extra dollars for. Look at last week. That poor unfortunate woman who ate those organic strawberries then went into acute anaphylactic shock.”
Heads swivelled as Dr Koffen went on to describe the high dose of an obscure chemical that the women concerned had been exposed to and he drew a picture of irresponsible farmers who had no real idea about the intricacies of science.
“I believe this may be one of the most significant new scientific breakthroughs of the new millennium.” He went on to say. “ By splicing grizzly bear genes into common foods and isolating the gene that controls and regulates hibernation we will be able to introduce a self regulating mechanism into the unfortunate group of patients who suffer from this debilitating condition. Once we have the mechanics of that better understood, then we can move on to find ways to keep people awake for long periods of time. Just think of the implications of that for some of the service industries and I do see some military applications.”
A few necks swivelled at that. A military application was a sure-fired way to generate large amounts of research money for long periods of time. It was every researchers dream. Land a military contract and you were assured of a long and comfortable working life.
It was a long and painful process for Bob. As well as having to cope with his new family situation, the ongoing narcolepsy, and his forced separation from Denice; he was now faced with adhering to a strict diet that the scientists had concocted for him. He was given vague promises of being allocated to a control or experimental group, but really this just all dissolved as he found he was managing to get through whole days without finding himself immersed in his food or lying on a bench, or worse, waking up and having no idea of how he had got to this place. Bob actually felt quite wonderful but he couldn’t help but notice the side effects of the new treatment. True, he no longer fell asleep at embarrassing moment but his budget could not cope with the half a pound of honey he needed to eat every day to feel ‘just right’. Worse, his behaviour toward his children was starting to seriously affect his relationship with the family. On a supermarket outgoing, he would herd them into a tight circle and then rear up and growl at any passer-by’s. His hands had become large and hairy and he would occasionally swipe out at an unsuspecting passerby who he sensed had invaded the family’s territory. But even worse were the lonely nights where he lay slumped in front of the Discovery Channel, honey pot in one hand, and masturbated furiously over young she-bears roaming around in the wild. He had been too ashamed to admit this last symptom to the good Dr Gallantry, but he could see that he was rapidly approaching a space where this would become a necessity.
Meanwhile back at the lab the increasingly irate Dr Gallantry was engaged in a heated discussion with Dr Koffen.
“Just look at Bob Cloud. He may have stopped his daytime narcolepsy but the man looks as though he hasn’t slept in years. His eyes are on stalks and his behaviour around the clinic borders on the unacceptable side of what your research protocol set out when you embarked on what is frankly becoming a joke.” She raised her eyebrows and banged her fist on the good Dr’s table as if she really needed to emphasise that she was not happy with the way things were going. “ I have prepared a draft letter that will go to the Ethics board unless you review what you are doing with the bear injections. Koffen lowered his head and pushed his spectacles up while vigorously massaging the bridge of his nose. He wanted to grab this woman by the neck and shake her until she had some sense in her but he knew that was highly inappropriate and would only show the good Dr that he was, indeed, losing control. Thank God she didn’t know about two of the other patients who had had spectacular changes of personality and left their families to roam in the wild. But there had also been success stories. One particularly sad case who had previously been confined to one room had managed to find gainful employment as a grader at a salmon canning factory and another had resurrected his dancing career.
