S T Vasectomy Clinic - 19
By Jane Hyphen
It was slightly off-putting to hear Cece pacing around on the landing, going between her bedroom and the baby’s room. He tried to ignore her but for some reason the sound of her footsteps made him feel incredibly tense and angry. They were just so predictable, the number of seconds between her steps, the familiar fall of the souls of her feet on the carpet. He couldn’t stand it.
He threw off the covers, put the phone inside his pocket and went downstairs, ignoring her as he passed her on the landing.
She frowned at him. ‘Where are you going?’
‘To get a….tablet. That bloody lamb has given me chronic heartburn.’
‘Like I said earlier St John, the future’s vegan.’
He headed to their little home office, chilly and barely used since they’d opened the clinic in town. It was where he’d once studied and prepared seminars, the walls were adorned with framed certificates and photographs from his NHS years.
He wrapped his blue dressing gown tighter around his waist, switched on the main light but it was far too bright and made him feel self-conscious so he turned on his little green desk lamp instead. The leather chair was cold and made a puffing sound as he sunk into it. There was a feeling of anticipation, his heart raced as he held his fingers still momentarily then slowly typed in her first name. Nina. Images from films appeared on the screen, music videos, random women both real and computer generated. Each picture vaguely related to the word Nina, even these strangers, unknown and unrelated to him made him feel aroused, charged.
It was as if there had come some point where he had made Nina into a religion, a sort of cult and now he only had to think of her first name and he was ready to swallow up all things related to the word.
Her surname was Meadows, Nina Meadows, he didn’t know how old she was, he’d thought about it many times and decided that she could be anywhere between twenty six and thirty four. Of course it would be easy to find out but there was something comforting about not knowing and if she was very young then he’d rather not find that out yet.
He felt slightly jumpy about typing in her full name. The internet was a bit of a mystery area for St John and it seemed plausible that people would know that he had been searching for her name, maybe they would all know at work and they might confront him. It was late, he was tired, his view of reality warped slightly by his herbal, medicinal nightcap. His fingers were stiff as he typed in her full name. The search threw up a dozens of women, young, old, deceased, from all corners of the world. One by one he went through them, a couple seemed to look quite like her if he used his imagination. Were they her? There was one girl who resembled her closely, similar age and hair style but she worked as an Estate Agent.
St John’s mind began to play tricks. In the dead of night it seemed perfectly possible to him that Nina was moonlighting as an Estate Agent. He stared at the photograph of her smiling at the camera for several minutes but in the end his head was mashed, he couldn’t even picture the real Nina Meadows, he couldn’t remember what she looked like. He rubbed his tired eyes, all he could do was feel her energy, like a warm nurturing spirit dominating his mind.
He sighed, looked around the room, turning his attention to some of his mother’s antiques. A glass cabinet full of figurines, Dresden Porcelain, that was what she called them, if he’d remembered correctly. How she’d cherished those characters back in the opulent home of his childhood, she used to dust them with a feather duster every week and talk to them too. She brought them to life.
Now they were suspended, ignored and unappreciated, the blank expressions of clowns and musicians, couples holding hands on benches, all painted in bright chintzy colours. A sudden urge came over him to touch them and he opened the cabinet and removed a young boy carrying a dog. It was lighter than he’d expected, more delicate. He placed it on the desk, how bizarre it looked.
They would have no place in a modern house. It occurred to him that he should take them to an auction house, along with a few other things. He couldn’t imagine his mother would ever visit him again now, in fact he couldn’t recall the last time she had been to see them at The Driffold. Her final visit was probably an inconvenient one, Cece would have been annoyed by her presence and they both would have felt relieved at her departure. He was exhausted now and began to feel depressed and quite thirsty. He went back to the kitchen to get a glass of water and the rest of the night became a sleepy blur.
In the morning he woke confused, having experienced a vivid dream about his mother. She had been sitting next to his bed, the room was dark and she was whispering his name. “St John,” she’d said, “St John I think it’s time.”
He opened his eyes, the room was light, it was late and he could hear Cece in the kitchen preparing her breakfast, the obnoxious sound of greens being pulverised inside a blender. It was rather a rush to get ready, no time for a shower, just plenty of aftershave and mouthwash to ensure that he was inoffensive for Nina; if he couldn’t be attractive he must at least be inoffensive and not smell like a musty old man.
