Saturday 2 June 2018

Self Assessment

 by Peppy Barlow

double espresso

Rosemary is sitting in the doctor’s surgery.  He is a very personable young man, she thinks.  Not tall dark and handsome but he’d do. He’s twisting a pencil in the fingers of his right hand.  Not looking at her.
            Outside there is a man working in the garden.  He has dark hair and a colourful waistcoat.  A large pair of sheers in his hands.  He is pruning with abandon.  He reminds her of someone but she can’t see his face.  What’s wrong with her today?  Eighty four and still eyeing up the talent.
            The doctor is saying something. She must pay attention.
             ‘Did you hear what I said?’
             ‘Not really, no. I was somewhere else.’
             ‘Yes, well, that often happens.  That’s why I wanted you to have someone with you.’
             She hadn’t thought to bring anyone. Only children need someone to take them to the doctor. ‘Did you say I was going to die?
                  ‘Something like that, but not yet, maybe not at all.  You can never be sure.’
                  ‘I think that’s probably something we can all be sure of.’
                   ‘Well, yes, ultimately but you know what I mean.’
                    ‘I do.’
            Now he is looking hard at her.  Trying to hold her gaze.  Are they trained for this, she wonders?  Are they told you must look a dying person in the eye? He looks so young and vulnerable.  She wants to get up and put her arms round him. She doesn’t.
                  ‘How long do you give me exactly?’
                  ‘I can’t be exact.’
                  ‘Roughly, then.  I’d like to know what I have time for.  Have I time to go on holiday?  Time to throw a party?’
                 He looks away.  The pencil is on the move again. ‘Six months, a year, maybe more.  Could be a matter of weeks.  It’s difficult to predict.’
                ‘Then I’d better go home and sort things out.’
                 He looks up. ‘There are other avenues we could explore, experimental programmes.’
                 She watches as the man in the garden cuts the head off a rose.  She smiles. ‘No, doctor.  Don’t you worry yourself about me.  You’ve done your best.  And, I hate to tell you this, but one day you are going to die and no one will be able to save you.’
            She gets up to leave. The pencil stops moving. As she shuts the door he turns to his computer and puts the pencil down.
            And now she is nearly home.  She turns her small car into the street.  Stops by the house she’s lived in for the past thirty years.  Gets out and goes to the door.  A small black cat comes round the house to greet her.  Rubs himself against her leg. She looks down.
‘I should have taken you with me.  He wanted me to have a friend.’
            She unlocks the door.  There is post on the mat.  She picks it up and moves down the hallway.  There is a gallery of family photos on the wall.  Pictures of herself as a child, her parents, her brothers and sisters, her children, her grandchildren.  She stops at a photo of a man standing beside a vintage sports car. Taps it and speaks. 
‘Not long now, you old villain.  You better not have another woman with you when I get there.  You hear me.’
            She moves to the kitchen. Puts on a kettle.  Drops a tea bag in a mug.  Goes to the table and looks at the post.   Mostly junk mail.  A postcard from a friend in Greece on holiday.  She glances at it.  ‘Think you’d like this place.   Lots of drink and dancing.  Come with me next time.  Sue.’   Also a letter from the Inland Revenue.   She opens it. It is a self assessment form.
‘Good lord.  Do they really know what they’re asking?’
            She makes her tea and sits at the table with the form.  The cat jumps on her lap.  She strokes him. Talks to him. ‘Now let’s see, what do they want to know?  I was good at school. Did quite well really.  Went to university.  Fell in love more times than I can count now.  Only one man really mattered but then you don’t know that until afterwards.  Couple of kids.  Don’t think I was a very good mother but they seem to be alright so perhaps I didn’t do too much harm there. Sometimes remember my grandchildren’s birthdays.  Sometimes take them to the sea and let them run wild.  Isn’t that what a grandmother is supposed to do?  Bit of travelling.  Bit of teaching.  May have had some affect.  Not very nice to my parents I don’t think but don’t suppose they noticed.   Or if they did they probably blamed
themselves.  Isn’t that how it works?   Plenty of people I would like to have slapped at the time but that’s all gone now.  We all harbour hidden resentments which mean nothing to the other person.   I wonder if this is what they want.  And which part of the form to put it on?  Wonder what my friends would say about me?  Is there a section for that as well?  Somebody to speak up for me…. ' 
            The door bell rings.  She puts her mug down.  Goes to the door.  The man from the doctor’s garden is standing outside.  The man from the photograph.
             ‘Oh, didn’t expect you just yet.  Haven’t finished filling in the form.’
              He smiles.  She reaches for her coat.
              ‘I hope you know the ropes...   Must admit I was a bit rattled when he told me… but there we are…. nice of you to turn up…’ 
            The man stands back to let her pass. The vintage sports car is parked in the drive.  Rosemary laughs.
‘You’re not still driving that flash car.  God, will you never grow up?’ 
            The door closes. The cat mews and moves to the closed door.  We hear the car start up and move off.  The cat turns.  Moves back into the kitchen where Rosemary’s body is slumped over the table. 

 About the author

Peppy Barlow is a founder member of The Woven Theatre Company and a lecturer in Creative Writing at the Ipswich Institute.  Her latest work is a site specific play at Landguard Fort in Felixstowe on the life of Philip Thicknesse, Governor of the Fort 1753-66.
And here is the video to go with it:  


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