‘I’ll see you soon,’ I said.
‘Let’s hope not,’ said Doctor Omera Sharpe.
He smiled, even though my throat had closed up, and my eyes were filling with tears.
‘What I mean to say is, we don’t want any more accidents, do we? We don’t want you hurting yourself, Rose.’
That was the first time he ever said my name and I marked it in my diary as a turning point.
I wrote: ‘Today Doctor Omera Sharpe said my name. This marks a direct change in my life.’
I would have written more, but the box for the 22nd May was too small, so I just drew a small black heart in the top right corner, and then I drew another one in the left corner. One is mine and one is his.
Doctor Omera Sharpe has pictures of naked women on his computer. I know this because I went into the clinic the other day and we talked.
He said, ‘What are your symptoms this time, Rose?’
This was the second time that he had ever said my name, but I didn’t mark it in my diary because of what happened next.
I said, ‘Well, I have been getting dizzy and hot and I have some marks on my thigh area. They are like faint welts.’
Doctor Omera Sharpe said, ‘Okay, could you get onto the bed for me, please?’
He said this quite tersely because he was worried about being tempted by my body again.
‘Are you feeling dizzy right now?’ he asked me.
He came closer and I said, ‘Oh yes, Doctor, I feel dizzy and hot, so hot.’
He looked at me and I let my mouth open slightly. I was wearing gorgeous pink lipstick; the shade is called Fuchsia Fun.
‘Could you show me the welts, please?’
I struggled with my jeans and did actually start to feel quite hot.
‘Sometimes they disappear, though,’ I said. ‘Sometimes they are here and other times, they are not.’
I was wearing my very best panties, they are virgin white lace with a bow, but he didn’t look at them. He just looked at my thighs. The doctor was transfixed by my thighs. He handled the flesh like it was dough, like he was baking a cake with my body, transforming it into something delicious. I smiled to myself because, I have to admit; I was surprised that he found my thighs so enticing. My body is inconvenient because I have quite a lot of cellulite and a few large blemishes; some moles that have faces inside them, and hairs that twist away from my skin and stand there, bristling with a secret message.
Doctor Omera Sharpe smoothed my thighs and massaged them; he pinched my flesh between his fingers.
Finally he said, ‘It doesn’t look like there are any welts here.’
‘Why don’t we wait a little bit longer, Doctor?’ I said, ‘They tend to come back every five to ten minutes.’
‘Could you bear with me for a moment?’ he said.
While he was gone, I felt his office come alive around me, his brown swivel chair, his stethoscope on the desk, tiny flecks of pale yellow ear wax on the rubber buds, his pens and pencils, some of the ends chewed, the blue head of a biro gnawed into a point. And then I looked at his computer and the mouse and the keyboard, all of which were grubby from the times that Doctor Omera Sharpe had rubbed them and touched them with his fingers. My heartbeat quickened when I realised that somewhere on the computer there was a file that was labelled Rose Durrell and that in that file were details about me, that he had written, there might even be details about love, possibly.
I got up off of the bed and pulled up my jeans. I didn’t do up the button in case he came back in and I had to quickly pull them down again and jump back onto the bed.
I am quite used to using the computer because I have been a member of several new dating sites and had to write my profile information (I said that I was interested in shopping, sewing and rescuing endangered animals when really my interests are television, eating, and sex.) But anyway, this was to my advantage now because I managed to flick through his files quickly.
Doctor Omera Sharpe had a very complicated system. I tried to think like him, to unpick the difficult names of the little yellow folders, ‘Spinal- Plum Regis 060693.’ I didn’t panic, I felt the warmth of his hands of my thighs, his breath on my ear and amongst it all I found one, ‘girls’ it said. Of course I clicked, after all I am a girl. But inside the folder there were just miniature women in thumbnail, their legs spread open and their heads back, eyes closed: ecstasy. I scrolled through the small women quickly, using my left hand to stop my right from shaking too much to hold the mouse. The women were mostly brunettes with fair skin; I bit my lip as the realisation hit me: they were thick set, they wore white underwear, they all looked like… They looked like me. I leapt backwards and the chair skittered across the floor like an octopus.
‘Oh good,’ said Doctor Omera Sharpe, ‘you’re dressed.’
I understood that this was a sensitive moment for him, and so I just said, ‘Yes.’