Cece had already left by the time he came downstairs. Immediately he went to the office to check on the figurine he’d removed last night before bed. It was unclear to him which parts of his memory were a dream and what had really happened. He knew he’d told Cece about putting the house on the market but he didn’t remember leaving the office to go upstairs to bed.
The figure of the boy and his dog were indeed on the desk and the little lamp was still switched on. He returned the lonely figurine to the others in the cabinet and saw that he’d left his phone on the chair and it was still switched on. It occurred to him that Cece might have seen it and checked what he’d been up to but on second thoughts it didn’t matter. He wondered why he was getting careless, was it old age or just apathy.
He arrived at the clinic a little later than usual, his stomach flip-flopping as he walked up the driveway, having seen the faint outline of his beloved Nina behind the reception desk. ‘Morning,’ he said.
Nina never knew what to call him, St John or Mr Hughes, both sounded awkward and weird to her so she avoided calling him by any name where possible. She looked up and smiled, pretending to be surprised. ‘Oh hello, did you have a good weekend?’
‘Yes not bad thank you. How about you, get up to much?’
‘Not really. I’m quite a boring person. I walked my sister’s dog.’
St John could see Louisa now approaching the entrance and was disappointed that she was about to interrupt their conversation. ‘What dog does she have?’ he said quickly.
‘A Hungarian Vizsla.’
‘And where do you walk?’
‘Morning all!’ Louisa blundered in, clutching a coffee cup and some food in a paper bag. ‘Got you a granola yoghurt Nina.’ She glanced at St John and winked. ‘She’s so healthy,’ she said pointing at Nina.
St John stood a while just staring at her while she removed her coat huffing and puffing, shaking her hair into place. ‘I know she is,’ he said, ‘she was just telling me about her dog walking expeditions.’
‘Oh, they’re not expeditions,’ Nina said, blushing slightly. ‘We just go up to Jack’s Copse, around the lake.’
St John nodded. ‘Ah yes, I know it.’ He didn’t but he was sure he’d investigate and find out. ‘I’m a bit of a walker myself, you know.’
Louisa sat down and began clumsily picking things up from her desk and banging them back down again. ‘Where’s my diary?’ she said. ‘I swear there’s little fairies who come in here at the weekend and move everything.’
St John wasn’t keen to leave the reception desk, he could smell the faint aroma of Nina’s perfume and something else, something transcendent, young hormones, vital and nurturing. He suddenly thought about his mother’s figurines back home in the office, the absurdity of them. ‘Neither of you are into collecting antiques are you, little porcelain figures. I inherited them from my mother and they don’t fit in with my house.’
‘I thought you had a big old house?’
‘I do Louisa but I want to have a clear out, start again, modernise.’ He found himself staring at Nina, she began to clutch at her sleeve nervously.
‘Won’t your mother be upset if you sell them,’ said Nina, sympathetically.
‘Well,’ he sighed, ‘she won’t know but I want them to go to a good home. My mother has dementia, she’s in a home quite far away from here. I’m thinking of moving her closer.’
Suddenly the office door opened and Cece came out with a sour smile on her face and began fussing around the waiting area, tidying leaflets and magazines. St John coughed and continued. ‘She hasn’t got long and I want to see a bit more of her before...you know, her expiration I suppose.’
Cece glanced up at him with a look reminiscent of shards of glass. Nina on the other hand looked at him softly and nodded. He caught her eye, something passed between them. She saw him as a clear platform above her, something to climb onto for safety, she was unburdened by the weight of what had gone before.
‘There’s that old folk’s home just on the edge of town that isn't there,’ said Louisa. ‘but they had that scandal there last year, remember? It was on the news just the other night, it went to court, Mr Cheeseman. I can’t remember what he got but it wasn’t long enough if you ask me.’
St John cleared his throat. ‘Well one way or another, something has got to change and I want to do the best I can for my mother….and for myself. None of us are on this earth for as long as we imagine. It’s no good just coasting along, we have to make tough decisions sometimes, burn old bridges and just move on.’
A thick atmosphere gripped the room suddenly. Cece slapped one of the cushions on the sofa. Nina felt very uncomfortable and kept her eyes on the computer screen, carrying out urgent imaginary tasks requiring a great deal of fast typing.