A good days work
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The first thing Peabody noticed as he entered the waiting room was the man wearing the bright green gloves.
He was holding them out, palms down, fingers splayed, and he was staring at them through the flaps of his ancient eyelids as if his fingers had just said something rather alarming to him. Maybe his hands pained him, for he was turning them ever so slightly like two dummy hands that had been dipped in green paint.
A roughly female voice snagged Peabody from his thoughtfulness.
"Can I help you?"
A shaggy head with thick glass disks for eyes had slipped out of the jutting corner of a red wall. Its glasses peered at him in no particular manner, showing no trace of pupils, retinas or the whites they would have been sat in. Peabody approached the head and it began to carefully shrink back in to the rust coloured wall, back through its white framed window. Next to it, on a pane of wobbly glass; that had been slid across another, clung a tiny eggshell blue sign.
"I have an appointment with Dr Page, half ten."
His voice sounded solid enough.
"Mmm, yes, Mr Phillip Peabody is it?" She checked, scanning a piece of paper on her little shelf. It was barely large enough to support the sheet of paper and the womanís thin, yellow arms.
"Yes, i`m applying for the job."
Someone coughed behind him. The man with the green gloves.
"Have a seat and Iíll get Dr Page to come and have a look at you."
Peabody had a choice of either sitting next to a pile of tired looking magazines, a bubbling fish tank, or the man with the green gloves. He had no fondness for goldfish, hating their habit of jumping about, but risked a soaking anyway and sat down next to the humming rectangle of water.
The man with the gloves was still holding his hands out as if they might break from the slightest knock.
Peabody could now see the back of the mans head and the dirt behind his ears. He wondered if his own ears were clean enough to pass the Doctors scrutiny. Maybe he should just make a quick investigation; the receptionist had vanished somewhere, no doubt to some inner room where the Doctor sat with his skeletons and his implements.
He felt nervous now.
It had spared him for the duration of the long bus ride, and had even allowed him the stroll up the busy high street to the surgery itself. But now it wanted to make up for lost time, and slipped its fingers around his tender gut, as something plopped in the thick water at his side.
Staring at the swollen glint of the fish, as it lurked amongst its hair-like weeds, at least took his mind off his ears .
"Doctor Page will see you now Mr Hollister."
The receptionist was now standing next to Peabody. She was very tall and looking at him, as if waiting for him to remark on her height.
"Doctor Page is very busy today Mr Peabody, so Iíll show you upstairs and you can get started."
Peabody stood up and noted that the woman was at least a foot taller than he.
"Am I to fill in some forms then? Before the interview?"
The fish plopped again, and the receptionist turned her shaggy head to the noise.
"Thereís no need for an interview youíll be glad to hear, your credentials speak for themselves. We need a lot of files putting on the new computer and you have the skills we need, you can get started straight away."
She turned to face him and then walked towards the waiting room door, her hips undulating in her navy blue pleated skirt. Peabody followed and watched her hands as she fiddled with the skirts zip.
"Iíll take you up and show you what you have to do."
The man with the green gloves had vanished by now, into one of the thick wooden doors in the hallway. He heard no speech as they passed the doors, heading for the glass one that gave access to the street. She was taking him outside.
"Thereís a staircase around the back in the alley. We want you to use it instead of coming through the surgery everyday. Saves on spreading colds and things."
The door opened with a scrape of draught excluder on carpet and then they were out on the roaring roadside, dodging shoppers and puddles.
Peabody had to jog slightly to keep up with the womanís long strides.
She wore black stockings and flat brown shoes he noted.
"Do you know the area well Mr Peabody?Ē She asked as she shoved a dirty black door open between the surgery and the neighbouring betting shop.
"No, to be honest, I didnít even know this road existed until yesterday. At least, I thought it was just residential, you know.."
Now she was inviting him into a brick alley with the open door, which had several thick flaps of cobweb attaching it to the wall. Peabody saw that the walls of the alley were draped in even more webs as he stepped inside, and heard the door slam shut behind him in the dark.
