Third Door On The Left

Reads: 170  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
a story of a young lady trapped in a series of 'counselling' sessions retelling her life story growing up with two deaf parents, with a twist at the end.

Submitted: September 22, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: September 22, 2016

A A A

A A A


THIRD

DOOR ON THE

LEFT

A Novella

 

Where is this place? God only knows.

PART ONE

Assumptions Are Very Dangerous Things

It would never have crossed the mind of Mr Stuart Temple when he climbed behind the wheel of his black Audi A4 Sports convertible one morning that the day wouldn’t be just like any other. After all, as far as he could say for certain, it had started out much the same as any other but with the mother of all hangovers amplifying his every move there was only one thing he could say for certain and that was he couldn’t be certain of anything. Although taking everything into account there didn’t appear, on the face of it, anything out of the ordinary offering up even the smallest of  clues to the events that were about the befall him.

Over the years the pattern had become tediously familiar. First there was the same whoosh on acceleration, not too dissimilar from Captain Kirk entering hyperspace, followed quickly by the bumper to bumper scramble to get out the city before the start of the early morning rush. A plan it has to be said that always looked to be going well before a formidable looking woman dressed in florescent yellow and brandishing a funny looking stick leapt, with the same degree of abandon as a kamikaze fighter pilot, headlong into his path. And yet despite all this the day would soon become like no other as Mr Stuart Temple, tired (and still mildly inebriated) from another exhausting week making a killing on the stock market, would soon be making a killing of an altogether different kind.

 He wasn’t a particularly pleasant individual, far from it, he beat his wife more times than he cared to remember and drank to excess, but the taking of another life wasn’t something he’d be adding to his remarkably impressive curriculum vitae in a hurry. At the age of nineteen, the start of what he would later call his social drinking career, he and a pal would ramble on into the early hours listing, in a semi intoxicated stupor, the things they’d like to achieve by forty. But rather than dismissing them later in the cold light of day as beer talk, he would find a discrete corner, scribble down his list and fold it neatly into his breast pocket. Now at the age of thirty six, with some four years to ease his foot gently off the pedal, he could happily reach into his pocket once more and file it away as a job well done. As having travelled extensively round Europe and Asia he’d even found time to shake hands with the Dali Lama, but for him this would be a first. Fluent in four languages and able to recite the Lords Prayer in Hebrew soon he wouldn’t even be able to articulate his own name. Instead he would just sit on the edge of the pavement with his head in his hands, rocking back and forth and repeating four simple words over and over like a mantra to the gathering throng.

“What have I done? What have I done?”

A lot as it so happens.

 

TWELVE YEARS, THREE MONTHS AND FOUR DAYS LATER

“Ms Stone, Ms Paige Stone.”

The holding room or to give its official title: the Field Investigation Transitory Station (F.I.T.S) was the size of a large school gymnasium with an oak wooden floor, homogeneous plastic seats and original red brick walls. In one of its far corners a woman with what looked like a gunshot wound to the head was seated behind a desk typing something into a computer. She was wearing bright red lipstick and a v necked jumper of the same colour, exposing so much cleavage that it was bordering on indecent. Her name, according to the long silver badge pinned perfectly straight across her left breast was Brenda O’Connell. In the middle sat a rather elderly lady who appeared to be nursing the side of her face where the side of her face used to be. And next to a door, the same door that had first led her upon this world of the living dead Paige spotted a boy of no more than sixteen coughing up copious amounts of blood. She paid them all little attention choosing instead to flick nonchalantly through a copy of ‘Mad 4 Gossip’ taken from the eclectic mix of magazines strewn out before her. Then having surprisingly been drawn to a rather mind numbing article on the breakfast choice of a certain celebrity she had allowed her mind to prematurely wonder off the tedious track of the everyday while the sound of her own name continued to reverberate around the room. 

“Ms Stone, Ms. Paige Stone.”

There it was again but this time with just a hint of impatience.

She jumped smooth and seamlessly to her feet much like an athlete trained not to hesitate upon hearing the crack of the pistol. That one did the trick.

Turning, a bearded man dressed in a white tee-shirt and a pair of faded blue jeans with a hole at each knee was stood facing her leaning against an open door. A black clip board was held pressed against his chest while a small silver pen dangled loosely like a cigarette between two fingers. With the eyes of the room now fixed on her Paige suddenly had become the centre of attention something she never particularly cared for all that much. Blushing slightly and with a swell of nausea gathering in the pit of her stomach she grabbed hold of her bag and rushed towards him dragging her left leg behind her like a dead piece of wood.

“It’s the third door on the left Ms. Stone” the man said smiling and pointing down a long well lit corridor.

Walking behind and slightly to the side the man considered how attractive she looked with her long creamy coloured overcoat, black trousers and a pair of brown knee length boots. A small handbag hung loosely over her left shoulder with the straps caught up in her blonde shoulder length hair. The subtle but at the same time distinctive fragrance of Chanel Number Five reminding him of a woman he once knew. He wasn’t quite sure what it was that gave it away but he was willing to lay a handsome bet that she wasn’t aware of her own beauty. Perhaps it was the makeup applied only sparingly or the lack of any distinguishable jewellery. Or maybe it was the paralysis down her left side adding a touch of vulnerability to an otherwise independent demeanour.

Reaching a large oak door with the number three perched above its frame Paige glanced up at the nameplate fixed to the wall:

Professor Hilary Caldecott: Corroboration Field Assessor.

 She stood there for a second mulling over the importance of such a woman whose position of authority warrants the full use of a private secretary, a seemingly necessary prerequisite for the task at hand. And like an assemblage of secret service agents to a newly elected president delivered part and parcel, no questions asked. It was only a pity; Paige thought mischievously, that this one looks more like a hippy than a secretary. She was about to move on to consider what would be deemed appropriate attire in a situation of this sort when her attention was drawn to something much more pressing. As with any social dilemma, a simple guide that charts the way for the unseasoned traveller would save much soul searching. The-do I knock and wait or knock and walk straight in- conundrum felt no different. Paige swallowed hard such is her way when taking the bull by its metaphorical horns and chose the latter.

The door was surprisingly deceptive. Rather than a hard shoulder press, as she had come to expect with such formidable looking obstacles, a gentle push was all that was needed. A gentle push however wasn’t what she gave. And so having come so close to the painfully embarrassing situation of having to pick herself up off a stranger’s floor she made a quick private resolution there and then: Try harder next time to be more acutely aware of the relationship between the mass of an object and the level of exertion required to displace it. With that mental note duly noted Paige began to take in her new surroundings. Although she was soon finding that having quite literally stumbled upon the most uninspiring room she was ever likely to come across, there was very little of it to take in.

 It took a while for the eyes to become accustomed to the dark gloomy cell in which she now found herself having moved so quickly and it has to be said, so awkwardly, from the bright lights of the corridor only a few feet away. In the meantime an unavoidable musty odour stirred the swell of nausea deep in the abyss once more. Slowly but surely however a long black leather desk with two chairs tucked neatly on either side came into sharp focus close to where she was standing. On it she could just make out three items: a notepad, a pen and a rather tall sandglass.

 At the far side of the room a grand ornate wooden bookcase laden with a plethora of dust covered manuscripts and journals filled the whole of a back wall. The two other walls each had a small window with a blind partially drawn, blocking out most of the light. The small amount that did manage to penetrate through did nothing to lift the gloom of the place. Other than four rather fat candles standing equidistant apart on one of the window sills there were no pictures, plants or any other superficial decoration that may have created an altogether different ambiance, a small but nevertheless important detail that hadn’t gone unnoticed. Paige hadn’t seen it at first but if she tilted her head slightly to one side it was quite unmistakable. Carved ingeniously into the centre of the large wooden bookcase she could just make out the faint outline of a second door.

“Take a seat Ms. Stone” said a voice from behind. 

It was only now Paige realised that apart from the hippy bringing up the rear, she was the only other person in the room.

Moving swiftly round to the far end of the desk he pulled out a chair and sat pointing towards the empty space. Feeling slightly uneasy at the thought of having to share this little time filler in the company of the organ grinders’ monkey Paige did as she was told.

 “Good afternoon Ms.Stone, my name is Professor Hilary Caldecott.” He said holding out a hand “I’ve been appointed as your Corroboration Field Assessor or CFA for short.”

“Sorry!” She replied sharper than she’d intended whilst gripping the edge of her seat.

 He gently cleared his throat before repeating his opening introduction. Although he needn’t have bothered by the time his lips were forming the F in CFA she was already on her feet once more vigorously shaking his hand.

 “Is there anything the matter Ms. Stone as you seem a little on edge?” He asked genuinely concerned.

Paige let go of his hand not knowing quite what to say. She thought about saying something crass such as if there wasn’t anything the matter I wouldn’t be here now would I but after toying with the idea for quite some time, in the end she thought better of it.

“To be honest I was expecting a woman” she replied choosing a more conciliatory tone “I didn’t ask for one but when I was told your name was Hilary, well I just assumed. And anyway, Hilary is a bit of a strange name for a fella isn’t it? I bet you loved every minute growing up with a name like that.”

She couldn’t help herself with that last bit.

“Assumptions are very dangerous things Ms.Stone” he replied choosing to ignore the question “at least that’s what I assume. So does the fact that I unequivocally belong to the male of the species cause you any problems Ms. Stone? ”

 This time, she knew exactly what to say.

“Suppose not but please, call me Paige.”

As the hippy, she wasn’t ready for the mental leap to Professor just yet; got up from his seat and started moving towards her a thought suddenly flashed across her mind. The room wasn’t some sort of experiment gone horribly wrong, the steady descent into squalor after years of neglect, he actually liked it like this. He didn’t mind that there was hardly any light or no superficial decoration. He didn’t care that the dulcet tones of Mozart wasn’t playing in the corner or a Monee hanging off every wall. He was a man at peace with himself, comfortable in his own skin. In fact he seemed so suited to his surroundings that whenever she tried losing focus for no more than a second it was almost impossible to distinguish where one began and the other ended. And there was something else. Circling the base of his neck, just below the Adams apple, ran the deepest of scars.

  “The rules are simple” he said perching himself onto the edge of his desk “we have a maximum of twenty minutes together each week which is marked by this timer here and for as many weeks as deemed necessary.”

He grabbed hold of the tall sandglass behind him, shook it a few times and no sooner had he done so was carefully placing it back again.

“Okay” she replied, nervous at the thought of returning to this same gloomy place for the next however many weeks, months or even years.

“During our time together I would like you to tell me what it was exactly that lead you to walk into my office this afternoon, in as much or as little detail as you see fit. I shall be taking notes and interrupting your flow with questions from time to time but please don’t let that perturb you. Have you any questions of your own Paige before we begin?”

Paige swallowed hard once more.

 “Yeah, could I have a drink?”

“Certainly.”

He’d only gone a few seconds before he was back holding a glass of water.  He placed it carefully onto the table before returning to his seat.

“In your own time then Paige” he gently probed, turning over the sandglass. Fine grains of sand began pushing their way down a small narrow tube.

Paige took a sip of water, cleared her throat and began her sorry tale.

Who Wouldn't Want To Marry A Superman

“Well, I grew up as an only child in a leafy suburb of a great urban sprawl. Although when we first arrived back in the late seventies it was well known on the tourist map as a quite little market town with narrow passageways, cobbled streets and small ubiquitous tea rooms. People would travel for miles to sample the delights of the local cuisine before moving quickly on to buy the latest in fashion and gadgetry from the much larger towns scattered about in the north. The only rumpus in this otherwise peaceful existence would emanate from the square every Wednesday with the early morning cry of cattle and the clang-clang of steel on market day.

But by the mid eighties while Adam and the Ants were Prince Charming it with Diana Dors the town was being over-run with, what some locals would call, an irritating infestation all of its own-the commuter.  The drive towards home ownership and the rising cost of city centre living saw the waistline of our once sleepy backwater triple in size and turn, almost overnight, into a ghost town by day. Although if the invasion of the commuter was considered a mild irritation by some then the arrival of the Kingston clan a decade earlier must have seemed nothing short of an alien visitation, after all a simple how-do-you do- with my folks and the communicating endeavours witnessed in A Close Encounter of the Third Kind would have shared striking similarities.”

“And why's that?” Hilary asked looking up from his notes.

“They were both deaf and used sign language as their main form of communication.”

“Ah! I see that explains it then” he said acknowledging her clever little simile with a grin.

In fact despite having only just met the woman but with no evidence to suggest otherwise Hilary was quickly forming the impression that unlike his previous guest (Always preferring this descriptor to the more clinical varieties of patient/ client) who had plugged the portable heater into his bathroom socket just once too often, what he had sitting there before him may be many things but one thing was very much for certain, she was nobody’s fool.

“My parents, George and Mary Kingston” she quickly continued for fear of losing her train of thought “found jobs working for Fairbrothers shoe factory in the middle of town, a ten minute bus ride each morning door to door. To say that the company and the town come to think of it were ill prepared for such an alien visitation would be like saying that Bill Clinton could tell a porky or two. No shit Sherlock!”

“Just so you know” Hilary interrupted “the rules on swearing, blasphemy and anything else for that matter is that there are no rules, anything goes”

“Just as well cause I tend to get carried away sometimes” she replied blushing again.

