Sport 9: Spring 1992
Sometimes the lounge had its curtains drawn. Before Bede could finish his tea and return his cup to the servery, a fleshy motion-picture might animate the wall, its soundtrack booming, of brusque and limited people quarrelling or water-skiing or tossing drinks down sinks, in green or ochre fluxes of the light. Bede knew himself to be doped. Gatherings took place. Now in the lounge, now in a comfortable room in which someone absent seemed otherwise to live, groups of patients cohered with the apparent purpose of discussing travel. Bede seemed to himself to belong, obscurely, to one such group. It formed around him once, in a workshop he had discovered, while he cut from some colourful felt the components of a parrot he thought he might make for his daughter. In time, his medication was withdrawn. Bede at last discerned, between breakfast and bedtime, a ladder of more or less formal obligations.
In truth, Quest Clinic followed a schedule, a programme of therapies sometimes extending into the evening. When Bede's initial illness ended he found much of what went on in the place of interest. But group therapy he loathed. One morning a new arrival joined the group into which Bede was himself settling nervously.
'We have,' said the therapist, a Mr Snow, 'a rule about Walkmans.'
The newcomer, smiling, a Maori lad not yet twenty, was slow to take the point. An argument of some politeness ensued, protracted and episodic, between the youth and the therapist, about standards of dress. Bede looked to Mr Salmon, the man of the dressing gown, and found him in a puzzling disarray. In light of the present spat it was as well that he was wearing a sturdy tweed jacket with leather patches at the elbow. But the folds of his neck and jowls were white with stubble. His moustache had lost its neatness. Not so his hair its chiming, silver ripples. He was doing something with a match to a cigarette holder, or vice versa.
'Even members of staff,' Mr Snow was saying, 'make efforts to look tidy in what for them is their second home. You can see that, Mr Salmon?'
'Yes? Do you have any comment, Mr Salmon?'
Roused, there entered Mr Salmon's blue, patrician eyes the twin imps of malice and malice.page 48
'Comment? Well, it occurs to me that that at least one employee of this establishment gets around it as if in constant preparation for some sort of theatrical audition.'
This was understood by Mr Snow to be a reference to a Mr Shilling, his senior.
'Anything else, anyone, on the subject of dress?' he asked in an earnest enough attempt to close the subject. There was silence. 'In that case I will take the opportunity of confiding a suspicion I have. I am loath to do it. It is this. In my twenty years of work in this field, both here and in Canada, I have never before attempted to work with a group as lazy as this one. You take the cake. Internationally, too, at that. You have got to start taking your several recoveries seriously. I mean it. There's got to be some work done. Mr Salmon, we haven't heard much from you since your arrival.'
Bede thought there to be something ovine, something startled and aggrieved about Salmon's otherwise limpid glance at their leader.
'You've heard plenty from me, but not about me, is that what you mean, Snow?' Salmon's voice had a timbery echo Bede enjoyed. His eyes had a downward, Oriental cast, the skin about them much rucked-up and starry. His watery gaze had thus the look of an innocence widely tested, blue and hurtful to him. He put his cigarette holder to his mouth and bit on it with a sort of challenge; he was capable of severity.
'That's more or less what I meant, yes,' Snow admitted. 'I wondered if you were not in danger of taking too intellectual, too distanced a view of the events that brought you here.'
'Did you?' Salmon rumbled, as if any curiosity life had left him with could only be extended outward, to the matter of Snow's presence here himself, perhaps, come to that.
'Yes. Again, yes. And what I'm asking is'holding his ground nicely'don't you think it time, high time, you gave us the benefit of some of your own experience, experiences, knocking around bars and dives and cut-rate doctors' surgeries in Ponsonby and Willis St and so on?'
Provocative, thought Bede.
'What do you mean, cut-rate? That was the pointsome of my chaps got damned expensive.' Salmon seemed to consider himself justly enough rebuked. He pocketed his cigarette holder and spread his fingers before him, his elbows on his knees. Look, kids. 'It got very bad, I'll say that much.'
'How bad?' Bede.
Lunchtime was approaching. The rain had stopped. The wind had page 49 forgotten itself. They sat in a brown uniformity of shadow, listening. As in a snow-bound bunker, with the light dying and static crowding a last, vital message from the airwaves, Bede smelled bacon frying.
'She'd stripped the house of liquor. Our place faces the beach. What she didn't know was, in either direction along the high tide line I had plants. Out with the dog, that was the caper. North or south, it didn't matter, there were bottles buried. Then I would say, "Jean, you'd better ring Amy." Amy is her friend, she'd go and stay with Amy. And I'd play patience, for however long it took, order the grog from one of those big depots, home delivery. The last time I did this she sent a policeman. Time to pack it in he said, she wanted to come home, it had been a week. Now somehow or othercravat, blazerI got to see a quack in Hamilton. He was very interested. He took a cheque, it must have been a cheque. I came away with a script. The chemist gave me a jam jar full of footballs, hemis, Hemineurin, he was green with professional envy, I could have done with a handcart to get the stuff through the door and into the taxi. Well, that Hemineurin, in that quantity, was the end of me, on that occasion. I bought another bottle on the way back to the house, just to begin the cure with. Our cab had done a few miles by this stage, the Samoan and I were agreed on that. When I came to in Intensive Care with my blood changed, his was the first voice I heard, days later of course. He was having some sort of bother with my cheque.'