A Sample From The Doctor

Extracts drawn from

THE NEWLY DISCOVERED DIARIES

OF DOCTOR KRISTAL

 

Whose STRANGE OBSESSIONS

caused him to MURDER

some ANNOYING patients

 

Original text:

Paul Kristal

edited by Russell James

 

 

EDITOR’S NOTE:

It goes without saying that if Doctor Kristal’s diary had been discovered at the time (the mid-Sixties) the outcome of the second inquest would have been different and Kristal would have faced a murder trial. But it was not until 2014, fifty years later, that Doctor Kristal’s handwritten notebooks were shown to me by Miss Cilla Dodd, to whom I am indebted both for allowing me unlimited access and for allowing me to publish them in this form.

Although the pages that follow are an edited version of the original, nothing important has been left out and Miss Dodd has not tried to censor or expurgate the text. In her words, “Let all be revealed.  Hold nothing back.”  Accordingly, I have in places shortened but have never altered Doctor Kristal’s deceptively dry and old-fashioned text.  I have omitted only such entries as clutter many a personal diary (‘Got up.  Rain.  Had fish for supper.  Retired early.’)  Nothing significant has been held back.

But prepare to be appalled.

 

 

THE DIARY BEGINS . . .

Here I commence my Confidential Journal

17th April 1963

 

Wednesday 17th April 1963 (Mother’s Birthday, had she lived)

Curious, I thought as I trod on the beetle, that I, a man trusted to prolong life, should take pleasure in exterminating a living creature, one that had no reason to fear my heavy approach or to suspect that my footsteps reverberating through the flagstones were tolling out its knell of doom. One moment it was scuttling across the pavement – a weak morning sun beating upon its carapace, its eyes fixed on a destination two yards away – and the next . . . my boot came down.

Who does not enjoy grinding such a creature underfoot? The crunch of its cracking shell, the scrape of your boot on the dusty concrete and, should you stoop to sniff at the flattened carcase, the acrid and surprisingly pungent whiff of death.  No corpse I can think of – and I have sniffed at quite a few – gives out such an instantaneous and accusatory stink.  Compare and contrast, if you will, that from a squashed ladybird which, although being a beetle itself, exudes an oily and cloying scent that lingers like resin on your fingers.  You cannot wipe it off; you must wash your hands.  Out, out, damn’d pong.

Naturally, I did not stoop to sniff the pavement, for I might have been seen – though at that moment most of my fellow citizens would have been spooning up their cardboard cereals or clogging their arteries with what used to be called a healthy English breakfast. At 7.30 when I leave my house few others are on the street.  It is hardly the crack of dawn but our society relies on people being up when we’re in bed; people to run gas and electricity stations, railway stations, wireless stations – even nurse stations at the hospital.  Early risers deliver milk, post and morning papers.  There is no hour of the day when someone somewhere is not working for our sake.

Thursday 18th April 1963

My usual walk to surgery takes me past the infant school – mercifully quiet at 7.40, the little inmates clustered at breakfast tables, confining their jabber to domestic interiors. Later, when delivered into the screaming pandemonium of the school playground, they will be encouraged, in accordance with the anti-authoritarian mores of our time, to ‘release their energy’ and – Heaven help us – to ‘express themselves’ so that by the time they are finally penned inside freshly-painted classrooms they will have calmed down enough to pay some heed to the teacher smiling warily in front of them.  The dear little things must not be trammelled by anything as limiting as discipline lest their characters be scarred for life.  It would not be natural, I have heard it said, to have their desires and actions restricted.  Thus spake Doctors Freud and Spock, the parents’ mentors.  Yet when one of these delicate prodigies is brought before me in my surgery the brat stands silent and uncomfortable, shuffling its feet and looking to its parents to be shown what to do.  Children need guidance, and parents need to apply healthy discipline.

Across the road from the school is a line of houses, not one of which, I am told, feels the need to close its curtains against the racket. One of my patients lives there.  “We like it,” she insisted.  “Noise is a sign of life.  The street is dead in the school holidays.”  But I’m with Shakespeare: ‘For restful death I cry.’ [Romeo and Juliet: Ed.]