Morning at Bob Clouds household. The children were up, neatly dressed, and arranged around the breakfast table in an orderly boy, girl, fashion. Bob, huge, ursine, and serene moved between stove and table, munching on a morsel of bread smothered in honey. The children looked anxiously from one to another and at the huge pile of honeyed pancakes dripping in the center of the breakfast table. They knew better than to make any comment as lately Daddy had become quite demonstrative when they choose to make a point. The telephone rang. Bob fox trotted over to the buzzing instrument and, suddenly, forgot what it was, and found himself standing looking at the ridiculous thing, frantically ringing its head off. The boy child, prepared to suffer the wrath of his father if need-be, edged away from his place at the table and lifted the receiver to his ear. Bob eyed the boy, and then cocked his head to the side as if he had just witnessed a small miracle. The boy listened to the tinny voice on the other end and muttered a few things – the requisite ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘dunno’, ‘maybe’, – then handed the phone to his swaying father, indicating that he should listen. Bob put the piece to his ear the way he had seen his cub do (what was he thinking – the boy was his son), and heard the unmistakable whine of his mate – (what was he thinking – she was his wife). At first, he couldn’t make out what she was saying and then gradually he hooked into the cadence of her voice and realised that she was sobbing and pleading with him. Bob, distracted by a passing noise, placed the telephone down on the table and slowly foxtrotted to the window. Behind him, the phone emitted a fierce squawk as if it had some internal deficit. The boy, quietly and behind Bob’s back, lifted the telephone, spoke briefly into it, then hurriedly placed it back in it’s cradle.
Bob Cloud sat in the examining room as Dr Koffen finished his questions and pushed back on his swivel chair so that a good two meteres separated him from his ‘patient’. He was aware of the dry, musky, and very powerful odour that came from Bob but rather than say anything he smiled and pushed his glasses back on the bridge of his nose.
“Well! It’s all good news Bob! From what you say you haven’t experienced any of those unfortunate episodes that so plagued you in the past and I must say your physical signs are spectacular. Your heart and lung functioning has improved beyond my expectations and all your lab results are within normal limits. I think we can safely say that this whole experiment has been a spectacular success.”
Bob, momentarily distracted by a movement in the outer hall swivelled around to look at the good Dr again as he launched into a long and boring explanation that Bob neither cared about, or could understand. What he really, really wanted was to stick his hand into a huge pot of honey and smear it all over his face until it ran down and matted the hairs on his chest. He wanted to then roll around in a nice big patch of dirt and then just shake and shake. He started breathing heavily through his nose and Koffen thought this was a good time to move Bob along to the door that led to the car park. After he had ushered Bob outside he returned to be confronted by the sight of a very animated Dr Gallantry examining Bob Clouds chart.
“I see that Mr Cloud has no more narcoleptic episodes,” she said, “ but I also see that his bloods and urine are far from normal. This elevated glucose level must be a worry to you and I don’t know what to make of the discrepancies in the other chemistry.”
Dr Koffen grabbed the file from her hand and flicked through the pages.
“Excellent, excellent, good, good. All what we expected,” he muttered and, eyeballing Dr Gallantry, dared her to respond.
“Well! If that’s what you are going to settle for I am afraid I must follow through on my earlier threat to go to the Ethics board. It seems to me that there are far too many unknowns in this whole affair and it needs someone to scrutinise the processes and procedures with a neutral eye.”
Dr Koffen moved toward the door of the examining room and, behind his back, turned the key in its lock.
The high-powered rifle barked twice and the marksman looked through his scope at the man, hundreds of yards away. He had reared up from his prone posture and the bullets must have struck him at the apogee of his ascent. He staggered forward, clutched his chest, looked down in disbelief at the spreading red stain, then pitched forward into the dirt. The women at his side peered in the marksman’s direction, scanned the horizon, then turned her attention to the still figure, sprawled to the side of her. She started to say something to him and then noticed the tears in his eye and the very large holes in his chest. It was either from exhaustion or disgust but, at that moment, he decided to die. She looked at him and the look was both ghostly and terrible-a look that said-“you were a terrible disappointment to me – you never really lived up to the expectations that everybody had of you.” His eyes flickered and then closed. He went to sleep for the last time.
He kept looking down at the briefcase at his feet. The gold plated catch was half-open and he could just see into the dark interior and spot the square of tin foil. He knew what he had packed in there many weeks before and he knew what he had to do.
