The door to the café crashed open, violently rattling the glass inside its frame, as in stormed a middle-aged gentleman dressed in tweed. “I came as soon as I could.” Rebecca heard Dr Brennan say. She watched, as he placed a brown leather briefcase upon the table before her. “You realise that as of yesterday, I am officially retired?” Marco, assuming a position close to the doctor, nodded his head sheepishly.
“I know Dr Brennan, I … I remember Rebecca telling me so … Wednesday last week, over dinner. I felt bad about calling you, but you know how much she admires you. She oft repeats that the best thing about being ill, is the ‘seeing you’ part.”
“Well Marco, you may know, I am a long-term friend of the family.”
“This, she has mentioned, how you delivered her into this world and when her father disappeared soon afterwards, you assumed the role of an uncle, doting on her throughout her childhood.”
“Well, truth be told, the midwife present at the time, she delivered Rebecca. However, it can be said I knew her mother very well, keeping in touch until she recently passed.”
“Doctor, is there anything you can do for Rebecca?”
The medicine man turned his attention to the patient. “You said on the phone she is completely frozen, is that right? Not even blinking? For how long?” Rebecca watched on as the doctor stroked his luxuriously silky, blonde moustache, quizzically eyeing her. “Clearly explain the circumstances to me, one step at a time Marco, stage by stage, miss nothing out, it could prove absolutely critical. And by the way,” he added, glancing around the dining area, “where are all the other customers – and all the staff for that matter?”
“W-well,” Marco stuttered, “it’s a self-service café, so no staff.”
“I see.” Dr Brennan dispatched his jacket to the back of a chair and proceeded to undo the white cuffs of each sleeve.
“And, after a while,” Marco continued, “the customers all got freaked out when they saw Rebecca, standing here like this. They wished me luck, but rapidly – table by table – all bade me farewell.”
“Disgusting,” Dr Brennan growled, “some way short of the Dunkirk spirit, ay?” With sleeves rolled up past his elbows, Rebecca drew comfort and a sense of relief at the sight of the doctor snapping-on a pair of sterilised surgical gloves. From his briefcase, he withdrew a small carton, out of which slid a sheet containing eight pipettes sealed in foil. Releasing one and twisting the tip off between his thumb and finger, the doctor approached Rebecca. “It is important I lubricate her eyes.” he muttered under his breath.
“Oh, I’m not very good with eyes.” Marco winced, turned his head sharply to one side and raised a hand to cover the upper half of his face.
“You enjoy gazing into them longingly, yet when it comes to saving them, it’s out of the question I suppose?” Brennan carefully administered droplets of water into both of Rebecca’s eyes, causing a rush of relief to surge all around her body. The doctor quickly dispatched a silent kiss onto the tip of his patient’s nose, then turned back around to face Marco. “Right, that seems to have done the trick. Now, for the next five minutes I am going to apply gentle massage to Rebecca’s neck and shoulders, to help ease the strain caused by her posture.” Brennan walked behind his patient and began kneading. “Whilst I do this, please continue with your version of the events leading up to the point when I entered the café.”
“Yes, of course, I will explain.” Marco pulled out a chair and sat himself down, legs akimbo, elbows on knees, chin rested in hands. “We’d agreed to meet for a walk in City Park today. Rebecca loves the cherry blossom, which – as you may know – has only very recently come into flower. Nothing untoward happened, we sat together on a bench, chatted, people-watched, quietly poked fun at passersby, joked and laughed. I read a poem to her I’d composed earlier this morning.”
“Marco, I am about to … ” the doctor grunted, peering over Rebecca’s shoulder, “undo … Rebecca’s brassière.” Rebecca felt the clasp release and the straps relax around her shoulders and from underneath her bust. “I am expanding my application of massage to encompass her back and both sides of her rib cage. It is imperative I have no obstructive materials slowing down the therapy. Please continue with your explanation; can you read me the poem please?” Marco fumbled in his back pocket, withdrew an old leather wallet and pulled out a scrap of faintly lined paper, which he unfolded, silently read through to himself, before loudly clearing his throat.
My darling, pure and sweet-as-honey Rebecca,
You mean more to me than my own private Mecca.
