The examination table was uncomfortable but Hannah didn’t care. In fact, she half hoped the doctor would be called away, not for an emergency – she wouldn’t wish a life-changing event on anyone – but to deal with a minor mishap. While he played hero, she’d be more than happy to nap. But there was no delay and he got to work at once, disinfecting a patch on her arm before pressing a needle into her skin.
As they waited for the local anaesthetic to take effect, the nurse, a middle-aged woman who was new to the clinic and to Hannah, smiled and asked, ‘On a day off?’
‘No. I had to give up work last Christmas to-’
‘Escaped the treadmill, eh?’ interrupted the nurse, sounding impossibly chirpy. ‘Well done, you! Footloose and fancy-free. What I wouldn’t give….’ Her voice trailed off but then she continued in a less bubbly tone, ‘You do know you’re a lucky duck, right?
The question was one Hannah had heard countless times before. She sighed but said nothing.
After clearing his throat, the doctor took hold of Hannah’s arm. ‘Feel anything?’ he asked, testing the newly numbed area with a gloved finger.
‘Right so. This shouldn’t take long.’
Closing her eyes, Hannah let her mind drift into the usual daydream, the one where a ringing phone changes her life. So sudden. So sorry. A real phone rang on the desk just as the doctor made a tiny incision in her arm. She flinched and opened her eyes.
‘Okay there?’ asked the nurse, leaning in to check on her patient.
Hannah nodded and reassured herself that fantasies were harmless, no matter how awful. Still, her conscience chased the dream away.
‘Come on, you little beauty,’ whispered the doctor. Gently drawing out the implant that had been part of Hannah’s arm for three years, he dropped the contraceptive device into a dish and began the process of inserting a replacement.
As he’d promised, the procedure didn’t take long. A short time later, after the nurse had said cheerio and slipped from the room, Hannah joined the doctor at his desk. She watched as he added a note to her digital file, a record she knew was both short and repetitive. Only two things ever brought her to the clinic, contraception and travel vaccinations. Realising that it might be years before she was able to book another holiday, she swallowed hard. She didn’t really need contraception either; the odds of her having sex again before the menopause hit were getting worse by the month.
Celibate at thirty-seven. Celibate and trapped.
Swallowing hard for a second time, she forced herself to think of something else. There wasn’t much of interest in the surgery but a sudden burst of music drew her eyes to the street below where three teenage boys with guitars had begun to belt out an R.E.M. song. The fearless way they were doing exactly as they pleased impressed Hannah, even as her mother’s lost voice echoed in her head.
I hope it keeps fine for them. It won’t, mind. Reality always catches up with dreamers.
The saying from her childhood, her mother’s playful response to anyone who did what they wanted instead of what was expected, haunted Hannah’s thoughts as she left the building.
The buskers were still performing when she reached the street. They were good rather than great, but their enthusiasm was infectious and about thirty people had gathered around them. Hannah lingered for a moment at the edge of the crowd, savouring the lively atmosphere. She wanted to stay longer, to let the music quieten her mind, but the next bus was leaving in fourteen minutes and she needed to get back. Dragging herself away, she held her arm – it felt tingly now – tight against her body and headed for the bus stop. As she trudged down the busy street, she mentally ran through the jobs waiting for her. Cooking, cleaning, coaxing and- Before she reached comforting, her phone rang. She ignored it and kept walking. But the unanswered call triggered the daydream again andshe imagined the voice of the kind neighbour who stepped in whenever she needed to go out.
Your mother….too late….another stroke….so sudden….so sorry.
The anaesthetic in Hannah’s bloodstream seemed to spread with every garbled, make-believe phrase. Her whole body tingled as she let her imagination run free. She wondered what she’d do when she returned to an empty house. Roam from room to room? Bawl? Both, probably. But then she would hug herself and go home; back to the apartment she loved and still technically owned, despite months of mortgage arrears. She’d roam from room to room there too, opening all the windows. Then she’d head for the shower. After scrubbing herself raw, she’d slip into old clothes and settle herself on her tiny balcony where she’d drink wine for the first time since responsibility for another person had turned her teetotal; and then, finally, she would curl up in her own bed and sleep, forever if she chose.
Reenergised by the fantasy, she dashed back to the buskers. Three guitar cases sat open. She threw her last tenner into the one with the poorest haul, leaving herself with just enough change for the bus fare. Two of the boys were busy flirting with a group of Spanish students, too preoccupied to notice the appearance of a note among the smattering of coins in the scuffed case, but the third busker whistled appreciatively and yelled at his bandmates, setting off a chorus of whoops and cheers.
Their show of delight made Hannah smile, even as an amused voice echoed in her head. I hope it keeps fine for them. It won’t, mind. But she refused to listen, humming instead one of the buskers’ songs as she raced to catch the bus that would deliver her back to reality.
N.K. Woods studied Creative Writing in the University of Edinburgh. Her stories have appeared in Storgy, The Cabinet of Heed, Silver Apples Magazine, The Honest Ulsterman, Tales from the Forest, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Galway Review, Queen Mob’s Teahouse and The Ogham Stone. She lives in Ireland.