Mrs Carrick: 86 years old. New patient at Rosewood House. Quirkily logical.
Dr Cartwright: Founding associate of Rosewood House Life Choice Clinic. Ethically flexible.
Mrs Carrick wouldn’t sit down and she wouldn’t stop picking things up. She’d been flitting around Dr Cartwright’s surgery for ten minutes. No, flitting was the wrong word but it was like flitting only done very slowly and in the manner of an eighty-six-year-old woman. She’d told the doctor on her arrival that moving helped her concentrate. He had his doubts.
‘That’s my stethoscope,’ said Dr Cartwright. In his opinion Mrs Carrick was helping herself to his belongings remarkably quickly for a woman who couldn’t flit.
‘Oh I know what it is, Doctor. Do you know I’ve never used one?’ She put the end pieces in her ears. ‘Let me listen to your heart.’
‘What did you say?’
Dr Cartwright took to his feet and removed the stethoscope. ‘Perhaps later.’ He had planned to listen to Mrs Carrick’s chest but that would have to wait until he’d had it properly sterilised. ‘Perhaps we should go for a stroll around the garden,’ suggested Dr Cartwright. ‘You could have a cigarette.’
‘I’m sure you’ve not listened to a single word I’ve said. …’
If he was being honest with himself, he would have to agree. Of course, that would mean he would also have to admit that he hadn’t been paying full attention and he was damned if he was going to do that.
‘... with my last doctor,’ said Mrs Carrick.
Bugger, thought Dr Cartwright, wondering what else he’d missed.
‘Tell me again,’ he said, ‘about the smoking.’ He was fairly sure Mrs Carrick’s appointment had something to do with cigarettes. Maybe she had emphysema or lung cancer?
‘Are you listening?’
‘Are you sure?’
‘It’s just that ...’ She picked a framed photograph of Dr Cartwright from his desk. ‘Is this you?’
‘Mrs Carrick,’ said the doctor taking the photo from her hands, ‘it would be a lot easier for me to concentrate if you weren’t fiddling with pictures and going off at a tangent.’
‘Dorothy said you’d be like this. She said you were a wrong ‘un.’
‘Mrs Carrick, we have already established that fact beyond any doubt. I kill little old ladies for a living. That’s why you’re here.’
‘I wanted Dorothy’s daughter.’
‘And Dr Jones doesn’t want you, I’m afraid. It’s not personal. It’s just that she doesn’t want her mother accusing her of murder again.’
‘Murder? Has she killed someone?’
‘Marjory ... Dr Jones ... helps to ease people’s suffering. I believe this is why you are here.’ Dr Cartwright was still following Mrs Carrick around the room. He took the telephone receiver from her hand and put it back in its cradle.
Mrs Carrick turned and looked him directly in the eye. ‘You’re very close,’ she said.
‘I apologise.’ Dr Cartwright took a step backwards and drew a chair forward. ‘Perhaps you’d like to sit down.’
‘I thought you’d never ask.’ At the third attempt Mrs Carrick lowered herself into the seat.
Dr Cartwright tentatively took his own chair. When he was sure the little old lady was going to remain where she was he sat back and relaxed a little.
‘So, tell me, what has brought you to the decision to end your own life?’
‘I can’t remem... oh, yes! I want a cigarette.’
‘But I–’ He was about to remind her that he’d only just invited her to step outside for this very reason when she interrupted him.
‘But I can’t have one. I’ve given up.’
‘Good,’ said the doctor. This was the default setting when talking to a patient who had stopped smoking.
‘But it’s not good, Doctor. I miss it terribly. I want a cigarette. I want one every waking minute of the day.’
‘That’s to be expected at this stage. How long has it been?’
‘How long has … Oh, nearly two weeks. I’m not coping, really I’m not. I’m up all night, pacing around. I can’t think straight. I can’t sit down.’ They both ignored the obvious. Mrs Carrick pressed on. ‘I just want it to end, Doctor. I need you to end the suffering.’
‘Can I just ask,’ said Dr Cartwright, suspecting he already knew the answer, ‘but why did you give up smoking in the first place.’
‘A fine doctor you are if you don’t know that! Cigarettes are bad for you, especially at my age.’
‘But you don’t have any smoking related illnesses? Lung cancer, throat cancer, emphysema, bronchitis, cancer of the mouth, heart disease?’
‘I don’t think so, but you can see why I’d want to give up.’
‘Quite.’ He hesitated, trying to gather the words for the next question. ‘But now you want to end your own life to stop the craving for cigarettes?’
‘That’s right. It’s a terrible thing but what can a body do.’ It wasn’t a question and there was an air of sad resignation in the way it was said.
It had been quite a while since Dr Cartwright felt the twinge of a moral dilemma but he felt one now.
Mrs Carrick leant forward and picked the photograph off the desk. ‘I would have thought you’d have a photo of your wife.’
The picture was from a charity Christmas party and it showed Dr Cartwright holding the FA Cup. It had cost him a £30 donation so it was going on display somewhere and Selma wouldn’t have it in the house.
‘My wife was with me when it was taken.’
‘I’m not sure if that’s good enough. Dorothy told me about your poor wife. You need to treat her better.’
‘We can book you in for Friday,’ said Dr Cartwright, ‘but I should warn you it can be expensive and there’s no going back on the decision once the procedure is carried out.’ This was one of Dr Cartwright’s little jokes. As with most patient’s, it sailed under Mrs Carrick’s head.
‘Money’s not a problem,’ she said. ‘I’ve no family any more. At least none I care about. I suppose I shall just leave it all to the cats’ home.’
Dr Cartwright handed the stethoscope to the little old lady. ‘Tell me, Mrs Carrick, is there anybody you really don’t like?’
‘Don’t get me started,’ she said.
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