"Youíll give it a good strong pull wonít you Mr Peabody? It sticks you see. Canít have anyone just wandering in off the street."
She was still with him, he decided, and not stood on the other side of the door. It was the clatter of the traffic that lessened the sound of her voice. Or maybe it was the amount of cobwebs, catching her words and muffling them.
"Just carry on going Mr Peabody, you should see light soon enough."
They shuffled forwards together, and Peabody felt sticky strings breaking across his face and neck. He wiped them away and felt his hair for their maker and found nothing but his growing bald patch.
The promised light was just a sickly glow ahead. A thin patch of brickery and clumps of woolly grey.
"Here we are, just around this bend we should have a fire escape, if it hasnít walked off."
Was she trying to get him laughing? Put him at ease?
He gave a gruff coughing attempt at a laugh and watched the alley turn right onto a small area, almost filled by the first black flight of the alleged fire escape. It looked gluey with its new coat of paint, which had at least removed any signs of cobwebs from it, and he touched its thick hand rail as he peered upwards. The metal staircase rose high over the steep brick box wall looking like a sketch against the white sky. It then shot out to the right, back towards the surgery. He could understand the joke now; its thick supporting rods gave it the appearance of having legs, enough to qualify it as some kind of centipede maybe. He felt quite odd imagining himself climbing on board the spindly thing, waiting for it to begin loping off across the backyards and alleys.
"Up you go then. No time to lose."
Peabody launched himself up the staircase, feeling its strength and hearing its clanging notes resounding through his feet and hands. The scenery presented itself as he climbed, and that helped. What also helped was the sight of the receptionist climbing up after him.
"Up to the top Mr Peabody, to that yellow door."
He spotted such a door, beyond a balcony railing, and sped up to it. There was no window next to the door.
The staircase didnít wobble, he noted, not even when the receptionist had added her weight to it. Still the balcony may well be rusted away under its new coat of paint, just waiting to drop him into the nest of long grass and old bicycles that lurked in the surgeries back garden.
"Tut, tut, I really must get Doctor Page to clear out that yard, it must be crawling with all kinds of things."
Peabody was still dwarfed by the woman, even though she was stood two steps below his. Her messy hair looked matted with finer grey wisps in the better light. He decided she must have no desire to look pretty, and took comfort in that fact as he stepped on to the slender balcony.
"Budge over, Iíve got to unlock the thing first or weíll be stuck out here forever. Got to get back to my post before the entire world comes down with the flu."
In the time it took her to say all this, Peabody had been shuffled to the edge of the balcony to test its strength. The woman had produced a jangling set of keys that flashed, blinding him slightly. She inserted the biggest one into the door and gave it a couple of noisy twists. Soon she was vanishing into the new opening, allowing the smell of new paint to flow out to him.
Peabody couldnít wait to get inside.
A light came on and the white room clicked into view.
"Here you go, computer, chair and the files."
She pointed them out to him, unnecessarily, and he made several short humming sounds at each object. The computer looked second hand, at least, but it was a good make, one he had owned ten years ago. There was no printer and no scanner to accompany the off white machine.
Peabody nodded at the inch high pile of slightly curly paper on the table.
"Is that all the files?"
"There may be more later if thatís not enough for you."
She jangled her keys again and Peabody noticed the other door; it had been obscured by the womanís spindly frame. He figured it lead back into the surgery. The way he wasnít meant to go.
"Do you know anything about medicine may I ask?"
Peabody knew he didnít.
"Well, I once had my head examined, by CAT scan."
"Oh?" She was unlocking the other door, her big back turned to him.
"Yeah, I fell down some stairs when I was younger, nothing serious."
She had the door open and was now stooping through it, loping away from him, closing the door behind her.
The computer came to life with no trouble and he began to leaf through the files. The only piece that wasnít grey with age was the top one, and he quickly established that it held his instructions, written in block capital letters with a pencil. Seemed easy enough he thought, pulling his chair up comfortably and cupping the mouse. He found the folder called "Patients & Remedies part one" and opened it. It was all prepared for him to add the details. There couldnít be a weeks work here though.
