The second of three stories written in the style of Raymond Carver...
I STILL LOVE HER... THAT’S THE AWFUL THING
“I need to tell someone about it,” said the doctor. “I have to get it off my chest, you see.”
“What’s that, Doc?” I said.
He had my foot on his desk. My shoe was off and so was my sock and I was wishing I had washed my feet before I came out. He was inspecting my big toe which was red and swollen and shiny.
“Gout,” he said, with some conviction. “I’ll give you some anti-inflammatories. That should take care of it.” He wiggled my toe with his forefinger and thumb.
“Ouch! It’s bloody painful, Doc, I’ll tell you that.”
“The pain always outweighs the swelling,” he said. “I suppose I should have seen it coming a mile off.”
“Seen what coming, Doc?”
“Some people go their whole lives and never get an attack you know. It’s a strange old cove this gout thing.”
“Has diet got much to do with it?”
“Possibly. But it’s only one factor out of many. It’s one of those things. No rhyme or reason to it really. Funny old business.” He leaned down to my toe and blew on it. “It looks really hot. I’ll print you off a check-list - some advice about certain foods that can trigger attacks.”
He pressed a few buttons on the keyboard of his PC. His hands were shaking and he fluffed a few keys. Eventually, after making a few corrections, a printer whirred into action in the corner of the room and spat out some A4 sheets.
“You were saying, Doc...”
“Something about... ‘should have seen it coming’.”
“Oh that,” he said. “I haven’t mentioned it to anyone before. It’s not something you want people to know about, you see.”
He got up and went to the printer, picked up the A4s that had been printed off. He stapled the corner of the sheets and handed them to me.
“Have a read at home. See where you might be going wrong.”
I put my sock back on, then the shoe. My toe throbbed. It was painful to put weight down on it, let alone walk. I waited for him to tell me the thing he wanted off his chest.
“We’ve been married 34 years... that’s a long time in anybody’s book.”
“That’s a long time, Doc.”
“I should have seen it coming. But you know how it is. You try and pass these things off, as if by ignoring it the thing itself will blow over. ‘Out of sight, out of mind,’ that’s the old cliché. isn’t it?”
“Are you trying to tell me what I think you’re trying to tell me, Doc?”
“Thirty-four years, never a cross word in all that time. I don’t know. I don’t know what could have gotten into her. What makes a person do that?”
I could see there were tears welling in his eyes. He was getting himself into a state. He dabbed at his forehead with a handkerchief.
“My missus left me after seven years, Doc, so I’m no expert on the subject. Seven years, can you believe it?”
“Just like that,” he said. “I just don’t know what I should do. I should have seen it coming, but I had no idea, you see. What I mean is...”
He sat down and took a deep breath.
“...I pretended not to notice the changes, you know, the little things. And then she was going out more... without me. You’d think a doctor would pick up on the symptoms and do something about them, wouldn’t you? Once the infection gets in, that’s it, danger all the way. You’d think a medical man would pick-up on these things.”
I began to get to my feet, with some difficulty. A shooting pain went along my toe and into my instep. I winced.
It was time to be on my way. I didn’t really want to be the doctor’s shoulder to cry on. It made me feel uncomfortable, like I was intruding into his private life.
“I expect your next patient’s waiting, Doc,” I said, and limped a step to get my balance. “Thanks for the advice.”
“It’s a terrible thing,” he said, dabbing at his eyes with the handkerchief. “I thought the world of her you know. I still love her... that’s the awful thing.”