If you haven’t read it already, Chapter 1 is here.
“PING.…PING..PING ……PING!!” went the iPhone next to V’s crumpled pillow face. She’d barely been asleep when bull-shit beautifying business notifications shot at her like bullets firing from a machine gun. Guns, germs and coltan were the new weapons of the modern age. But today V was not interested in the soft sell of supplements. Within the split second she awoke she knew it was the hard stuff she needed. She reached for the phone, silenced the squarks, then opened the GP surgery app and booked an 8:30am appointment with Dr. Hyatus.
Since her initial jump start, it took V all of the 2.5 hours up to get up and get herself to the appointment which was just a 5 minutes walk away (she had deliberately moved to a flat located close to the surgery, for peace of mind). Her body ached like she had been squeezed through a washing mangle and back again. For some reason she forgot the spicy OD and surmised that she must have the flu… Or some sort of infection? God, sepsis maybe?? Maybe she fell asleep too close to the toilet and an iota of E-coli found its way into the tiny raw splits that had formed in the crevices of her knuckle skin that the alcohol gel she used 45 times a day had caused?? Meningitis?? Lymphoma??? Despite her fatigue she was panicking. She could barely dress herself let alone adhere to her usual morning routine of tan, tablets and trimtum-tea. Her limbs were shaking and her vision was blurred. She needed help NOW.
She flopped out of the flat and found her way to the surgery by pure muscle memory. Her mind was full of frightening fog. She fell into the reception and onto the desk. “Oh hi V, yes I saw you had booked in, back again so soon are we? Awwww,” the arbitrary greeting came from the woman on reception who had been steeled for such an entrance. “Doreen, I feel awful, I think I’m going to die,” replied V, bursting into tears. “Yes, you always do love,” Doreen pursed her lips so that they resembled a cat’s anus. “Take a seat and the doctor will be with you in a mo, and don’t worry,” she patronised, “you’re the first on his list”.
Doreen was used to V tearfully falling onto her frigid lap, it happened once every week at least. She felt sorry for her to some extent of course, but she was a pain in the arse to be honest and didn’t half take up a lot of resources, let alone appointments. In Doreen’s humble opinion, she thought V just needed a few good hot meals, a brisk walk in the countryside, and probably a good seeing to, but what was she to know eh? Anyway, she was just paid to book people in, what happened behind those closed clinic doors was not really of any interest to her.
Although… V did look an especially pale and clammy side of grey today and she hadn’t arrived wielding her iPhone like a town-cryer’s scroll, openly reading out all the symptoms she believed she was experiencing to the entire congregation of patients and practitioners whilst elbowing her way to the front of the queue. Doreen glanced over and saw the pencil line of a person rocking and staring at the walls. Ooo-er, she thought to herself, maybe there was something actually wrong with her this time.
As she sat to wait for her appointment V’s gaze got caught onto the expanding white washed walls directly in front of her like a deer in headlights. In a brief moment of clarity, she tried not to let panic, or the whiteness, consume her completely, so she closed her eyes and tried to breathe deeply. The focus was back on her body. Hang on a minute, her bum felt numb. Or was she floating? She checked the chair was still beneath her. Indeed, something solid was there. She daren’t look down to confirm exactly what it was in case she threw up. People wafted past V leaving trails of themselves in her line of vision. In her palinopsial peripherals, she noticed them melt into seats around her, merging into a mono-mass of colours and coughs.
Through the meaty mist, one woman snagged V’s bleary eye. At first, V didn’t know why. She closely followed the woman’s trailing trajectory travel across the room and lower itself into a seat next to V. V’s hackles bristled. There was something important about this woman. V couldn’t make out any facial features through the delirious distortion, yet this woman’s body shape didn’t melt away into the seat like the others. It stayed round and proud. She was pregnant.
A rush of adrenaline shot through V’s veins. Panic? Excitement? What was it? Only in this instant of this natal recognition did last night’s vision return to V’s consciousness, well, near consciousness. The shaman’s words were suddenly so clear in her head again – “drink the blood of an unborn baby”. The words had no real audible voice, no accent, no language but the Shaman’s message was the only thing that made sense amidst this swamp of brain sweat V was experiencing. They gave her an ounce of strength, a gram of relief, an iota of hope. Was the solution to all this suffering sitting right beside her? For a moment V stopped shaking and stared wide-eyed at the woman’s bulging belly.
“Mrs Gintub?” called Doreen from the archway connecting the reception to the waiting room. “The obstetrician is ready to see you.” Preggo got up and hastily walked away from V’s mouthwatering stare towards Doreen, glancing back at V with concern. “Is she alright? I mean, should she be sitting here with all the “normal” people?” she whispered in an accent the Queen would be proud of towards the ever-open ear lobes of the arse-lipped receptionist.
Seizing any opportunity to gossip, Doreen put her arm closely round the expecting Gintub and led her into the clinic room. “Don’t you worry my love,” she whispered back in her hoarse suburban twang, “she’s in here all the time; we know how to handle her, total hypochondriac that one, harmless of course. Bless her.” Doreen felt a genuine pang of pity as she refocused on the featherweight threat over her shoulder. Must get my angina seen to again, she deduced.