I like the High Street at 7.50. Peace abides.  Most of the shops have not yet opened, there are no staff behind the windows, no lights are on.  Only the newsagent unlocks his door.  Later, when I am freed from morning surgery, I avoid the High Street.  Too many people, gazing in shop windows as they pass and walking slowly, oh so slowly.  Worse are those who greet me.  Though I cannot recall their names I remember their wretched ailments: I recognise Mrs Menopause or Mr Piles or the younger Master Boils.  There’s that fellow with a cancer he doesn’t know about.  There’s that woman with the feet.  By their ailments are they known.

Ailments are depressingly few in number. At most there are about twenty that people bring to me – coughs and chills, eating disorders, tums and bums, defunct extremities, headaches, pregnancies and diseases that must not be named, ranging from the sexually transmitted (rare around here) to the fatal (far less rare).  Then comes the great catch-all diagnosis of GOK. [God Only Knows: Ed.] “It’s a virus,” I usually tell them.  Often, by the time they present to me, the disease has almost run its course.  “Take this and it will be gone in seven days,” I tell them solemnly – omitting to add, “Don’t take it and it will be gone within a week.”

 

Tuesday, 23rd April 1963 (Shakespeare’s birthday)

I said I would not repeat the mistakes of 1959. This will not resemble the journal I attempted then, which omitted and censored personal thoughts.  This will be a frank and full account of what I think and what I do.  My thoughts, set down on paper, must not be constrained.  A man may be punished for what he does, but not for what he thinks.  Not that I do anything that deserves punishment; I lead a blameless life.  [At the time this may have been true. Ed.]

Thus I shall set down an episode from surgery today, an episode that will show later readers (should there be any) that these changing times are not changing for the better. There is too much talk in the newspapers that in this decade we are to throw off the shackles which have kept us admirably in order since the war.  We are to ‘liberate ourselves’.  Authority and ‘the establishment’ are wrong.  Constraint is wrong. Restraint is wrong.  We must express our inner selves.

Reveal my inner self? I prefer to present a well-polished and acceptable exterior, even if some might think that exterior a facade.  Why peep inside?  Do we lift the wallpaper to see ugly plaster?  Do we scrape off the plaster to reveal bare brick?  Do we slice open a body to see blood and mucous and the obscene organs upon which external appearances rely?

Do we prefer a woman without makeup? No.  A woman is like a rose: perfectly formed in bud and full of promise.  Gorgeous in blossom, she becomes overblown too soon.  She has a short and splendid season.

When Miss Jane Quinney came in to surgery today I did not at first remember her. She looked radiant.  Her blonde hair tumbled about her shoulders and her throat glistened in the V of an admirably crisp white blouse.  “I meant to come back earlier,” she said, “to thank you for what you did.”  Her smile was unaffected.  “I suppose most people don’t come to the doctors to say thanks.”

“It is not an everyday occurrence.”

She smiled as if I had made an amusing remark, allowing me to notice her white and perfect teeth. Wondering what I had done that she should thank me, I turned casually to the only page of her notes upon my desk.

“I got the job,” she said. “Six months ago now, nearly.”

Six months ago was when I last saw her, the notes revealed. I studied her.  What change?  An advantage given to doctors is that they can stare at a person in a way other people cannot.  Miss Quinney gazed back as steadily as if we were friends.  “I like it there,” she said.  And I remembered.

How much more confident she looked today than when she had been here last. Nineteen then (she is twenty now) and gauche (she looks polished now), Jane Quinney had recently moved from a village in Lincolnshire.  A buxom blonde, they might have called her in the local cow-shed.  She had come, as such girls do, to find a job in town but it had not proved easy for her.  Six months ago, when she squirmed through what was clearly an embarrassing interview, I thought it hardly surprising she ‘found things difficult.’  She did have a job, some kind of temporary typing position, but it didn’t suit her, she said.  She stumbled over her words, lapsed into silence, then blushed and broke out in a sweat – which, it transpired (unintended pun), was why she had come to see me.  “I sweat too much,” she blurted out.  “I can’t help it.  I stiffen up and get all sweaty and they can smell I’m nervous, I know they can, and that makes me . . . ”

“Sweat all the more? That’s quite natural.”

“No, I really sweat. It’s disgusting.”  She stared at the floor and wiped her forehead as if to remove the fresh mist of perspiration on her brow.  (She probably imagined rivulets of moisture running down her cheek.)

I breathed in, and I could smell the sweat as she had feared. “Sweating is not a problem,” I began.