Mitchell Scrotti was feeling his age. Fifty three years had passed since he had been forced into this world and as he rounded the top corner of the 30 minute training course he felt his chest and legs tighten. His back was awash with sweat and, to his considerable embarrassment, the front of his running shorts was deeply stained by sweat so that he looked as though he had urinated himself. He prayed that he would not meet anyone, particularly anyone from the office. He didn’t reflect that his last thought was a sad reflection on his life. He didn’t realise, had never stopped to think about it, that his only ‘friends’ were the people he worked with. He didn’t stop to think that even his wife, Philomena, was more often absent from home than she was present to pass after-work hours with loving companionship. Mitchell was fifty-three, balding, and overweight. He had dyed his greying hair a reddish color and he consciously brushed the long strands that grew over the side across the top to make it appear as though he had more hair than he, in fact, had. He had recently been diagnosed with hypertension and stage II Diabetes and the dietician he had been ordered to see by the company’s human resource person had described him as obese. He hadn’t warmed to that women at all and, to add insult to injury, she had ridiculed his diet when he had explained to her that he was a gourmet cook and ate very healthily indeed thank you. He was dedicated to work (he was an industrial chemist by training who had made the transition to the burgeoning field of biotechnology and then reaped the rewards when it suddenly became flavor of the month) and his only activities outside of work were jogging, collecting, and fishing. His generous salary had allowed him to buy a magnificent sports fishing boat and he had equipped it with all the latest gizmos that the trade magazines offered. He didn’t catch much but he enjoyed being out on the water, far from land, and spending a lazy afternoon trolling for whatever he could drag up. While fishing he perused the boating and fishing magazines to shop for new gadgets he could fit to his boat, already overburdened with enough technology to fly to the moon. Mitchell thought his existence could be described as comfortable, and up until that fateful day, he had wanted for nothing.
She was new to the company and he remembered coming through the door, his head still full of sparkling waters and leaping fish, and he looked up and saw her standing there with Maddison from Personnel. She was dressed in an ivory business suit with a red carnation in the lapel. He remembered the carnation because he had been trying to grow them himself, without much success. Her red hair fell to her shoulders and her freckled face looked like she had spent the last months in sunny climes. She extended her elegant hand when Maddison introduced him and it was like a jolt of electricity as he pumped the limb. He looked deeply into her green eyes and the sparkling crinkles around the edges warmed him as no other women, not even Philomena, had. Her name was Amanda and she seemed full of life, interesting, beautiful, vivacious, funny, bright, and available. By available Mitchell didn’t mean sexually available, but always willing to stop and listen to what it was he had to say. So many at the company went through the motions of nodding their heads and saying ‘ayy’ and ‘mmmm’ at the appropriate moments, but their minds and interest were elsewhere. Amanda was genuinely interested in his boat, his fishing, his collecting, his frustrating attempts to garden. She offered tips, bought him a book on raising carnations, sent him a postcard over a long weekend when he had told her he was going out to the Gulf to fish. It showed an older man with a scantily clad, obviously younger women, tray in hand, bending over him as he hauled in a huge marlin that twisted in the air and threw its dorsal surface back in absolute subjugation. The scantily clad younger woman was whispering in the fisherman’s (and he bore a remarkable likeness to Mitchell) ear and Mitchell could feel Amanda’s sweet breath as he read and re-read the card as he bobbled about on a glassy Gulf sea.