V shook herself as preggo and her precious bump disappeared from view. How could she even think such horrific, abhorrent and evil thoughts. Even if it could be justified, she reasoned that it would probably be logistically impossible to carry out an act of blatant cannibalism. After 10 minutes Mrs Gintub re-entered the reception area smiling smugly. “Thank you doctor!” she called behind her, “I just knew there was a perfect little person in there!” She gambolled out of the door into the sunshine and into a Mercedes Benz convertible waiting for her outside.
That baby’s going to be born with everything it needs, V considered enviously. V was unsure if she’d ever experienced maternal love, if she had, it was long before the female that spawned her had discovered Maoams and marshmallows; beyond V’s memory anyway. Despite the painful pangs of jealousy, she knew she must try and retune her heart strings to be “happy” for the “perfect-little-person” and it’s privileged life ahead. You will just have to rely on the doctor and healthcare system, she told herself, they must look after you – by law at least.
V was called into the doctor’s office by Doreen who showed her in whilst rolling her eyes in perfect tandem with Dr Hyatus’s. A subtle routine they had perfected over the last couple of years. V had never noticed. “So my dear,” said the hairy fat man in the short sleeved checked shirt, “to what do we owe the pleasure of your presence today?” He smiled patiently and handed V the floor. “There’s something terribly wrong with me, I’m hoping it’s just the flu or something, but it could definitely be something more serious – I probably need blood tests… I’m struggling to breathe, my pulse is racing, my heart just… oh god!” She clutched her chest. “Ok, ok” said the doctor kindly, “Let’s have a listen”. He wheeled his chair, with a little too much mirth, across the floor towards V and applied one end of his stethoscope to his ears and the other to V’s bare bony back which she had prepared for him automatically.
“…And my head is pounding, my muscles are aching…I can barely see! And I’ve been hallucinating! Yes! Terrible visions!” Her exclamations were conveniently muffled by the earpieces the doctor was wearing so snugly. “Are you urinating ok?” He asked routinely. “Ummm, maybe, I can’t remember…I’ve been terribly nauseous…and actually vomited!” She remembered just in time. The kidneys were the last thing on her mind, but oh god, maybe he thinks she has kidney failure! She’d read about the dangers of that on the internet. “I probably need some strong antibiotics don’t I?” She pleaded. “Well you don’t have a temperature…your pulse is quick but regular…have you tried taking a few deep breaths my dear?” He demonstrated some deep breathing and she joined his rhythm, slightly calming as she experienced a brief moment of human connection.
“There, you see? Anxiety. That’s all. It’s only anxiety again isn’t it? Just take an extra diazepam, you should have more than enough from the last prescription. Go home and relax. When I’m feeling a little wrung out, Mrs Hyatus cooks me my favourite comfort food: egg on cheese on toast. I have a hot bath, a cup of cocoa, maybe with a dash of Disaronno” (he winked), “ feet up and watch the snooker, and there we go, back to normal. I suggest you do the same for yourself.” He knew V lived alone, and felt a little regretful for mentioning his Mrs. “Now off you pop.” V did actually feel calmer. “Are you sure?” She begged. “I just felt like I was on death’s door this morning! I do feel a little better now…do you think I’ll really be ok?” “There’s certainly nothing sinister going on, I can assure you” assured the doctor. He smiled with the professional technique of a stage magician and V was momentarily convinced. He turned towards his computer and started typing, or seeming to.
V stood up and started to walk towards the door. That was that, she supposed. Her breathing had certainly steadied so she no longer felt her heart was in trouble and the room had stopped spinning. She nipped in to the lavatory to test the urination situation. As she limply lowered herself down to the bowl making full use of the hand rail, she came into direct eye contact with herself. Directly opposite the toilet was a full length mirror. Who the hell wants to watch as they relieve themselves? How is this useful, even to disabled people? She, and (most of) the rest of the world, wondered. She looked at herself and couldn’t have felt more ashamed. Not only were her pants round her ankles and her eyes lolling to the back of her head, she was reminded that she had forgotten to apply any make up to her greyed out face, or to fine-tune her frazzled hairs. And what on earth was she wearing!?
Adequately satisfied that she was pissing in a straight line, she darted home with her head down. Once inside her own sterile sanctuary, she ran a bath. Obviously there was no way she would dream of the doctor’s disgusting dietary recommendations, you only had to look at his hanging waistband and jangling jowls to see the consequences of Mrs Hyatus’s version of “love”. But perhaps she could follow part of his advice. He certainly seemed relaxed. Numbed maybe. She’d settle for that.
She opened a bedside draw to reveal neatly stacked lines of diazepam packets and popped a couple into her freshly scrubbed and gelled hand. Filtered water washed them down her eager gullet and she slid into her lavender and epsom soup. V’s eyelids began to droop as the nape of her neck dissolved into the hot water. The scented steam increasingly entered her nostrils as the space between them and the water gradually grew smaller.
Suddenly she heard a familiar voice. Or felt one.