“It is for me.”

Her face tightened and the poor girl looked painfully young. Nineteen then, on the cusp of womanhood, her little problem seemed as serious to her as if it were a life-threatening illness.  In her embarrassment she began to rise.  “Sit down,” I said.  She did so.  “It’s not you that is the problem.”

She was a country girl from who knows what kind of bumpkin family, and was now living in a rented room away from her mother for the first time. I asked which deodorant she used and she stared at me as blankly as if I had asked in Latin.  So I explained.  How often did she wash her blouses; how often did she wash herself; how often did she bathe?  I could have guessed her answers.  In her parents’ house, as is still the case in many houses, Friday night is bath night.  Once a week.  I expect her parents married in the war when people were encouraged to bathe in two miserable inches of precious bath water, and now, two decades later, four inches seems a luxury and they still bathe once a week.  In Lincolnshire, having a bathroom at all may seem a luxury.

I suggested – I prescribed – for Miss Quinney that she bathe every second night and that she wash underneath her arms each single morning. “Yes, every day.”  She nodded gravely (as if already ‘taking her medicine’) and I added that as well as washing beneath her arms there were other places . . .  Here at least she did not sink into the muttered incoherence that afflicts so many teenagers; as a country girl she was not unaware of body parts, she was only unaware that she had to keep them clean.

“Americans,” I told her, “bathe every day.”

She nodded again. “They’re all shiny in the films.”

“You say people smell you. They do not.  They smell your clothes.”

She frowned. She had not known.  Many people today have made little progress since the Victorian era; for them, dry cleaning might never have been invented and, just as they regard Friday night as bath night, so Monday is their laundry day and, to ease the weekly chore, their shirts, blouses and, I shudder to say, their underclothes and socks, are changed no more than twice a week.  “This has been aggravated,” I continued helpfully, “by the introduction of Bri-nylon.”

Six months ago that was pretty much the entirety of our interview. Today I noticed that Miss Quinney wore a blouse made of cotton, not Bri-nylon, and that her hair shone.  It was still blonde, but it looked different: much tidier, with a hint of pink.  Strawberry blonde, I believe they call it, and she looked almost sophisticated.  I detected the faintest trace of freesia.  She smiled again, a tentative and one might almost say a brave smile – or is that hindsight?  I remembered she was but twenty, only a month or so out of her teens, and that her apparent composure was new-found.  She was pretending to be an adult.

“Because of you I got the job,” she said, smiling – and my goodness, those white teeth! “When I came last time – do you remember, Doctor? – I was so embarrassed I wasn’t sure I’d be able to bring myself to tell you about it.”  She blushed but this time did not sweat – or, if she did, the only smell was that of freesias.  “You were easy to talk to, Doctor.  Helpful and understanding.”

If I warmed a little, it was with pride. The doctor/patient relationship is intimate, and intimacy is emphasised when the patient is a young woman and the doctor fifteen years her senior, alone with her in a room in which a bed awaits behind a screen.  That is why, in response to her fulsome praise, I could not prevent a small blush of my own.

“I thought you’d criticise and tick me off.”

“No, no.”

“You could have, though, but you didn’t. You didn’t judge me.”

“You were not at fault.”

“I was. I was dirty.  I didn’t wash properly and I didn’t wash my clothes.  You could have made me feel disgusting.”  She closed her eyes and sat for a moment without opening them.  “That’s why I’ve come back to you.”

Good Lord. It is half-past midnight.

 

Wednesday 24th April 1963

The wretched girl was pregnant. She is pregnant.  She has lived here barely half a year – having come a stranger, knowing nobody – and in no time at all has managed to get herself ‘knocked up’, as they say today.  Who the man is she wouldn’t tell me.  “Is he still around?”  She looked away.  “Will he do the right thing?  Will he stand by you?”  She began to cry.

She is by no means the first young woman to break down before me; I am immune to tears and it is a safe bet that I hear more confessions in my surgery than ever does a priest. “You’re in the prime of health,” I told her. She gave a sob.  “You have nothing to worry about.”  She sobbed again.  “At your age you should sail through pregnancy.”  Her sobs grew louder.  “You’ll deliver a fine and healthy baby.”  She wailed.  Her face grew wet with tears.  (Women do cry, I find, at the drop of a hat – to disconcert men, presumably.)  “If you’ll just pop up on here,” I said, “we’ll see how far you’re gone.”

