L’Esprit d’Escalier: Part Seven

by | Nov 29, 2023 | Uncategorized | 1 comment

Lucien placed them, palms down on the worn leather top of the desk, and took several deep breaths.

Lucien straightened and tightened the brown woollen tie and fastened the yellow checked waistcoat over his small paunch. He pulled on his Harris Tweed jacket and stared into the mirror. It seemed an age since he’d reached over and turned off the alarm, yet he had the rest of the day to endure. The empire carriage clock below his reflection chimed nine a. m. Time for surgery to begin. He shuddered, trying to alleviate the electric tingling sensation of stress that coursed his body.

For the third time that day he closed the door on his apartment and descended the stairs to the surgery below. Entering the waiting room, he was greeted by the raised faces of his morning patients. Usually he could predict their identities down to the last one, depending on the day of the week. However the ranks of the erstwhile unwell were swollen by several residents of the block. Trauma related, he suspected. Although Lucien had seen hundreds, or maybe a thousand corpses in his long medical career, he appreciated that it was a rare occurrence for the average person.

Nevertheless, his own desensitisation was blunted, on this occasion, by the demise of his friend and neighbour. In two years the giant Malian had endeared himself to the doctor. Lucien was aware of the life he and his family had led and the terrible journey they had endured to be here; a place where his fellow countrymen took everything for granted.

He recalled times when Cheik would bring him flowers for his flat or herbs from the garden to enhance his cooking. He grew each in the giant gardens nearby, where he’d managed to find work. After years of being grease monkey, the transition to all things green seemed to bring him an inner calm. He would miss the big man.

The tragic events of the morning distracted him, notwithstanding the fact that the undertaker was yet to arrive and address his logistical challenge. He sensed a dozen pair of eyes following him through the outer area, to his consulting room.

Closing the door behind him, he pressed his body against it and tilted his head back, standing motionless for several seconds. He pushed himself away from the door and took a seat behind his desk, rubbing his face vigorously with both hands. Lucien placed them, palms down on the worn leather top of the desk, and took several deep breaths. He tried to concentrate without success at the room full of ailments awaiting him. The doctor felt like a jigsaw puzzle that had been dropped on the floor.

He was startled by an insistent rapping on the door. Collecting the pieces together, he put them in the box and replaced the lid. The knock was familiar: it was Raymond Cournoir.

“Come in!” He shouted, his voice frail and cracking with the weight of the day. Another knock, louder. Lucien’s fists clenched on the desk.

“Come-in, Raymond!” He rasped, thumping his fist on the soft leather.

The door opened and the wizened old Parisian shuffled in, taking the seat opposite Lucien.

“Good morning doctor.” The old man’s smile was as false as his greeting, a mile away from the scowl of the vicious imp who’d disrespected Cheik’s death.

“Good morning Raymond. What can I do for you today?” The words squeezed from his mouth like dry toothpaste from a neglected tube. He wanted to shake the crone until every one of his hollow, uncaring bones was dust.

“It’s not what you can do for me Lucian it’s what I can do for you.” The man’s words assumed that of pity: equally as counterfeit as their predecessors.

“I’m sorry Raymond you don’t understand. We have a busy morning, as you well know” Rage began to boil up from deep in his stomach where the stone grew large.

“No Lucien it’s you who doesn’t understand; who doesn’t see the nose in front of his face. It’s time to call it a day , stop carrying me and these sad people. Your time is up that Indian Ocean island is waiting for you.” Suddenly the old man’s expression softened. Lucien felt the backs of his eyes prickle and his nose began to pinch. Tears would follow if he did not get rid of this harbinger of the truth.

He was just about to get up and escort the old man out of the surgery when the door flung open. Standing in the doorway, with a face the colour of morello cherries, stood another neighbour. The thin drawn features and mousy hair were those of single mother Anna de Marisy.

“Lucien! How could you? She’s only fifteen! What were you thinking of?” She glared down at Raymond, who was savouring this interruption. “And what are you staring at you old warlock!” The old man recoiled, as if he’d been slapped hard, and scuttled out of the room. He slammed the door behind him, shutting out the curious crowd.

“Anna please, take a seat. I can explain.” Only he couldn’t.

1 Comment

  1. Kenneth Childs

    Intriguing.

    Reply

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