He started taking his lunch an hour earlier so that it coincided with Amanda’s lunchtime schedule. They initially started off in the staff cafeteria, but more recently lunches had been at the myriad of café’s and restaurants that surrounded the plant where they were based. Mitchell had to admit that he had gone slightly overboard in this phase of their relationship. Amanda had admitted to a passion for gourmet cooking and Mitchell had always had to rely on his own efforts to satisfy his own urges. Philomena thought dining out was an extravagance and could just as happily eat fast food, which didn’t leave dirty cutlery, and Philomena declared ‘modern and healthy eating.’ As time went by Mitchell found he more and more confided in Amanda other things he didn’t altogether like about his marriage or his life. He burdened her with latest medical problems and she was very sympathetic and caring, unlike Philomena who had shrugged and suggested he do more exercise. In Amanda he found a willing ear and it was only natural that friends shared little secrets and did little things to help the relationship mature. That’s why he bought Amanda the errings. She had commented that it was difficult for redheads to get good jewelry and makeup, as the colorings were very hard to match. She had mentioned that she had found the most darling pair of errings that were just perfect but unfortunately her limited budget wouldn’t stretch that far and her husband, Jerry, was studying for a law degree and money was tight. Amanda had mentioned she was married almost as soon as she met Mitchell and he had thought no more of it as he was not looking for a lover, only a friend. At first Amanda had been reluctant to take them, saying they were too expensive and that she had only been joking, but eventually she took them and wore them to the office party the week after. It was at the party that she had (admittedly drunkenly) grabbed Mitchell toward midnight, pushed him into a corner away from prying eyes, and passionately kissed him. Mitchell had never been kissed like that before and he found it very exciting but he just added alcohol, exhaustion, end-of-the-year joviality, and good friendship together, and like a chemical equation it equalled fun, and didn’t think any more of it.
It was in the ensuing break that he started to worry. Philomena worked the three days after the compulsory break and, as he had three weeks owing, Mitchell took off on his boat with a load of books, gourmet food, and lots of fine wines. The letter came from Amanda in the second day. She talked of the party and hoped that he didn’t misinterpret her behavior and then indicated that she would like to come down and spend several days on the boat. The way she wrote the boat it seemed to Mitchell that she sort of regarded it as hers and that’s when he started to have some doubts. He put through a seaphone call to her but got her husband. That’s when Mitchell realised that his idea of friendship with the lovely Amanda was not what she had in mind. Jerry, the husband, was, at first, short with Mitchell then, part way through the call, he started swearing and accusing Mitchell of trying to steal his wife with all your money and fine ways. Despite Mitchell assuring him to the contrary the conversation became so uncomfortable that Mitchell had to terminate the call. He pondered on it for a few hours, then the sunshine and the fish and the wine put other things in his mind. By the end of the day he had forgotten all about it and banished Amanda from his mind. When he returned from his holiday things had changed. Amanda was very solicitous and needy. She seemed both warm and cold toward Mitchell. She didn’t mention the letter or the subsequent phonecall with Jerry but she kept asking Mitchell when he was going away again, what had happened to his health, when would they start lunching again.
It seemed to Mitchell that this thing had spun out of control. His plan, ill conceived as he saw it now, was to fake an illness and hope that Amanda would lose interest. He had to fake an interesting illness and one that would leave Amanda out in the cold. He told Amanda that Philomena had developed a fatal illness and had only weeks to live. He needed to be with her for the last days of her life and they were staying at a remote hospice with no outside contact and Mitchell made it clear where his priorities lay. Amanda was concerned at first but when Mitchell made it plain he was dedicated to his dying wife, she seemed to take a backward step and left him alone.
He thought after he came back from his extended ‘holiday’ that he needed to try and re-establish some semblance of his former relationship with Amanda. He rationalized that she was young and it must have been hard for her trying to support herself and Jerry while being shown the ‘good life’ by Mitchell. He would keep things low-key this time. He hit upon the perfect plan. He would play a harmless practical joke on Amanda. That would cheer her up and she would see the levity needed to deal with this stressful situation. With the annual round of office evaluations coming up he saw the perfect opportunity. He concocted a ‘fake’ assessment of Amanda which would jokingly refer to some of the things that irked him but also cheer her up. He carefully typed it up in his study and dropped it on Amanda’s desk with a DRAFT-CONFIDENTIAL stamped over it so it wouldn’t unduly alarm her. He dropped phrases like ‘Amanda is strong clever, friendly (sometimes to her detriment), beautiful, and sexy.’ Under weaknesses he referred to Amanda as ‘sometimes goes more than an extra mile, balances the loves in her life sometimes causing hurts unintentionally.’ Under her annual goals he listed ‘to resume past relationships with the passion and ardor of former months, to accept praise and tokens of good work without question.’ He couldn’t have realised what a huge mistake he was making.