“Too far,” she muttered.

An apposite reply.

My examination was brief but revealed that Miss Quinney was six weeks gone, fit and sturdy, with the radiant sheen of early pregnancy. When I smiled down at her on the bed she looked anxious and afraid.  I reiterated that all was well with her, then I went back to my desk to let her get up and adjust her clothes.  She reappeared with makeup smeared, no longer crying, and stood before my desk like a schoolgirl brought before the Head.  “Congratulations,” I said (as if she’d won First Prize in Biology).  “Sit down.”

She sat as cautiously as if she were not six weeks gone but six months, and I began some breezy sentences on what her next steps should be. “I don’t want the baby,” she began.

“It is not unusual to feel nervous.”

But she really did not want the baby They never do, these girls.  They let themselves be flattered by a ‘promising’ young man and give in too easily.  (In this case I assume the man is young, and I’m sure he made lots of ‘promises’.)  When the inevitable happens the girls throw up their hands and cry.  Miss Quinney is twenty years old, her life before her, and unlike some of her kind she can at least see that having a baby will transform her life – ruin it was the phrase she used.  “I want to do things,” she said.  “I want to get somewhere and make a mark.”

“You’ll make a baby – ”

“No,” she snapped. (For a moment she looked twenty-five, not twenty.)  “I don’t want to make a baby.”  I chose not to reply.  “I want to get on and be somebody.  I’ve got my whole life ahead of me.”

She met my gaze. She looked older than her years – rather magnificent, to tell the truth, despite the awful thoughts I suspect were broiling in her breast.  Then she shuddered.  It was a dramatic shudder: I couldn’t tell then and I am still not certain whether she was shaking off unmotherly feelings or whether she had decided to change her tactics.  For in that moment (I know it is a banal comparison) she seemed to turn a tap and let tears splash out.  She had been foolish, she agreed; she didn’t love the man and he didn’t love her.  (Though he was ‘quite nice, really’, as if that excused anything.)  She had not told her parents – nor dare she, it appears, for they are deeply religious and fiercely devout.  “They’ll disown me.”

“No parent has disowned a child since Trollope died,” I said – realising immediately that ‘trollop’ was not the word I should have used. “If they are truly religious then surely they will forgive?”

“You’re not like them. You don’t judge me.  You helped me when I turned to you before.”

How shall I put this? Had Miss Quinney been a little older and more practised in feminine guiles, she might have made more use of her most effective weapon, a weapon that in her case – she being undeniably young and beautiful – might have disarmed a weaker man: I refer, of course, to her eyes, her swimmingly blue, imploring eyes.  “Please help me, Doctor.  Will you?”

 

Thursday, 25th April 1963

Where and when, as the old often ask, did it all go wrong? At what point in human history – and why – did people lose sight of the fact that sexual congress is not a pleasure to be undertaken lightly, but exists for the procreation of children?  It is not as if celibacy were difficult; I have never found it so, and many of my patients admit (not in so many words) that they find congress more difficult than abstinence.  Mrs Rouse, to give an obvious example, has expanded at length upon the difficulties and has been particularly revealing on the excessive pressures placed upon women by insatiable husbands.  Is that why she came today?  I can never tell.  She presents many symptoms, yet beneath every one of them, I’m sure, lies sex.

But enough of Mrs Rouse. There was nothing new in what she told me.  At least she is married, while the foolish Miss Quinney is but the latest in a depressing succession of young women to succumb to ‘the sex drive’.  First they give in, then they repent, then they flutter about in desperation like sparrows trapped in the conservatory, looking for a way out.  But there is none.  For every action there is a consequence, and Miss Quinney must bear hers.  She must bear the baby, bear taunts and disapproval.  How sad it is that her fall will set no example to others.

Every week another batch of unwanted offspring spills out into an already overcrowded world. So many preventable mistakes.  One could almost believe it were better to abort them.  She came to me hoping I might do just that, that I would risk my career and break my oath to perform an illegal operation.  She has, I assume, heard of the Hippocratic Oath?  If people know nothing of medicine and the medical profession, they must know that a doctor is sworn to protect and preserve life, not to take it.  (If he wanted to take life he’d become a vet.)

