fingers and toes
I have history, by which I mean case history. As a child I used to watch early morning telly but eschewed the children’s programmes, preferring instead to watch the kipper ties and chalk and talk on BBC2’s Open University output. I learnt three things in this period that have stayed with me – vitamin K makes blood clot; baked beans are mass produced, arrive in sacks, are white before they are doused in “sauce” and are only sampled by some weird hypodermic-like process; and, lastly, I learnt about thalidomide.
The learning outcomes were something of a mixed bag. Years later I told my secondary school teacher about vitamin K – she was doubtful and had to look it up when she went home, but the Open University was correct. Generally then this was a good thing. I refused to eat baked beans for a while, having been revolted by the sight of millions of the little blighters being poured into vats. While my parents were bemused at this turn of events perhaps it did me some nutritional good. Lastly, learning about thalidomide affected me the most. I began to practice picking things up with my toes in secret just in case I ever lost my arms. This went on to a greater or lesser extent for many years and, as a result, I now have fairly flexible and fairly strong toes. Of course, I have no real use for them at the moment, but one never knows, eh?
I thought of this tendency for obsessive and inappropriate forward planning the other day as I was approaching The Sett. My train of thought had somehow gone off the rails, left at the traffic lights and was ploughing new furrows of fear as it does semi-regularly. In my mind’s eye I had gone through the following scenario in excruciating detail.
I opened the front door, all was quiet. I shut the door behind me and walked towards the living room. I saw TA’s feet a foot or more off the ground. Here my thoughts diverged and carriages headed down several different routes – he’s blue, I don’t touch him; I run in and grab him and his skin is cold and clammy; he’s wearing shoes and they are dangling; he’s barefoot and his gecko toes are curled inwards. Enough! Let’s get the carriages back together. I haven’t touched him – I might be a murder suspect. I have to call someone – who? – the police, an ambulance. Next I have to call work. I’m going to be taking compassionate leave for the foreseeable future. Do I call my parents? Dad is so sick right now that I’m not sure I should. Oh god, I have to call TA’s parents. I could ask my mother to call TA’s parents. Where will I find their number though? Have I cried yet? I don’t think so. Will I sell the flat and spend the rest of my life rocking silently in my girlhood bedroom being looked after by my ageing parents? Perhaps.
I climbed the stairs for real and remembered that pilots do so many emergency landings, take offs and other anomalies in the simulator that if the worst does ever happen the training just takes over. I opened the front door and heard the familiar soundtrack of Neverwinter Nights coming from the living room. I walked in and TA was at his desk playing on the computer – he’s so tired after many nights of broken sleep and many years of broken dreams and ambitions and he looks as though he's carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Today especially, I’m so incredibly happy to see him, but terribly sad to see him looking like this. I can’t do anything to help except hold him in my arms and stroke his hair.
I went into the kitchen, took off my rucksack and made myself an iced coffee. I cooked dinner, popping in to talk to TA, listened to the radio and tried to decompress from the day. At one point I said to TA please, please don’t ever commit suicide – I couldn’t bear the thought of having to tell your family. He looked at me quizzically and said that he wouldn’t – admitting that putting me in the role of bearer of the worst news would be rather selfish. I returned to the kitchen only half reassured.