Sport 9: Spring 1992
Bede would recall it as having been in the evening of the day of his arrival that he was first interviewed by Dr Lardwrist. The doctor was a large man, a fat man who seemed to make a virtue of wearing very few clothes (shorts, jandals), but who set, nonetheless, a two-bar heater beaming the moment he had closed his surgery door. He smoked, too, with a relentless, a very oral fury.
'I have some notes here forwarded me by your previous physician, Heron. He mentions pancreatitis, malnutrition, asthma and . . . "a page 43 depressive anxiety state". In an ideal world, depression and anxiety would be mutually exclusive ills. Stand and open your mouth, please.'
Bede complied. Lardwrist knocked about in Bede's mouth with a spatula. When he had finished he resumed his seat.
'You have an alcoholic's denture, all neglect and ruin, though I'll bet you haven't had toothache in years. Any clap?'
'Excellent. You have confined yourself to bringing, and very creditably too, alone and unencumbered, yourself?'
'Yes,' replied Bede, catching on.
'Right. Well, I am here to see how I can help you. And I have a clue or two. Tell me; are you, on the whole, a happy man?'
'Yes. No. I try to be. I don't know.'
'Drink in the mornings?'
'Says here you half killed yourself.'
'A mechanical fault in the steering.'
'MOT gives you a phenomenal blood-alcohol reading.'
'I couldn't come right that day. And I remember the accident. If I'd been less jumpy I might . . .'
Lardwrist did not make notes. 'So what are you going to do?' he asked with sadness. 'With your tolerance still intact and your life all strewn behind you like so much jettisoned hope?' He paused. 'Tell me, what do you do for a living?'
'I'm a motor mechanic.'
'A good one?'
'And your age?'
'Buying your own home?'
'She got that.'
'I see. "She got that."'
'I'm not an alcoholic.'
'No?' Lardwrist paused again. He tapped his file at last and said, 'Says here you are, in this. Your tissues say you are.' He donned a pair of wide and page 44 gleaming bifocals. And looked at Bede like an owl, like an owl looking.
Bede was in bed in the dormitory when Greg came to his cubicle.
'I've just met the quack,' said Bede. 'Is he all there?'
'Very intelligent man, our quack.'
'Yes. I have to confess I thought so.'
Greg walked away to his own bed. Bede could see him undressing.
'Put it this way,' said Greg. 'He believes in this place, believes that it works. But not for the obvious reasons. He gives a little lecture. You'll hear it. It's all awash with aldehydes and endorphins and Christ knows what, and at the end he says, "But if all this was otherwise, you'd still be alcoholics." Yeah.' He stood folding his jeans, his long thighs white and amber in the gloom. 'Cereal and toast at seven, Bede,' he said. 'You know where to go?'
'Of course. Thanks.'
Earlier, Bede had unpacked and stowed his clothes, his few effects. There was a little desk on which he had disposed his shampoo, yellow radio and photograph of his daughter. He'd brought a chess-set and pieces. Perhaps Greg played. Though not every nerve in his body craved a drink, sleep would be impossible. No; what he felt was a suspension of intent. He knew, or thought he knew, that at some future time he would drink again, not moderately, in the company of friends. He saw their faces. It was as vague as that, as fatal. He knew it to be cowardly, embarking on a programme in the present with any sort of snide, secret reservation as to his conduct in the future. He could hear that the rain had stopped. He missed it. He wished it would return, interposing itself between him and the reality of his situation. He was superfluous to this place. It had no need of him. His engagement in its workings would be sterile and duplicitous. A door, a window, opened in his mind on something fragrant. He forgot his inability to weep and was soon asleep.