“I will not give a deadly drug,” the Oath enjoins, “nor will I make a suggestion to that effect.” That’s quite clear, though the phrase “I will not use the knife” raises a difficulty for surgeons.  If Miss Quinney had read the Oath she could have challenged me on that.  “I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion,” it says, though it does not expressly forbid abortion by other methods.  Indeed, elsewhere in the Corpus Hippocratum one finds advice on how to bring an abortion about.  Much of the well-known Oath is contradicted elsewhere in the text but, even if Miss Quinney had been able to argue such semantics, she could not gainsay the fundamental point: a doctor must not take life.

So what is the prognosis for Miss Quinney?

Her problem will become our problem.  The all-forgiving NHS will help her through her pregnancy and, once she has spat out her little brat, the NHS will help to rear it.  In due course, no doubt, it will do the same for that child’s own bastard progeny.  Sin begets sin; children born and bred in filth will grow up filthy.  Thus does the world decline.

Shall I see the girl again? How determined is she, how desperate?  Desperate enough to turn to another doctor?  If she does I shall let him know that I am aware of her condition and that I expect to see her come to her natural term.  But no doctor in this town would do the deed – no qualified doctor; she may find an old hag in a back street, cackling over a glass of gin and knitting needle, but I hope not.  I would hate to see her come to grief – for I do feel sorry for the girl.  Even as Mrs Grout and I wrestled with the young lady on the carpet – and my, what a strong young body she had: so Lincolnshire, so lithe – even then my anger was directed not at her but at the man who had impregnated her.  It is he who should be punished, he who should be stripped and whipped and thrown in jail.  Not Miss Quinney.  She didn’t want his baby, while he, I dare say, was all too happy to spurt seed inside her and say to Hell with the consequences.

I cannot shake the feeling that most men feel driven to litter the world with descendants as if, through these children, they themselves will live on. What else is the point of sex?  Men chase, while women expect to be chased, rather than to be chaste!  They provoke and flirt.  To get what she wanted from me (she hoped) Miss Quinney flirted and sweet-talked: she was cleanly dressed, had fluttering eyelashes, her blonde hair was scented and hung free – yes, she was attractive, and provocative.  She provoked me, but not in the way she hoped.  Provocation may be a woman’s ultimate weapon, but it doesn’t work on me.  (It is the ‘ultimate deterrent’ in my case!)  The astoundingly short skirts girls wear today: is it any wonder men are provoked?  I am a man, and I am not provoked.  Even if sometimes I feel attracted I never respond.  Why should I?  An iron filing, when a magnet is turned towards it, twitches and leaps towards the lure.  But I am not an iron filing.  I am not an automaton.  I think before I leap.

 

Tuesday, April 30th 1963

Unlike other men, I am not aroused by female flesh, nor by the female form, nor by female helplessness. Another man, unable to control himself, might be unable to resist a young woman undraped and helpless on his couch, inviting his manly touch.  Explore me with your fingers, Doctor: touch me here.  See what other men don’t see.

I have seen many naked women exposed with everything revealed, and I remain impervious. Yet I am not immune to feminine purity and innocence.  Though I have stood for years above a conveyor belt of naked flesh I can sometimes be jolted.  (I admit this here, since no one else will read these pages.)  Today it was a child that startled me.  A child.  I was sufficiently jolted to give an audible gasp, and I am not given to gasps; it is a word irrelevant in my vocabulary.  Fortunately, my gasp was tiny and would not have been detected by either Melanie or her mother.  The child might have felt a tremor but I think not, for my hands were not upon her; I merely looked at her and gasped.

I blame the mother; she was to blame. Having brought the child to see me she tried to leave the room.  But I said no.  I had her stay because the girl was twelve years old and would need an intimate examination.  In the council estate where they live it is not unusual for girls of twelve to become (or to be persuaded to become) young women.  One of Hammond’s patients ‘found herself’ pregnant at the age of twelve, a notorious case which nevertheless, as I could have pointed out to Miss Jane Quinney last week, did not conclude with an abortion.  (The family moved away, and I believe the child became the young girl’s ‘sister’.)