Within the day Mitchell was in the companies top floor office and, slumped in his seat, he was still hearing the words ‘sexual harassment’, ‘company policy’, and ‘boundary issues.’ By days end he was on two weeks paid leave while the company investigated the complaints of Ms Amanda Price against Mr Mitchell Scrotti. He thought he would try and see Amanda and resolve the situation before the people on the top floor who had no idea what had been going on, got there hooks into it. His plan was to get Amanda alone, and explain himself, then tell her a few home truths, but that was proving to be harder than he imagined. Firstly, he had been advised not to go anywhere near his former place of employment. That sounded ominous enough but then he was also advised to keep away from any contact with Ms Amanda Price at least until the day after the hearing. He just had to see her. He devised a cunning plan whereby he would send flowers, suggest a meeting at one of their former favorite restaurants, then sign it ‘J’. He hoped she would think it was from her husband and would not think anything of it and then……. Then his thinking became somewhat muddy but he saw her forgiving him in the face of his considerable charm. The plan worked right up until she opened the restaurant door and saw Mitchell sitting there with an identical bouquet of flowers on their table. She screamed at the owner to take note of who she was, gave her name, then named Mitchell and pointed him out to a terrified waiter.
His next plan was even murkier. He found himself outside her mid-city apartment, just before 2am, with a vaguely formed plan to talk to Amanda while her husband was out of town. He had been drinking since about 7pm and was not altogether in charge of his situation. He knew Jerry would be away from home because he had intercepted Amanda’s mail whilst Jerry and her were at work for the last week and he had found that Jerry was to attend a conference in a nearby city. He was horrified when, just as he was about to tap on her bedroom window, he felt a hand on his shoulder and he was staring into a blinding light and being asked to place his hands behind his back. He next felt the cold steel of handcuffs and then a gentle hand on his head as he was placed in the back of a squad car with blue and red lights flashing and onlookers clucking as they drew away. He also saw Amanda, looking very satisfied, leaning from the very window that, moments before, he was going to tap. He was released, of course, but things were getting both desperate and ominous.
All he had done was made the mistake of wanting to be her friend. In her he saw a kindred spirit. Someone who understood what it was like to be gifted, to be doing something that only bought in the money. He had little experience with women and assumed this is what you did when you had a friend. To be perfectly honest he had been afraid of Amanda. She was obviously much more experienced in the ways of the world than him. He thought that maybe she had bought about these terrible accusations because he had resisted her wish that they consummate their relationship. His honesty, his openness, his quirky sense of humor had all been horribly misinterpreted. True, he had mailed a couple of letters that could be interpreted in a different way from what he intended, but that was because of his naiveté.
He had appeared at the hearing and in court and dutifully and told his story. Dressed in tan slacks and a grey sportsjacket and wearing the tie that Amanda had given him he thought that the people assembled there would see his innocence immediately and reinstate him in his job. At first he had been surprised by Amanda’s lawyer’s assertion of an orchestrated campaign of harassment. The physical assault at the office party, the sexual innuendoes in his fake assessment, the impersonation of her husband, the deceptions, the prowling, the arrest, the phonecalls late at night, the mail interception. Then he heard the words stalker, murderer, would-be-rapist, and mentally unstable and he knew that things were not going anywhere near where he thought they should go. He became increasingly agitated and, when the jury saw his agitation, they mistook it for guilt. By weeks end he was looking at jail time and a future without the company, possibly without Philomena, and an end to all his retirement dreams.
He remembered something that one of his work colleagues had said as the whole, messy, affair spun out of control. ‘Everyone has a dark side to them, and we almost always keep in locked away on a box. Wobetide someone who lets his out and lets it roam the streets at night.’ At the time he didn’t think much of the comment but now he thought that others in the company were aware of what was going on.