“You were talking about your parents before I rudely interrupted” he said emphasising the word rudely with a vocal equivalent of a finger pointing jab “what were they like?”

“Well dad was tall and bespectacled with an infectious laugh and a gentleness one only sees in a handful of people. Mum on the other hand was much smaller, so small in fact that she would often have to balance precariously on tiptoe to stand any chance of a kiss. Although what she lacked in stature she certainly made up for in tenacity. She was tremendously independent and with her beautiful blonde curls and curvaceous figure, the envy of all of her peers. She once told me that she fell in love with my dad the moment she saw him because he reminded her of superman, and who wouldn’t want to marry a superman.

We lived in a long row of old Victorian houses that seemed to stretch for miles along a major artery into the centre of town. They all looked very much the same to me standing shoulder to shoulder like soldiers at a passing out parade with their white picket fences, bay windows and small plots of land just big enough for a rubbish bin. There was one house mind you that did stand out from the rest, the rebel in the ranks if you like. About half way down the row, a single oak tree had grown like some kind of an oasis in a desert of concrete and car fumes. It had stood outside number forty two for as long as anybody living in the street could care to remember, like a sentry on permanent guard duty protecting those living inside. And once inside the occasional visitor would be struck by the smell of strong coffee and fresh flowers, a long hallway, high ceilings and pine spindled banisters. Not forgetting of course the small wooden plague hanging loosely above the kitchen door with the inscription:

The Kingston Family Live Here.

At the back of the house was where I would spend most of the summers. Charging across the communal fields to meet the gang, feet wet with morning dew but face warming in the rising sun. Not before I’d spent a good thirty minutes at the back door mind you staring up at the clock hanging high up on the kitchen wall, praying for it to turn nine or at the very least for every passing minute not to feel like a bloody fortnight. Don’t get me wrong I wasn’t a very religious child but I never did shy away from using everything at my disposal. You see, mum considered any earlier than this to be disrespectful towards the neighbours but as soon as that big hand fell away from the top spot the cage door would swing open and she wouldn’t see me again till dusk.

 The gang would meet at the usual spot at the far end of a dried up brook, laden with footballs and cricketing paraphernalia. Tommy Jones or T.J as he was affectionately known was the charismatic unspoken leader of the group. He could control a football the same way the rest of us could control a yoyo, with an invisible piece of string tied surreptitiously to his boot. Then there was the McCarthy brothers who couldn’t stand the sight of each other and Bones on account of his emaciated frame despite his capacity to consume superfluous amounts of food. That reminds me just before all this happened to me we bumped into each other and if ever a living testimony were needed to expound the dangers of years of over consumption upon ones’ waistline and complexion, he was it. Then there was me, Paige Kingston, the only girl of the group, also known as pain for often justifiable reasons.

We would stay out late making dens in corners of hedgerow and dilapidated garden sheds. Playing football and cricket using jumpers for goalposts and sticks for wickets until eventually a cacophony of sound would be heard bellowing through the trees. This meant only one thing, bath time. Although sometimes when engaged in a particularly tense sporting moment the cries would go unheeded as cricket balls continued to spin in rapidly fading light, until the fear of injury got the better of us and we’d pack up all our things and head for home. Mind you we didn’t have to wait too long before we’d be starting all over again, one minute past nine the following morning to be precise.”

 “Let’s leave it there for this week Paige” Hilary said interrupting once more “I know it’s a little early but it seems a good place to stop.”

Forgetting where she was for a second Paige began looking round in search for clues. Although like the lifting of an early fog or the morning after the night before whereby the enormity of the previous evenings events gradually begins to dawn, things soon began to fall into place.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood” She said dreamily “I was happy, really happy.”

 “Same time next week then Paige?” Hilary asked holding out a hand.

With no detectable lilt at the end of his sentence an air of ambiguity was left to linger over whether it was a question or a statement. Getting to her feet she took hold of his hand shaking it with less enthusiasm this time.

“Yeah, see you next week” she replied covering both bases.

Paige left the room closing the door behind her and as she weaved her way past busty Brenda O'Connell and the teenager coughing up blood and out into the brightest of bright lights, the enormity of the task that lay ahead shook her very foundation.

Paige The Interloctor

 Paige was led straight to the room having ensured not to arrive too early for her second appointment.  Mindful of her faux par with the door on the previous occasion she carefully turned the handle and stepped inside. 

Taking his seat at the far end of the black leather table Hilary fiddled nervously with his pen, feeding it through his fingers, around the palm of his hand and back over again.  It was a subconscious disposition brought on whenever he found himself in the presence of an attractive female; some people stutter others may twitch. A kind of restlessness that begins the very moment she walks through the door but stopping just as abruptly the second she leaves. Her beauty it seems, he thought staring into her eyes, hasn’t waned over the past seven days, if anything it’s crystallized into a multi-faceted prism. Just when I think I have the measure of her appeal she lets me into another secret with a nonchalant flick of the hair or the rise of a smile.

Staring down at the desk and seeing the empty space left by the pen he felt a wave of irritation suddenly sweep over him. It was slightly unnerving to think that out of all his guests she was the only one who could test his mild compulsions this way. He quickly laid it down in front of him determined not to allow such misdemeanours to detract from the task at hand.

 “Good afternoon Paige, how are we today?” He asked with that irritating habit some people have of using the plural instead of the singular. After all, surely he should know how he was feeling and nobody else was in any sort of position to tell him otherwise.

“I’m fine, considering” she replied finding it a rather bizarre question to be asking somebody in her predicament.

“That’s good, that’s very …”

“Do you like this place? She interrupted “I mean, I don’t want appear rude but for a place of sanctuary its’ not very salubrious.”

Leaning against the back of his chair he began moving his head gently from side to side scanning the room. He did it in such a way that Paige was beginning to think that she was missing something. It was his tight lipped occasional nod of contentment like that of an architect inspecting the fruits of his labour that led her to believe that just maybe it wasn’t as bad as she first thought.

“I do like it actually but if it bothers you so much” he said placing a hand to his chin like a chess player considering his next move “I’ll do you a deal. If I promise to do something about this place will you carry on with your story?” “Sure” she replied already having wished she’d never even mentioned it in the first place.

“In your own time then Paige” he said turning over the timer and picking up his pen.

The grains of sand began to fall steadily once more. He was leaning so far forward now in his eagerness to hear the second instalment that she could feel his breathe gently brushing the side of her cheek.

 “With the start of a new school year rapidly approaching we would soon be gathering up our things for what felt like the very last time. It wasn’t of course, there were always school nights, weekends and the following summer but however much we reminded ourselves of this indisputable fact it didn’t diminish the disappointment we all felt. I remember walking through the trees towards home, just me and the gang, caked in mud and arms bulging with all manner of paraphernalia. Not wishing to say a word case it spoilt something of the moment. Mind you we soon got back into the routine of school and play and the summer quickly became a distant memory.

After school and before tea time the gang would often call at the house on the way down to the brook to sneak in a few games before it went dark. So they must have thought it odd then that they never did manage to take a step inside. It wasn’t that I was embarrassed by my parents’ deafness; it was the having to explain things that did it. Although they must have sensed something was slightly unusual by the way the lights flickered on and then off again every time they rang the doorbell. And they never did ask why mine were the only parents in the street who never shouted me home for tea. I think somewhere deep in their collective conscience they’d always suspected my parents were deaf. But the family dynamics of play mates was of little importance when there was a football to kick or a cricket ball to thwack.  They never gave it a second thought.”

“Did you enjoy school?” Hilary asked rubbing his beard.

“I did except when it came to doing homework. I think the school expected us all to have stimulating home environments with shelves full of books and radio four playing in every room. As we didn’t have a radio in our house and my parents couldn’t hear me read I was already at a disadvantage. And besides, between doing my homework and going out with the boys I was also the family mediator. Insurance representatives, door to door salesmen even paying the milkmen all required me to be there. Come to think of it I was privy to information that no child at that age should be expected to know especially about their own parents. Although when it came to after school parent’s evenings I remember spending the short journey rehearsing over and over in my mind the various ways I could get my own back and carefully, taking everything into account, weighing up the odds of getting away with it:

 ‘I am so glad of this opportunity to have a chat with you Mr and Mrs Kingston  but unfortunately, I must be honest with you, your daughter Paige was discovered smoking a joint in the female toilet whilst lying half naked on top of a male sixth former.’  Having already spotted the nearest exit and forgone my favourite black high heels the darker side of my character interprets:

‘ I am so glad of this opportunity to have a chat with you Mr and Mrs Kingston and  it gives me great pleasure to inform you that your daughter Paige has been selected to represent the school in the national Best Prefect contest.’ 

Alas, however great the temptation to make good on these devilishly well crafted plots the thought of a whole two weeks (It was normally two weeks) spent in what amounted to as sole confinement: straight to bed after evening meal, no weekend activities, no communication with the outside world, in other words GROUNDED, never failed to overshadow any delight I may have felt at having made it safely to the exit, running barefoot into the night. And so by the time we’d pulled up outside the school building the darker side of my character, if ever there was one, had already been unceremoniously jettisoned from a moving vehicle at the last set of lights.”

“So were you ever found lying half naked on top of a male sixth former smoking a joint or for that matter won the national best prefect contest” Hilary asked checking that what he thought to be one thing wasn’t something entirely different.

“Neither, I was using it as an example to illustrate a point” she replied wishing that she wasn’t prone to blushing so readily “I like to think I could be found somewhere between the two.”

“Just as I thought” he said, flopping back into his chair “carry on.”

“The only other thing that we did was to travel the five miles up the road to the local deaf club every Saturday night. For it was only here that they managed to escape the trails of living in a hearing world. The lack of interpreters, services over the phone and voice activated systems. Pointing in fast food restaurants and scribbled notes in patient waiting areas. But above all the tired old mantras:

I’ll fill you in with what he said later, you don’t need to know anyway its’ not all that important.

For just a few hours a week brows would soften and shoulders loosen while the whole building seemed to pulsate up then down again in a collective sigh of relief. We would sit round a small table drinking and eating packets of crisps and signing to anyone who happened to meet our gaze. I saw my father once order a round of drinks through a sea of hands to the bar maid serving in the corner. For anyone who happened to stumble upon this hot house of fervent articulation their disability would needed to have been taken into account and reasonable adjustments made. So you see it isn’t deafness that disables deaf people it’s the society within which they keep. I’m talking about members of a linguistic minority group disabled by a hearing majority.”

“I’ve never thought of it like that before” Hilary said continuing with the beard rubbing thing.

“That’s the problem” Paige said with that warm smug feeling she sometimes gets when passing on some ground breaking news “not many people have.”

An Unequivocal Natural Progression

“As you can see, there have been a few changes around here Paige” Hilary was saying a week later.

Paige was smiling as she watched him dance round her like a child with a swanky new bedroom.

 “Over in this corner we have a comfortable seating area, over here a hat stand with a large wooden elephant and my piece de resistance a baby grand piano so I can practice between sessions.”

Stopping in his tracks he turned to face her “Well, what do you think?” he asked with hands placed effeminately at the hips.

She glanced round at all the new furnishings. A large ornate Chinese rug lay strewn across the floor where the black leather desk once stood. And although the bookcase with its not so secret doorway remained the focal point it had gone a long way to losing much of its content. All that remained was a collection of leather bound books standing to attention in alphabetical order according to the names found on each spine.

The smell of the place was different too with no hint of damp towels left festering in a corner. The refreshing lemony smell one gets with a recently moped floor had seen to that.

“Well it’s certainly more salubrious and a whole lot brighter too” she added spotting the rolled up blinds.

“I was hoping you’d say that.” He replied sighing heavily as though without her seal of approval the whole thing would all have been a waste of what little time he may have left in this new surround.

Talk of his imminent departure had been brewing for some time amongst the various cliques that formed outside in the holding room. And although the mutterings had begun long before their first encounter her opinion on all matters, however trivial, had slowly grown into a barometer by which to measure any opinion he may rightly call his own. Indeed had he detected even the slightest distaste in her voice a fresh lick of paint would have been added the moment she left the room. As it is, the replacement, who ever that may be will just have to bloody well live with it! He mused smiling at how ridiculous that would have sounded if spoken aloud.

As Hilary hadn’t been officially informed of a possible transfer but instead had simply overheard fragments of conversations each time he happen to take a step outside his door, he had found the task of piecing together the information then somehow containing his overwhelming excitement at the thought of moving on and all that entails almost unbearable. To the point that many times he feared he was about to burst (although how rumours of this sort can get started without even the tiniest shred of evidence he found constantly perplexing). Nevertheless as the weeks quickly turned to months and still no official word his initial excitement soon began to wane despite the daily protestations offered up by busty Brenda O’Connell in her most dulcet Irish tones.

“He’s on his way so he is; just give it a little more time.”

 Moving over to the new comfortable leather seats Paige felt a certain degree of satisfaction.

His lack of any dress sense can wait, she thought with a smirk.

“I left school at sixteen destined for a life of mediocrity. I was neither a high flyer nor did I ever bring shame upon the Kingston household.  Looking back I guess I drifted through my formative years by becoming as inconspicuous as possible.  I remember the teachers still having to look my name up in the register right up to the final year. Even my school reports became so boringly predictable, ‘satisfactory progress’ was a term favoured by most that towards the end my mother felt she had no choice but to march up to the school demanding an explanation. In the end she received an unreserved apology from the Head of English with the premise ‘we must try harder next time.’

