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TESSA CASTREE

Double Chocolate

The ice cream Dr Roberts bought Brian was delicious, double chocolate with nuts. He ate it slowly; lately there hadn’t been enough ice cream in his life.

The doctor was enjoying his, too, but he had to drive at the same time. Brian looked out the car window at the lovely homes with their gracious gardens and wide porches. Some had statues or large potted plants. It was like watching TV, real and unreal at the same time.

Dr Roberts put his ice cream between his knees; he needed two hands to turn into the hospital drive.

‘Are you getting out?’ he said.

Brian focused his eyes and saw that they were parked outside the ward. There was Janine smoking beside the double doors with a couple of people. He didn’t know if they were new people or her visitors.

The doctor sometimes wore jeans, and a casual Bob Charles knit shirt. The yellow one didn’t suit his fair complexion. He had a thin Pākehā face with a biggish hooked nose and upward-pointing chin. He reminded Brian of a Toby Jug or a Punch ’n’ Judy puppet. When it was court day, Dr Roberts walked like a handsome man in his dark suit.

The only thing Brian could remember about his arrival on the ward two months ago was the hospital orderlies who had accompanied him. They must have thought he needed help, but he couldn’t think why. He wished he could remember more but these days he walked around in a blur. He’d rather be his old self, full of energy and plans. He’d told Dr Roberts this several times during their cosy chats in the doctor’s office.

‘It’s a balancing act, Brian,’ the doctor had said. ‘How you were was not reality. High as a kite and very vulnerable to exploitation from others.’

Brian had wondered where Dr Roberts had got that from.

‘No I wasn’t! I felt really good most of the time. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep but it was much better than this. Now I feel half dead.’

As they walked down the corridor towards the ward, Brian looked at the new art on the walls; it hadn’t been there in his previous hospital stays. An inspiring mountain, a peaceful river, several bright abstract pieces. The ward was just the same though, except Dr Roberts was new, and different from the other doctors, more like a regular guy. Brian liked the way he treated him, as if he was a normal person rather than someone with a mental illness. He was a lot younger than Brian, probably had a nice family and lived in a house like the ones they’d passed in the car.

Janine, who Brian guessed was about his own age, asked him for a cigarette. They were sitting at a wooden picnic table in the ward courtyard. The mid-afternoon sun was drawing attention to the barren surroundings: flowerbeds growing weeds around the edges of the grey concrete; large coffee tins used for ashtrays on the ground beside the tables. Brian pulled his packet of Marlboros out of his pocket.

‘Tailor-mades!’ She exclaimed. ‘How can you afford these?’

Janine always looked nice in her clean blue jeans and T-shirts. Her hair was brown, streaked with a silvery grey, and wavy. She wore it scraped back in a ponytail. Brian had washed his hair that morning and had a shave. He’d inherited his mother’s strong Ngāti Porou body and his father’s Liverpudlian blue eyes. Not bad looking, he hoped.

‘Dr Roberts bought them for me when we went out for a drive and an ice cream.’

‘Drive and an ice cream I scream, put it in a pocket so no one can see, don’t tell tales, you’ll get into trouble, quick, someone’s coming, hide!’ Bang bang bang – one open-palmed hand slapped the table loudly, the other was flapping, and her jaw was thrust forward.

Brian never knew what triggered Janine. It frightened him. It never made any sense. It was as if she went somewhere else and was reliving something terrible. But he liked her anyway. Brian had learned to sooth her by gently repeating, ‘Look at me, Janine. It’s okay.’

At dinner that night Janine said to Brian, ‘Have you heard about Dr Roberts?’

‘No? What?’ asked Brian.

‘They reckon he had a relationship with a patient at his last hospital.’ Janine looked down at her plate of macaroni cheese and broccoli while she spoke.

‘What happened?’ Brian asked.

‘Dunno, but I heard he’s for the chop. They just found out, the woman he had the relationship with told the hospital. Everyone’s talking about it.

‘Brian, today I freaked out when you said you’d been out with him and he bought you stuff. It seemed wrong and reminded me of . . . well, anyway.’ Janine paused and her eyes half closed for a moment. ‘Then I heard this thing about him.’

Brian felt weird inside. Dr Roberts was a good bloke, wasn’t he?

‘Janine, I don’t know what to think. My judgment is all fucked up. These drugs stop me from seeing and thinking straight.’

Janine put down her fork and looked over at Brian.

‘You’ve lost your danger radar, while mine is overactive!’ She leaned over and touched his arm. If he wasn’t so chemically flattened he would probably cry. He looked at her and was grateful that she was here with him and his muddled mind and emotions.

The next day the door to Dr Roberts’ office was wide open. Brian looked in as he walked past. Janine was right; nothing there except a computer and telephone. His thoughts were so confused. He needed to find Janine but she wasn’t in the TV room, kitchen, artroom. Nine o’clock; she’d be lining up for her medication which was what he should be doing.

As he approached the dispensary, he could see her there with the others. Her face lit up when she turned her head and saw him walking towards her. Something good stirred in Brian’s stomach, a glimmer of emotion. A feeling he recognised from the past.

‘I’m not going to swallow my pills today,’ he whispered in her ear.

Contents

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