Sport 9: Spring 1992
Bede was having breakfast when he felt his heart stop. He stood abruptly. His head felt bloodless. There was something very wrong with him. He must get to the door; he must get from the door to the lawn beyond. A great, unvital turning of the world; a bleached, recessive tilting . . . The jamb of the door was like ice to his touch. His deflated, filtered consciousness made room for a feeling of panic. He had reached the lawn, but to have done so was not now enough. Like someone stunned or shot he turned. His hand encountered a face.
'Sit down. There's a bench behind you,' said a woody, cigar-box voice. 'Breathe shallowly,' it said, 'it's all a part of withdrawal.'
Through the fear and shame this fit was leaving behind, Bede became reluctantly aware of the shade in which he sat, the dewy bench beneath him and the cold, lime stripe of sunlight over which he seemed poised as if childishly constipated. There was, too, a hand on his shoulder, unpardonable but firm.
In as much of her nurse's uniform as she ever wore, Mrs Oliver came.
'Off to your groups, boys and girls. Beryl! I'll shoot you, my lady, cigarettes with your chest. Bede, dear, let's have a look.'
Like everything else belonging to this morning, Mrs Oliver's fingertips felt cool and, because Bede had shut his eyes, felt monumental on his wrist. He saw their marble prints, huge, and was briefly a child again.
'Well, my lad. I was expecting a myocardial infarction at the very least.' Who had summoned her? 'You'd best come to the surgery.'
Bede opened his eyes. From a white, marsupial pocket in her front, Mrs Oliver turned out, like something animate, a seemingly comprehensive bunch of keys: she was a repository. Bede stood. A man Bede had seen in the lounge turned, with tact, away toward a little bed of flowers. He was wearing still, or again, a plain, green dressing gown of velvet, his back and his buttocks in shadow, a wedge. And was stooping now.
'Have you thought of having roses, Mrs O?' His fingers cut at the soil, his brown thumb erect.
'They would be nice. I'd have time, I suppose. We had beauties in Christchurch, Mr Salmon, we had a lovely display.'
She took Bede by the earand led him inside to the warmer air. Made page 46 pale by an oblique sunlight, the corridor's carpet had the pink, flat quality of something beneath water. Bede's vision was bled of lustre. He counted his heartbeats. In these present, elastic seconds the gaps in his pulse were stark, a ratchet's missing teeth magnified enormously. While Mrs O unlocked the surgery door with complacency, Bede craved swiftness.
'Have you been smoking pot?'
'I should think not.'
She seemed furious with his answer. With the pressure of her fingers on his sternum, she backed him into a chair. She moulded the sleeve of rubber to his biceps (goosey, diminished) with an action Bede connected with the shaping of pastry.
'It's just that if you're feeling anxious,' she said, and began to pump the spig's pneumatic bulb with vigour, 'any agent of that sort . . .'
'Sook. Well, that's OK if a little low for your age. No. If you're a little jumpy, pot is not the thing to be . . . My God, the time. Where's that silly doctor?'
As Bede's thermometer cooked, Mrs O rattled away at the telephone keys with a look of professional cunning.
'I thought I'd find you there, yes. Look. It's the Ford boy. I don't think he's quite over the hill yet, an episode this morning . . . Cardiac neurosis . . . Sweating . . . Frenetic . . . What do you mean? David! I asked that man to drop it where it's always dropped. Fool. Did she? How queer.'
Mrs O hung up with a chastened look.
'We're putting you on a sedative for a while. These things happen'she took the thermometer from Bede's mouth'when the system reminds itself of the presence of alcohol in the tissues. Its release from the marrow can take up to two years.'
'So now I know.'
'So now you know.'
They stood and she hugged him. It was a measure, he supposed, of the very nether ebb at which the needle of his confidence seemed to be stuck that he should guess possible for an instant . . . But no; Mrs O was old enough to be his mother.