The number of qualifications I came out with was a fair reflection of the amount of effort applied, in other words, the bare minimum. This wasn’t through laziness I was just lacking direction. Whilst all the others felt a strong drive towards nursing or the legal profession I allowed myself to drift aimlessly. It wasn’t until much later in life I discovered that I did have a calling after all.

“What was it?” Hilary asked.

“Interpreting. For my parents it was as inevitable as night follows day, an unequivocal natural progression. They hadn’t said as much but the very notion of even entertaining the idea of an alternative career path would have been akin to announcing I was thinking of becoming a man.”

 “So your whole life was mapped out in front of you, how did that make you feel?”

“I wasn’t too happy at first. I drifted in and out of various menial jobs and stopped going to the deaf club. In short, I completely disassociated myself from the deaf community. I just wanted to know if there was anything else I was capable of doing other than interpreting. I think it broke my parents’ heart.”

“Did you find what you were looking for?”

“No, the pain on their faces was just too much so I bowed to the inevitable by enrolling myself onto an interpreting course instead. While I was there I met Paul Stone, a trainee teacher who happened to share the same student common room. We were introduced one lunch time over a prawn sandwich and a coke. He was tall and bespectacled just like my dad with dark curly hair and an athletic build. Originating from New Zealand he came to this country with his mother in the late 1980s after the death of his father, leaving the rest of his family behind. He was dressed in a pair of grey pleated trousers, a burgundy waistcoat complete with miniature pockets and a dark green collarless shirt, looking more like a snooker player than a budding secondary school teacher. His quirky style of dress and passion for teaching made him stand out from the rest of the student body. From that moment on I knew I had found my superman.

We dated for three months before I couldn’t put him off meeting my folks any longer, every excuse had been exhausted and remembering them all proved just too much. I think he was beginning to suspect I had seven children all under the age of five years bound and gagged in an upstairs attic.  And my parents were almost certain I was dating a woman. I eventually relented by agreeing to a Sunday tea rendezvous at the Kingston household that seemed to appease everyone concerned.

I spent the evening before the big day familiarising Paul with a little deaf awareness in readiness for the special occasion.  I had had boyfriends in the past but he was the first to express an interest in meeting the folks. Primed with the knowledge that shouting only exaggerates mouth patterns and eye contact maybe a little strained at first he was raring to go. Towards the end I remember kissing him softly on the cheek and offering some final words of reassurance before turning for home. To this day I’m not sure who I was trying to reassure the most.

On the afternoon in question I stood in front of the hallway mirror a comb in one hand and a bottle of perfume in the other. It was like Groundhog Day for the face in the glass but I didn’t care everything had to be just right. I’d already gone back to smooth over the edge of a table I’d just brushed passed and sprinted down the stairs, making it to the bottom step before the toilet ceased flushing. I remember wondering if it was only hearing people who exhibit that sort of behaviour. I didn’t have time to go into the kitchen to find out. Just as I was wiping clammy hands down the sides of my skirt the lights flickered on and then off again. There was somebody at the door. I took one last look in the mirror then slowly turned the handle.

The initial introductions proved awkward.  Paul had remembered not to shout and to address them directly as though sharing a common language although he seemed to find the lack of eye contact slightly unnerving despite my reassurances the night before.”

“Why would eye contact be any different?”

“Because the hearing person would be looking directly at the deaf person but the deaf person would be watching the interpreter for a translation of the hearing persons’ words. This can feel strange at first.”

“Oh yes of course”

“After a slow start the conversation at the dinner table soon got going with the men finding a shared interest in football. So much so that the awkwardness felt at the door seemed almost dreamlike. Mum on the other hand just sat quietly in the corner sipping her wine, happy to fall back into the shadow of my father. As foreign names slipped uneasily through my fingers she sat staring at the young man perched on the rim of her glass. Thirty years earlier she’d met someone similar and seemed to like what she saw.

Eventually with the conversation having run its course, apparently there is a limit to how much one can debate the merits of a 3-4-3 formation, the delectable hostesses retired to the kitchen. Taking hold of his hand under the table I gave it a gentle squeeze nodding reassuringly. As we got up to move over to the lounge I looked over at them working on the dishes.  Mum had her hands deep in hot water while dad stood next to her twisting a tea towel, thwacking her rear end. Meeting my gaze he made a circle with his thumb and index finger. It could mean only one thing, they approved.

It was the first of many social gatherings that gradually became easier as time went on. Eventually my mediation skills were left surplus to requirements as they became strikingly adept at using gestures and some of the signs Paul had picked up along the way. The awkwardness remained however with Paul’s mum who found the whole experience of meeting deaf people completely alien.

The following June we were engaged to be married and after a rather protracted betrothal I eventually became Mrs. Paige Stone two days shy of my Thirtieth birthday. We tied the knot at a local ancestral stately home that belonged to the National Trust.  They’d just recently been granted a licence to conduct civil marriage ceremonies.  It felt hypocritical to suddenly converge on the small Christian church around the corner after years of abstinence and the only other suggestion was the centre spot at Old Trafford. Instead we exchanged our vows on a bright Saturday afternoon in August in front of a packed congregation of family and friends. Later that day at the back of a large banqueting hall a sole figure dressed in a turquoise suit stood on a raised platform signing to the throng. It was the first time my parents had sought the help of others.”

“How did that make you feel, no longer indispensable?”

“Relieved. I was about to embark upon a new chapter in my life, I wasn’t going to be around to answer the door or make phone calls any more.  It was for their benefit too, they had to start getting into the habit of using professional people with Codes of Ethics and complaint procedures when things don’t go to plan. It wasn’t as if I was emigrating. I assumed that sooner or later I would probably end up working for them in a professional capacity anyway, it’s just unfortunate it came sooner rather than later”.

“What do you mean unfortunate?”

“I’d prefer to keep that for later if you don’t mind”

“That’s fine, please go on”

“Where was I? Oh yes! Two hours later we were holding our reception at the deaf club. Three days later we were on a plane bound for a honeymoon to Jamaica.  Two weeks after that we were back in our new flat in the centre of town. Paul had graduated around the same time as I had and was about to start a new job in a local Secondary school.  I on the other hand became a Community Sign Language Interpreter for a local communication agency, like I said a whole new chapter.”

“That’s all for this week Paige” Hilary said interrupting.

Looking down at the hand now thrust out before her Paige remembered reading somewhere that the taking hold of it and shaking is more than the simple expression of social etiquette. But that the strength of grip is indicative of the power one person, physically and socially, may hold over another and the use of two hands often demonstrates a greater affection than one.

 Paige took hold with her right then covered them both with her left. She was warming to him and wanted to show it.

“Yes certainly more salubrious” she said looking round the room then making her way to the door.

Taking hold of the handle she turned to face him, hesitating for a moment before allowing herself to speak.

“Were you ever married Hilary?” she asked unapologetically.

“Divorced.”

“Oh! I see” she said turning to go “see you next week.”

Just as the door was snapping shut behind her Paige thought she heard him say something else. Deciding it was nothing; she weaved her way through reception and out into the bright lights once more. Perhaps if she hadn’t been in such a hurry she may have decided that it was something after all. The words hello princess couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. But this was her problem and the very reason she was stuck here in the first place, she was always in a hurry, despite the gammy leg.

The Snowball Affect

Paige hurried into the room dragging her left leg behind her like a poacher with his ill-gotten gain. Her hair was pulled round the back of her head tighter than Hilary had seen her wear it before and the skin across her face appeared tauter. Moving swiftly across the floor she carried with her the air of a woman with a purpose.

 “And how are you feeling today?” She asked finding her seat. 

Hilary looked at her with the surprise of a con artist having been duped by his not so unwitting target. Crossing his legs then re-crossing them he tapped his fingers nervously on the arms of his chair. Blinking in rapid succession his eyes darted about as though trying to catch a glimpse of an illusive aura. Beads of sweat began flowing steadily down the sides of his temple. These were the physical symptoms of a routine gone bad. The routine or Flo as he liked to call it was nothing if not demanding. Hilary is the assessor Paige is the client, full stop.

“Funny that. I thought I was the one asking the questions.” He said, trying to hold himself together.

 “Well, I thought I’d shake things up a little” she replied with the brashness of a difficult teenager.

 “And is there anything else you’d like to shake up while you’re at it?” he asked trapping the words shake up between some silly little speech marks.

She paused but only for a second.

“Well, your clothes they are a bit scruffy.”

Looking down at the tatty old t-shirt and ripped denim he adopted the chess player pose once more with a hand at the chin, nodding pensively.

“I’ll tell you what we’ll do” he said having regained his composure “If I promise to make more of an effort will you carry on with your story?”

“Sure.”

“In your own time then Paige” he said turning over the timer once more “and before I forget. I’m very well, thanks for asking.”

“The marital home was a small abode in the centre of town described in the estate agents’ window as compact and bijou.  It was located mid distance between both sets of parents, close enough to help out in times of crisis but far enough away not to be at their constant beck and call. Although having purchased a property that required a certain amount of modernisation and with the technical know-how between the two of us amounting to zero, it was them who ended up doing most of the running around.

 The property boasted three storeys, if you include the small storage space on the ground floor. A narrow stairway led up to a main living and dining area with a fully fitted kitchen in the corner. At the top of a second flight of stairs there was the master bedroom and a box room the size of a kennel.”

 “I see, not very conducive for starting a family then?” Hilary was smirking now.

“Children, I don’t think so. I think we were both too wrapped up in our own careers to even contemplate starting a family” She replied defensively.

 So defensive in fact Hilary wondered if he’d actually asked something entirely different like whether swinging was something they’d ever considered as a weekend activity.

“So the subject of children was never discussed?”

“Well…no never” she replied hesitantly, staring over his right shoulder.

With his pen hovering over the top of his page where three words had been circled heavily in black ink: marriage-children-career, he drew a line across the middle word pressing so hard that it pierced the paper.

 “What about you, did you ever have children?” She asked feeling slightly irritated by something she couldn’t quite put her finger on.

 “Anyway, you were saying something about your new life together.” He said after coughing into his hands.

Paige wasn’t all that sure he’d heard the question but decided against asking it twice.

“Well, Paul was utterly miserable in his new job. His day would start at seven in the morning and end some twelve hours later. He was contracted to finish at three thirty but with the football and cricketing teams to organise, I hardly got to see him before seven. It was then a quick twenty minute dinner before he was commandeering the dining room table for the rest of the evening with essays to mark and lessons to plan. I would often feel him getting into bed beside me having left his clothes where he’d stood, disorientated with fatigue. Leaning over for a kiss I’d fall back down again cursing sleep for having taken him before I had had the chance to. The days soon began to run into each other like words on a foreign tongue, fluid and seamless.

Although the school was located in a rather prosperous area of the city it wasn’t without its’ troubled youth. Paul has always had a very gentle nature, preferring to capitulate rather than meet confrontation head on which simply doesn’t do for the behaviour management of thirty two hormonally challenged teenagers. He was often finding his classroom taken over by a more experienced member of staff who’d heard the rumpus at the far end of the corridor and had rushed in believing the rabble had been left unattended. His monthly supervisions with a more senior member of staff soon developed a recurring theme: An excellent teacher for those who wanted to work, a sitting duck for those who didn’t. His name was soon put forward for the next available self assertive course.

 Around the same time I joined a team of Interpreters some of whom had personal experience of deafness in the family, known collectively in the trade as C.O.D.A.S, children of Deaf adults. I found that I already knew most of the deaf people so it was just a matter of getting paid for doing what I’ve always done. What I loved the most was that no two days were the same. From being in a light aircraft one day with someone learning to fly to interpreting over a dead body in a mortuary the next. There were of course the more unpleasant assignments particularly those involving children whose parents were asking the state to take them off their hands because they no longer figured in their transient lifestyles.”

“How does one arrive at a place in ones’ life that ones’ children have become expendable?” He asked interrupting.

“That’s quite a lot of ones, doesn’t one think?”

“Yes your right I do apologise.”

“I call it the snowball affect. I have a general theory about this which by no means encapsulates all deaf people particularly the younger generation, but nevertheless a grain of truth lies within. It goes something like this:

A deaf baby, for the purpose of this illustration let’s call her Celia, is born to hearing parents; ninety percent of deaf children are born into hearing families, who have no experience of raising a deaf child. They turn to professionals for assistance who historically have told them not to encourage the use of signs. If Celia is fortunate enough her parents will stay together otherwise the father will leave; it’s normally the father who leaves, sighting difficulties with coping. Celia grows up within a family who are unable to communicate with her whilst other siblings receive preferential treatment.

She’s educated in a school for deaf children whose policy it is to prohibit signing whilst attempts are made to capitalise on any residual hearing she may or may not have. Her education consists of the preparation towards menial unskilled occupations with minimal life skills tuition. Despite the schools’ policy, the children sign surreptitiously to each other. Therefore the mother, it’s usually the mother, may at this stage ignore the advice of professionals and learn to sign. Therefore communication between mother and child initially starts to improve while fathers’ apathy towards learning to communicate with his daughter, assuming that he’s still around, opens up an irrevocable chasm. However as Celia matures and fluency of signs develop mother is left floundering on the side lines.