I remembered that case today when, having led her daughter into the surgery, the Wilson woman muttered that it was ‘something in her tummy’. A girl of twelve.  From the same estate as Hammond’s girl.  An exceptionally pretty child, Melanie’s bloom appeared to derive from youth, rather than from pregnancy.  Light brown hair, slim torso, and as unlike her grotesque mother as could be – though if the child’s next twelve years are to comprise atrocious diet and early pregnancy she may deteriorate into a resemblance of the hulk who bore her.  I hope not.  Melanie was – is – an angelic-seeming child.  Out of foulness came forth sweetness . . .

No: I have checked my Concordance; the actual quotation is ‘Out of the eater’, which seems even more appropriate, given the mother’s bulk. Mrs Wilson waddled to the chair.  (I had merely gestured her aside, but once she saw the chair her swollen ankles, I imagine, drew her to it.)  Onto the startled chair she dropped, muttering, “Well, well, well,” as she subsided.  Her daughter, in delightful contrast, skipped onto the bed as lightly as might a fairy mounting a white toadstool.

“And what’s the problem?” I began.

Pains and discomfort. Less a pain than a general ache.

“Appendicitis,” her mother suggested.

“We shall see.”

I gently loosened the young girl’s skirt – and it was when I exposed her thighs that I gave my little gasp. I have, of course, seen thighs before.  I am never moved by a young girl’s naked thighs.  But I was struck by her two achingly fragile pelvic bones, delicate as porcelain beneath newly-minted skin and symbolising for me the change from childhood into puberty.  They looked so vulnerable that my fingers twitched to touch them – to preserve their purity, to keep her safe.  Almost simultaneously I saw the soft downy furze of the girl’s pubic hair.

That was when I gasped – and when I turned angrily to the mother: “Where are this girl’s panties?”

“Eh?”

“Her underclothes.”

“Her nicks? Well, you was goin’ to examine ’er, so I left ’em off.”

“You made her walk here . . . through the streets . . . ” I became speechless.

“We came by bus.”

Her words raised a startling image of Melanie’s naked bottom on the rough greasy fabric of a bus-seat.

When her mother stared at me, I thought immediately that this might be no accident: perhaps she had intended to present me with her virgin child and leave the room, leaving her daughter unprotected – was that what she had in mind? Did she intend to pander her lovely daughter?  One glance at the innocent child told me that she could never have been a party to such a scheme.  I glared at Mrs Wilson: “No knickers?”  I used the word deliberately, but did she blush?  No.  She was flushed already (being so heavy the woman is always flushed).  “Well, Doctor,” she said.  “They wasn’t clean.”

“They were worn out,” Melanie said.

Can the Wilsons really be so poor that they cannot afford new underclothes?

I turned back to Melanie. “I am going to test for appendicitis.  Don’t be afraid.  This shouldn’t hurt at all.  But tell me if it does.”

The test for appendicitis is so laughably simple I don’t know why every layman is not aware of it. But perhaps that’s just as well; perish the thought that across the country thousands of ungovernable fathers and uncles were to be given free licence to expose their teenage daughters’ tummies and to finger their way along their panty-lines.

Melanie, as I had suspected, showed no symptoms of appendicitis. “You are twelve years old,” I said, favouring the child with my friendly doctor’s smile.  “Your body is beginning to change.”  She stared up with wide blue eyes.  “You have grown some body hair.”

I turned to the mother (turned on the mother might be more accurate): “I assume you have explained to your daughter about these changes?”  Mrs Wilson did not react.  “You have warned her?”

“What about?”

The wretched woman had not. When I used the phrase ‘the facts of life’ it was as if a film fell across her eyes.  “She’s too young,” she said.

Melanie spoke up. “I told you it was me period.  Two girls in my class have started.  I told you this morning when you saw that mark on my sheet.”

When I asked Melanie to get dressed, Mrs Wilson shrugged. “Now you know why she ain’t wearing knickers,” the creature said.

 

Doctor Kristal will remain untroubled by the Mrs Wilsons of this world (and by her daughter). But what of the delectable and desperate Jane Quinney – or the unhappily married Eleanor Rouse?