He listened, smelling the new paint, hearing nothing but the hum of the computer and his own nasal breath. The building was bigger than it seemed. He was probably on the second floor and far away from the giantess. He began to look for any signs of a telephone line, and found nothing. Just the white plastic power plug.
"Bugger. No internet."
He played around inside the pc, hoping to find some medical photos maybe, blood and naked flesh. Nothing presented itself. The computer seemed to have been stripped to the bare essentials .He couldn't even find Minesweeper. Meanwhile the smell had got to him. He couldnít see why; the walls had clearly not been painted in years, bearing the signs of removed pictures and articles of furniture. It had to be the hallway outside. The one he had just got a glimpse of.
They must have just finished the job. The smell was powerful.
After a few minutes of leafing through the files, he opened the door to the flimsy balcony, getting a glimpse of the outside world, and let the fresh air in.
"A cup of tea Mr Peabody."
It wasn`t a question. The receptionist was putting the green cup down next to his hand on the table, her smile wide enough for its edges to vanish beneath the dangling mess of her hair on either side. He had been so absorbed by the work that he hadnít heard the door opening.
The tea was bubbling slightly.
"I heated it up in the microwave to give it some extra steam. It's a long walk up here."
He had only been working an hour and wasn't particularly thirsty yet. Still, it was at least something to do.
"Thank you Misses..erm..ta`"
He grabbed the handle and felt himself burn. There was no way he could pick it up, not for awhile anyway.
"Misses Armitage. You can have a break at twelve. Thereís a sandwich shop across the road by the butchers. Here's the key for the door, make sure you lock it while you're out. Too many thieves about these days."
The big shiny key was sticking out of her hand like a small serrated axe. He took it with his throbbing hand, glad of its coolness on his skin.
Then Mrs Armitage was gone again, giving him another glimpse of the painted hallway.
It hadn't looked newly decorated. Unless it was the darkness making the walls look dirty.
He tested the mug handle again, dabbing it with his finger. It was like touching fire.
"She must have bloody asbestos skin or something."
Sliding himself and the chair away from it, he decided to have another look outside.
Backyards and the backs of houses; looking not much different to their fronts he decided. People paid just as little attention to their front gardens as they did their backyards these days. Not that he was bothered. He avoided nature. It was full of spiders and wasps, stinging and crawling about. And by the looks of the mess below him, there would be a lot of that waiting for anyone foolish enough to venture too close.
In fact, he couldnít believe how overgrown the back gardens were. He could just about make out the defining walls of some of the properties, but little else. Although here and there metal posts protruded, presumably for hanging washing. Who did that anyway?
He ventured out onto the balcony, gripping the slender railing and feeling the thick paint squash slightly in places.
The backyard of the surgery would only reveal itself fully once he had leant out a good foot and a half. It was worse than the other gardens he decided, clogged with grass so tall it had flopped over under its own weight. Other vegetation filled the corners, as if planned, having at least some symmetry. Maybe the garden had been planned, and had been neglected, allowed to form its own shapes. He was no expert, and had no interest in becoming one. What was wrong with concrete, especially if you were going to allow this to happen? He was just thankful it wasnít the season for wasps.
Brightness caught his eye, bouncing off one of the series of curtain less windows on the other side of the wilderness. It prickled his vision and gave him a slight ache that couldnít decide if it was pain of pleasure. Was it the glass shining, or something beyond, in the room?
From what he could see most of the houses appeared to be empty, or should have been. Not much of a clientele to choose from he thought, unless Dr Page dealt mostly with tramps and squatters.
He sniffed his hands.
The paint on the railing wasnít the cause of the smell. It hadnít even left a mark on his fingers.
The tea was still too hot for him when he returned to its brightness beside the computer, but he managed to take a few tentative sips, only to find that it wasnít sugared.
He would have to pour it off the side of the balcony when he went for his sandwich. Couldnít have a giantess mad at him.