She leaves school with no qualifications and scant knowledge of the outside world. At this stage, she either remains unemployed for the rest of her life or secures employment in a lowly paid tedious position. As a member of the work force she is often the only deaf member of staff and so may experience bulling and isolation. This may lead to prolonged periods of mental illness, alcoholism, drug dependency and encounters with the police. A low wage with insecure contractual arrangements may only be good enough to secure rented accommodation in a poor neighbourhood.  Poverty often attracts criminal activity such as vandalism and domestic violence.

In adulthood relationships are formed often with people from the same socio- economic class and wedding vows are made. Children are inevitably spawned without the parenting skills needed to rear them and social services become involved. The children attend a school in special measures because such schools are rarely found in middle class leafy suburbs and due to suspicions of domestic violence their names are placed on the child protection register. They develop severe behavioural problems due to the lack of parental support and within this soup of misery trouble ensues. Obviously, at any stage of this narrative alternative life choices could have been made but my point would be this: if Celia had been born hearing, those choices would have multiplied massively.”

“Goodness, that’s quite a theory and no doubt a relatively accurate one” he said still trying to take it all in.

 “Like I said there are many deaf people who don’t fit this description but unfortunately there are those who do and for them the snowball begins at birth.” 

 “And with that we must wrap it up there and start again next week” Hilary announced with a reluctant sigh.

“Talking of next week” she said picking up her things “you wanted to know what it was that led me to your office that day.”

“Yes”

“Well next week I’ll describe to you the chain of events that led to just that”

“I can’t wait.”

It wasn’t until she was outside when she realised what it was about their parting that differed from any other time. Her hand had been cocooned within his like an oyster inside a shell. He’s warming to me, she thought moving swiftly towards the light.

 

PART TWO

I’ll Thscream And Thscream Till I’m Thick

“Paige could you get down to the surgery on the high street in the next ten minutes” Shirley Longford’s voice shrieked through the ear piece “ They’ve just phoned to say they have somebody there now who has an appointment and the surgery forgot to book an Interpreter.”

 “Yeah that’s fine I’m going that way any way, have we a name for this person?” I asked flicking on the indicator to over- take a rather slow moving Austin Allegro.

No, we only know that it’s a male and it’s with a doctor Braithwaite.”

“Okay I should be there in five minutes.” I replied weaving through the traffic before coming to a complete stop at the top of a steep incline. The digital display above the barrier read: Spaces Available.

Throwing the ear piece into the glove compartment the phone gave out a short high pitched tone indicating the end of a call.

 “Who’s Shirley Longford?” asked the smartly dressed man seated opposite. 

Dressed in a dark blue suit with matching shirt and a purple tie he wriggled uncomfortably in his seat stroking the sides of his neck, exposing an itchy rash under a tight collar, before moving on to fiddle nervously with the rather large purple knot that sat uneasily under a protruding Adam’s apple. Looking like a spotty adolescent on the first day of his work placement programme, it was abundantly clear that this wasn’t his thing. Nevertheless, Paige was certain he’d never looked so good.  A slight bulge in his left breast pocket in the shape of a Walther PPK and for Paige at least, he was Bond, James Bond.  But without it he was simply the Professor having made a considerable effort.

 “Shirley Longford was the coordinator of the service” she replied “A very tall thin lady in her mid forties supporting a wavy blonde head of hair with just a hint of chestnut coloured highlights. She was firm but fair and highly pretentious. Her expensive clothes, private elocution lessons and refined skills in the art of social etiquette did little to mask a Manchurian working class upbringing.”

“I see please continue Paige” he said wiping a finger once more down the sides of his neck.

 “Anyway I sauntered over to the large lady seated behind the glass partition and introduced myself”:

“Hello my name is Paige Stone; I’m the interpreter you requested earlier”

“Ah! Yes the signer, I think...”

“Actually it’s Interpreter, communication being a two way process the poor hearing person who can’t sign requires my assistance just as much as the poor deaf person who can’t hear” I interrupted with a firm but gentle manner.

“Yes of course, I think he’s the gentleman sitting in the far corner reading his newspaper” She said blushing slightly and pointing over my left shoulder.

I turned on my heels to face row upon row of the city’s walking wounded.  The room was awash with every possible ailment imaginable.  A man dressed in motorcycle gear, displaying no attempt at covering his mouth, spluttered out a cough over the elderly lady sat next to him. Turning away in disgust she was met by a sneezing schoolboy using the left arm of his blazer as a tissue. Three rows back a teenager was performing the disgusting habit of clearing his throat and nasal passages by taking sharp intermittent inhalations creating a dull barking sound, much to the annoyance of his fellow attendees. A breeding ground for millions of harmful germs lay before me, invisible to the naked eye but real enough to ensure that many will go home feeling a whole lot worse than when they first arrived.

Spotting the man sitting quietly in the corner reading the sports pages of his newspaper I took a sharp in- take of breathe. He seemed to sense somebody was watching him as he immediately glanced up from his occupation. As I made my way towards him zigzagging every cough and splutter, the smell of stale cigarettes and Vicks vapour spray clinging to my clothes, the thought of what the hell is my dad doing here! flashed across my mind. ”

 “What are you doing here?” I asked finding a seat opposite.

“It’s very nice to see you too Paige what’s this don’t you give your old man a hug these days now that you’re a married woman?” he signed feigning the victim of a terrible injustice.

“I’m sorry dad of course I’ve always got time to give you a hug I’m just surprised to see you here that’s all” I quickly replied annoyed with myself for having  forgotten my manners.

I reached over squeezing him tightly.

 “Is there anything the matter dad?” I asked slumping back into my chair and with a strong sense that he never wanted to let me go. Not ever.

“May I remind you Paige this is a doctors’ waiting area if there wasn’t anything the matter with me we both shouldn’t be sitting  here wasting everybody’s  valuable time” he replied demonstrating his unique ability for turning the most innocuous question into a statement of the bleeding obvious.

“No, is there anything really the matter? I mean, what are you really doing here anyway?” I pressed further.

 Suddenly I felt the eyes of the whole room upon us as though they’d never seen anyone signing before.

“Its’ nothing for you to worry your pretty head about”

“Let me be the judge of that father” I signed tapping the letter ‘f’ firmly onto my fingers.

“If you insist, then I’ll tell you. I’ve been having a few headaches and feeling nauseous lately so I went to see the doctor about them a few weeks ago. I spoke to Dr.Patel, who has subsequently retired, but who nevertheless sent me for some tests at the hospital.”

“Why didn’t I know anything about this?” I interrupted sharply.

“Nobody knew anything about it, not even your mother. I didn’t want you all to worry. I didn’t even have an interpreter with me in case it happened to be you.  I’ve been managing with scribbled notes but now that I’ve got a new doctor, I think it’s a doctor Braithwaite, they must have seen that I was deaf and contacted you straight away.”

“So they hadn’t forgotten to call for an Interpreter?”

“No why, who said that they had?”

“Oh! No nobody its’ alright”

“Today’s appointment is for the results from the hospital. But I want you to promise me two things though Paige” He continued pointing a finger in my direction.

“How can I promise if I don’t know..?”

“Just promise or you’re not coming in there with me” He demanded moving his finger towards a large white door with the words Dr.Braithewaite Room Three running across the top.

“Okay, what is it?”

“Whatever he tells us today you don’t get upset and you leave me to deal with your mother.”

“But...”

“Promise me Paige.” 

“Mr Kingston, room three please” the lady behind the glass partition announced into her microphone.

I got to my feet and made my way towards the large white door. Turning, he was still sitting there arms folded and motionless.

“I promise then!” I signed from across the other side of the room.

Strolling towards me now smiling and winking I was reminded of the Just William books we used to read together. He would perch himself at the far end of the bed and open up the next exciting episode in the life and times of this loveable rogue. A character I was always secretly envious of for his laissez- faire attitude towards life. I would be lying at the other end hanging off of his every sign. A few years later it was brought to the silver screen with Adrian Dannatt and Bonnie Langford taking up the lead roles. With the high pitched lisping sound of Violet Elizabeth Bott’s ‘I’ll thscream and thscream till I’m thick’ playing between the ears I rasped a knuckle against the door. Stepping inside I felt a reassuring hand rest gently on my shoulder.

 “Please come in and take a seat” invited the young doctor stationed behind a desk “I won’t keep you a moment.”

 He was typing something into a computer and judging by the steely concentration on his face it was just too important to leave. His blue eyes and fair hair reminded me of the young athletes seen performing callisthenics on the old German propaganda films advocating the merits of the Arian race.

“I’m Doctor Braithwaite, please take a seat” he said hitting the return button on his keypad.

We both looked across at the two chairs positioned side by side in the middle of the room.

“Hello my name is George Kingston and this is the Interpreter” my dad signed pointing towards me “Is it okay if she comes round and sits next to you so I can see her more clearly?”

“Yes of course, I’m led entirely by you” he replied looking bemused by this alien encounter that had just landed before him.

I walked across the room and picked up one of the chairs placing it next to the doctor. As I made to sit down I noticed a file lying on his desk. In the top right hand corner was a picture of an ear with a line striking through its’ centre. I’d seen it many times before and always with the same twinge of disappointment that a pair of hands weren’t there instead, forming and modifying language with every turn. It reminded me of a young deaf man who claimed he was prevented from entering a shop on the grounds of his deafness. The shop door had a sticker on its window displaying a crossed out ear, denoting the availability of a loop system. Unfortunately it was placed next to another sticker showing a cigarette with a line running through it and confusion inevitably ensued. The owners of the business in their sterling attempts to advertise good practice had inadvertently turned away the very custom they were hoping to attract.

 “Before we begin” the doctor said turning towards me “Could you ask Mr. Kingston if he is able to lip read.”

I interpreted the question knowing full well what the response was likely to be.

“Can you sign?” my dad answered a question with a question.

“No I can’t”

“Well then I can’t read lips that’s why we have an interpreter, we both require her assistance, the only difference between us is that the chances of you being able to sign in the future are far greater than the chances of me being able to hear, don’t you agree Doctor Braithwaite?”

“Yes of course, I do apologise Mr.Kingston” the doctor squirmed.

“Not at all” my dad replied “Could I also ask you to direct your questions to me and not the Interpreter.”

“Oh! Yes of course, I do apologise Mr.Kingston.”

 Turning round he proceeded to type something into his computer causing a whole host of words to flash up on the screen.

“The tests carried out at the hospital Mr Kingston have unfortunately detected a relatively large tumour on the frontal lobe of the brain” he whispered, as though any louder would seem somehow less sympathetic “ its’ called an astrocytoma tumour, a very invasive rapidly growing type known as Glioblastoma Multiforme or GBM.”

Pausing for a moment, he looked over his shoulder towards me, appearing to sense something was amiss.

“Are you feeling alright?” he asked “I’m sorry but I don’t know your name”

“Paige” I answered like a hypnotists’ stooge.

“Are you feeling…?”

“Paige Kingston.”

I was that little girl again, sitting up in bed, watching her father read. And how I so wanted to just thscream and thscream till I was thick.

Chocolates At Christmas

  “Depending upon their rate of growth tumours are medically graded on a scale between one and four” Paige was saying a week later “but for me it didn’t deserve a number or a name I just called it the thing like a bad movie having gone straight to rental. In my mind it had taken the form of an unwanted visitor bashing on the door in the dead of night. To give it a number was one step away from inviting it inside when all I wanted was for it to go and find somebody else’s door to bash through. An operation to remove the thing was considered too dangerous on account of its position and size; instead an intensive programme of radio and chemo therapy treatment was scheduled without delay.”

“How long have I got?” dad asked cool as a cucumber.

 “That depends on you Mr Kingston” the doctor replied “If you attend all of your treatment sessions and religiously take the drugs I’m about to prescribe for you, your life expectancy could be enhanced by another two to three years.”

“And if I don’t?”

“I wouldn’t expect you to live any longer than six months.”

The most remarkable thing about all of this was that he didn’t even flinch. Not even to push his glasses back up the bridge of his nose, something he would normally do a hundred times a day if they needed adjusting or not. Instead he just sat rocking in his chair, taking it all in. I on the other hand screwed my eyes tightly shut although even here in the darkness there’d be no let up, a game of ping pong had just got under way.

 Six months thwack tumour thwack six months thwack.

It wasn’t long before I was opening them back up again staring down at my hands resting before me. Fingers locked together, safe and out of harms way. After all had these conduits of misery not performed their dirty deed would the thing actually exist? And does the utterance of a name give life to a vacuum of nothingness? These were only just a few of the thoughts competing for my attention above the din of ping pong. I just wanted those hands gone the same way I’d want a dog gone for having ravaged a child. Wiping my eyes with the backs of those things I could just make out my father shaking hands with the doctor. I’d broken the first promise.

“I told you it was nothing for you to worry your pretty head about?” He was saying when we got outside.

I reached over squeezing him tightly. It was my turn to never want to let go. Not ever. After some lame assurances that everything was going to be just fine I was soon back on the streets, weaving through the traffic once more and crying all the way home.

Paige paused for a moment wiping away a tear with her sleeve.

