CHARLOTTE SIMMONDS

Thin as a Rake

‘I’ve got shitty blood,’ I said.
‘What?’ I didn't hear you-what.
‘I’ve got shitty blood,’ I said.
‘What?’ I don't know what you’re talking about-what.
‘Shitty. My blood. It’s shitty,’ I said. ‘Turn the television down,’ I said.
‘Your haemoglobin count is 72,’ she said.
‘What?’ I was looking at your calendar-what.
‘72. It should be 120,’ she said.
‘What?’ I don’t know what you're talking about-what.
‘It’s very low,’ she said. ‘I’m afraid you have shitty blood,’ she said.
‘Did they tell you you smoke too much?’ he said.
‘What?’ I was thinking about dinner-what.
‘Smoking. You smoke too much,’ he said.
‘What.’ You’re one to talk, you smoke more than I do-what.
‘I think. I think,’ he said.
‘I’m aching all over,’ he said.
‘I can’t worry about that,’ I said. ‘I’ve got no time. I’ve got shitty blood.’
‘In my knees and my thighs and calves,’ he said.
‘It’s as thin as a rake,’ I said.
‘And my buttocks and the soles of my feet. What?’ he said.
‘My blood,’ I said, ‘my blood. It’s as thin as a rake,’ I said.
‘Oh,‘ he said. ‘And my left shoulder and my back bone. All over,’ he said.
‘What?’ I said. ‘I could go at any time.’
‘What?’ he said.
‘I’m leaving you,’ I said. ‘I’ve got shitty blood,’ I said.
‘No, don’t you go,’ he said. ‘I’ll go. I can go at any time.’
‘Any time?’ I asked.
‘Any time,’ he said.
I was looking at her calendar again. It was a crocodile calendar. It did not relax me at all.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ I said and continued avoiding eye contact. I
have never felt secure with doctors. I have always felt called into the principal’s office
again. I looked at the calendar in those days also.
‘My bed is mouldy,’ I told the doctor. ‘It smells funny. I can’t sleep in it. The smell
is driving me mad.’
‘I’m charging you by the minute,’ she said, ‘and I’d prefer to talk about your
haemoglobin levels.’
‘I want sleeping pills,’ I told her. ‘I can’t sleep in a mouldy bed.’
‘I’ll give you some iron pills,’ she said.
‘Will they help me sleep?’
‘They’ll make you less tired.’
‘But I’m not tired! I want to be more tired!’ I said.
‘They’ll give you enough energy to get your new mattress up the stairs,’ she said.
‘What new mattress?’ I asked.
‘The one you’re getting to replace the one you can’t sleep on,’ she said. ‘Iron pills
will help you sleep, trust me.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ I said. I was looking at her calendar again.
It was a crocodile calendar.
‘Talk to me,’ I said. ‘I’m paying you by the minute.’
‘I haven’t the time,’ she said.
‘No one ever listens to me.’
‘No,’ she agreed, ‘they don’t.’
She charged me by the minute and extra for the prescription. The price of paper has gone up again, I see.
Back home the wallpaper was bearing in on me as usual and Andrew had still not left. I helped him out a bit. I put his toaster in the front porch. No need to go overboard. I didn’t throw suitcases down the steps. I’m not doing that much work for him. Just one thing at a time. The toaster today, maybe something more tomorrow. He was watching television.
‘For the third time, I’ve got shitty blood,’ I said. ‘I’m probably on my last legs,’ I said. ‘I may very well be on my way out,’ I said.
‘You’re standing in front of the tv,’ he said.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I hadn’t noticed.’
‘Shhh,’ he said.
Greg told me yesterday that the relationship between Andrew and I is a Lessons in Communication For All of Us. Now Greg is someone I’d work hard for and I don’t take much to bullshit so I threw him down the steps. He didn't see it coming.
‘What was that for?’ he asked.
‘The price of paper,’ I answered.
‘What?’ You threw me down the steps and I don't understand-what.
‘It’s gone up again,’ I said.
Andrew tore through my life at a rate of KNOTTS! He was a ship at sea and his dexterity in ruining my life ASTOUNDED me! I began to suspect he'd done it before.
This was not true. Andrew watched television. He did little else. He was dextrous in nothing. He could not even have thrown himself down the steps.
I went back to the doctor.
‘Okay, I’m listening,’ I said. I did not look at the crocodiles. ‘Give it to me straight, doc.’