With burning tongue and fingers he got back to logging complaints and procedures. A Mrs Lang had suffered a minor stroke in `79. Mr Casterson had surgery to remove a mouth cyst in June of the same year. A month later Mr Hatch...
Soon, it was time for his dinner. The tiny computers clock was just a few seconds away from 12 oíclock.
"Twelve of the clock it is then."
He half expected Mrs Armitage to pop through the door to remind him, armed with a mug full of boiling, bitter tea. He looked at the white rectangle of the door, listening; thinking about the cobwebs in the alley; the mass of bramble vines waiting to pull threads out of his trousers;
The man peeling his green gloves off with his yellowing teeth.
Peabody decided it was time to take a look at the landing. After all, he knew his health and safety; the employer had to provide adequate toilet facilities.
It was his duty to find them, as they had not been pointed out to him. Unless they expected him to pee through the balcony railings for all to see.
He turned the cold, round handle and opened the door.
Mrs Armitage wasn`t there, just his own crooked shadow looming tall. He was safe to peer into the gloom.
The walls werenít filthy at all, they were in fact decorated in a fine patterned wall paper, dark wine coloured and textured. He slipped through to run his hands on the walls. The paper was the expensive furry kind that he had seen up on the walls of a mock room, in a DIY centre. Or maybe somewhere else. On TV perhaps. He knew it must have cost the doctor and the tax payer quite a sum, presuming the entire floor was done with it. He ventured down the thin hallway, sliding his hand on the ticklish wall, towards a white door. He wanted to see the extent of the papering, and found the staircase to the lower floors. It twisted down from the right of the simple door, itís grey carpeted plateaus bordered by the twinkling white banister rails. As far as he could see all the walls were covered in the same expensive paper, at least as far as the next floor down. It looked beautiful.
He remembered the smell of paint, and sniffed the slightly cool air rising up from the pit of the stairwell. Not even a scent of it now. Just a slight chemical odor of disinfectant. Of course, the toilet must be beyond the white door he figured. Hence the bleachy smell.
He should at least use it now he had come to find it, and wondered if Mrs Armitage would be squatting on it, her long thin limbs jutting everywhere. Her stockings around her ankles.
Nobody could be using it however; he could hear nothing but the sound of his fingers still brushing the walls.
Quickly he pulled at the door handle and found what he expected.
The curvaceous shape of the toilet was lit up in clean white sunlight, flooding through the first window he had seen in the building. Its bowl was a spotless throat, and the water sitting at the bottom was like fresh tap water, with a tiny copy of the window wobbling on its surface.
"Good enough to drink."
A small basin, like a younger brother of the toilet, was clinging to the wall, itís twin taps sparkling like grey ice, its black plug sitting in its hole. A new bar of white soap sat between the taps, waiting for its sharp corners to be washed away by dirty hands.
He didnít feel like using the facilities just yet, but fully intended to later, after his sandwiches.
"Iíll have a cheese and onion please."
The sour faced girl behind the counter sent her hands searching amongst the cellophane wrapped lumps on display. They fondled a ham and celery and a couple of beefs before returning with Peabodys request. She plopped the shiny parcel into a white paper bag and threw it around, twisting the corners into ears.
"One pound four please."
Peabody gave her the exact change and squeezed past a fat old lady in the door to get to the street. He noticed how many old people there seemed to be, dragging themselves from shop to shop. They were tucked up in their thick coats and woolly hats as if afraid to be seen. One of them had a bright red scarf looped around most of his head, leaving just enough space for his bleary eyes to give Peabody a dirty look, as he struggled past. Peabody watched him wobble towards the zebra crossing, wondering if he had an appointment with Doctor Page too. The doctor would have the privilege of seeing the rest of his face, if anyone did.
He could see no benches on the roadside to sit down and eat his sandwich so he decided to walk about with it. Unwrapping a corner of the smooth, sticky parcel he took a good sniff. The onion smelled strong. He hoped it wouldnít overpower the taste of the cheese though. That was the worst.
