A 'current' work-in-progress, and it hasn't put me off at all that Alan Titchmarsh didn't include it in his shortlist for the People's Author competiton 2011. Not at all. I've just got a lot of housework to do right now... what?
Clive’s Head, Revisited
Shona Church wasn’t sure exactly what she was supposed to be paying attention to. The doctor was pointing his pencil at an area of her husband’s brain on the X-ray and, for the life of her, all she could see was either a butterfly or the outline of Australia. Mirrored. Any second now she would wake up and this would be a particularly mad dream – a fairly lucid one, it had to be said – but a dream nonetheless. So: wake up or, of course, laugh hysterically. She put a hand to her mouth. It really wouldn’t do to laugh. Even if it were only a dream. It might turn out to mean she had a proper personality disorder or something. Ok. Let’s just go with it.
‘Do you have any questions… or….?’ The doctor withdrew his pencil and stared at her over the rim of his glasses. They didn’t look like NHS specs. In fact she could just make out Red or Dead printed along the sides. She thought about the irony of this for a moment. He pulled them down the bridge of his nose, waiting. ‘About the procedure?’ he helped, ‘about the prognosis… anything you’re unclear about? Mrs Church, do you need to ask…?’
She stared absently at the X-ray for a while. Really, she wasn’t qualified to be doing this. She was a part-time admin assistant, not a doctor. Why was he telling her these things? She felt a hand touch her right arm and, as if it were fat spitting back from a pan, spun round sharply.
‘Shona, love?’ It was her mum. She hadn’t seen her mum in a dream for ages. She wondered what that meant? ‘Are you listening to the doctor?’ her mum frowned, ‘do you understand what‘s happening to Clive, sweetheart?’
She nodded blindly. If she just gave in then perhaps the dream would spin off in another direction. She might meet Johnny Depp at a bar. That’d happened last week – it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility. She’d remember that one for a while. Heck, she’d lived off it for nearly five days already. Sad, really, that this had become a simple pleasure in her life - the quality of her dreams and the characters who resided in them. She couldn’t remember the last time Clive had been in her dreams. Maybe he never had. Now that must mean something.
‘Mrs Church, you do understand that although we’ve removed the clot and eased the pressure, we still won’t know precisely how much damage has occurred to your husband’s brain… until he starts to respond, to react to stimulus… are you fully aware of what’s happening? I know this can’t be easy for you. perhaps if I got a nurse to….’ He fidgeted about inside his pocket, then gave up and pressed a button on a lead next to the bed.
Her mother’s hand tightened on her arm.
‘Shona?’ she said.
‘Ah…’ the doctor pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose as the door to the room opened and raised his pencilled hand as if he were waving down a taxi. ‘Nurse? Here… nurse could you please… ?’ he steered the pretty blonde girl towards the X-ray screen and proceeded to recap everything he’d just told Shona and her mother. Apparently. She couldn’t quite remember all the little details now. When he’d finished talking to the nurse, he looked back towards the two women. ‘And perhaps a cup of tea might go some way to er…’ she noticed the doctor wasn’t particularly good at finishing off his sentences. Normally she’d help. She was good like that. But he was a professional, he should have paid more attention to conversation techniques at doctor school… what was it called? Ah yes, Medical School. She smiled thinly and nodded. Yes, a cup of tea did sound rather nice.
‘I don’t understand what you were doing out there so early on in the morning,’ Shona’s mother handed her a fat plastic cup of something hot. ‘She put sugar in. Did you want sugar? I think it’s probably best under the circumstances, the nurse thought so. I think so…don’t you? It’ll help. Only, wait a bit – it’s too hot right now.’
Shona sighed and pulled at her sweat top. ‘We were out running. Jogging,’ she told her mother, and then added just to make sure she understood, ‘we jog.’ She felt like adding “you jog, they jog, we jog…I have jogged…”
It was getting stuffy in the room. The window was closed, the doctor had long gone and the machines linked up to Clive’s body were gently blipping. Surely that was a good thing? She knew from episodes of Casualty and Pet rescue that a machine that blipped was preferable over a machine that gave off a constant drone. What was it called again, flatlining? She almost wanted to laugh again. It sounded just like something Clive was often asked if he did, along with the usual building jobs. Dry-walling. Floor-screeding. Flat-lining. Just something he might do.
‘I’m fine,’ she told her mother as she stretched a hand out to her again. ‘I get it. I know they can’t tell me anything yet. We have to wait and see what he’s like when he wakes up. If he wakes up.’ Her mother’s hand reached out to her at the ‘If’ and she knew she should reassure her again that she was fine but what was the point? It was just something you said anyway. She wasn’t really fine at all. Things hadn’t been fine for ages. Why should they be any different now?
‘So what… um…when did you start jogging, love?’ Shona could hear the disquiet in her mother’s voice. But she needed to know. She had a right – didn’t she? Probably. ‘Only I don’t remember you mentioning it before…. I mean did Clive persuade you to join him? Did you both decide that… um… when…did you…’
‘It seemed like an ideal solution,’ Shona shut her up; it really wasn’t the right time to be around two people who couldn’t finish a sentence. ‘I mean, what else was I supposed to do? Hire a private detective and get him followed? I’d have to find one who could keep up for starters, wouldn’t I? Oh no, if he’s got the balls to have an affair, then I want to be the one to see who she bloody well is – I don’t need the world and his wife finding out before me, thank you very much!’ She wondered why her face felt wet and warm. Perhaps it was the stupid central heating or air conditioning systems they had in this place.
‘Here,’ her mother shook out a tissue from the box by Clive’s bed and handed it to her. ‘I know how difficult this must be for you, pet.’
‘Yeah?’ Shona blew her nose angrily then threw the soggy remains at her comatose husband before leaving the room.