‘Well, surgery is closing in five minutes.’ He looked at me. ‘But please do come back if the welts reappear.’
‘Oh, I will,’ I said.
Driving home, I stopped at a set of lights on the invisible line between Clutter and Plum Regis. It had begun to rain and I looked at a fly that was caught and drowning where the bonnet met the windscreen. A shop was closing alongside my car and a shop girl snapped off the lights one by one until it was total darkness and I couldn’t see her anymore. I watched the fly’s legs cycling through the air as it drowned until cars began beeping and pierced my thoughts. I realised that Doctor Omera Sharpe had been locked in a psychological prison, fantasizing about me constantly. The thought made me feel awful and I stopped at a garage at the edge of Clutter, to buy a multi-pack of crisps and a sleeve of scarlet jam tarts.
But then, when I got home, the living room didn’t feel so lonely, warped through with dream light; the grey kitchen suddenly had character; the dead blue roses that were shrinking into themselves in the hallway, pale rainclouds, they looked romantic, like forbidden love.
I was desperate to see the doctor, but I satisfied myself that evening by tipping the prescription note back and forth between my hands, and over parts of my body. The note was slick, almost fluid, like oil. I looked at the words and they changed shape in the darkness of the dream light.
‘For sleeping: Zopiclone, 7.5 mg, Rose Durrell, Flat 39, Paradise Block, Box Close, Clutter.’
I began to see new words that
had meant to add, strange anagrams appeared to me in the dream light; and the neighbours, who were shouting at each other, on the other side of the wall, only inches away, their words started to melt onto the page. ‘How can you, Rose,’ ’you’re just sleeping,’ ‘you never take me to Paradise,’ and just when I was starting to drift away, the doctor’s hands all over my body, I noticed some marks at the edges of the paper’s skin, inkless scratches.
In the kitchen, under the humming light, I took a small pencil and scrubbed over the edges of the paper, spreading the eelish shine across the front, as well as the back, so that the paper was like a grey filet of fish. Now I could see the prints, borne hard into the actual flesh of the paper, the letters that said, ‘rose, rose, Rose, ROSE, Rose, rose,’ over and over, as many as would fit.
I was surprised when I called the Plum Regis surgery the next day.
The receptionist answered. There was nothing unusual about that.
‘Hello,’ she said. She has blonde hair and she wears it in two plaits. The receptionist acts like a little girl but also wears short skirts and boots up to the knee. I know why that is.
‘Hello,’ I said tersely.
‘Oh, it’s Mrs Durrell, isn’t it? Oh…’
The receptionist covered the receiver with her hand to make everything muffled, but I could hear her twittering to someone else who was obviously there. I wondered who it was, whether perhaps Doctor Omera Sharpe had asked her to forward my calls directly to his office.
‘Mrs Durrell? Are you there?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I’m not going anywhere. My legs are covered in enormous welts.’
‘Oh,’ she said.
She cleared her throat, as though it was full of sharp blades.
‘I have been asked to tell you, Mrs Durrell, I have been asked to tell you that Doctor Sharpe can’t see you anymore. He would like to advise you that you may need to see a different kind of doctor.’
She covered the receiver again. I imagined her neat red nails digging into my legs, my arms, tearing at the inconvenient flesh.
‘Hello,’ she said.
‘Hello,’ I said.
‘You shouldn’t come here anymore. We know you don’t have welts on your legs. This is just a small surgery. We’ve got lots of people to see. You need to see a different kind of doctor, one that can help you, you know, mentally.’
‘Hello?’ she said.
‘Hello,’ I said.
‘Doctor Sharpe has sent out a letter, Mrs Durrell. I have to go now.’
Eastenders was on the television, so I watched that for a while, but then when it finished there was nothing left for me to do but sob in the shower while water ran out of my eyes and all over my inconvenient body.
The next few days were very difficult, but I quickly realised that I had to find an excuse to get into the Plum Regis surgery, to see Omera. I needed to make myself sick, and fast. I wondered if it was possible to infect yourself with life-threatening diseases and found lots of places on the internet that said you could and gave lists of foods and drinks and products that would do just that. So I did an online shop for almost all of the things of the list (apart from green olives and dark chocolate because these are foods that I absolutely hate and will only resort to after all other options have closed to me).
I also ordered five packets of cigarettes.
When the order arrived the young delivery boy looked very concerned. He was red in the face.
