"Mr Haslam for Dr Beecham" the intercom announced and he stood carefully up and hobbled out of the waiting room, looking for consulting room 5, "three, four, ah, five" he said to himself as he counted off the doors. As he reached it, it opened.
"I'm sorry, I should have come out, I just had to check a couple of details for the previous patient" said an attractive voice. He couldn't see the face in the gloom of the corridor, his eyes didn't adjust easily to changes in light levels, another reward of ageing.
"That's alright doctor. Are you new? I don't recognise the name"
"Yes, my husband has just moved to the hospital as a consultant surgeon, I'm here covering for Doctor Helsing"
"Oh yes, he's very ill I understand". The doctor didn't respond, medical confidentiality habit or simple professional courtesy? She wasn't going to elucidate on Dr Helsing.
In the better light of the room, Mark Haslam looked at the woman carefully. "It is isn't it? Sally Smith-Kline? Or are my eyes worse than I thought" He had taken the face before him and made it young in his mind again, those green-grey eyes with the deep look; the light brown eyebrows that naturally shaped themselves into a question; the lips with their curious, alluring, wavy shape; and the long straight nose, slightly too big, like a Roman General. Oh yes, and those prominent, high, cheek bones, that made her look both superior and infinitely desirable even now.
"Hmm? Oh! Oh yes, you know I looked at the name and thought of you and then just thought it would be too much of a coincidence. Mark Haslam, my goodness! You wouldn't have made the connection of course, I married long after we ... Well long after." She trailed off and then returned to professionalism "Look, if you'd prefer we could get another doctor?"
In the time between her question and his reply the human brain can do wonderful things. He and she were whisked back in those few seconds to relive that whole episode in their lives. Three years that stayed with them both long after they had gone their separate ways. Mark Haslam had stayed at the school, then on to university to study physics, then an undistinguished career in computing; two marriages, three children, four house moves; and now he was in this small town, wondering where his life went.
Sally Smith-Kline had moved away with her family, her father had got a new job 100 miles away, she had struggled at the new school, left at 16, worked for 3 years then gone back to college and found the freer atmosphere mind-expanding. Her exams were a triumph, she studied medicine and was destined for great things. Then she met Harry; he was a doctor where she became a junior doctor. Love at first sight they both said. Harry was not as supportive as he might have been, her career faltered, two career breaks for Butch and Sundance (real names Boris and Steven, but wild and fun to be with, hence the nicknames that everyone used) and here she was taking locum jobs. She wondered where her life went.
They both travelled to that day when they were 11. School was drawing to a close for the summer, only a week to go.
"You can walk me home if you want" she said to the quiet, slightly bookish boy and he'd smiled. They lived in opposite directions from the school, but he didn't mind. He'd shared his sandwiches with her on the school trip the previous week after she had dropped her sandwich box. They fed hers to the pigeons and laughed at the birds trying to wipe fish paste off their beaks.
As they walked home that day, at first a clear foot separated them. Hands 'accidentally' brushed and the two 11 year olds on the verge of moving from primary to secondary school found themselves holding hands and talking about their hopes and dreams.
"I want to be a doctor" Mark said, "I want to cure people of all diseases; it'll be fun"
"I want to paint. My mum does, she's very good; she says I am too, but I can tell when she looks at my pictures she doesn't really think so. I just need to practice more" Her mother painted abstract pictures at the local Dogmore Artists Society, they had the occasional show and would celebrate when someone bought a picture. She had sold one picture in 5 years but still she thought of herself as avant-garde and expert. Her encouragement, tinged with condescension would eventually drive art from Sally's head.
