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01/09/2014

Three Wooden Tables

Jyoti Patel

When I imagined what Dr. Jenners and Dr. Jenners’ home looked like, I definitely didn’t imagine it with a red door, or indeed for there to be little gnomes lining the front garden. And I certainly didn’t expect the gnomes to be the kind that were chipped, or the kind that wore peeling, fading paint. To be completely honest, I thought that their home would be similar to the modern little flat that Dr. K. Jenners kept in central London. I didn’t expect it to be a large country manor, the kind that was wider than it was tall, and it unnerved me seeing their names scratched onto a metal post box by the garden gate.

Dr. K. Jenners and Dr. M. Jenners, 4 Bramley Meadow.

The lack of pretension annoyed me. I couldn’t run away from an address.

My scuffed boots clacked as I walked past the gnomes and up the stone path, before knocking on the red door. She opened it immediately.

‘Hello?’

‘Hi, Dr. Jenners. It’s Charlie.’

‘Charlie? Oh Charlie!’ Her face split into a large smile as I took my hat off and grinned nervously at her.

‘I didn’t recognise you in that coat! What are you doing here?’

It bothered me that she stepped out into the cold to talk to me, pushing me out instead of welcoming me in.

‘Um… well I needed a quick word, if that’s okay. It isn’t really something that can wait.’

‘Oh. Well I’m back to work on Monday, dear. But if it really can’t wait then… well I suppose you’d better come in.’

I thanked her and followed her into the house. She took my parka coat, hanging it neatly beside her clean apron. Her terriers came bounding towards me on the wooden floor. I had only seen pictures of them on the desks at the surgery, so they were a lot smaller than I had imagined. The dusky hallway was cluttered with umbrellas and wellington boots, and the magnolia paint was peeling from the banisters.

‘Come right through. The boys and Kevin are out at the moment; they won’t be home for a while. Would you like a cup of tea?’

I nodded as I sat by the wooden kitchen table. It was identical to the wooden table that sat in Dr. K. Jenners’ office at the surgery, and also identical to the wooden table that sat in his swanky flat in London.

‘Help yourself,’ Dr. M. Jenners said, placing a plate of biscuits before me. ‘How did you get here? The roads are just terrible this morning.’

‘I walked.’

‘You walked? All the way from Stonebridge?’ she asked, eyeing my boots.

‘I meant from the station. I walked from the station.’

‘Aha, you took the train?’

‘Yes.’

I watched her attempt to figure out what could be so urgent.

‘You’re probably wondering why I’m here,’ I started.

‘I must admit to being curious. Sugar?’

‘One, please.’

‘Brown or white?’

‘Whatever’s closest.’

She smiled and stirred in a spoon of brown. ‘So… what is it dear? Oh, unless you want to wait and speak to Kevin too?’

‘No, no. It was you I wanted to talk to, Doctor.’

‘Really? Me?’ she asked, as if I had picked her especially.

‘Yes, Dr. Jenners. You see… the truth is… I have to resign. I can’t work at the surgery anymore,’ I explained, pushing forward a letter in a brown envelope.

She exhaled as she set the cup down on the wooden table in front of me. I flinched as the wet cup stamped its mark into the old, ashy wood. By habit, I pulled a magazine closer from the centre of the table, and placed the cup onto it. She didn’t notice.

‘Well, when are you leaving?’ she asked, her eyes on the brown envelope.

‘Immediately. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to just not turn up on Monday so… this was my only choice really. I’m moving away, you see.’

‘Oh my. So you can’t work any of your shifts next week? This is very short notice, dear.’

‘Yes, Dr. Jenners. I’m really sorry about this.’

‘Please, it’s Molly.’

‘I’m sorry, Molly.’ I whispered, ‘I know you and Dr. Jenners are the only doctors at the surgery, but you haven’t been particularly busy for the last few weeks… so I thought it would be okay.’

‘I’m sure we will work something out. It’s not a problem,’ she smiled.

I tried to smile back but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

‘Charlie, is something else the matter?’

‘No, that’s all. I… spoke to the other receptionist, Mary, and she said that she can cover my shifts this week so that you have time to replace me.’ I took a sip of the tea, so as not to be rude, but it scalded the roof of my mouth.

‘Aha. I see. Well, where is it that you are moving to?’ she asked, leaning forward. I stared at the deep wrinkles around her blue eyes. She wore mascara, even on the weekends.

‘A… away. I’m moving away.’

She stared through the misted kitchen window as wisps of steam rose from her tea.

‘The truth is, Dr. Jenners, I’m pregnant.’

‘Oh!’ she looked down at my stomach as she exclaimed. It seemed a strange thing for a doctor to do.

