You can hear me read this excerpt from my novel, Hellingly, on Write Club The Podcast Episode 8.
Doctor Fitzpatrick sat behind what had once been a magnificent oak desk with a green leather inlay. Now its surface was worn and scratched, pockmarked with small burns from carelessly smoked pipes and cigarettes. A heavy black telephone with a large silver dial sat next to a ceramic ash tray, both peppered with dust. The walls and ceilings had yellowed like milk gone sour. The rug poking out from beneath the desk was threadbare and faded. Only the view through window gave any hint of the prestige attached to the room which overlooked a sweeping drive that disappeared into the fog.
It seemed strange that in his own environs Doctor Fitzpatrick should seem so diminished, so much less imposing than when Grace had last seen him filling her parlour in Conway Street. He looked as neglected as his office; his shoulders hunched as he read the top page of a pile of papers in front of him. His face looked as if it had been kept folded overnight and the creases had yet to drop out.
Blue peeped out from behind the hat stand in the corner with her finger pressed to her lips then bobbed back hidden by the doctor’s coat which hung limp, like a man overcome with exhaustion.
“Good morning, please sit down,” he gestured to the upright chair in the centre of the room.
“Thank you,” Grace sat and arranged herself unsure whether to fold her arms or cross her legs. Best not to look too anxious but not too cocksure either. Just behave normally she told herself, stomach lurching with a cocktail of dread and anticipation.
“I am, Doctor Fitzpatrick.”
“Yes, Doctor, I remember.”
“Good, good and how are you?”
“I am fine thank you. Absolutely fine.” Grace wondered if she was too cheerful and arranged her face in a more serious visage.
Turning his attention to Sister Burton the man continued, “How’s she been?”
“She’s settled in well, Doctor. Washes, dresses, feeds herself, she’s been continent since she’s been on the ward. She has done some work therapy sessions in the laundry too. She can be a little belligerent but on the whole she gets on with everyone and is beginning to mix with the other patients.”
“Belligerent you say?” The doctor peered over the top of his glasses with raised eyebrows.
“Perhaps opinionated is a better word.”
Grace cleared her throat. “I think Sister Burton is referring to my resistance to being treated like a child instead of a grown woman.”
“Go on,” the doctor was interested.
“I objected to the over familiarity of staff which seems to be the common practice in this place. I told Sister Burton I wished to be addressed as ‘Mrs Wheeler’ which seemed to offend her in some way.”
“Ah, I see,” the doctor scribbled on a piece of paper.
“And why you have to call the gardens ‘airing courts’ I have no idea.”
Sister flicked her head upwards, held both hands out, palm up, “Quod erat demonstrandum”.
Blue popped out from behind the coat-stand and waggled a forefinger in a caricature of a scolding schoolmistress. Grace stifled a giggle.
The doctor’s head snapped back, he watched Grace for a moment and then turned to the sister again. “What of her moods?”
“She often cries at night and has shown extreme anxiety about her children, often asks for news of them and is seldom satisfied with our explanations.”
“Explanations!” Grace exploded. “They’ve told me nothing I didn’t know the day I got here. It’s been almost a week and not a damn word.” Seeing the look which passed between the doctor and sister Grace struggled to contain her anger, she looked down at her lap and scratched her palms furiously. “Of course I am anxious, I am their mother, surely it would be rather odd if I weren’t?”
“Grace is belligerent,” said Mabel.
The doctor made no comment, but made a few more notes and addressed the sister again. “What about delusions and hallucinations?”
“Oh yes. We hear her talking to herself, often. Most days I’d say. She gets very animated at times, laughs for no obvious reason.”
The doctor looked at Grace for a few seconds longer than was comfortable.
“Can’t it be that I am a naturally happy person?” Grace tried to blink away her anxiety.
“When she gets distressed, she sometimes holds her hands over her ears and calls for quiet.” Clearly the sister was determined to undermine any justification. Grace scowled at her.
“Grace is cross, Grace is unhappy.”
The doctor’s face was expressionless as he wrote once again on the pad in front of him. “Thank you Sister.” He turned to Grace. “What do you know about this hospital?”
“It’s the lunatic asylum. Everyone around here knows.”