 Mrs Rouse is unhappily married. Unsuitably married.  For a start, she is considerably younger than her husband – half his age, for goodness sake.  How did such a man acquire her?  He is, I suppose, well-built, and he has the kind of fleshy voluptuousness that seems to appeal to women.  He might even have been handsome once.  Who knows, perhaps to some women he still is, at fifty-two.  And by God, he certainly has all his hair, a great leonine shock of the stuff reaching below his fancy collars (he goes in for those); hair which, I am convinced, he colours and primps with his wife’s curling tongs; hair through which he likes to run his chipolata fingers to fluff the mane up higher.  He shakes it as an angry horse will shake its mane.  He strives to present himself as being out of the ordinary; he once boasted to me that he was ‘not as other men are’ and I wondered whether he was trying to tell me he was homosexual.  (He is an actor, after all.)  Surely not, given that he is married to the lovely and younger Eleanor.

Can it have been the magic of the stage that drew her to him? Did she see him strutting across the boards in tights?  I will never know, any more than I will ever know why she keeps returning to my consulting room.  Today her symptoms were especially unspecific: little more than sporadic headaches.  She must know that her symptoms are unacceptably vague; one cannot take a ‘headache’ to the doctor.  These cannot be her true, unspoken symptoms.  Despite all these visits she is uncertain, I think, whether to confide in me.  I am willing to be confided in.  If you don’t tell me, I feel like telling her, I cannot help you.

 

You will not be surprised to learn that Doctor Kristal had no time for Eleanor’s husband:

His career has hardly been a triumph. He gets work at times, but has he ever had top billing?  Are there not suspiciously long periods when he does no work at all?  Resting, they call it – resting from what?  From a couple of weeks ‘play-acting’.  Actors may call it work but they are merely playing games – and being paid to do so.  I don’t envy them.  Who but a lunatic would want such a life?  To be trapped all day in the ghastly company of men like Rouse, each of them showing off and trying to out-do the other (or to seduce the other), spending their working evenings smearing makeup on ageing faces, dressing up in ridiculous clothes, then stepping out on stage before an audience they cannot see.  That is not my idea of fun.  I would rather check a dozen anuses for piles.

But enough of Rouse; the man is a pig. Why she married him I cannot imagine – but why do most people choose their partners?  Love, if it ever existed, will soon fade.  At twenty-five Mrs Rouse is beautiful but, having started down the wearisome path of pregnancy, she may lose her bloom, as women do.  But I can at least help her through her pregnancy.  It will please me to be of service to her.  I am, I think, a caring and compassionate man, committed to help my undeserving fellow creatures – how, then, can I best help Mrs Rouse?

“My husband nauseates me,” she began. For the next five minutes she confessed the story, during which time I sat like a wise dispassionate doctor, my face a mask as I concealed my feelings.  How many times have I studied the entrails of crippled marriages as if preparing frogs on a dissecting slab ?  How many times have I examined them, poked about in murky places, and never made the slightest emotional contact?  Until today, when I felt the pulse of the Rouses’ marriage.

Her husband nauseates her. He nauseates me.  She had never, Eleanor whispered, enjoyed the act of sex with him – did I think that unnatural?  “No,” I said.  “I don’t.”

But, she continued haltingly, her husband enjoyed having sex with her.  (Who wouldn’t, I nearly responded, but I held my tongue.)  Worse, Eleanor continued, Rouse enjoyed having sex with her repeatedly – not every night, she clarified, but several nights a week.  Did I think that natural?  (I did not reply.)  It sickened her and hurt – and the more it hurt, she said, the more her husband seemed to like it.  Was he a sadist, I asked, but no, she said: he just preferred to have sex that way – or perhaps, the poor girl suggested, he did not notice when he caused pain.

What could I say? Many men’s need for sex is so pressing that they’ll have sex, it seems, with almost anyone – strangers, prostitutes – so it is hardly surprising that they take little notice of their partners.  Such men have sex solely to bring relief, and for them it is like pissing against a wall.  I couldn’t tell Eleanor this.  I couldn’t reveal to that delicate lady how real men think.  Instead I asked how I could help.  And because she needs me I added, “I shall do anything within my power.”

 

At the time, it seems, neither Mrs Rouse nor Doctor Kristal himself foresaw the full significance of those words. But before the year was out he had ‘helped’ not only the troubled Eleanor but several more of his equally troubled patients.  When they asked for help, did they realise what kind of help he would bring?  And would they thank him for it?  Would you?

Perhaps you should read on . . .

Ebook copies available NOW at a special low price on SMASHWORDS
and at Amazon for Kindle
while paperback copies can be seen here
(ISBN: 9781500598471)

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