 “Take as much time as you need” Hilary said pushing a box of tissues towards her.

“Do you do this for all of your clients?”

“Do what?” he toyed.

“Allow them to have as long as they want.”

“Only those that fall at my feet the very first time they walk through my door.”

“That was a mistake and I didn’t actually fall I stumbled gracefully” she protested, feeling the sides of her mouth rise into a smile.

 “Well as the jury are still out deliberating the fall-stumble conundrum shall we press on?”

“I think we should.”

“What are you doing sitting alone in the dark?” Paul asked flicking the light switch and unloading a pile of books onto the dining room table “you scared me half to death.”

 “I’ve had a bad day” I replied squinting at the brightness of the light.

“You don’t need to tell me about bad days I’ve had thirty intellectually challenged...”

As he ranted my eyes followed him around the room. His unorthodox choice of clothing had remained with him since college days but his passion for teaching had gradually been chipped away over the years by chisel wielding teenagers.

“And my line manager had the audacity to say…”

“My father has a grade four brain tumour the size of a tennis ball and there is nothing we can do about it” I blurted out.

“What! Jesus! How do you know? When did you see him?” He fired off in quick succession.

“Today, I had a last minute job come through for the surgery in town and it happened to be him.”

“Oh shit! That must have been terrible for you” he said wrapping his arms around my waist.

My head slumped to one side resting on his shoulder. He laid his cheek onto mine as I felt his warm breathe on the nape of my neck. The eucalyptus smell of the aftershave I brought him last birthday titillating the hairs in my nostrils.

“I’ve had better days” I said, my voice muffled by the ridge of his shoulder blade “I never tire of your hugs though, they entice over indulgence like chocolates at Christmas.”

It seemed only a moment had passed when I felt him wanting to pull away sooner than I would have liked.

“I must get on” he said pointing at the books that lay strewn across the table.

I watched him in amazement move across the room, take out a pen and set down to work.

“I’m going to bed” I said staring at the back of his head.

“Unfortunately Mr Gardener your essay looks suspiciously similar to that penned by Mr.Green a collusion that attracts an instant failure” he said mumbling to himself.

I opened my mouth again but no words came out. What I wanted to say was ‘my father, your stupid football buddy, has just been diagnosed with a brain tumour and you’re more concerned with the vexed question of whether or not plagiarism is taking place in your classroom!’ I had no more energy left to fight; I was so exhausted all my concentration was focused on keeping upright.

That night I lay in the dark on the bed that I sometimes share with my husband, curled up in a foetal position. With my knees tucked under my chin and those wretched hands clasping my shins I cried myself to sleep. The body’s capacity to produce and then shed tear after tear never ceasing to amaze.

“Would I be right in thinking you and Paul were experiencing marital difficulties?” Hilary asked making circles with his pen.

“I guess so” she replied.

“Was he not being as supportive as you would have liked?”

“He was very supportive at first. He took us to all the radiotherapy outpatient appointments and helped with looking after mother who had taken the news very badly. Once she’d realised that the sanctuary of my father’s shadow was no longer going to be there then her hair started turning a silvery grey, almost overnight. Paul also made no disapproving noises when I first muted the idea of assisting them financially too. My father had been forced to take early retirement on account of his rapidly deteriorating health. But as lesson plans and marking began stacking up my husband’s enthusiasm soon began to wane.

“I see” Hilary said looking over at the time piece “let’s leave it there for this week Paige.”

The last grains of sand were falling through the narrow tube once more.

“Yeah sure” she said shuffling towards the door like a hobo fishing for cigarette ends off the side of a pavement “just you bear in mind though, I stumbled gracefully.”

Paige was smiling as she reached the door but when she turned round the smile had gone.

“He died you know, two days after my third wedding anniversary. I lost my dad that day and my mum lost her superman.”

Touchwood

“How are we feeling today then Paige?” Hilary was asking the following week.

 “Well! Touchwood, things can’t get any worse” she replied tapping the edge of the table.

“I’m so glad to…”

“What’s with all the circles?” she interrupted, pointing down at his notes.

The room fell silent for what seemed to Paige a good sixty seconds. When he eventually did speak it wasn’t quite what she’d been expecting.

“You and I are very much alike.”

“How do you work that one out then?”

“We were both not very religious but….”

“What makes you think that I wasn’t very religious?” She asked brusquely.

“I have it here” he said flicking through his notes “the very first week we met you said ‘don’t get me wrong I wasn’t a very religious child.’

“Okay I’ll give you that one” she replied quietly impressed with his meticulous attention to detail.

“As I was saying, we were not very religious but if we’re honest with ourselves we both privately suspected an all seeing, all knowing spirit existed somewhere out there in the ether. A spirit with an unimaginable hold over us that we feared to disobey would wreak havoc in the lives of everyone we loved.”

“I’m sorry Hilary but it’s you who feels compelled to draw circles until his wrist hurts and it’s you who goes into some sort of fit when things don’t go to plan… you-not me” she ranted, pointing and slightly aggrieved.

“The only difference between us Paige” he continued “Is that your act of compliance is more socially acceptable than mine.”

“And which act of compliance would that be?” She asked defiantly.

“I may be mistaken but did you not stroke the table just a moment ago with the words ‘touch wood’?”

“I did”

“Why did you do that, why do people at the end of certain sentences say ‘touch wood’?” He asked becoming more animated.

The last time she’d seen him this excited was when he was expounding the qualities of his newly refurbished office like an estate agent strung out on speed. She was smiling again now. Sinking back deeper into her chair a wave of what can only be described as mellowness washed over her. A feeling one normally only gets when a day of indulgence at a salubrious health spa draws unapologetically to a close. When the daily drip drip of tension finally gushes away stopping only to lower the shoulders and soften the temple. And when affability reclaims its’ pivotal place at the core of ones’ being by declaring peace with the world and everyone in it. In this more relaxed frame of mind she suddenly knew exactly where this was taking them.

“To ward off insidious forces from repeating less than favourable experiences” she said.

“Exactly” he responded smugly, “and if you believe in insidious forces it follows that you must also believe in benevolent ones too, as they are two sides of the same coin.”

“I guess so” she said feigning a sore loser.

“You happen to choose wood as a line of defence and its’ dismissed as a British idiosyncrasy. I on the other hand choose to draw circles and before I know it I’m down as having an obsessive compulsive disorder.”

“Ah! But therein lies the rub” she said wagging her finger “Can you really choose? I mean, this touching wood business, I can take it or leave it. But this thing that you have, when its’ in full flow can you really walk away?”

“You have me there Paige” he said pausing for a moment “You know it’s’ not as easy as adding a coat of paint to a room or buying a whole new wardrobe, it’s all consuming.”

“I know” she whispered.

The false sincerity in her voice immediately reminded her of Doctor Braithwaite and she hated herself for it.

 “Anyway, what’s the less than favourable experience you’re hoping not to be repeated?” she asked turning up the volume once more.

“All in good time” he replied placing a finger to his lips “all in good time.”

 “I’ve a confession to make” Paige was saying as she watched the grains fall through the small narrow tube “I lied!”

“Lied, now why would you want to do that?” he asked leaning forwards in his chair.

“Don’t you first want to know what it was that I lied about?” She asked.

She’d spent the past seven days reflecting on the merits or otherwise of confessing her sins, trying in earnest to anticipate and then parry his every plausible response. On her cerebral list of possibilities this one had only scraped in at number three.

“The substance is immaterial it’s the rationale behind your actions that interest me” he said marking his page with what was quickly becoming a familiar pattern.

As his rotating hand was starting to make her go quite dizzy she could only think how right he was, they were so much alike.

“Do you remember me telling you that Paul and I had never spoken about having children?”

“Yes”

“I lied.”

“Why did you say it had never been mentioned?” he asked leaning so far forward now she could smell peppermint mouth wash.

“I guess I didn’t want you to form a disparaging opinion of him. And besides this isn’t marriage guidance.”

“Relate”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s now called relate ever since it was discovered that people don’t need to be married nor indeed be of a differing sex to experience relationship difficulties.”

“Oh! I see, anyway it all started soon after my fathers’ funeral.

The arguments began with the occasional irritating niggles but as we just couldn’t put them to bed without first tallying up the points on the leader board it was soon like wrestling with an uncontrollable beast. And with every fresh altercation a common thread ran through them all: our inattentiveness towards each other. It had slowly carved a chasm between us so wide that we’d lost the capacity to communicate. We couldn’t gossip anymore like buxom neighbours shredding into pieces the reputation of her at number forty six. We couldn’t even listen to the Moral Maze without turning it into a slanging match. Instead we had succumbed to hastily written notes and provocative remarks crafted to hasten the arrival of the next fresh fight. Gone were the days when we both knew what each other were thinking with a fleeting glance. Instead a first date awkwardness had returned along with the invisible filter that lies somewhere between thought and speech.

The sanctuary we once called home had slowly turned into a cheap city centre hostelry, a space to replenish on sleep and sustenance. An empty shell void of any social discourse and God forbid sexual exploits, (the longstanding chill on his side of the bed was keenly felt). After a good night of restful sleep and a wholesome breakfast I was in no doubt we shared the same sense of euphoria at having reached the exit without settling the bill. Fully recharged we would then swing back into the traffic of the cash rich time poor building once more to a steady momentum.

The disintegration of our marriage transpired gradually like some sort of guess the object competition with the camera panning back over time. Rather than a cataclysmic event such as an affair it was a compilation of microwave meals, single room supplements and an abundant supply of batteries.”

“I’m sorry did you say batteries?” Hilary asked quizzically.

“Yes I did say batteries, think about it”

“Oh! Yes indeed please continue Paige”

“Despite the quarrels we fooled ourselves into believing all was well as each singularly innocuous but collectively catastrophic event gnawed at the fabric of our marriage. Though in time the shape of our matrimonial life together came into sharp focus and the prognosis didn’t look so good. It was around this time that one recurring altercation took an unexpected turn”:

“What time did you eventually get to bed last night?” I asked loading the dishwasher with breakfast things.

“Two thirty this morning” Paul replied slurping his first coffee of the day.

“If it gets any later you’ll be meeting yourself coming back the other way.”

Ignoring this last remark he downed the last dregs of his steaming beverage and threw the offending article into the mouth of the machine, disturbing the other pristinely ordered glassware.

 I bit my tongue.

 He then darted round the room at break neck speed performing a feat originally thought to be the preserve of the female species; he was in the throes of multitasking. The pile of books that lay strewn across the table from the previous nights’ occupation were scooped up into a holdall while devouring a slice of toast and adjusting his tie.

“This has got to stop Paul” I said trying again “if I wanted a flat mate I would have advertised for one in the local gazette.”

“Huh! Who’s getting a flat mate” he said searching for something as though his life depended on it.

I slammed the door of the machine causing its contents to rattle as though a train had just whizzed past. Pressing the small red button on the side it whirred into action.

“Just stop and listen to me for a second” I shouted above the noise.

“What?” He shouted back marching towards me.

His face was flushed and contorted into that of a man twice his age.

“Can you remember the last time we went out just the two of us?” I asked.

“Last week, I got a paper and you bought a housie magazine” He replied sardonically.

“You know what I mean!” I raged “or the last time you came to bed before the morning post arrived?”

“Now your being silly”

“For Christ sakes we haven’t made love for so long my vibrators’ put in for a transfer.”

Then through a tightly clenched fist raised to his mouth he committed a cardinal sin; he laughed.  It wasn’t the irritating raucous laughter one gets at a fun fair but a childish snigger as though he’d just pinned the words ‘kick me’ onto my rear end. His timing was lousy.

“This is serious” I shrieked “can’t you see what’s happening to us?” 

His smarmy grin vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

“I’ll tell you what I can see shall I?” he shouted waving a finger two inches from my nose “I can see a spoilt petulant child who expects instantaneous opulence while sidestepping hard arduous graft.”

“What do you mean? I work just as bloody hard as you do!” I yelled

“I’m the one burning the midnight oil every night trying to carve out a future for us” he yelled back “and I’m so frigging tired.”

“Parents of young children say that, not childless couples” I replied acutely aware I was entering new territory “We haven’t got any, so what’s our excuse?”

The purring sound of the telephone excused the need for a response. He marched off in the direction of the source mumblings the words:

“If you think we’re done here you’re sadly mistaken.”

He took the call in the living room but soon moved into the hallway out of earshot. Is he having an affair? I mused. The wonders of modern technology, mobile phones and cordless telephones, almost sanctions extramarital liaisons.

A short while later he was back carrying his coat and shoes.

“Why don’t you blow caution to the wind and fuck me silly then in nine months you’ll know the real meaning of tired” I continued as though he’d never left. I was too busy scoring points to even notice his change of demeanour.

“That was the warden at my mums’ sheltered accommodation. When she didn’t come down for breakfast they let themselves in. They found her in the living room with the television still switched on” he said staring fixedly at me.

Rocking back slightly as though his words had just blown in on a gust of wind; I placed a hand across my mouth. It was too late the damage had already been done. In the time it had taken the dishwasher to complete a cycle I’d accused him of neglecting his wife while privately questioning his faithfulness.

“I’m sorry…for everything” I said watching him do up his laces “Where are you going?”

