BERNARD’S SECOND VISITOR

4 Oct

The doorbell rang and Bernard’s heart seemed to leap. The sudden noise was a shock and he was only too aware that he shouldn’t experience too many shocks.

“Here we go again,” he mumbled. “If it’s that Death fellow again I’ll tell him where he can get off!”

It might be Death. Hadn’t his heart just seemed to give one unholy leap when the bell rang and might that not be another prelude to death? And hadn’t that Death character seemed to be as real as the nurse that came every day to check that he was still alive?

He went towards the door anyway, and paused. There had been a time when he wouldn’t have done that. He’d have sniffed to himself that he didn’t want any visitors, that they were too much bother and all he wanted was to be left alone, and remained obstinately in his chair until whoever it was ringing his doorbell had gone well away. But now he didn’t do that. Here he was, on his way to the front door, and that was no distance away.

He guessed he’d learned a lesson. Maybe that Heaven and Hell bit had been a dream, maybe his dying mind had conjured the images and characters from his rather inadequate imagination, maybe he’d written the story himself … well, not exactly written but told it to himself. And if that was the case maybe that’s all Heaven and Hell were anyway ” a sorry story told by inadequate people to themselves.

Or stories told by the almost dead who miraculously recovered, like he had.

Maybe men in really ancient times had been rescued from near death by a kindly ancient-times nurse, the wise woman of a primitive village settlement, maybe, who had given them the biggest kiss of life imaginable until they had come round like he had.

For him it had been Amelia.

Amelia had restarted his heart! He’d been dead and she’d brought him back to life! And everything he’d seen in what might have been no more than a dying man’s last dream contrived to make him think that what she had done was good, a blessing, a kindness beyond reason.

Of course he loved her for it.

Well, not loved exactly. She was young, or younger than him by a few decades ” he wasn’t exactly sure how many ” so it wasn’t so much love as extreme gratitude. A gratitude that made him want to kiss her back for all she had done for him.

A kiss in return for a kiss.

The doorbell rang again.

It couldn’t be the nurse because she had a key and it couldn’t be Terry or Amelia because they never called, not now that he was home and on the mend. He’d never been a friendly sort of person, had never welcomed others into either his heart or his home so he didn’t expect visitors. And most acquaintances knew that. Yes, all were acquaintances. He didn’t have any friends.

He pushed himself, still wearily, towards the door. He opened it, blinking, and gazed at the woman who was poised to ring the bell again.

“Bernard?” she asked. “Bernard who used to live on Elm Street?”

“Elm Street? Yes, when I was a kid,” he acknowledged cautiously. Who was this asking personal questions, and he not out of hospital a fortnight with a heart that might start playing up any time? And it a woman, too.

He didn’t know any women.

What had mummy told him about the females of the species” no, not mummy but mother, he shouldn’t even think of her as mummy, the evil old witch had all but wrecked his life with her crass superstitions, he could see that now but why hadn’t he seen it back then, when she’d been alive and pouring her false verbal venom all over and into him? She’d told him so many times that it had become part of his mind that all females, offspring of the biblical Eve, were evil and in a way she’d been right because she was one of their number with her stupid superstitions and cruelties.

And back then they’d lived on Elm Street. At least, for most of the early part of back then.

It had been pulled down since, in a clearance scheme that had seen a nice modern estate replacing the ramshackle houses that had been built above a century earlier. They were too good for Bernard’s family, though. Much too good.

“I thought it was you,” she said quietly.

This woman was cultured! Her voice rang with the sort of tones that spoke of education and a stylish high status.

“I’m a doctor,” she told him, “or was. I ” er – I saw you once or twice in hospital recently. Though I’m not here because I was a doctor. I came here to see you … for personal reasons.” She sounded, maybe, a bit uncertain, which provided them with a level playing field because Bernard usually felt uncertain in the presence of others.

He looked at her carefully.

If she was a doctor she must be ready to retire, he thought, and she’d said was which implied that the doctoring might be in the past. She looked to be about his own age, nothing like Amelia who’d saved him. Amelia, he thought, might be called a young woman and this visitor was, to put it generously, middle aged.

Or if she was his own age she was old. After all, he was old.

“I was a patient too,” she murmured. She must have read the doubt on his face and the way he was trying to work her out.. “But I really am a doctor,” she added, her eyes sparkling with humour.

“I had heart trouble,” he told her, feeling that he really ought to say something. “It stopped, and luckily a neighbour started it again, or I wouldn’t be here now!”

“Do you remember Elm Street?” she asked. “When you were a boy? A teenage boy?”

He nodded. Did he remember it? Of course he did, and hadn’t he been reminded of it in his … nightmare. That’s what he’d concluded it had been, the trips to Hell and Heaven. A nightmare in a brain starved of oxygen until Amelia had breathed some of her own into him.

“It was a long time ago,” he murmured cautiously, and then he did something he never thought he’d do. Here was a woman, a member of a gender he’d been brought up to despise, and… “would you like to come in?” he asked.

“If you’re sure,” she said, almost apologetically.

He nodded, and she followed him to his front room where, fortunately, he had more than one chair. He might have only had the one because nobody else ever came in to sit down. But he had a bog-standard three-piece cottage suite and he invited her to sit down.

“I lived next door to you on Elm street,” she said quietly.

He might have guessed, but he hadn’t. Many years had passed since then and he could barely remember anything about the people who had moved in next door when he’d been a teenager. But…

“The fish and chip shop…” he mumbled. “I remember the fish and chip shop…”

© Peter Rogerson 04.10.16

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