“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.
“I mean, 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 off 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 2015 was too small so I just drew a small black heart in the top right hand 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 it quite tersely because he was worried about being tempted by my body again.
“Are you feeling dizzy right now?” he said.
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 dark red lipstick.
“Could you show me the welts, please?”
“Yes,” I said.
I struggled with my jeans and did actually start to feel really quite hot.
“Sometimes they disappear, though,” I said. “Sometimes they are here other times they are not.”
I was wearing my very best panties, they are 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. I smiled to myself because I have to admit I was surprised that he found them so enticing. I have quite a lot of cellulite and a few large moles.
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? They tend to come back every five to ten minutes.”
“Could you bear with me for a moment?” he said.
I said, “Sure,” and smiled at him.
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 realized that somewhere on the computer there was a file that was labeled Rose Durrell and that in that folder 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 dating sites and had to write my profile information (I said that I was interested in reading, gardening, and helping endangered animals when really my interests are television, eating, and sex.). But anyway, it was to my advantage now because I managed to flick through all 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-Sussex 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, with their legs spread open and their heads back, eyes closed: ecstasy. I scrolled through the miniature women quickly, using my left hand to stop my right from shaking too much to hold the mouse. The women were mostly brunette, with fair skin, I bit my lip as the realization hit me, they were thick set, they wore white underwear, they all looked like… They looked like me. I leapt backwards and knocked the chair. It 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. It had begun to rain and I looked at a fly that was caught and drowning where the bonnet met the windscreen. I realized 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 to buy a multi-pack of crisps.
But then when I got home the living room didn’t feel so lonely, the kitchen suddenly had character, the dead flowers on the side in the hallway looked romantic, like forbidden love.
I was surprised when I called the 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 and acts like a little girl but also wears short skirts. 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 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 need to see a different kind of doctor.”
She covered the receiver again. I imagined her neat red nails.
“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 over my enormous body.
The next few days were very difficult but I quickly realized that I had to find an excuse to get into the surgery, to see Omera. I needed to make myself sick, and fast. I wondered if it was possible to infect yourself with cancer 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 ASDA 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 if things were to get really desperate).
I also ordered five packets of cigarettes.
When the delivery arrived the young boy who rang the bell looked rather worried. He was red in the face.
“Don’t worry,” I said, “I’m trying to get cancer.”
He walked away quite slowly.
I ate all the food in the first few days and 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 I realized that it would probably take a very long time to give myself cancer, probably longer than Doctor Omera Sharpe would remain in love with me.
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, 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. I usually take care of myself but now I forgot to eat. 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.
Sandra who used to come by and talk to me about lipsticks and what eye shadows suited me the most stopped coming now. She couldn’t have picked a worse time but she must have found another job. Even though I never bought anything from her I missed talking to her and looking in amazement at the parrots that dangled from her ears.
It was later that week that I took my bath and the neighbors were playing very loud music and I thought again, Omera. Omera Sharpe. And then suddenly as if from nowhere I realized, 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 on the worktop.
Outside everyone in the world was the same and the sky was dark for so many hours but inside 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 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 an abattoir in my little car. But I didn’t care. Even when I was creating the incisions I didn’t even feel them, not really. I just thought of Omera.
And when I arrived, when I pulled into the 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 jaw dropped open but I just said tersely, “I would like to see the doctor, please.”
“You…” she said.
She seemed lost for words but 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 Gardener’s World.
“Thank you!” I said and turned around to beam at the woman but then I realized 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 her red fingernail and 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. The last thing I saw was his face and the last thing I heard was “fucking hell” but those curse words sounded so beautiful to me because, because it meant that Doctor Omera Sharpe, it meant he cared about me.
After I came ‘round the doctor seemed even less calm and collected than he was before. He had finished stitching my wounds and I looked with wide eyes at my hands, which were filled with tiny little bits of string.
“You’ve done an excellent job, Doctor,” I said.
“Mrs. Durrell,” said the doctor in reply, “I want you to listen very carefully. Look in the mirror.”
He held up an oval mirror, which framed my face in white plastic.
“You have ruined yourself. You have destroyed your life. These scars will never heal.”
“What do you mean?” I said, “I needed to see you. I needed to talk to you. You can’t stop loving me because of a few scars.” I tried to laugh but the stitches in my lips and around my mouth strained horribly. “Surely, you must love me for more than my looks.”
The doctor cleared his throat impatiently.
“I do not love you, Mrs. Durrell,” he said. “You are not to come here again. If you come here I will call the police.”
As I drove home that evening I watched myself in the rearview mirror. It was very dangerous but I really barely looked at the road. I thought of my old face, the face that a fine doctor had loved, the face that he had dreamt of. My stranger’s mouth turned downwards and upward at the same time. The split lip had been sewn but still separated.
Doctor Omera Sharpe had not done an excellent job.
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 hallway mirror and smiling with my jagged lips.
Alice Ash is a new writer from Brighton, U.K. She is the co-creator of Femmeuary, a collaborative feminist blog, and has just finished her first film, Doctor Sharpe. Alice has been published internationally and most notably in Mslexia Magazine, Galavant Literary Journal and BOON Magazine. Connect with her at her website and on her Facebook page.