“Where do you think? To see my dead mum” he said slamming the door behind him.

 There was nothing left for me to do. I packed some things into a bag, wrote him a letter and left.”

Dear Paul

This wasn’t what I wanted and in the great scheme of things I guess its’ not what you would have wanted either, after all it wasn’t in the script. When we pledged to love each other ‘in sickness and in health...till death do us part’ we weren’t going through the motions, I like to think we both meant it. To my knowledge there were no opt out clauses or legal loop holes written in fine print we could exploit to procure a slight advantage. Neither was there any surreptitiously signed disclaimers repudiating all of the above, leading you to the rooftops to yell ‘all bets are off.’ No, when we said those words we were in it for the long haul and we both knew it. So what went wrong?

I guess we thought we were different. Mutual friends and acquaintances could tread the well worn path of falling in love-marriage-divorce as their liaisons lacked that certain je ne sais qui. Do you remember Paul on the rare occasion we were invited to other folk’s weddings we’d spend the entire afternoon holding a wager on how long we thought the happy couple would last? It came to a sticky end however when during one particularly lavish occasion the bride discovered that the groom was in on it too (he’d put six months down!) and she called the whole thing off.  Invitations soon dried up after that one. But we were different, we had the whole package, we were infallible, or so we thought! What we hadn’t considered though was that every single couple held up to the light and scrutinized for longevity, wholeheartedly believed in their infallibility too. And like others who have gone before I ask myself; when did it start to crumble? Which one of our many spats did one of us speak the unspeakable that no amount of self deprecating could put right? (If it was me, I am truly sorry). What was the catalyst that caused our marriage to implode in on itself? Similarly like others who have gone before I conclude with sadness that there was no catalyst. No single juncture in our narrative we could wave a finger at and say ‘that’s it! That’s when we stopped caring.’ Instead a kaleidoscope of small heated vignettes brought us to this place they call estranged, population: plenty.

As you read these words do you not think, as I do Paul, how strange it is I am able to pen my thoughts whilst finding the prospect of articulating them inconceivable? The very notion of mixing my metaphors as you look on arms crossed, waiting to pounce, sends a shiver down my spine. Is this how far we have come in our own privately waged cold war? Mind you, there is a lot to be said for love from afar, it allows for clear thinking and uninterrupted tirades. And yes, I do still love you Paul.

I can picture you now sitting at the dining table consoling yourself for having lost a mother and then a wife all in one day. Although this is a heavy cross for most of us to bear consider for a moment my run of ill fortune. I lost a parent too but the similarities between us end there, as I’ve felt for a long time now, my father had taken you with him. That brings me onto the reason for my departure. You may think of me as selfish, as I did of you when your shoulder grew cold, but I haven’t the resilience to stay and watch you suffer.  My fathers’ death (I do miss him) and our long standing war of attrition have slowly eroded the face of compassion. That isn’t to say I love you any less, I just know that when your eyes dolefully fix on mine, any attempts to muster even an ounce of empathy towards your plight you’ll find wanting. I have decided therefore to go back and look after my mother who’s need, dare I say, is greater than yours. If you can find it in you to forgive me for this abrasive action and wish to salvage the shell we once lovingly called our marriage, please call.

Your loving wife

Paige

“Would you like to end it there for this week Paige?” Hilary asked

“That’s not a bad idea” She said pulling herself up.

“See you next week”

“That seems to be the pattern so far and touch wood I haven’t missed one yet” she said gently stroking the edge of the table.

He was smiling as he watched her dragging her left leg swiftly across the floor.

“Clever Paige” he shouted through the door “Very clever.”

The Fatted Calf

“It’s my birthday tomorrow” Paige announced settling into her chair.

Hilary froze. The last time a guest had casually mentioned the reaching of a chronological milestone the lady in question had teased ‘Go on take a guess, how old d’yer think I luk?’

To talk in numbers always felt daring, damn right audacious, but her insistence that a figure be arbitrarily summoned had left him with very little choice. He had missed the mark by a good ten years.

“A happy birthday for tomorrow Paige” He said gently caressing that side of his face as though the stinging heat was still fresh “Sorry but I haven’t got you a card.”

“That’s because I’ve only just told you and besides when you get to my age, thirty four in case you’re wondering, it’s not something we ladies like to advertise” she replied, saving him the awkward traverse through that particular minefield.

“Shall we press on?” he asked sighing heavily as he reached over for the timer once more.

“We may as well. It’s not like I’ve got anywhere else to go.”

“What do you mean you’re not coming in to work today?” Shirley Longford’s voice shrieked down the ear piece for the second time in so many weeks.

Her daily mantra of ‘best voices please people when you are on the telephone, you just don’t know who’s listening in’ always managing to elude her when urgent matters were afoot.

“Like I said, I can’t come in”

“Have you seen your schedule for today?” she asked.

As I flicked on the wipers to clear a light drizzle, I could just imagine her leaning over the diary with the phone in one hand, a cup of Earl Grey in the other and the intricacies of the day’s events stretched out before her.

“Of course!” I lied.

What with all that had happened I hadn’t even managed a cursory glance.

“You have three appointments and they’re all scattered across the city” she replied deciding to tell me anyway “What am I suppose to do?”

 “I’ve had a bereavement” I blurted out.

This time it was only a partial lie, it really did feel like somebody had died.

“I see” she said changing her tone “I’m terribly sorry, of course, you take as much time as you need.”

I wasn’t sure if she believed me after all it wasn’t that long ago since we were burying my father. But for now at least, I didn’t care.

“I’ll be in tomorrow” I replied hitting the red button and tugging at the ear piece.

Coming to a halt outside number forty two Victoria Drive I sat quietly, watching the hypnotic streaks of fine drizzle trickle steadily down the window. Everything seemed just as I’d left it, the endless rows of white picket fences, large bay windows and wrought iron gates all appeared to have survived unscathed by the ravages of time. Except that is for the large oak tree. The defender of the keep outside the Kingston family home was now a pathetic looking stump. In the wake of recent storms it was deemed too dangerous to leave in the hands of Mother Nature and so without further ado it was finally relieved of its duty. The traffic was also a lot lighter than I’d come to expect for the time of year. Schools didn’t break up for another two weeks and snow hadn’t been forecast. The new urban relief road snaking its way round the city was clearly having the desired effect.

 Tugging at the seat belt and clicking it into place I started up the engine while flicking on the indicator. Then repeated the whole process but in reverse, slumping back into my seat. I was almost certain mum could do without the return of the prodigal daughter darkening her door. She had her own tale of woes without me adding to them. A gentle embrace was all I could hope for as a fatted calf turning slowly on a spit required a more imaginative leap. After all I may have needed her but at what point do parents say; enough is enough, we’ve fed you, clothed you, we’ve even cleaned your shit and puke, now for God’s sakes leave us be?

“Never” Hilary suddenly chipped in “its’ called unconditional love”

“Gee! Then who’d want to be a parent?”

“I would” he whispered, choking back a tear “they always keep your room, just in case.”

 Placing a finger on the bridge of his nose he slowly wiped the shutter over one of his eyes. Reaching the point where skin meets bone the lid popped open, revealing thin streaks of blood radiating from a dilated pupil. He did the same to the other but with another three or four digits taking up the rear. Leaning back in her chair Paige tilted her head to one side ever so slightly.

“Did you never have any children then Hilary?”

He sat bolt upright, flushed and sweaty, like a man whose twenty year stint on death row had come down to the last few seconds before the lights would start to flicker. Suddenly and without warning he stood up moving slowly towards the door.

“Where are you going….you haven’t even answered my question?” she shouted, twisting awkwardly in her chair.

“I need to freshen up” he said without pausing “don’t worry; we’ll add time on at the end for any stoppages.”

As the large oak door snapped shut a dull thud could be heard coming from the other side.

“I’m okay” he shouted, his voice soaking into the wood and carpet.

 “Has it got anything to do with those circles?” Paige was asking on his return.

He looked down at the scrap of paper lying on his desk

 “I suppose you could say that.”

 “Helen and I met at university she was coming to the end of a three years study in global politics, adding the final touches to a five thousand word dissertation on universal terrorism and I was fresh out of college about to embark upon a counselling course.” Hilary began, wiping his brow and looking down at his notes.

“How did you guys meet if you were stepping in through the front door and she about to leave at the rear?” Paige asked glad for the distraction.

“Forgive me for stealing your analogy and embellishing it a little further, but it happened to be the same door.”

“What do you mean?”

“In the university library a single doorway separates the middle eastern politics section from Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis. As I pushed open the door one day it struck the person coming the other way, throwing sheets of paper into the air like caps at a passing out parade. She had short auburn hair, the colour of autumn that tapered neatly down the nape of her neck. Small brown eyes, high cheek bones and a ruddy complexion that appeared translucent.  Dressed in khaki trousers and a black t-sheet with the words true love blazoned across the chest, she blended perfectly into the homogeneous student body. I remember us kneeling amongst the debris, heads almost touching and what I would later learn to be the fragrant smell of Chanel number five teasing the senses. I offered to buy her coffee and to use a trite expression favoured by your generation, the rest is history.”

Paige considered that last remark an affront to the verbal dexterity of many of her peers. She took umbrage with the implication that triteness and the over reliance on sound bites and clichés was somehow the preserve of the young. It just seemed that way with the advent of reality TV and New Labour. She was about to challenge him but thought better of it when she realised he was still looking down at his notes.

“So was it true love?” Paige asked leaning forward trying to catch his eye “after all she did have the t-shirt.”

“I thought so at the time” he replied meeting her gaze.

“So what went wrong?”

The fresh smell of rainfall wafted across the room, causing Hilary to turn his head slightly and fix upon a small shadowy figure standing in the corner. The figure was about four foot ten and dressed in a bright yellow raincoat with matching boots. Holding out a small umbrella it began jumping excitedly as though frolicking in a small puddle of water. The words of a familiar tune drifted from out the shadows:

Beyond the door

There’s peace, I’m sure

And I know there’ll be no more

Tears in heaven.

Would you know my name if I saw you in Heaven?

Would it be the same if I saw you in Heaven?...

Hilary had played host to the figure many times before, finding the voice with each visit painfully familiar. Although he was never truly sure if these were apparitions that only he could see (after all, unless he’d seen the other side of that door he’ll always be one of them) or just some spiteful trick the mind invariably liked to play. Either way, having searched her face for even the slightest flicker, Hilary was satisfied that as far as Paige was concerned they were still the only two people in the room. Peering back into the shadows once more he felt the same pang of disappointment he always felt when darkness and the scent of a cool shower was all he could find. His eyes glazed over the spot where his princess once stood while the mind raced for a suitable response.

“Fifteen years after that first encounter in the library” he continued “We were married with a beautiful seven year old daughter. She had a perfectly rounded face with two rosy cheeks on either side of a button nose. Her hair a fiery red that my wife was at pains to point out embodied a mere quirk of nature. When she smiled her eyes sparkled like diamonds and the sides of her mouth twitched with delight. When she laughed debilitating rapture seeped through her every pore enticing the listener to join in the fun, whether they wanted to or not. She loved that. To bestow pleasure upon others was her raison d’être. The girl personified altruism, with every fibre in her tiny frame she longed to please. But when the condemned were not for saving she bore the anguish personally.

I remember one night flicking through the television channels and coming across a wildlife programme. I stopped to watch for a few seconds as two formidable looking buffalos succumbed to their inevitable grisly end, having been pursued relentlessly by a pack of lions halfway across the East African Plains. The finale was made all the more poignant when a light sobbing could be heard emanating from out the corner of the room. In my voyeuristic excitement the presence of another less enthusiastic observer had completely slipped my mind. She cried for three days.

Even the very thought of upsetting others sent her spinning into an uncontrollable frenzy. And on the rare occasion we had to scold her for the slightest of misdemeanours she became inconsolable. Paralysed with remorse, she would plead relentlessly for our forgiveness until urine seeped through the fabric of her skirt quelling the potent fever.

At night with our daughter tucked safely in bed we’d deliberate whether the world was ready for someone who flinched at the very sight of her own reflection and convulsed on discovering the composition of sausages. We speculated how in adulthood she could slip seamlessly into the fabric of an intolerant society. We needn’t have bothered.

On a cold wet February afternoon she was out playing in the aftermath of a recent downpour when a black Audi left the road and silenced that infectious laugh forever. In the furore that followed I found myself cradling her twisted frame while sitting on the edge of the pavement next to a man holding his head in his hands and dressed somehow incongruously out of place in a dark suit and crocodile skin shoes. She lay there looking up at me, her body oozing life. Wiping strands of damp tangled hair from out of her eyes, I gently kissed her forehead. Just as death was about to have a hand in changing our lives forever she pulled me towards her and etched four words indelibly to my memory:

“I’m really sorry daddy!”

Her last breathe left her lifeless body and the centre of our universe, our little quirk of nature that had shaped our every waking moment was gone. At that moment a hand came to rest on my shoulder and the words ‘she’s with me now’ floated into my ear. Turning round all I could see was the man in the suit with his head still in his hands, rocking back and forth, and chanting something I couldn’t quite make out. And a second man walking off into the distance cursing at those running passed.