Sweet archangel, I want to Hajj you every day,
Not just once a year, tra-lala … tra-lala … tra-lalay.”
Engulfed by solemnity, Marco refolded the piece of paper, thumb-dabbed at the outer corner of his left eye, blotting a welled tear as he did so. “I haven’t quite got the ending yet,” he said, “it’s a work-in-progress.” He noticed the doctor on his knees, applying a precise therapeutic massage technique he assumed only possible, from such an angle.
“I want to Hajj you, every day,” Brennan called out, “I like that Marco, as a wordsmith, you are surely gifted.”
“Thank you Dottore.”
“Look Marco, I’m not sure how far in you are to this relationship; I sense you’re still whirling around in the honeymoon phase, would I have that about right?” Marco nodded, unabashed. “I must ask, have you yet laid naked alongside Rebecca?”
“No Doctor Brennan, I have not. I am a devout and good Catholic attending weekly confession.” From a nearby dining table, Marco retrieved an unused serviette and blew his nose twice. “Actually, consummation, this was the topic we were discussing, here in the café, shortly before Rebecca’s paralysis.” The emotional young man’s head fell forward into both his hands. “Perhaps,” he sobbed, “I should call an ambulance?”
“No … no that’s alright Marco, I have matters firmly under control. Now listen to me carefully, we are approaching the next stage of Rebecca’s treatment. Marco, I assure you, in my capacity as a learned, medical professional, what follows is crucial and necessary if we are to have a chance of saving Rebecca.” Marco heard a zipper open. “I need to relieve Rebecca of her springtime tank top and skirt.”
“Doctor Brennan! I must insist you stop right there now!” The physician’s hands froze. “I respectfully ask permission to take my leave, before you remove any further clothing. Rebecca, her mind and her body, which make up her very essence, she is sacroscant to me.” Marco grabbed his jacket and checked he had his door keys and phone in the pockets. “At this stage in our relationship, I believe it is inappropriate for me to see her, in all her marvellously, natural, birthday-suit glory. When the moment does arrive, I want it to be a truly special, romantic thing. I hope you understand.”
“I completely understand,” replied the doctor, “I suggest you leave now, as we haven’t a moment to lose. Return home, I will send you a text regarding the progress I make here. Trust me Marco, I will take excellent care of Rebecca.”
“I will go,” Marco said, as he turned for the door, “although I know not how I will sleep unbroken through the night.”
“Here.” The doctor unscrewed the top of a bottle taken from his briefcase and slipped out two pills. “Take these as soon as you reach your apartment. These will help, you will sleep like a baby.”
* * *
“‘As ‘ee gung yette?” Rebecca ventriloquised through tightly clenched teeth.
“Yes, he’s gone.” Answered Dr Brennan, watching through the café door window as the figure of Marco disappeared around a street corner.
“Oh thank Jesus, Mary and Joseph. I thought he was going to read more of his awful poetry.”
The doctor switched the ‘open’ sign over, pulled the blinds closed and slid both bolts across the door, top and bottom. Turning around, his gaze rested upon Rebecca. Bathed in a golden Renaissance glow from the ceiling light, she stepped out from a scallop shell shaped pile of clothes gathered around her on the floor. “My Venus, my darling, I want you now! It seems like an age since we were last together.”
“Alistair,” Rebecca nimbly pulled at buttonholes, opening out the doctor’s shirt, “Are you sure you can handle this friends-with-benefits arrangement? You understand we can never go public. After all, we both have our reputations to consider. You understand this one-hundred percent; tell me you do?”
“Of course Rebecca.” In series of fluid movements, the doctor released the belt from his trousers, using it to encircle Rebecca’s modest waist. He pulled the young lover firmly towards him. “Believe me, I’m no fool.” He whispered, tracing a pathway of delicate kisses along her curving neck, “Now, Rebecca! Obey me, do exactly as I say and ask no questions.”
“Yes Doctor.” She said.
©Brinkinfield 2020 All Rights Reserved
Part of the Ekphrasis Project (story inspired by picture)
With special thanks to the Covid-19 Lockdown