I had expected it to be unexpectedly ordinary. But it’s not. It has curtains, which are dark red velvet. It even has candles, on the floor perched on empty chairs, which is dangerous. I’m surprised she’d put real ones there. The chairs are velvet-cushioned in red as well. Their legs are made of brass-coloured plastic, which looks a bit cheapy, but if you forget about that it’s like one of those witch images my daughter would search online. The candles are white. One of them has dripped wax right onto its chair. That’ll take scrubbing to get off. And she’ll have to get it off or it will make the chairs look manky. I bet she has to do it loads. I wonder how you get it off. She can’t be replacing the chairs. That’d be too dear for her, with the business she gets. And this whole room looks shabby. You’d think she’d make it clean. Comforting.
There’s a clutter of children’s toys in the corner of the room. They’re cheap and plastic and half-broken. It’s becoming clear enough, as I take in the room fully, that it’s not actually like one of those witch pictures my daughter likes to search online. I saw the two children playing when we came in but I didn’t realise they had those awful medical-clinic toys. Looking at the things in the box I see horses with legs missing and some of those green miniature soldiers. The children have a dollhouse and when I look at it closely I can see, even in the poor light, that its white walls are covered in crayon marks. The children move but are nearly silent. They’re sitting on the carpeted floor next to their parents. One set. They must be siblings. Why are they here? Who’d bring their kids here? I know I have Heather but the oldest of these two looks about nine. It must be for one of them. Their parents talk to each other in low murmurs.
There’s only one other person, a man. Alone. He sits still and looks straight ahead. I’d like to try and talk to him or the parents, but I don’t think they’d appreciate it.
Her name’s Sasha Jacobs and she’s thirty-seven, younger than me. It’s all pretty silly when you think about it. It was such a big fuss years ago and now she’s here.
It’s fecking expensive too. Over three hundred euro for the appointment. And when we were outside the clinic place I had to stop and get my phone out, because I’d forgotten to check before if I actually had the money in my account. And then I didn’t. We stood outside in the rain for twenty minutes, with me trying to transfer money from my savings to my normal account. Not that there’s very much in my savings either. It’s been pretty hard this year. And Heather carrying on. She’s beside me now scowling at everything. I lean over and put my hand on her shoulder. She glares at me but doesn’t shrug it off. That’s enough for now, for today.
“This place is fucking stupid,” she says to me in a whisper. I want to agree because it is ridiculous and because she’s talking to me again, but there’s something I don’t like. I think it’s the tone; she sounds angry, and it sounds directed at me. Also, I don’t like her habit of sneering at things. It seems aggressively superior and she does it constantly nowadays.
“You asked to come with me.” I try to keep my voice low but the others must hear me. And I bet they heard Heather.
“I’m just saying, for God’s sake. This place is ridiculous.”
“I can’t do anything about it.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Do you not think I have enough to deal with?”
She glares and doesn’t respond. What I’m thinking about mainly is the couple in the corner, having to hear her whinge as they think about whatever problem led to them being desperate enough to bring their kids here.
And myself. I’m thinking about myself.
She’s been getting worse over the last few months, of course and everything has been made impossible. I can’t allow her to be a brat. All this isn’t about her and I don’t understand how she ended up like this. I don’t understand what I did over fourteen years that caused the sheer malice she seems to exude. And anger is a sign of depression in teenagers. And I’ve been sympathetic and spoken to her, and I’ve punished her and had shouting matches and it has not changed anything. I feel like we’ve been moulded into two unchanging figures standing at opposite ends of a room. We can’t move out of the poses we’ve been given. She let us have a frank conversation once, soon after the diagnoses. Then she made herself inaccessible to me again and now we’re stuck in the mire of pointless fights.
She’ll be staying with my parents. If arrangements need to be made. I told her as carefully as I could, with a long lead-up. She likes them. She did not take the news well.
“Why did you want to do this anyway? Could we not just have waited?”
Another problem; I don’t really know how to respond to these things. The overtly cruel comments. They’re so juvenile and so obviously designed to hurt that they pass by me. I barely notice. I’m left not caring, without a response.
“Look, you asked to come. Just be quiet for five minutes.”
“I asked to come because otherwise I’d have been at home, alone, the way I was most of the day from when I was eleven, all of the fucking time because you-”
“Get out, then. Get out if you’re going to be like this. There are other people here. I’ll talk to you about this later, just get out.”
“Maybe if you’d tried harder.”
“Oh for God’s sake.”
Heather pauses. She seems to be considering. She stands up, and walks towards the door, and opens it. Then she’s leaving. Then she’s gone.
I try to smile apologetically at the other customers.
The most annoying part about that particular criticism; she had no idea how hard I tried to find her father. And I can’t help thinking, she’d want to stop all this. Soon. Because this is not an uncommon disease I have, and people do survive it.
I jerk my head and see her in the doorway. She’s wearing a veil. A black one. I mean, really. She could make a huge amount of money from this. But even after all the reporting and scientific tests, it’s hard to believe she’s really able to know how people will die. I mean, look at her.
The man – David Haworth – stands up and walks towards the door. They leave the room. I suppose the couple with the kids will be next.