Ten days later in a church we needed a map to find, our beautiful daughter was led up the aisle to the sound of her favourite song. Not in a long white satin dress we’d privately hoped would happen some day but in a casket, the likes of which there really shouldn’t be a call for. After some moving words by a man she’d never met, her body was taken to be buried. Soon everybody was hurrying for home, squeezing hold of their little ones just that little bit tighter. Life goes on I guess but I still kept her room just in case she…”

Hilary stopped mid-sentence sinking deeper into the folds of his chair, a heavy sigh issuing from his open mouth. Reaching for a drink with one hand he wiped away a tear with the other. The sheer effort required to drive each word coherently through a swathe of emotion had left him all dried out. He took small sips while trying to make sense of it all. Not of his daughter’s death, that as far as he was concerned would remain inexplicable, but his feelings towards having shared it. He knew the delight for having scratched the surface was twined with embarrassment for exposing the raw tissue underneath.

Paige had sat motionless throughout with a lump the size of a small planet lodged in her windpipe for much of it.

“What happened with you and Helen?” she asked, guiding him gently back to her original question.

“We’d been growing apart for years; with our daughter gone the few remaining reasons for staying together died with her” he replied.

“And the circles?” she added, pointing to his page of notes.

“After her death and the marital breakdown, I developed a strong conviction that everything I touched fell apart. First it was my daughter then my marriage. I brought the circles with me; they happen to form a small part of a daily routine performed….. How did you put it? ‘To ward off insidious forces from repeating less than favourable experiences.’ Back then I just couldn’t cope if anything else in my life fell apart. Now, shall we get back to the real reason why we’re here, namely you” he said blushing slightly.

“Just one last thing….you never told me your daughter’s name”

“Mary but we called her Florence, after Florence Nightingale or Flo for short. But when it was just the two of us I would often kiss her gently on the top of her head and whisper I love you my little princess into her ear.”

The bag of hastily gathered possessions, thrown casually over a shoulder, jarred against my back as I stepped up towards the door. Ringing the bell (I had a key but thought it only polite) I found a low bearing wall and sat staring at my hands. The hands that only three months earlier had sliced the air with such devastative effect, were about to be called upon again. The mission: To create a picture on the canvas of space and time then to sit quietly back and watch for the fallout.

The door swung open to reveal a woman I barely recognised, her face all twisted and hurt. She looked tired. Not the tiredness you get with a late movie but the weariness you get through living. Silvery grey had turned snowy white hiding two dark circles under a furrowed brow. Taut skin stretched over bony terrain sagging under loose fabric. Clothes hung heavy like damp sheets on washing day. She’d become the negative of my colourful vivacious mother, tucked neatly away into the side pocket of life, in short, somebody else’s grandma. A timely reminder of the childless marriage I’d left behind. After a gentle embrace I was shown into the hallway where the smell of coffee and fresh flowers filled the air.

  I left her mulling over my unexpected return while I ran up the stairs, two at a time, heading for the loo. Passing my old room on the way down I stole a look inside. It was exactly how I’d left it, untouched..... Just in case. A single bed jutted out a far corner with two small tables on either side. On the left table was a reading lamp with an extendable neck and on the right sat a book next to a mug of cold coffee. Standing flush against a side wall was a large wardrobe with mirrors running down each door. High up on another wall in an alcove ticked a small clock above a mahogany dressing table and black stool. In the centre lay a light blue rug, the same colour as the wallpaper. The entire room wore childhood memories like an old overcoat.

Kneeling on the edge of the bed, elbows on windowsill and chin in hands, I did a quick mental sketch of the street below. Tara Grange was crossing the road with Vanilla, her large German Shepherd, as old Mr. Strovoski went shuffling passed counting some loose change. The McKenzie’s at number thirty nine were scrambling for the school run while Mr. Dent was having trouble kick starting his two cylinder. All under the watchful eye of cranky Mrs. Jones at number forty one because she never has anything better to do. In the centre of it all was a large space where the tree once stood.

The Kingston porcelain china tea set is a family heir loom of three generations standing. Reserved only for the most auspicious occasions it sits in a kitchen cabinet between ‘Delia’s how to cook’ series (volumes one two and three) and a smoothie machine mother brought back from Ireland one year. That is until now. Nestled on a tray in the middle of the living room it appeared the fatted calf had been slain after all.

“Tea with milk no sugar, right?” she signed leaning over the tray.

“Yeah that’s fine thanks” I replied taking a seat.

The room smelt of an old folk’s home. It felt stuffy with dark soft furnishings on a busy carpet and thick floral curtains draped against lifeless walls.  And with the echoing sound of a pendulum inside an old grandfather clock reverberating around the room. I glanced over at the empty chair in the corner. Frayed at the edges and coming loose at the seams it looked lonely without him. The circular indentations in the fabric where he’d sat reading his paper were still visible. I felt sure they didn’t belong to anyone else; mother simply wouldn’t have allowed it.

“Do you want to tell me what’s been going on” she asked after handing me the tea “Or do I have to figure it out for myself?”

Moving to the edge of the seat I placed the cup on the floor lifted up my hands and then slowly but surely began filling the canvas. Off in the distance the clock chimed nine.

Later that night I lay in bed listening to her crying herself to sleep.

“Could we leave it there for now Hilary?” Paige asked wearily “what I want

to say next requires fresh thinking.”

“That’s fine, see you next week” he said offering his hand.

Paige stood up and cupped both hands round his.

“I was wrong you know” she said suddenly

“What about?”

“You do have a choice, you can just walk away” she replied pointing to a fresh set of circles.

She was at the door now turning the handle.

“And I’m sorry about your daughter.”

As the door clicked into place the fresh smell of rainfall filled the air. Hilary turned to the small shadowy figure standing in the corner.

“I was….but not any more.”

He’s With Me Now

“Would I be right in thinking your mother was fond of Paul?” Hilary asked moving over to the window. Pulling at a long piece of string that dangled loose against the wall thick strips of fabric concertinaed together shutting out a bright glow.

“He was the first boyfriend I ever had who actually relished the prospect of meeting them” She replied moving a hand away from her eyes “all the others upon hearing the word deaf suddenly found friendship more appealing than romance. Hell! He even learnt some basic signs. But what really swung it for him was his uncanny resemblance to dad some thirty years earlier. She couldn’t help but like him.”

“I see” he said, finding his seat while reaching for the timer “Go on.”

“Well after that Paul’s name was rarely mentioned. I often felt she wanted to but forming his name between her fingers must have felt as clumsy as they did on mine. Instead we settled into a life together with one eye on the door watching for them both to saunter through, oblivious to all the heartache they’d caused.

The prospect of a marital reunion was as real for her as it was for me. I guess with my unexpected return she presumed it was only a matter of time before the rest of the family caught up and followed in behind. But when hope finally ebbed away despair was all that remained. And as for me, watching her grow weaker each day while coming to terms with the end of a marriage proved unbearable. And so when Shirley Longford called me into her office I was spoiling for a fight.”

“Paige my office please?” her voice drifted down the corridor.

I was sat at my desk quietly placing the last few entries into a diary. Glancing up, three stern looking faces had already turned towards me. We all knew by the brusque expression that this wasn’t a social call. Each and every one of us had traversed the long green mile to her door at some point in our careers; it was the same sharp tone every time. As I pushed out my chair the trio quickly averted their gaze, turning with synchronized precision. Moving along the passageway I felt a collective sigh of relief rise and fall behind me. I knocked on the door and without waiting for a response marched straight in.

She was sat behind her desk moving a finger slowly across the pages of a letter, giving each word her full attention. Teetering on the bridge of her nose hung a pair of reading glasses that quivered each time she reached the end of a line. Peering over the frames she held out a hand like a school teacher wanting whatever it was I had hidden behind my back.

“Take a seat” she said nodding to the chair in the corner.

Something told me that this was code for ‘sit there while I make an example of you.’ I did as I was told not wishing to appear belligerent so early on.

“Have a read of this and tell me what you think” she said sliding it across the table.

I reached over feeling the burn of her stare watching my every move. The smoothness of the paper between my fingers gave just a hint of importance. Recognising the stamp of a small crest at the top of the page I knew straight away that this wasn’t going to be easy.

Dear Shirley,

It is with great sadness that I feel compelled to write but the circumstances within which I find myself leaves me with little choice. As you know our school have always been gratefully appreciative of the professional service your organisation has offered over the years, in the form of signers attending our meetings. Throughout this time we have always felt extremely satisfied with the personnel you have afforded us. On the afternoon of Tuesday April 28th you once again kindly provided us with a signer, Ms. Paige Stone, for one of our annual staff training events. Unfortunately it has subsequently come to my attention that two of our deaf members of staff were experiencing great difficulty understanding some of her signs. And at times Ms.Stone was having difficulty understanding them, repeatedly having to interrupt to seek clarification. Finally during the afternoon comfort break they felt that Ms.Stone seemed aloof, choosing to read a magazine rather than engage in social banter.

I bring this matter to your attention confident in the knowledge that it will be dealt with expediently and without delay.  Trusting this incident is only a blemish on what has otherwise been an impeccable service.

Yours Faithfully

Vincent Farrington

(Principle of Queen Elizabeth School for Deaf People)

“Well?” she asked raising her voice an octave. 

“Bullshit!” came the response

“Excuse me?”

“It’s all just bullshit”

“Would you care to elaborate further on that Paige?” she asked removing her glasses “bearing in mind who you’re talking to.”

“The only reason he’s written you this letter” I fumed raising it aloft and shaking with rage “is because he’s frightened of upsetting deaf people. There were a good twenty of them in the room that day, its’ funny how only two complained. The same two who I’d wager spent the whole afternoon chatting. Let me guess they suddenly realised that child protection is a damn sight more important than the latest Big Brother eviction and so marched into his office cursing the messenger.”

Shirley held out her hand again like the school teacher rapidly losing her patience. The letter slid along the table missing her open palm by a mile.

“And what does he do? Kisses there fuckin arse.”

“Paige that’s enough!” She bellowed.

“And as for me not understanding them” I  continued “If they didn’t use the vernacular all the bleedin time then maybe I wouldn’t have to ask for clarification so often.”

“But that’s what deaf people do”

“Not if they want to be taken seriously in anything more formal than a fuckin pub quiz they don’t.”

 Shirley had heard enough. She marched over to the door swinging it open behind her. The sound of footsteps could be heard racing down the corridor as three shadows scurried back to their desks.

“We’ll talk again when you’ve had a chance to calm down” she promised.

I marched over towards her wondering how such words as ‘comfort break’ had managed to creep into the British psyche along with ‘24/7’ and ‘touch base’. Turning on my heels I wedged a foot against the door preventing it from slamming into my face.

“And that point about me readin a magazine during the comfort break?”

“Yes?”

“It was my fuckin break.”

I was still fuming when I reached the Olde Coffee Shoppe round the corner. There was no way I was sticking around and besides she didn’t say where I should go to calm down. I ordered coffee, milk no sugar, and sat at the window watching the throng of city dwellers fleeing a sudden downpour.

The café was a charming space of church like pews tucked away under solid oak. Old photographs hung off walls below a low beamed ceiling. At the far end of a counter next to the cream cakes and scones a large percolator stood chuckling to itself while women dressed in black and white gathered behind in idle chat. In the corner a man with tourettes served as my only other companion. He was sat below a fire exit sign twitching out the occasional expletive. I looked over at him and smiled. If I didn’t know any better he was taking delight in mocking my earlier outburst.

The rain was soon bringing people in off the streets. Some brandishing large umbrellas others making do with whatever they could find to cover their heads. Filling up the empty seats the black and white army suddenly stepped out from behind the percolator busying themselves with silver trays. The hustle and bustle was too much for tourettes man. He pushed his mug to one side, shouted fuck off to a woman in the latter stages of pregnancy and made for the door. I finished off the last of my drink and followed him out, the wailing of a pregnant female resonating behind me.

Outside the streets were bustling with lunch time shoppers weaving in and out of shop doorways sheltering from the rain. School children were splashing around in puddles as dogs stopped to bark at the dancing feet. Passing cars sprayed toddlers wrapped in buggies and umbrellas clashed down narrow lanes. In the milieu a police siren could be heard whirring off into the distance.

I stood leaning against the café window protected by a small overhang high above my head. Searching my pockets I pulled out a pack of cigarettes and put one to my lips. The sharp breeze did its’ best to blow out the last remaining match and would have succeeded if I hadn’t have turned my back. Through the glass a rather handsome man was consoling the pregnant female as toxic fumes were drawn deep inside my lungs.

Paul hated me to smoke. He always said they’d be the cause of my demise. How little did he know! The flat, car, even our small garden shed were all smoke free zones so desperate times often called for desperate measures. I’d buy them under the pretext of going out for a bottle of milk then smuggle them back into the house. That was the easy part; it was smoking the damn things that required more imaginative thinking. I did try smoking out the bedroom window once but soon abandoned the idea when I nearly set the net curtain alight. Then after months of trying I eventually hit upon what I thought was the perfect plan.

Tuesday night was darts night. Each week Paul would arrange to meet up with his pals at the local Fox and Hound leaving me home alone. I figured smoking in the house would leave a lingering smell and so as he hardly ever used it, the shed seemed the ideal spot. Everything was going well until I spotted him marching down the garden path. Unbeknownst to me he’d recently taken to practising his flight technique against the board hanging up above my head. Having forgotten his darts he’d come back to get them only to see smoke drifting passed the window. He pulled back the door, snatched his darts and left without saying a word. It was a good three days before we spoke again.