The shops were atypical, a small bike shop called Kerwoods, next to that a wedding dress boutique owned by Hatch. Across the busy road a news agents. Nothing to interest him but what might be a book shop. It was at the very end, four down from the bright square of the newsagents. He waited for a break in the traffic and took himself and the sandwich to it. He wasnít mistaken, he could spot them a mile away.
But was it open? There was no sign of any customers that he could see through the large front window. He could see nothing but the rows of spines and the occasional white basket full of, no doubt, cheaper offers.
Book grotto, we sell and buy.
But not today. There was a sign up in the door. It wouldnít be open till Wednesday. He could wait a couple of days.
He took a bite of his sandwich and turned to look out beyond the closed book shop at the backdrop of tall warehouse walls, speckled here and there with the odd black window. Pipes issuing off-white smoke signified some kind of life within. The kind he spent years at night school to avoid. Hopefully Dr Page, and people like him, would help to keep them at bay. Thatís why he wanted to do a good job with the files.
A bulky red truck slipped into view and wormed its way through a thin gateway in the warehouse wall. Peabody felt sick just seeing it, imagining the drivers stocky face and body, his thick arms filthy with hair. No doubt he would be off to the canteen to talk about football with his shouting friends.
At least his sandwich tasted good.
He decided to have a look at the houses in the next street, wondering if they were as empty as their overgrown back gardens suggested. The pavement up to the street was. No old folks staggering about on thin legs, no dirty truckers to stare him down. This helped him to taste the cheese in his next bite.
Nope, just cheddar. Have to bring a pack lunch tomorrow. Cheaper and better for the taste buds.
Better bring some sugar too.
The street was called Hogarth street. It was a dead end, and looked just like the street he lived in, six miles away. The town was littered with pre-war housing though. so he shouldnít be surprised. But still, he had never seen a deader street. Even the potential parking spaces were empty, except for one little yellow car parked at the end by the tall brick wall.
What with all the factories and shops, only one car?
Clearly they preferred to park elsewhere.
Peabody inspected the houses as he passed by, chewing. They were quite clearly unpopulated, at least lawfully. The windows had torn scraps for curtains, which in no way covered up the naked rooms beyond, or the obvious signs of vandalism. If anyone was living in any of the homes then they would have to put up with what looked like black mud splattered on the walls. Obviously done by some junky in a fit of rage.
The tiny front gardens, at least, werenít as bad as the backyards, but they hadnít seen any attention in months. Some of them, thankfully, had been concreted over. No doubt out of laziness rather than for aesthetic reasons, but at least the rats would find less cover.
He took another big bite of his sandwich, hearing the onion crunch, tasting the bitter tang.
Then he checked his watch.
How long was my dinner break again?
He hadnít been told. Better to err on the side of safety.
He wouldnít have time to walk the full length of the street, not that he was too bothered. Why would he want to bump into some drug addict begging for change? Especially where nobody could hear his screams for help.
Heading back to the surgery he tossed his empty bag into the nearest garden.
Another mug of tea was sat waiting for him by his keyboard. It was giving off enough heat for the steam to reach the ceiling.
Just what he needed after facing the dark alleyway and the fire escape.
He checked his hair for spiders as he took his coat off and sat down, fully intending to finish all his work early if he could. Then maybe they would let him go.
"Right then Mrs Aitcheson, how were your knees in nineteen seventy six?"
He followed the tiny lives of Dr Pages regulars, from first complaints to eventual cure, capturing them on hard drive for whatever use they might make in the future. He witnessed, dimly, the birth pains of tiny Freddy Moone, the broken arms of Mrs Diane Harrison, the food poisoning of what looked like the entire Atkins household by uncooked chicken and all manner of things he took no joy in transferring to the computers memory. Soon his head was spinning with the trials and tribulations of all the surrounding areas lack of health. It was an ever changing morass of sniffs and pills, names and addresses.
Few of the names turned up more than once, but there was a couple who were probably hypochondriacs. Mr and Mrs Coldson had ticked off pretty much all the minor diseases he had heard of, and kept on coming back for more; More snapped limbs, more headache tablets, more...
