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A Teaspoon of Giggles
By PAUL STERLING
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2012 Paul Sterling
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE DOCTOR'S WIFE
Angela Smith was proud to be the doctor's wife, although she was a little different to most of her counterparts. She had what is called a 'generous' figure, she never went to the hairdresser, she bought many of her clothes at Target and she drove a Mazda 323 that squeaked and coughed and moaned and probably suffered from arthritis. She did not live in a Lexus-infested suburb of Melbourne, but in a regional city called Sutton Vale where virility is often measured by the size of the bull-bar or the number of spot lights on a Kingswood ute. She knew that some people, behind her back, said that she looked frumpy and plump, but she did not care a toss. Her darling husband loved her just the way she was: 'comfortable' and 'cuddly'.
Angela enjoyed a secret life. Each day, when the sun went down behind the Hills Hoist, after a couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, her husband could become quite libidinous. He encouraged her to buy dresses or blouses with big, big buttons, because he loved 'examining' her by unfastening those buttons very, very slowly while she pretended to resist, although her defensive actions were always hampered by a terrible bout of giggles that his exploration always seemed to provoke. He told her often how proud he was to have a married a beautiful white Australian girl.
Kofi, the husband from heaven, was born in Ghana. He was a very handsome African, with smiling eyes and sparkling teeth and a grin that made many of his female patients fear an onslaught of arrhythmia when he looked at them. He was educated in London and his diplomas were from the most reputed schools of medicine in the Old Country, and usually outshone those of his colleagues, in his wife's modest opinion.
She also believed that he was a very good doctor, one that listened, nodded, smiled reassuringly and offered kind words of advice and encouragement. His prescriptions were short and appropriate. He always spent too much time with each patient, so that he was always behind schedule. Patients in the waiting room sometime looked at their watches, sighed loudly or shuffled their feet with impatience. But they knew that while they are waiting somebody was receiving an overdose of tender loving care.
In the early days Kofi had his own practice and Angela was his receptionist. It was not easy for him, being a doctor with a black face in a regional town in Victoria. But there was a shortage of general practitioners in smaller communities, so people came, first reluctantly, then with more assurance. Angela was very proud when Mrs Watting came out of his surgery one day, with a great smile on her face to whisper those wonderful words.
"He is such a good doctor that you forget he is black!"
She was very proud when the Sutton Vale Medical Centre asked him to join them. He shared receptionists, accountants, billing clerks and nurses with other perfectly white doctors. The computer software often reminded him that he always spent more than the regulatory eight minutes with each visitor, but the patients loved him. Suddenly out of a job, Angela started to work from home as an ambitious but rarely successful freelance journalist and photographer. She adamantly refused offers to become a 'marketing consultant' selling incontinence knickers, magic bras or smart phones to people who do not really have any use for them.
Kofi had three passions in life: his wife, his patients, and the Arsenal Football Club, also known as the Gunners. But Angela was sure that he was never tempted to unbutton Arsene Wenger shirt with the enthusiasm he showed with hers.
His favourite patients were his pensioners. They knew that time was of essence. As the years passed by, clicking over like the odometer of a Ford Zodiac, they knew that there was still much left to do, and that they were running out of time. Kofi had an elderly patient called Peter, a typical old man, a little stooped, unsteady on his feet, but with a brain in overdrive. He told Kofi that when he died he would be getting answers to many questions that were nagging away at him every day.
"Such as what?" the doctor asked him one day.
"Does God exist?" Peter explained. "If so, does she look like Pamela Anderson or Margaret Thatcher? Do pit-bull terriers, lawyers, politicians and real estate agents all go to heaven? And, more importantly, will I go upstairs, enjoying perfect health, playing Scrabble with some scantily clad nymphs; or will I be in the basement, checking my blood pressure every day and playing poker with a team of guys with tattoos, bulging biceps and Harley Davidson bikes. Oh, and another thing. Will I still have prescriptions?"
Kofi laughed. Peter admitted to having OFAD or Old Farts Attention Disorder. He told the doctor one day that when time was short it seemed silly to waste away the hours sitting in a doctor's waiting room. He saw several reasons.
Firstly, from a health point of view, it was about as dangerous as sitting next to a cholera plantation. Secondly, because all the magazines talked about royal weddings, how to grow orchids, baking a chocolate cake, how to fold table napkins, canoeing down the Murray and other totally boring subjects. Thirdly, because most of the hot news they announced had happened ten years ago. Fourthly, because sitting there gave him time to worry that Kofi was going to prescribe probes, needles, scans, and other humiliating inspections, always in those parts of his body that he considered very personal, and inevitably undertaken by a smileless nurse with a three-day moustache and big, big muscles And fifthly, because there were far more important things to do elsewhere.