‘Don’t worry,’ I said, ‘I’m trying to get cancer.’
He walked away quite slowly.
I consumed everything within the first few days: brown bottles of sugar drink and fried doughnuts covered in watery white glaze, plates and plates of dark red meats and curls of ham, some fish too; the majority of the foods were the bodies of animals, thin sausages of blood pudding, speckled with fat inside like a cut thigh. One fish was still complete behind a film that made it normal in the fish department and I saw a scar that ran along its cheek and over where its eye had been. I was interested to see this history of war in the life of this fish, and I looked for other signs, but there were none, so then I cut it and ate it. I smoked the cigarettes over the next week. It wasn’t as easy as you might think for someone who has never smoked in her whole life. But then, sitting still and waiting, I realised that it would probably take a long time to give myself cancer, probably longer than Doctor Omera Sharpe would remain in love with me, probably longer than it would take for the dream light to fade.
I sat opposite the curtains on a stool, with one eye staring out of the crack between them. Outside, the concrete was apricot in the dusk, the shouting of little boys and girls, thwacks of footballs, an ice-cream van; clouds melted and white cats scuttled across the ground, cars sparkled in the distance. Nobody came and nobody went, the telephone did not ring.
Omera, I thought, where are you?
All day long I watched the television or stared out of the window, it was raining all the time, and the rain began to look just like the fuzz of static on the screen. I usually take care of myself but now I forgot to eat; maybe this was the revenge of the animals I had consumed, the flesh had piled up inside, and I was not hungry at all. I didn’t miss the food, and when my selection box of cakes went hard, and the icing began to crack like an old foot, I did not feel sad. I only felt lonely.
Elaine, who used to come by and talk to me about lipsticks and what eye shadows suited me the most, about how I could be a younger, betterme, she had stopped coming now. She couldn’t have picked a worse time but she must have found another job. I only ever made a single purchase: Elaine sold me the Fuchsia Fun lipstick for £4.99, and it came with instructions and a small poem that didn’t rhyme but was all about the power of womanhood. I cut the poem out and stuck it to my fridge. Live in the dream light; The power to change;Peel away the layers; You’re living inside; It’s Fuchsia Fun. Now, I missed talking to Elaine about how I could transform myself and my inconvenient body, and looking, in amazement, at the parrot earrings that dangled alongside her face.
It was later that week that I took my bath and the neighbours were playing very loud music and I thought again, Omera. Omera Sharpe. And then suddenly, as if from nowhere, I realised, Omera Sharpe, Sharpe, sharp, and I jumped out of the bath and nearly fell down the stairs, running to the kitchen to open to up all the drawers, and line up the utensils like a little hopeful army of men on the worktop.
Outside, everyone in the world was the same, and the sky was dark for so many hours, but inside, there was dream light, and the blood was thick and heavy.
It was difficult to drive, that is all I am saying. I am not one to complain, I rarely grumble. But it was difficult to drive because I had made several incisions on my hands and this made holding the wheel very painful. Making the sharp turns left and right that the journey to Plum Regis required stretched the wounds open wide. Also, my face was covered with wounds and blood kept running from my forehead over my eyebrows and around my eyes. And I could smell it, which is really horrible and bad, actually. It smelt like blood pudding in my little car. But I didn’t care. Even when I was creating the incisions, looking underneath my skin, I didn’t feel the cuts, not really. I just thought of Omera.
And when I arrived, when I pulled into the Plum Regis Surgery car park, I was delighted because there was a space next to his car, his dark blue, royal blue, his Audi.
At Reception the receptionist sat, as usual, stacking appointment cards, and when she saw me her mouth dropped open, but I just said, tersely, ‘I would like to see the doctor, please.’
‘You…’ she said.
She seemed lost for words and I started to worry that she was angry about the red stain that I had left behind me but then I thought; I can’t help that! I’m critically ill, and I said again, ‘I want to see the doctor, please.’
‘I think she’d better see the doctor. Look at her arms! And her face! Her cheek is coming away!’ said an old woman who was sat in the waiting room, holding a trembling copy of Dream Gardens.
‘Thank you!’ I said and turned around to beam at the woman, but then I realised that my cheek really was coming away, and I took off my rain hat to hold it against my face. It wasn’t that I was impatient, but every moment that I was not with the doctor was agony, and then also I was starting to feel actual agony because I had cut myself over fifty times.