They had died, just last week it seemed. Dr Page had signed the coroners report. Nothing odd about that, he was always signing them. Just another job the doctor was called in for. Like home births and the nightly call outs.
He wondered what the doctor looked like.
And kept seeing his own doctor, Dr Poole. Lovely Dr Sally Poole.
He doubted Dr Page would have legs like hers, unless perhaps he did.
He kept on tapping the names in; Mr Jackster had his sinus widened, Mrs Freeman gave blood, Mr Hollister was having his dose of tranquilisers increased...
"Another cup of tea Mr Peabody, oh, you havenít finished you last one."
She had opened the door without a sound, her eyes very nearly where they should be for a moment as she swung her head towards him.
Peabody stared at the new mug of tea, its grey trail of steam just starting to catch up and straighten itself, licking at Mrs Armitages dangling hair.
"I was so engrossed in my work...that I must have forgotten it."
"Oh, thatís no good, donít want to miss out do we? Got to drink your tea or you get ill."
Without entering the room, she stretched her arm out and put the new mug down next to the cold one. Peabody could feel its heat on the back of his hand as he stared at its bubbling surface.
Mrs Arimitage withdrew her yellow arm.
"Has Dr Page come up to see you yet?"
Her lips were smiling again, showing just the tips of her teeth and a blob of tongue.
"Er..no, was he meant to?"
"Oh yes, he wants to meet you. Youíll probably like him. You might even come to be the best of friends, just as he is with his patients."
One of her long hands began to move up to her face.
"When is he coming to see me?"
"Oh, Dr Page never tells me when or why or who, heís too busy these days, paying house calls. He is always up at the factory or the warehouses, dealing with their illness, when he has a spare hour. He likes to roam around amongst his patients too, making house calls."
She had begun to tug at her matted hair, pulling it straight, as if trying to untie it.
"Dr Page is invaluable to the whole area. We wouldnít get by without him. He has patients as far as the dockyards."
Peabody tried not to look as the woman began to chew at the tip of a lock of her hair.
"You can have another break at two thirty Mr Peabody,"
"Oh, right, how long?"
"Half an hour should be long enough."
Then she was gone again.
A few minutes of tapping at the computer and he heard the toilet flushing.
A minute later it flushed again.
After another hour of inputting data he decided to test something.
He typed in a search for Hogarth street. He was certain he had seen some mention of it while he was working on the earlier records.
The computer whirred and clicked and after a few seconds showed the results on the screen.
Mrs Fane, 23 Hogarth St. Pneumonia.
Mr Trippen, 10 Hogarth st, dry skin.
Mr Pellos, 35 Hogarth st, common cold.
Not many he thought, and the latest was early in nineteen sixty nine. Either that was when the houses lost their tenants, or Dr Page just stopped hearing from them. People didnít have to get sick, it wasnít a rule. He rarely had to bother Dr Poole himself.
Some people were just lucky that way.
He got back to work, filling the gaps with information that he didnít even notice anymore. He stopped only to take a few hot sips of tea and to check his watch.
Soon it was time to go for another walk.
After pulling the alley door shut and swiping his hair for spiders he wondered what to do. It was already growing dark, cars switching their headlights on, people pulling up their collars; would he want to take a stroll to Hogarth Street again? It would be a good opportunity to see if any lights had come on, as they had done in the shops.
So he took a short walk to the newsagents to buy a packet of crisps. An old woman with a Yorkshire terrier was waiting for him on the way. She looked at him from under a tartan hat, her blurred eyes weeping and sore. The dog growled at him as he attempted to dodge by her.
What was it with old ladies getting his way?
"You are working for Dr Page arenít you?"
Her voice had a wobble to it that threatened to turn her words into song. Peabody wanted neither from her, he wanted to get away from her weeping eyes and her stupid dog.
"Yes, Iím working for Dr Page, excuse me."
She grabbed his arm with her hand, which appeared to be mottled with ancient tattoos. It took a few moments for him to recognise them as veins.