So they walked and talked and discovered they both had two weeks holiday at the same time in the summer and the rest of the school holidays were long and unplanned; and they arranged to meet over the 'Waste'. The Waste was a large, rough piece of land. In those days, before greed was good and everything had to be owned, no-one even asked if it was common land, or government land (it had been a military camp in a war, you could see the concrete bases where the buildings had been. No-one was even sure if it was first or second world war), or what. It just was and people would walk there, walk their dogs there, meet their lovers (well hidden, no dogging or anything), or have picnics. That last was what they now planned for the first Wednesday after term finished. They would both bring sandwiches (not fish paste!) and stop at the little shop on the corner where their classmate Jerry's aunt would grumpily serve children with sweets. Then they would have a picnic of sandwiches, orange squash and chocolate on The Waste. Nobody would question two 11 year olds going alone to The Waste, paedophiles weren't discovered by the press for another 20 years.
The day dawned bright and hot, as all childhood summers are. Mark was excited. He had found he was looking at Sally more over the last months. He liked her light brown hair more than any other girl's, it flowed behind her as she ran in Sports Day, and even though they were on different teams (he was in Spurs, she was in Everton – a short lived attempt to make the school teams more 'relevant'. But only to boys, and the boys who liked football hated being in a team named after a team they didn't actually support. The following year they reverted to Red, Green, Blue, Gold – Yellow being seen as derogatory), he screwed up his courage and congratulated her on winning her race. Other boys had watched Mandy running, she had proper breasts that rose and fell ever so slightly when she ran. Mark had watch Sally.
She had reciprocated when he'd stumbled over the prayer in Assembly a week or so later "You read it very well, it must have been hard being in front of so many people".
And then came the school visit to the zoo and the great sandwich sharing incident. That cemented their friendship. They still had their other friends of course, Chris and Martin, Erica and Zoe, but they – like Kevin and Sandra, Derek and Mandy – had crossed the border and found a friend.
They met at the sweet shop. No parental checking, just "Oh, that's nice, be back for tea" from both mothers (the fathers long gone to work – in the city and in the factory, which is which doesn't matter. Fathers were distant relations who only made a showing at Christmas, the annual holiday,, and of course the terrifying parents' evening). Mark was determined to make this special, he splashed out on a Turkish Delight – the ultimate in sophistication for an 11 year old – as well as foam bananas and aniseed balls. Sally bought pink prawns, loads of them.
"Sally! You must have bought her whole stock!"
"I love them, here, want one?" Sharing the sweets they walked into The Waste and Mark led her to a spot he knew which was less frequented, grassy and surrounded by bracken and gorse. They lay on the grass and looked at the clouds and just talked.
"Mrs Cambell was upset on the last day, did you see? She cried" Sally observed
"She was always so strict. She was horrible"
"I know, but then she gets upset when we leave. Adults are weird. You know Jerry isn't coming to the new school?"
"Yes, he lives too far away, he and Mandy and Duckpool and a few others are going to Fairheights"
"You know why she got called Duckpool?"
"No, why? I thought it was her name 'Duxpolsish'"
"Well it is a bit, but also 'cos in the infants she peed herself on a school trip. They were by a pond and one of the teachers said she looked like she was standing in a duckpool herself and Terry heard and told everyone and..."
"Wow! So for whole of her time at school she's had that nickname because she peed herself, that's awful" Mark had an empathy beyond his years.
"I suppose. Still, better thank Stinker"
"Yes, trouble is he does. He told me once, when I was paired with him on a trip, that they don't have a bathroom, just a tin bath in front of the fire once a fortnight"
"Euuughh!" Sally could be a normal 11 year old prudish girl quite happily.
The conversation came round to their plans
"So, when you're a doctor, you'll have to examine people?"
"Oh, doctor. I've got this pain here" she touched her side, near her stomach "What's wrong with me"
"I'll need to examine you, Miss Smith-Kline"
She removed her jumper and pulled her shirt out of her waistband of her skirt, she left it to him to lift it.
Hesitantly he slid the shirt up to reveal her stomach and allowed his hands to play over her; carefully neither going too far up or down. The innocence of this first caress was something they both remembered for years. He remembered how smooth her skin was, how smooth and white. She remembered that he had thoughtfully warmed his hands (he'd seen that on TV) and how gently he had stroked her.
.... There is more of this story ...