I was trying to picture the disappointment on his face that night when it was suddenly staring back at me through the coffee shop window. Or was it my father?-I couldn’t be sure. I spun round allowing the cigarette to fall to the ground. Instead of a father or husband standing before me there were strangers, hundreds of them, all going about their business as if nothing had happened. Maybe it hadn’t but I scanned the streets anyway just to be sure. The school children had moved on but everything else remained the same. Then moving slowly up a hill the tall bespectacled figure of a man caught my eye.

“Paul!” I shouted sprinting towards him and forcing my way through the crowds “dad!”

At first it felt they were holding me back like in the recurring dreams I used to have. So lowering my head slightly I thrust myself forwards against the driving rain. Sweat was pouring down my face and my heart thumping through my chest. I must have looked like one of the caped crusaders with the ends of my coat flapping behind me in the wind. Cars screeched to a halt as I jumped out in front of them my feet sliding in stagnant water. I could feel the heat off the engines and the front bumpers rubbing the side of my leg. Racing up the hill screams of ‘What the fuck yer playin at? Yer gonna get yerself killed one day’ grew fainter with every stride.

 The object of my pursuit had reached the top and was turning a corner, oblivious to all the shouting going on below.

“Dad…….. Its’ me Paige.”

It felt stupid calling out the dead but I figured only the deaf would keep on walking although this time he stopped and turned. The stranger looked me over like you would a yapping dog, dismissive with a touch of annoyance, then rounded the corner and was gone. I fell to my knees exhausted and soaked to the skin. The harsh reality of cold concrete some how made chasing the dead all the more incredulous. Twisting round I curled into a ball and sat there sobbing loudly into my sleeve. So loud in fact I almost didn’t hear the soft voice whispering into my ear.

‘He’s with me now.’

There was nothing there when I turned round again save a boy on a push bike and the strong smell of coffee blowing in the breeze.

“How strange” Paige said stopping suddenly and looking slightly bemused.

“What is?”

“Well weren’t they the same words you heard just after you’re daughter died?”

“They may have been, anyway shall we move on?” Hilary asked feeding his pen nervously through his fingers once more.

Paige sensed there was something he wasn’t telling her but as it probably involved his daughter she decided not to push it.

“It seems we’ve come to the end of our time” she said pointing to the timer.

“Ah! Well there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you. I’ve been instructed to hurry things along a little by offering you a double session.”

Pulling her head back slightly and narrowing her eyes Paige stared at him for a second, deep in thought.

“Oh I get it” she replied waving a finger at the door with the not so secret passageway “he just can’t wait to see me, is that what it is?”

Hilary reached over for the timer and smiled.

“I’m sure that must be it.”

Stepping in through the front door something felt different. It took me a while to figure it out after all nothing appeared to be out of place. Dad’s old rain coat was still hanging from the banister at the bottom of the stairs and the Wipe Out umbrella mum won years ago was still leaning against the radiator. In fact everything seemed to have lain undisturbed since morning although there was something just not quite right. Then it suddenly struck me, it wasn’t the layout that was different it was the aroma. The hallway was no longer imbued with the fresh smell of flowers and strong coffee but with the familiar scent of eucalyptus instead.

‘A lot has happened since I bought that particular brand of aftershave’ I decided swinging open the living room door.

“Paige, look who’s come to see us” mum signed from across the other side of the room “It’s Paul.”

He was sat with his back to the door resting a cup somewhat precariously on the arm of a chair, the same chair in which I had sat adding layer upon layer of detail to my canvass only a few days before. Turning towards me he placed his cup down next to the porcelain china tea pot sitting on the table beside him. With two auspicious occasions within a week of each other the tea set had never been so busy.

“What happened to you?” they both asked simultaneously, one signing the other speaking.

What with the smell of his aftershave lingering in the hallway I had forgotten all about my little jog in the rain. After all I may have been standing there catching my death but only one thing was presently occupying my mind; this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Paul clinging haplessly to my ankles begging for my return was a more fitting image. Reality has a canny knack of showing up when you least expect it, I thought racing up the stairs.

When I came down again, showered and changed, they were both in the kitchen chatting like old school friends. Signs were flowing so freely it was difficult to imagine it ever being any different.

“Now that’s more like it Paige” mum signed looking me up and down “what happened?”

“Its’ a long story” I replied.

Walking towards me she laid a kiss gently on the side of my head.

“Anyway, I’m sure you two have a lot of catching up to do” She signed heading for the kitchen door “I’ll be in the next room if you need me.”

She tiptoed out the room winking at me on the way passed.

“What does she think we plan to do” I said when she’d gone “kill each other?”

We stood for some time staring at each other not knowing quite what to say.“You’ve been practicing” I said opening up what I thought would be a lengthy discourse “has she been giving you private lessons while I’ve been at work?”

“I’m leavin!” he blurted out in response.

An awkward silence descended between us once more like after a fart in a lift.

“Was it something I said?”

“No I mean I’m leavin the country going back to New Zealand to see my folks.”

“When will you be back?” I asked feeling a lump suddenly rise inside my throat.

“I’m not, I’m not coming back.”

My legs buckled at the knees, grabbing hold of the breakfast bar on the way down I just managed to steady myself.

“Are you alright?” He asked shifting towards me like a goalkeeper coming out to meet a slow moving pass.

“Sure, why wouldn’t I be? After all I don’t hear from you for what feels like a month then when you do show up its only to tell me you’re leavin again.”

“You left me remember” he said angrily

“And you left me with little choice” came the retort.

He leaned over the table placing his face inches from mine.

“Come with me” he whispered.

“What!”

“Come with me. You’re always banging on about needing a new challenge-well this is it. Spend some time out discovering what you really want to do. Then if you don’t like it you can always come back and go freelance.”

“But what about my mum what about….

“The shell we once lovingly called our marriage?” he asked “Yeah I know, I read your letter.”

I didn’t sleep at all that night. I know people always say that when faced with having to make a life changing decision. When in reality anyone with the slightest inclination to creep into their room in the dead of night would find them, at least for part of it, sleeping like a baby. But I mean it. That night I didn’t sleep a wink.

It was true I’d been hankering for a fresh challenge for years. Interpreting was like a trusty old blanket, warm but far too cosy. I needed to know if I could be just as good at something else and more importantly if that something else lay twelve thousand miles away from home. Paul had handed his notice in at the school and was leaving in two days time for a job half way round the world. And all I had to do was to climb the town hall steps the following day where he’d be waiting for my reply. It couldn’t have been any easier.”

“So what happened?” Hilary asked interrupting.

“Isn’t it up there somewhere in one of those books?” She said pointing to the far wall.

“It is but I need you to tell me” he replied.

“What’s wrong you worried the big man fell asleep on the job?”

“You could say that.”

Paige gave out a loud sigh. The thought of having to relive this part all over again filled her with dread. It didn’t seem fair especially when she knew not everyone had to go through the same door to reach the other side. She belonged to a small group of special cases. Considerable doubt surrounded the authenticity of her life record and irrespective of whose fault that was it needed to be authenticated before moving on. Paige knew all this but still it didn’t seem fair. Reaching over the table she took a large mouthful of water and swallowed hard. 

The next day I ran out the office into the glare of a bright sunshine and sprinted across the college green. Students from the nearby technical college were making the most of the good weather by lounging around in the mid day sun. The grey rain filled clouds of the previous day had all but disappeared apart from the odd wisp in an otherwise perfect sky. As I weaved my way round naked flesh I was reminded of the long summer holidays spent playing behind the family home. The clock striking nine high up on the kitchen wall then sprinting out the door, feet wet in the morning dew and face warming in the sun.

  Rounding a corner the impressive façade of the town hall stood facing me on the opposite side of the road. I could see him standing on the top step combing his hair through the glass of its large oak doors.

“Paul” I shouted as I ran across the road.

He turned and smiled.

It was the last thing I saw before the screeching of tyres and the smell of burning rubber turned my world black.

Pulling out his chair Hilary made his way to the large bookcase situated at the back of the room. Bending over to one side he began reading the names printed on the spine of each book. It wasn’t until he got to the end of the second row when he stopped, straightening up again.

“Paige Elizabeth Kingston nee Stone” he said in a loud voice, like a high court judge about to pronounce sentencing.

Pulling out a large leather bound book sandwiched neatly between Kilkenny and Kirklees he staggered back to his seat straining under the weight.

“What have we here then?” he said slamming it down onto the table with a heavy sigh.

Paige watched with interest as he blew away some dust and began peeling back the front cover. Leafing carefully through each page he began meticulously cross referencing the entries found in the book with those scribbled inside his tiny notepad.  For a long time the only noise was the sound of papers rustling and the occasional creek of his chair.

“Everything seems to be in order” he said eventually.

He looked up grinning, tension seeping from his face.

“You mean I’ve gone through all this for nothing?” she asked raising her voice.

“I’m afraid so, but we just had to make sure.” He replied rather sheepishly.

Paige thought for a second.

“I guess you’re right.”

“And I’m afraid the time has come for you leave” He announced slamming the book shut and pushing it over to the far side of the table.

Getting up from her chair she made her way to the large bookcase and towards the door with the not so secret passageway. Taking hold of its handle she turned to look at the room for the very last time.

“It’s been nice knowing you Hilary” She said straining to keep her voice from breaking.

“The same goes for you too Paige.”

“By the way I never did ask, how did you end up in here?”

“Oh! That’s easy” he said turning to the small shadowy figure standing in the corner “I couldn’t cope when my two girls left me. I couldn’t even wake up in the mornings without seeing Flo lying there in my arms her body all wet and twisted. And I certainly didn’t want anything to do with the trial after the crash; I couldn’t even bring myself to look into the face of the person who killed her. I foolishly thought that some comfort would come from the knowledge that whoever it was who did this to us would have to live with that moment for the rest of their lives but however much I tried I just couldn’t rest. And so I thought if I did away with myself it would put an end to the living nightmare that was my life. So that’s what I did. On a sunny afternoon in June I found a secluded spot in the woods at the back of my home and never came out.

So you see I’m somewhat of an anomaly, a right royal pain in the arse. Going before my time they weren’t quite sure what to do with me so they gave me this job instead.”

Paige had forgotten all about the deep scar that circled the base of his neck. As she pulled the door towards her a shaft of bright light beamed into the room. With a hand cupped over her eyes she slowly moved out towards it, dragging her left leg behind her.

“And what about you” Hilary shouted “What would your answer have been to Paul’s proposal?”

But it was too late, she was gone.

The Replacement?

Hilary stood in the corner of the waiting room leaning against an open door. In the one hand was his clip board and in the other his small silver pen. The same pen he’d used only moments before to strike the name Paige Stone from his list. Looking down the page he noticed a new name to the fold and something else that not only had he never seen before but also provided the unquestionable proof that busty Brenda O’Connell with her dulcet Irish tones, had been right all along. Because written on the same line inside the margin and in bold lettering were three beautiful words: SWIMMING SUSPECTED SUICIDE.

“Mr Temple, Mr Stuart Temple” He called out trying to contain his excitement.

A large man with a blue face stood up and walked towards the door. He was naked apart from a pair of black Lycra swimming trunks that appeared two sizes too small. Hanging over his elasticised waist band was a large protruding stomach that wobbled from side to side as he walked. As he made his way across the floor small pools of water traced his every step. Hilary smiled and placed a tick against his name on the list.

“It’s the third door on the left Mr. Temple” He said pointing down the long well lit corridor.

Once inside Hilary wasted no time in placing his pen down onto the table and getting straight to work.

 “Good morning Mr. Temple my name is Hilary Caldecott”

“But you’re a geezer!” said the man interrupting.

“The rules are simple. We have a maximum of twenty minutes together each week, marked by this timer here” he continued lifting up the sandglass “and for as many weeks as deemed necessary. During our time together I would like you to tell me what it was exactly that brought you here to my office this morning, in as much or as little detail as you see fit. I shall be taking notes and interrupting your flow with questions from time to time but please don’t let that perturb you.  Have you any questions of your own Mr Temple before we begin?”

The man thought for a moment.

“But you’re a geezer!”

The light wasn’t as bright the further Paige moved away from the door. Soon she was able to take her hand away from her eyes and focus on what was up ahead. Moving deeper into pure white nothingness she gradually began to  realise that it wasn’t the light that had grown weaker but someone or something was standing in its’ path.

 

For a second she had the strangest of feelings that this wasn’t the first time she’d seen the figure now standing before her.

“And I’m very pleased to meet you too Paige. You must be keen to see your father?” He said.

“Oh yes please. I’ve been waiting for such a long time.”

“He’s with me now.”

As they made their way to the start of something new, chatting and laughing but mostly chatting Paige wasn’t in the least bit troubled by the occasional involuntary expletive coming from the shadow now walking beside her.

 

The End

 


© Copyright 2017 Maxim1. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

More Fantasy Short Stories

Booksie 2017-2018 Short Story Contest

Booksie Popular Content

Other Content by Maxim1

Third Door On The Left

Short Story / Fantasy

Popular Tags