He looked across at Amanda and saw the sly smile on her face. She had indicated through her lawyer and his lawyer that this would not be the end of it. Jerry had shown her that as a couple their earlier years of marriage had been seriously put under strain by the unwanted attentions of Mitchell Scrotti and they planned to sue for damages. They planned to sue for $3.2 million and Jerry had photocopied a 1998 case that established a precedent for this sort of thing. Mitchell leaned down to the briefcase at his feet. His hand located the square of foil and he withdrew it quickly and his hand went to his suit pocket where he unraveled the foil and extracted the single brown plastic capsule that he had wrapped there two weeks before the trial. He put the plastic capsule under his tongue and then picked up the glass of water that had been thoughtfully placed in front of him. His eyes met Amanda and Jerry’s and he hoisted the glass in a mock toast and downed the pill. The pill that contained an industrial dose of cyanide that would turn first his eyes red, then they would roll into his head a moment before the convulsions started, and then his bodies desperate attempts to get oxygen, then sweet, sweet unconsciousness and death.
Outside, the rain continued to pound down on the asphalt pavements. The best marriages are tangled and contradictory affairs, their psychological terrain unknowable to all but the immediate participants.
Davinia’s husband, Eugene, sits stroking his fluffy white bichon and listening to Jim Morrison wail softly on his stereo. On his desk sits a mock-up he’s made of a Harper’s Bazaar cover, with his wife’s face superimposed on Britney Spears’s body. Well, that’s what she would be like if his imagination could be allowed to come true.
She imagines herself as one of the girls—let’s call her Dana—She’s as close as you can get to being a Barbie doll while still breathing. According to the clique cartography, she’s probably a popular sophomore. Boys come and go, putting their arms around her bust to say hello, and a chasm between her snug top (she wishes!) and her denim skirt (how did that get in her wardrobe) beckons back. Would it be hard not to be popular?
Davinia’s husband, Eugene, sits fondling the morning’s paper, his eyes flicking nervously across the pages. He’s looking for evidence of bored husbands doing mischief. It doesn’t matter to Eugene who the mischief is with, or what the mischief is – it’s the thrill of seeing others do what he can only imagine.
Davinia is tired after her day. Eugene hasn’t been paying her enough attention. She schemes behind her fashionable Hermes glasses of how to pique his interest.
Davinia has had quite a day. Early morning she is transported back to England at the dawning of Second World War. She is thrown together with a brylceamed, mustached young English fly-boy who sweeps her off her feet. Just after their relationship is consummated after a picnic in an uncharacteristically sunny English countryside, he is inconveniently called back to his squadron and, before lunch, she has news that he has been shot down – believed dead, over France. Lunch had been a torturous affair as Eugene ridiculed her pitiful attempts to replicate the perfect Provence omelet. After lunch she had parachuted into war torn France and experienced the most exotic and explicit adventures. By six, she was exhausted.
They were arguing. Their respective fantasies had not managed to keep the distance between them from seething with the contempt and malice they felt for each other. Davinia was reading – Women, on average, excel on tests that measure recall of words and on tests that challenge the person to find words that begin with a specific letter or fulfill some other constraint. They also tend to be better than men at rapidly identifying matching items and performing certain precision manual tasks, such as placing pegs in designated holes on a board.
She correctly thought that a man probably wrote the article. Anger welled up inside of her. Eugene made the mistake of looking up from his newspaper and read bits of an article to her about some new age guru who blamed women for the ills of the world-unemployment (more women taking up the precious few jobs rather than staying at home and having babies), rising prices (they instead on cooking foreign muck that had to be imported-Eugene was still exacting revenge for the failed omelet), and violence (women were as violent as men and when a man hit a women she had taunted him for far too long). Davinia exploded,
“Yeah well,” yelled Davinia, “imagine talking to a fish, and you asked it to describe its environment. One thing it probably would not volunteer is that things are awfully wet down here. Men are so fucking insensitive. If you ask one to describe and understand violence you would be struggling to get one to admit that it’s mostly done by males. The truth of it is that if we could stop men beating women and other men, we would pretty much get rid of violence altogether. The maleness of violence is so fucking obvious that it is rarely even noticed; it is the ocean in which we swim.”