He would be happier if Kofi told him that he should be eating more steak, more sausages, drinking more beer and wine, having sex only when he felt like it, peeing as often he likes and watching footy matches on Foxtel, on a couch, munching crisps for hours. Peter was not overweight, he was simply resplendent!
Peter died just after the footy final. He was picking up a prescription and suddenly disappeared from the pharmacist's sight. They found him on the floor in front of the counter, quite dead, with a big smile on his face. Kofi examined the body of his old friend and issued the death certificate.
"Why was he smiling?" Angela asked, when he told her of his patient's departure.
Her husband grinned.
"I think he probably met Pamela Anderson," he said wistfully.
THE COLONEL LOSES A BATTLE
Paul Hutchinson could not hide his happiness. He wore all day on his face that smug look of self-satisfaction that showed that he was pleased with himself. He was delighted to know that those who considered themselves his friends believed that he had completed an exemplary career as an officer in the regular army and that he had seen heroic and patriotic action on various fronts.
"When I was in Libya," was a typical introduction to one of his boring and self-ingratiating anecdotes. Nobody actually knew what he was supposed to have done in Libya because his acute modesty and the reputed discretion required by those having served in in Special Forces prevent him from discussing those possibly harrowing experiences. Suffice to say that his friends called him Colonel Hutchinson with that tone of respect in the voice that meant so much to him. His first wife knew that he had only reached the rank of corporal in the Army Catering Corps, and that his only heroic action had been losing a fight with a Free Belgian fighter pilot in a pub in Aldershot, Hampshire, when he was still living in the U.K. She was in fact the barmaid who had provoked the fight, but she had taken that secret to the grave with her.
Moving to Sutton Vale and its beautiful Durrington Lake had allowed Colonel Paul Hutchinson to preserve and embellish his spectacular military career. His civilian activity, as assessor for the Globe Providence Insurance Company, was less spectacular. He was supposed to be an expert in assessing vehicle accident repair costs, but, as one reputed panel beater put it, 'bloody Hutchers didn't know the difference between a bumper bar and an ignition coil.' His social ambitions were often thwarted, such as his failure to be admitted into the Royal Victoria Club.
"I don't care who you pretend to be," John Walsh had told him very loudly in the bar of the club, when, as a guest, he had broached the subject of becoming a member. "We do not grant admission to upstarts and immigrants!"
He had also been very embarrassed when he had attempted to impress a future amorous conquest by taking her to dine at a reputable French restaurant in Ashmeadow.
"I'm afraid we are fully booked this evening," an obnoxious little Gallic man told him at the door.
"I'm sorry, I don't think you understand, I am Colonel Paul Hutchinson," the war hero told him, as he attempted to brush the hindrance aside with a firm hand.
The little Frenchman held on grimly.
"And I am Field Marshal Gaston Lagoutte," he replied. "And even if you were Gerard Depardieu's mother-in-law, you would not have a table here tonight."
Such obstacles are nevertheless rare. After all, Paul Hutchinson had emerged almost unscathed from the Army as well as from two unfortunate marriages. The second Mrs Hutchinson was in a nursing home where patient carers laughed off her incoherent babbling. As far as her predecessor was concerned, she disappeared more than six years ago and her family and the authorities gave up searching almost three years ago.
"She has run away with a Lebanese taxi driver from Coolangatta," he told his fawning entourage with scorn.
They were not sure whether to laugh or not. Was it a joke, or was it the rejection of a humiliation? He did not share with them his concern when the waters of Lake Durrington began to fall dramatically last year. But heavy rain quickly replaced the drought, the waters rose and he was finally relieved to believe that the first Mrs Hutchinson Bligh would continue to rest in a private if muddy peace.
"Women are almost always poor judges of character and adapt badly to a life of rigour and discipline,' he pointed out to his circle of admirers. "If they prefer poverty and boredom living with an uncultivated lout, I will not stand in their way."
"It's very sad, though, to be alone," Elizabeth, a forty-year old spinster told him one morning from one pillow to another.
He laughed. He could see her coming over the horizon like a speeding train.
"Because my unfortunate unions were short-lived, they had a limited effect on my patrimony," he explained. "I enjoy a comfortable retirement, I have a small home overlooking the lake, and I drive a not-very-new Saab convertible that confirms that I am a man of taste and distinction. I am a respected member of several clubs where good manners, inspiring conversations and fine wines go hand in hand."
Elizabeth nodded. She knew he was a member of Rotary and of a small tennis club and believed that that was the extent if his social network. Last night, she had also discovered that he was an incompetent and uninspiring lover. But she preferred to remain silent. She would look elsewhere.
Paul Hutchinson had only one matter of concern, his health. Like most men, he enjoyed an excellent constitution because he did not have the anatomical accessories that cause such discomfort and distress to women throughout their lives. There were, however, occasional moments when twinges, coughs and other discomforts, challenge a man's inner confidence. Such was this morning. The encounter with Elizabeth had depressed him, so he decided to consult Doctor Kofi Smith, just to be assured that he was in perfect male health.
