In The Alley

It was mid-afternoon and Leanne had just returned to her desk with a cup of tea. The waiting room was full, and full of wheezing and sneezing, and patients were entering at a much faster rate than they left. This was always the way with Doctor Arlen. The room was always at least half full. Even allowing for the odd patient who takes a bit longer than the others, the kind who wants a number of ailments examined, the kind who, quite frankly, doesn’t have a hell of a lot wrong with them, it was a very slow throughput in Doctor Arlen’s surgery. Nobody was ever seen at the time of their appointment, that just wasn’t the way things were done, and Leanne had meant to ask about this but it never seemed the right time. It didn’t seem efficient, somehow, to do things this way, but then it could be that there was a different kind of efficiency at play. Something beyond her understanding. Something sneaky. Doctor Arlen could be sneaky. She was a warm woman, affectionate, but she could certainly be up to something. You only had to look into her eyes to tell that.

Fans slowly revolved against the grey ceiling. Yesterday’s stale, warm air was pushed unwillingly around the room in such a manner that the cold felt a strange little goose bump tingle on their skin and the hot got no relieving breeze to speak of. It was no benefit to anyone. The patients were all uncomfortable and all miserable. They were all tired and if they weren’t sick when they came into the waiting room then being there was most assuredly making them so.

The tea had begun to cool – Leanne always drank it rather tepid and with plenty of sugar – when Mrs Snark came in. It said Mrs Snark on the Medicare forms but everyone new Mrs Snark as Olive. She seemed to come into the surgery on most days and Leanne had often wondered just what, if anything, was wrong with the woman. It was Leanne’s theory that there was nothing wrong. That Mrs Snark was lonely, or something like that. The doctor would always see Olive last and the patient would leave as the lights were being turned off and the doors locked.

But it was no great mystery. Leanne didn’t really care anyway. She was always glad of a chat. She was surrounded by sick people all day, and sick people can be mopey.

“You’ll never guess what I saw on the way here,” said the patient.

“What?” answered the receptionist. Leanne was always keen to know news from outside. One day there had been a multiple car pileup on the street just outside the surgery and she hadn’t known a thing about it until she saw fragments of glass everywhere on her way home that evening. The experience made Leanne feel very left out. Not much of any interest ever happened around there, and it was a huge shame to be denied what small morsels of excitement were occasionally tossed their way.

“It was in the alley.”

“You mean just next to our building?”

“That’s right.”

“Well?”

“I heard a sound. A faint sound, high pitched, you know? I could only just hear it. So I took a few steps into the alley. There’s bits of broken brick and rusted old guttering and weeds everywhere, but it’s not dangerous. The noise became louder. And I could hear it more often. More regular. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Sounded like a noise I knew, but I didn’t know it. Confused me, until I stopped walking and listened carefully, and it was a meow. A tiny little meow. A kitten poked his head out from under a pile of leaves.”

“Oh! A kitty!”

“Yeah. A kitty. Cute little face, black and white markings. He shook off the leaves and walked around my legs in a figure eight. You know, in and out? Swished his tail. And looked up at me with his sweet little face.”

“Did you know it was a he?”

“No, I just guessed it was.”

“So it could have been a girl?”

“Yes, I suppose so. You’ll never guess what happened next.”

“Tell me.”

“It was dark where I was standing. You know, in shadow. Not pitch dark, but I couldn’t see very well. And more leaves stirred, falling away. And a big pile of leaves was not a big pile of leaves at all, but a man!”

“Really!”

“Yes. Wearing a dirty brown coat, with dirty brown hair. He rolled over and grabbed the kitten, saying something to himself as he stood up, I think he swore, and he limped off, putting the cat in his coat pocket as he went.”

“What did you do?”

“I didn’t know what to do. I looked around. Made sure there were no other animals around. Decided it was time to leave.”

“Were you scared?”

“No. No, not really. I knew I was just next door to here. If I screamed you could all hear me.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that,” Leanne said smugly. “Remember the pileup outside? We couldn’t hear that.”

“True. But I knew the danger was over anyway. I had started to leave when I noticed a note on the ground. A rock was on top of it. I picked it up and read it. It said: His name is Quentin. Please look after him.”

“I wonder what that meant.”

“I don’t know,” said the older woman. “Was Quentin the cat or the homeless man or someone else?”

“Yeah, right. I wonder.”

Just then Doctor Arlen called Olive. She stood rather stiffly and shuffled off to the doctor’s room, and Leanne wondered whether she really ought to have been exploring in strange alleys with strangers and even stranger goings on. Olive’s stories usually didn’t have satisfactory endings but this one really got Leanne thinking. What was it about? She simply couldn’t get her head around it. She thought about it for the rest of the day but still couldn’t make any sense it when it was time to go home.

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Published in: on January 10, 2013 at 7:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

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