Eugene reeled back. Rarely had her heard Davinia to be so articulate. His brain screeched to try and come to match her repartee.
“Err…, well…., what about….., just because…..” He mumbled to a halt. Thinking on his feet had never been a strong part of Eugene’s character. He paused and then it came to him in a flash; a picture perfect reproduction from the Harpers Bazaar article that had run against Britney Spears headless body. “Look darling, “ (he curled the word so that it could be interpreted as either an insult or an endearment), “from observations of both humans and nonhumans it has been proven,” (he liked that-it sounded very authoritative), “that males are more aggressive than females, that young males engage in more rough-and-tumble play than females and that females are more nurturing. We also know that in general males are better at a variety of spatial or navigational tasks.”
Davinia crossed her arms and humphed. “ Right, like the time you found your way to Mike’s place. Oh yeah! And that time that you found a whole new way to get to the West Coast. It only took three more days than the standard two hour drive.”
Eugene paused to recollect what Davinia had managed to drag out of the distant past. “You have to admit it was rather scenic though,” he floundered.
This just infuriated Davinia and she moved onto a topic that always grated between them.
“And don’t get me started on men who rape,” she started.
Davinia’s husband Eugene, who had been down this path many times looked hopefully around for the bichon. A walk in the fresh air, sans Davinia, looked awfully inviting. He heard the distant noise of mail arriving as the postman dropped a bundle of letters through the door.
Davinia continued to read the paper in front of her. She suddenly came across an item that piques her interest and read, then re-read it. She lowered her eyes and, in a low but steady voice said to Eugene.
“It says here that she told her lover to wait in the car while she went to get a present for him from her car. They had had a brief but intense sexual relationship, which had lasted about three months. She returned to the car with a bucket, yellow ribbon around the rim, overflowing with petrol. She threw the bucket over him and then a lighted match. Just think Eugene, a woman fighting back.”
Eugene saw this as the perfect opportunity to escape having to give an answer and perhaps infuriate Davinia even more. He pushed the bichon off his knee and trudged across the room. The small dog scrambled after him, perhaps in anticipation of the walk, but the ever-increasing noise of falling rain had dissuaded Eugene from venturing out. Eugene’s mind was reeling with the possibilities of right-of-reply and he was somewhat distracted when he picked up the bundle of letters and a package, slightly damp from the outside conditions. He trudged back to the only warm room in the house and casually tossed the bundle on the occasional table. The bichon bounced around his feet, still in hopeful anticipation of a walk, but seeing Eugene settling down with his magazine again, he leapt into Davinia’s lap. She stroked the lap dog and stared furiously at Eugene and inwardly remonstrated him for his lack of interest in her newspaper item.
“What would you like for lunch sweetie?” Eugene asked knowing in the depths of his heart that this is what the funny little man with the Ronald Coleman moustache must have felt when he looked back at the TV pictures of himself descending from that plane waving his funny little piece of white paper and muttering about peace in our time.
“Eggs Benedict,” Davinia replied curtly and she watched with contempt as Eugene hauled himself up from his comfortable armchair and left the warm room for the confines of the cold kitchen. She listened with increasing anger to the banging of refrigerator and cupboard doors and then the noises that accompanied the making of Eggs Benedict.
“You call these eggs?” Davinia shouted and eggs, tray, and utensils sailed across the room and exploded against the far wall where they dripped down in a hideous river of eggs, butter, lemon, bacon, muffin, and chives.
