Wednesday. Man goes into the doctor’s surgery. He was clearing his roof space on Sunday, that’s hot work on a summer day, if you didn’t know it: the tiles heat up from the sun and heat from in the house rises and is trapped inside the space – and there was the accumulated reminders of a quarter century in that space. Some vague attempt at putting down floorboards, though some of the boards are the doors of old-fashioned wardrobes laid across the rafters (or are they joists?).
Children’s toys, children’s schoolwork, so poignant in looking back at it, a vivarium, spilled gravel from a fish tank, computer monitors, mouse bait, baby clothes, a home-made, crooked flower press, rolls of carpet, and boxes of books.
The moving was done swiftly, he still is not sure how the job was managed so efficiently and half suspects that some of the stuff he dragged in car loads up to the tip should not have been dumped, maybe something of sentimental value (he did dig out a couple of photos and certificates and a magazine he had photos printed in).
But at some point he breathed in too much of the fibre glass insulation (ironic because the space is being cleared so that more insulation can be added) or dust or just got a chill and for the past three nights he has struggled to breathe (and so sleep). He did the man thing, knowing that he would be better the day after, so did not rush to make the appointment with the doctor. Now he’s there, wishing he had done this earlier. There is a small shadow in his mind that the coughing is caused by the onset (or worse) of lung cancer and this truly scares him and he is still trying to decide whether it would be best not to know, best to cancel the appointment and let his body fight the thing without medical interference.
But the receptionist is welcoming, both professional and caring and he feels reassured. There are a few words of greeting, then she asks him to fill in a questionnaire about the service offered… something they do every year, she says, again with a patient-friendly smile, and she pushes a Biro towards him. He puts his dark green anorak (it is raining today) on the back of a chair and goes to get a magazine to use as a “desk” to fill in the questionnaire, noticing that, although this is July the magazines are mostly Christmas TV listing magazines or have paintings of churches on the front covers.
An older lady, walking with the help of a stout walking stick has come in while he’s noticing this, had the banter with the receptionist and sits down.
“Thought I had pinched your chair for a moment,” she starts; strong voice and a twinkle in her speech.
The man smiles back. This is not the normal way to speak to someone you have not met before perhaps, but they are both in the doctor’s waiting room so the usual “how are you?” route seems blatantly ridiculous.
“No,” he replies, “but if you had I would have let you have it. My mother taught me never to argue with a lady,” he pauses, “and certainly not one who has a big stick!”
It is real contact; no waste of small talk and both are intelligent enough to recognise it – and the similar spirit each has, which is a little bit about sense of humour and a little bit about resilience.
She smiles warmly, a beat passes and a baby somewhere in the distance outside begins to cry, then stops. An immunisation?
“My husband would have said the same,” she observes “…they have their uses.”
“What?” he asks, “husbands or sticks?”
“Sticks!” she says, meeting his eyes with a full face-lighting grin., then, “been married for forty six years,” she adds, “can’t think why I had to stop to think about it!”