He found himself face-to-face with the one receptionist he always tried to avoid. He had decided a long time ago that she was the type of female that would discourage any man from marriage. She had a loud voice like a sergeant major, she had a moustache like a sergeant major and she barked like a sergeant major that had no respect for rank.
"Can I ask why you are visiting the doctor?" She asked in a voice loud enough to attract the attention of what she thought was her admiring public in the waiting room.
Paul knew very well that she was not supposed to do this but, like most frustrated tyrants, she enjoyed humiliating people. He paused, before answering her question, to ensure that all the other suffering patients were listening. From the corner of his eye, he noted that some patients had lowered their newspaper, hoping desperately that Saint George was about to slay the dragon.
"I was strangling a waitress in a Chinese restaurant last night, when I broke a fingernail," he told her, spacing his words carefully so that all would hear and understand.
She stared at him, opening her mouth two or three times, like a goldfish that has just lost its bowl. The magazine pages had stopped ruffling behind him, and he even heard one or two badly suppressed giggles. Finally, she pointed at the waiting area with a finger, still wondering what to say. As he sat down, near the waiting room door, he noticed that a worried mother had moved her children further down. He had provoked fear, if not respect, which meant nobody would be attempting to drag him into a futile conversation.
He picked up a copy of National Geographic and checked the date. Only twelve years old, this was not bad considering. Opening it on an article discussing the imminent extinction of the blue-tongued frog of Lower Krakapova, he placed it open on the chair, and then sat on it. He noted a few surprised looks.
"I try to avoid the most obvious dangers of a waiting room chair," he explained to the gaping idiots. "It can host to so many illnesses, distresses, leaks, overflows and other emanations. It is very easy to pick up bastard measles, black water fever, anthrax, thrush, herpes or brucellosis by anal penetration, as any officer who has served in the jungle will tell you."
He did not add that his experience of danger had been limited to running a mobile kitchen in the jungle of Aldershot, Hampshire.
Somebody began to giggle and then changed their mind. He faced their inane stares with a penetrating look and they lowered their eyes. He began to inspect his fellow sufferers, because he knew that much can be learned about people by examining their attitude, their dress and their manners, or lack thereof. He decided that the small group in this waiting room was a typical example of the lower rungs of a diversified social ladder.
He chose as an example the middle-aged woman in the left-hand corner, the one who had obviously dyed her hair orange in the laundry sink and who was desperately trying to stay inside a pair of K-Mart jeans at least two sizes too small. He thought that it was reasonably safe to assume that she was divorced and had given up on finding a replacement partner, judging by the blue sweatshirt declaring that all men were bastards and the nicotine stains on her fingers.
"Cholesterol, stress and high blood pressure," he muttered to himself.
In the other corner was a skinny, angry-looking blonde with two kids who both had colds. The boy was about ten and was trying to crack his younger sister's skull open by banging her head against the wall. He decided that the mother was here to ask Kofi for something to calm hyperactivity. She was reading Woman's Day, ignoring their screams and the sour looks from the other patients.
"If I were Kofi Smith," he told himself, "I would prescribe ten strokes each with a leather belt."
He had forgotten for a moment that nowadays it was recommended not to challenge the psychological stability of the little darlings. They were supposed to feel free to express their inner feelings, even if it meant smashing a shelf-load of jam in a local supermarket to relieve stress.
Opposite him sat a little old man. He was thin, pale and quite overwhelmed by the disturbance caused by the little brats. He was gazing at the ground, turning a cloth cap incessantly between gnarled hands. Paul Hutchinson decided that he was here to be told the results of tests, and he had already decided that the news would be bad. He was alone and probably telling himself that there was not really anything worth hanging around for on this planet.
"Ah, well," Paul thought to himself. "Another pensioner's card will soon bite the dust."
Two overweight teenagers sat together. The two girls were holding hands with a look of desperation on their faces, as if prepared to face a disaster of epic proportions. They both wore curtain rings in their nostrils, ears and eyebrows, and both had difficulty in keeping their overflowing buttocks inside their worn jeans. They were both about fifteen, and his decided that the red-head was probably pregnant. He hoped the father was far away on a Liberian cargo ship.
On another chair sat a well-dressed man, with all the characteristics of a middle-class executive. Paul wondered what he was doing here in the middle of the day when most patients are retirees, unemployed or sick children. He was reading the Financial Review.
At that moment, the door to Kofi's surgery opened and a lady emerged holding the hand of a small boy. There was a look of relief on her face so obviously Kofi had been able to reassure her.
Excerpted from A Teaspoon of Giggles by PAUL STERLING Copyright © 2012 by Paul Sterling. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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