‘Why is your iron so low?’ she asked. ‘Why don’t you have any hemmy goblins left?’
‘You’re the doctor,’ I said.
‘Why is your blood so shitty?’ she asked.
‘Don’t get shirty,‘ I said. ‘I’ve been meaning to ask you something. I have a period every second week. One week on, one week off. And my ovaries hurt. Is that okay?’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘That’d do it. I’m sending you to a photographer. Ask him to take some pictures of your kidneys. Or your ovaries. Both, perhaps. Pelvic region, you can tell him.’
‘What’s wrong with me, doc? What’s wrong? Give it to me straight,’ I said.
‘I don’t know,’ she answered but she was lying.
On the way to Radiology I passed Greg. He seemed to hold a certain embarrassment, probably related to the incident with the steps.
‘Where are you off to?’ he asked.
‘To get an ultrasound,’ I said.
‘Are you pregnant?’ he asked.
‘Heck no! It’s more... the opposite,’ I said.
‘I see,’ and he looked as if he’d make his own mind up about things. He did not offer to show me any bruises but I knew they were there.
The photographer snapped away. He did not look at my face.
‘Give it to me, little kidney, give it to me!’ he cried. ‘Coy, look coy now. That’s it, that’s it darling. A bit to the left. Beautiful! Okay, pouting, pouting, niiiiiice.’
‘You’re mad,’ I told him. ‘Pelvic region, please,’ I said.
‘You’re a tiger, you’re a tiger!’ he told my ovaries. Snappity snap.
‘Is there anything wrong?’ I asked him. He did not look at my face.
‘A specialist will look at the pictures and send a report to your referrer. I’m only the photographer,’ he said.
When I got home Andrew was watching television.
‘My ovaries are modelling for a medical fashion magazine,’ I said.
‘What?’ he asked. I wasn’t listening-what. The best kind of what. ‘Greg and Felicity came round. They asked me if you were pregnant. I told them I don’t know. They went home to discuss whose baby it might be.’
‘Do you care?’ I asked.
‘No,’ he said, and turned up the television.
We remained a Lessons in Communication For All of Us, so I moved his toothbrush to the front porch.
The following day, the busker with the pocket theremin and the miniature amplifier was back in the street, playing our song. He played it three times over the course of the morning. When he started on the fourth I went outside and threw Andrew’s toaster at him.
He looked up. ‘Does it work?’
‘Sure.’
‘Thanks lady!’ He packed the toaster into his hat and left. Nothing lost, I thought to myself. Everyone needs a bit of toast in their lives.
I rang up Greg. Felicity answered. It became increasingly obvious to me that it was necessary for both of us to overcome our deviant heterosexuality. In truth, I wanted little more than someone to share a cigarette with. Really share one with, swapping a fag from one hand to another on the front steps of my house. I was sick of living with someone who stared at the television, covering the screen in a sticky yellow fog of nicotine.
‘I’m dying,’ I told Felicity.
‘A little pregnancy never killed anyone,’ she said amiably.
‘That’s what you think,’ I retorted and hung up. The doctor was right — no one ever does listen to me.
No abnormality detected. My ovaries and kidneys were all in the right places, although one of the specialists had been shocked by the downright seductive nature of their poses.
‘I don’t care, I’m still dying,’ I told the crocodiles.
‘A new mattress never killed anyone,’ the doctor said, ‘yet a little mould on the bedspread and a spot of pneumonia might.’
‘Someone has to go, Joe,’ I said. ‘I’m sick to death of this deviant heterosexuality of ours. I’m giving you the mattress.’
‘What,’ said Andrew. Who are you calling Joe-what.
‘Go, Joe. It’s time to go,’ I said.
‘Right,’ said Andrew. ‘I’m giving you the tv. It’s a bit dirty,’ he said.
‘What.’ You bastard, you always expect me to clean things-what.
He packed himself a suitcase, threw it down the front steps and collected his toothbrush from the porch on the way out.
I punched him one as he left. What a rake.

___________
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