‘I’m three months along. And I… I feel it’s best that I move away from London.’

‘Oh my, really? Well I completely understand. Congratulations, dear!’

‘Thank you. It… wasn’t planned,’ I always felt the need to say this, as if it made it better somehow to be pregnant by accident. ‘But anyway, yeah, I’ll be moving away.’

‘I do beg your pardon, but you’ll be okay, won’t you? Do you have supportive friends and family?’

‘Yes. I’m moving in with Robert this week, he’s really keen to help out.’

‘Robert?’

‘Yes, he’s my partner. He’s picked me up from the surgery a few times.’

‘Aha. I see. Well, look if there’s anything you need then you’re more than welcome to let us know. Maybe if you and Robert decide to come back to north London, then you could pop your head into the surgery,’ she nodded as she spoke. ‘If we have a position available at the time we’d be happy to take you on again.’

I forced a smile, wondering if she was a good mother. Her face was warm and polite on the weekends. But she always seemed a little more distanced at the surgery, as though she didn’t want to mix with us. My own mother once told me that mothers who worked full-time could never be good ones.

‘You’re excellent at what you do,’ she said finally.

‘I’m just the receptionist.’

‘Just? You’ve got a very important job Charlie, and you’re very good at it. All the patients love you. We all do.’

I kept my eyes firmly on the cup of tea on my lap, and I think she mistook my silence for tears.

‘Oh Charlie,’ she placed a cold hand on mine. ‘You mustn’t be afraid.’

‘I’m not afraid,’ I whispered. I think by coming here I had hoped that she would take one look at me and figure it out herself. ‘I’m angry,’ I said finally, breathless.

‘Oh my,’ she started again. ‘You know, the pill isn’t always effective. For example, if you throw up after a night out, then y-’ she stopped when she saw me shaking my head.

‘I wasn’t on the pill,’ I said slowly, grinding each word in my mouth as it rose from my throat. I resented her for assuming, just like her husband had. I resented them for assuming that I would play with my own hormones.

I was about to speak again when somewhere through the hall, her mobile phone buzzed. Then the dogs started barking. Their nails scratched the wooden floors as they ran along the hall, trying to locate the sound. I stared at Dr. M. Jenners grudgingly from beneath my thick eyelashes, but she ignored both the phone and me. The landline shrilled through the hall seconds after the buzzing had stopped.

‘Do you want to get that?’ I asked finally, my voice sharp.

She looked around as though she hadn’t heard it.

‘I suppose I should,’ she muttered, getting up finally. ‘Yes? Oh, hi. Yes. No. No, nothing. Everything’s fine. Yes. Ten minutes?’ she looked down at her watch, ‘Yes. That’s fine, I’ll make a start on dinner.’ Clicking the phone off, she turned to me, ‘That was Kevin. They’re on their way now.’

The phone rang again, just as she had turned away from it. I watched her snatch the receiver, ‘What? Hello? Yes, love. Yes, I’m fine. No, nothing. Alright, see you shortly.’ She hung up again, a little more forcefully this time.

‘I should go,’ I said, pushing my half-empty cup towards her.

‘Yes. Yes maybe you should, it’s getting dark, dear.’

I turned to look at her as she faced away from me now, ‘Dr. Jenners?’ I wanted her to look at me. She shook her head instead, still staring outside into the darkening woods.

‘Do you see that, over there?’ she asked.

I rustled forward to stand beside her. She was shorter than me. I hadn’t noticed that before. She lifted one hand and pointed to a pair of lights in the far distance, just visible as they moved in and out of the trees.

‘Do you see that?’ she asked again.

‘The lights?’

‘That’s Kevin and the boys. They’ll be back very soon.’

‘Okay,’ I said. Then: ‘Dr. Jenners?’

‘Yes, dear?’ She still wouldn’t look at me.

‘Thank you for the tea. Thank you. I’m sorry… for coming up like this, and for… for resigning… so quickly.’

‘You take care of yourself, Charlie.’

‘I will,’ I said, moving into the hallway now, ‘I’m sorry.’

She didn’t see me out. It was a dark two hours walking back to the station. I missed my return train and had to take three connections in order to get back to London that night.

Dr. K. Jenners and his sons had driven past me in their shiny white Jeep as I walked down the path that winded towards the station. Dr. K. Jenners was laughing with one of his sons when he noticed me. When our eyes met through the windscreen, his face hardened. The smile slipped off his lips and he stared at the road behind me, the road before him, knowing where I had just come from. I heard him accelerate into the mud as one of his sons looked back at me. He looked back to see who I was, and perhaps, to see if he knew me.

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