"I went to see him about some sore eyes, two of them. Heís so kind is our Dr Page, he can sort out anything for you, diseases, broken bones."
Peabody watched her swollen eyes swim about in their liquid shells, wondering if Dr Page was all he was cracked up to be. Then he smelled the dog, or at least what he hoped was the dog.
"I must get by and see him again for something else soon. As soon as Iíve thought about it."
Might it not be Alzheimerís by any chance, Peabody wondered.
There was more old people approaching from behind the lady, hobbling slowly, muttering to each other. One of them was heading straight for him, thin hand held out to grab him.
Couldnít Dr Page supply them with walking sticks to lean on?
Peabody wove away and side stepped towards the newsagents.
"Excuse me, Iíve got to get on. Dr Page wants to see me later."
This earned a series of oohs and aaahs from the crowd, and a repition of the doctorís name, as if he had won the lottery.
"OOH Dr Page."
"Dr Page helped me with my wife, liver trouble."
"Dr Page will sort you out, no worries. Worms Iíve got, worms."
This went on until Peabody was safely inside the newsagents, behind a thick pane of glass. Safe amongst packets of crisps and bottles of cola.
He had the shop to himself it seemed, the counter, smothered with an array of sweets was untended. But a dark doorway stood beyond the pastel colours, waiting to expel someone. He thought he could just hear a voice leaking out of a TV set.
Lucky Iím not a thief. I could steal half your stock before you even reached the till.
He leafed through magazines, daring to glance up at the top shelf. Not that he ever read them, he just wanted something to put him off seeing those streaming red eyes.
Busty Gang Bang, Red Pistons, Saucy Sallyís Milky Way.
Laughable. Only sad old gits read them.
Juicy Jugs and Slippery Joys?
He heard a wet cough from the direction of the sweets, and the door. It was a preamble to proper speech.
"Iíll be with you in a minute. Iím just coming."
Another old man, and a frail one by the sound of it. No doubt he would be receiving more salutations about Dr Page and his useless practise.
He went over to the crisps and tried to gauge what flavour would suit his mood. Couldnít have cheese and onion again, didnít like beef, too salty. Ah, scampi and lemon, he hadnít seen a packet of them in years.
"Donít worry, heís coming, heís coming."
What was he talking about? Who refers to themselves in the third person? Someone no doubt who has lost his sense of identity. Well he better not forget how much change he owes me from a fiver.
"Here, here we are."
Peabody couldnít believe his eyes at first, only once he had made a few tentative steps forward did he understand what was wrong with the mans face. Surely they didnít allow people with such bad skin to work with food?
"Letís have a look at what you want from us and Iíll see what I can do."
It was all over his lips, his forehead, erupting out of his scalp.
"Ah, crisps, you like to eat crisps do you?"
His eyes should have been barely able to see through the mass of red, flaky skin that was dangling there in clotted loops.
"Come here, come on, give us your bag. I think they cost thirty pee do scampi."
He was now offering more skin for Peabody to lay his eyes on, holding out his arm for the money. He had to ask the question.
"Did you go to see Dr Page for your Psoriasis then?"
"Well spotted lad, Dr Page is a wonder. Psoriasis isnít supposed to be contagious you know, but well, they can do all manner of wonderful things these days."
Peabody heard the purring of a car engine behind him. He glanced over his shoulder.
"Ah, here he is now, just on time."
The little yellow car had pulled up on the road side where the old people were still waiting. An audible cheer went up as a thin figure in a dark suit and hat climbed out of the car and looked towards Peabody.
He began to walk towards the newsagentsí door, his patients waving and crying out.
Peabody turned to the owner of the shop, who was peeling off his damp shirt, revealing naked skin ravaged by his ailment.
"Itís such an honour to pass on something to you lad, youíll be like the son I never had."
Peabody felt something like a crackle of electricity up his back. He knew what it was. Somehow he knew.
Then Dr Pages impatient voice crawled over Peabodys shoulder.
"Letís begin shall we."
Get used to it? No, you never get used to it.