‘Mrs Durrell, this is the last time you will see the doctor. Mrs Durrell, what have you done?’
‘Get me to the doctor,’ I said simply.
The receptionist pressed a red button with a single red-tipped finger and she spoke, ‘Doctor Sharpe, we have an emergency out here. Could you come here please? Doctor Sharpe?’
But before she had even stopped talking the saloon doors of his surgery room opened and he was there, a silhouette against the bright synthetic light.
‘Jesus Christ,’ he said.
And I thought, yes, you are. You are Jesus Christ.
‘I’ll get a wheelchair,’ he said.
And he did and he put me down, not altogether gently because of the stress that he was under seeing me like this.
When we were alone together he gave me an injection and I slept. In Doctor Sharpe’s office, there was a poster of an idyllic beach, with ‘Aloha’ written in the corner, seashells peppering the sand and a beautiful woman swimming, far away in the crystal blue sea. The last thing I saw was his face, in front of this poster, and the last thing I heard was, ‘Fucking hell,’ but those curse words sounded so beautiful to me because, because they meant that Doctor Omera Sharpe, they meant that he cared about me.
While I slept, I dreamt that we were together in the dream light, on the Aloha beach, but that I had left my inconvenient body, that Doctor Omera Sharpe and myself inhabited the bodies of dolphins, and our rubbery skins were identical and bumping up against each other, our squeaking gurgling sang over the sound of the waves.
‘Rose, rose, Rose, Rose,’ I heard, in dolphin language, ‘Rose, you’re only sleeping.’
After I came around to consciousness, the doctor seemed even less calm and collected than he had been before. He had finished stitching my wounds, and I looked with wide eyes at my hands, which were filled with tiny little bits of pink string. My body was tied together, strapped back into place. I tried to think that Doctor Sharpe had decorated me, that he had made a newme, but as the tingling drugs started to fade away, I began to feel very much like myself, heavy in my skin.
‘You’ve done an excellent job, Doctor,’ I said.
‘Mrs Durrell,’ said the doctor, ‘I want you to listen very carefully. Look in the mirror.’
He held up an oval mirror, framing my face securely in white plastic.
‘You have ruined yourself,’ said Doctor Sharpe, ‘You have destroyed your life, your opportunities. These scars will never heal.’
I tried to laugh, as though the doctor was joking, but the stitches in my lips and around my mouth strained horribly.
‘Surely you must see me as more than my looks,’ I asked him.
The doctor cleared his throat impatiently and began writing on his computer. I tried to look, to see if he was writing me a message, but he turned to me sharply, and he looked as though he was going to speak, but then he changed his mind, and he called for the receptionist to take me away.
As I drove home to Clutter that evening I watched myself in the rear-view mirror. It was very dangerous but I barely looked at the road. I thought of my old face, the face that I had tried to escape; the face that a fine doctor had loved. The face that Doctor Omera Sharpe had dreamt about.My stranger’s mouth turned downwards and upwards at the same time. The split lip had been sewn but it was jagged, like I was leering at myself. Doctor Omera Sharpe had notdone an excellent job.
There was a letter in the post the next day. It was a viciously bright grey day; the cold light was shining through the windows. The letter had been sent first class and the address had been typed on the front, a standard label attached. Inside, there was a prescription note, the same tedious slip of paper that Doctor Sharpe usually sent me away with, thin and meaningless, with a dark, livery underside that was slick to the touch. I stared at it for a long time and then wandered into the living room, where the curtains were closed and the sofa was plump and damp-feeling, waiting for me to sink into its folds. The letters that were written there; Doctor Sharpe’s handwriting, the loops that strangled and imprisoned my name inside of themselves, trapped me like I was no more than a single word: Rose.
The note was signed with Doctor Omera Sharpe’s formal signature, just an ambiguous grey scribble, with one slipped tendril, that looked as though it wished it could reach up to touch my name with its hands but couldn’t, it would not.
The next day, I phoned my mother for the first time in seven years.
‘I met a man, Mother. I thought I had fallen in love. But it turned out, you know, it turned out that he was completely shallow. He only wanted me for my looks. He wanted my body. It’s only lucky that I found out in time, Mother, you always told me—’
The answering machine cut me off, but I listened to the dial tone for several seconds, looking at my broken face in the misty hallway mirror, smiling and grimacing, leering with my jagged lips.