Eugene blinked and shoveled a mouthful of the treat into his own maw and he just couldn’t see what was wrong with it. Perfect, except perhaps for the bacon which was a little on the crispy side, but then Davinia always preferred her bacon that way and he had taken extra care to get it just right.
“Its not honey cured. You know I can’t eat that watery rubbish that you get at the supermarket. They inject all sorts of chemicals into it to make it look like bacon in the packet but I know that the pan must have looked like a cauldron of boiling rancid pork fat,” intoned Davinia.
With a slight feeling of guilt, Eugene finished his meal off before it ended on the wall.
They both stared in silence at the mess.
It was either from exhaustion or disgust but, at that moment, he decided to die. She looked at him and the look was both ghostly and terrible-a look that said-“you were a terrible disappointment to me – you never really lived up to the expectations that everybody had of you.” His eyes flickered and then closed. He went to sleep for the last time.
The brown envelope lay on the occasional table dripping amber fluid onto the living room carpet. Davinia looked at Eugene and for the first time in a number of months there was tenderness there.
“Aren’t you going to open it?” she asked tenderly.
“I would rather you did,” he replied; though he picked the letter up and tried to pry open the flap, without much success.
“Here, give it to me,” Davinia said in a gentle voice, as she took the envelope from Eugene and slid a long fingernail that sliced through the thin paper. She handed the decapitated envelope back to Eugene who handled it as if it was a venomous snake. He slowly withdrew the official letter from the envelope and carefully unfolded it and began reading. Davinia tried to decipher the meaning by looking at his moving lips and the expression on his face but Eugene was characteristically blank. She waited an excruciating few minutes then her impatience got the better of her.
“What does it say? Do they know anything? What’s going to happen?” she gushed in staccato fashion.
Eugene dropped the letter to his side and the expression on his face said it all. He was drained of any colour and Davinia saw that there was a faint tremble in his hand. He looked at Davinia.
“ They say that it’s an advanced carcinoma of the bowel and the test results indicate that it has secondaries in my liver and stomach. There are also indications that it has spread to my bones. They have scheduled me for chemotherapy next week and they want to admit me to hospital tomorrow for further tests.”
There was a stunned silence in the room as both of them struggled to assimilate this information.
“Well! That might mean good news. They are going to treat it so they must feel there is something in that.”
Eugene remained silent and looked at a spot on the wall above Davinia’s head. He had been expecting better news as he had felt his health was actually improving. This was a bitter blow to him.
“I don’t want to go through another six months like the last time. I don’t think I can stand it again.”
“ You must. The last treatment worked. Look love. I know that it was difficult for you but we went through this the last time. Just think…..” Davinia couldn’t finish the sentence. She had listened enough to the surgeon the last time this had happened and his dire predications resonated in her head.
“We can give him an extra few months but the cancer has spread to other parts of his body. I have to be honest with you Mrs, ahhhh Mrs Smart. Your husband doesn’t have much time left. I think it would be best if you both started to.”
Davinia had stopped listening at that stage and had tried to imagine what her life would be without Eugene. At first there were the positive things. She could take that trip to the Mediterranean that she had dreamed of and she could do the things to the house that Eugene had stalled saying that they were over capitilising. Then as visions of sun lit beaches and tanned Greeks floated around in her head she envisaged the cold bed at night; the lonely, spacious room; the silence. She felt her heart skip a beat and she felt a hot flush coming on. She was dammed if she would admit this to Eugene though, even if he did look bit forlorn. Much as she had thought of England in the early years of their marriage she tried to think of plates of feta and olives, of sheep being led up a seaside path by a young, virile sheepherder.
Davinia realised that although they had their differences they fitted together in some weird way – like a glove (albeit a fingerless glove – Davinia couldn’t help but have her pound of flesh) in a slowly growing hand that learns to expand with time. A glove that has its holes, wrinkles, and flaws, but that gives comfort in the cold, protection for the naked hand.
These long weekends are a bitchThe Break