“Good afternoon, Mansukh. Come in, please.”
“Thank you, David. You are looking well. Very well – happy, in fact.”
“I am. I found someone who could show me how to take control of my head. I’m fine, now, and I even have a job. I told you about that.”
“You did.” The casually dressed man sat on the sofa. Although with the colouration and accent of the Indian subcontinent, his only physical distinction was the turban on his head. “I’d like you to come and talk to Doctor Hughes, though, if you will. I’m sure he’d like to hear how you’re getting on.”
There was the sound of a key in the door, which wasn’t locked, an irritated rattle until the person on the other side realised turning the key was unnecessary. A slightly built, dark-haired young woman dressed in slacks and a dark purple tunic bearing the logo of a local fast-food emporium, entered. “David!” her face lit up, but then saw the other man. “Oh! I’m sorry...”
Both men rose from their seats and David crossed to the girl and wrapped an arm round her. “Mansukh, this is my girlfriend ... um...” after a hesitation, a glance at the girl, he smiled, “my fiancée. Penelope Sanders. Penelope, this is Mansukh, from Mental Health Services.”
Looking at the visitor, they spoke together, “He/she changed my life.” Then laughed at the synchronicity.
The Sikh smiled, too. “Yes – I should say much has changed.” He took out a smart phone and fiddled for a moment. “How are you fixed next ... Thursday, David?”
“As long as it’s first thing in the morning; I’m on a late shift.”
“Penelope, if you could come too, I think Doctor Hughes would like to meet you?”
She frowned and looked at David. “I...”
“I’d like you to come too,” he said.
She took a deep breath. “I’ve only just started working at Disco’s. I’d have to ask if someone would swap with me, I think.”
“So, David; you’ve found an answer to your problem.”
“Yes. Just a mental exercise, really. Someone I knew for a while could tell I was distressed and took the trouble to teach me.”
“Is it something that could help other people? Yoga? Meditation?”
David considered that. “I don’t know, Doctor. You’re fond of saying everyone’s an individual. I found something which works for me. I don’t mind talking to other people; in fact I’ve been thinking of taking some counselling courses.”
The doctor nodded, and turned to the young woman. “You must be Penelope.”
“I’m sorry to ignore you as I greeted David. I’m delighted David has found someone with whom he is happy.”
She blushed. “He ... he helped me and ... I love him.”
“How did David help you? If you don’t mind me asking.”
“I I I, I h-h-had a st-stammer. Oh ... b-b-bother.”
“Take your time, Penelope. You spoke perfectly clearly until you got nervous, didn’t you?”
She nodded and took several deep breaths. Although very slim and with minimal curves, her breathing drew attention to her chest. The doctor fixed his eyes firmly on her face.
“Yes.” She spoke slowly and deliberately. “I had no confidence in myself until I met David. He helped me to see I am a worthwhile person.”
“You seem to be managing quite well now.”
“So, David. How about you? We have quite enough work looking after people who need it. Are you happy to be discharged? You can always get in touch if you think you need us?”
“Thank you, Doctor. Yes, I think I can manage on my own ... well, with Penelope, anyway.” He looked at his companion with such adoration the Doctor blushed with embarrassment.
“Then I wish you both every happiness, David, Penelope.”
The big man unlocked his door and entered the house. It wasn’t cold – the central heating took care of that. But there was a chill, an emptiness, that had nothing to do with ambient temperature. He stomped through into the kitchen, pulled a ready-meal and a can of beer from the fridge, slammed the package into the recently purchased microwave, and popped the top off the beer. He tried to blame his unhappiness on the young woman – his daughter – who had walked out just a few weeks earlier, but he had to admit he’d done nothing to make her want to stay. After a swig, he slammed the can down on the counter-top in irritation, and swore as a little beer slopped on the counter.
The microwave pinged and he used a cloth to extract the hot food and place it on the table. He finished the can of beer, had second thoughts about another, and filled the kettle for a pot of tea. By the time it had boiled the contents of the plastic tray were cool enough to eat without burning his tongue, a mistake he’d made only once.
The indifferent meal consumed, he carried his second mug of tea into his lounge to begin channel surfing; of course there was nothing of interest so he grabbed a DVD at random before losing the fight to fetch a glass of whisky. He was half-way through a generous tot and his head was a little blurred, when the door-bell rang.
The young man on the doorstep was somewhat familiar. Not quite as tall as himself, and very much slimmer. Of course! He was the one Penelope had gone off with.
“A few minutes of your time, Mister Sanders. My name’s David Tomlinson.”
“You’re the one my daughter went off with.”
Geoff Sanders wisely swallowed the comment he was about to make and instead, “I suppose you’d better come in, then.” In the lounge, he muted the t/v, but left the film running. “So?”
“Mister Sanders, I came to ask your permission to marry your daughter.”
“She’s over twenty-one. Doesn’t need my permission.”
“I know, sir. But she’s still your daughter. Although she felt she had to leave home, she still cares about her father. I love your daughter, sir, and I’ll marry her, but I think it best, both for you and her, if you agree.”
Geoff Sanders was silent for some time. So long, in fact, that David was considering getting up and leaving. He had deliberately not used his ability to ‘read’ the older man.
“How...” Penelope’s father began and hesitated. “How do you cope with the way she speaks?”
“She speaks very well, now, except when she’s anxious. But even before, I was able to understand her quite well.”
“I see. Does she know you’re here?”
David shook his head. “She’s working just now. But she’s expressed a desire for you to find ... peace, I suppose is the best way to put it. I thought it better to come alone this time.”
There was another very long silence. Then the older man sighed. “I haven’t treated my daughter very well, or appreciated what she did for me once she was old enough. I miss her now though.”
“Mister Sanders, I know your wife died...”
“It was when Penelope was born. I blamed her for Isobel’s death...”
“Yet you come here...”
“Because for all that, Penelope loves her father. I know someone ... someone who helped me, then helped me to help Penelope.”
“I don’t believe in that ... psycho stuff.”
“You don’t have to. Seeing – or in this case, experiencing – is believing.” David paused, then fumbled in his pocket. He handed over a piece of card. “Here’s my phone number. If you want to speak to Penelope, you can ring me, and if you want to meet, I’d suggest we do that somewhere ... neutral.”
Geoff Sanders took the card and stuffed it in his wallet. “Thank you. I’ll think about it. And ... David, if I may?” David merely smiled and nodded, “You have my permission to marry my daughter. I hope I may be there when you do.”
After David left, Penelope’s father slumped back in his chair with a fresh glass of whisky. Once the film finished (which he half-watched in a near stupor) he stumbled off to bed. There, the anger towards his daughter, which had subsided somewhat, reasserted itself.
The tension of the meeting stayed with David as he made his way home and made himself a makeshift meal of cheese, egg and beans on toast. He spent the evening meditating, or at least trying to do so. A CD given him by Kat, of nature sounds, helped. Running water, wind in trees, birdsong, were soothing.
Penelope arrived home, legs and feet sore from standing, to be greeted with a kiss, a mug of herbal tea, and a foot massage. David’s visit to her father never came up, but other things did; David’s care and attention to her needs enhanced her new-found desires. They barely made it through their night-time routines before making it to bed – barely, of course. There, they lost themselves in each other in a slow, languorous joining and drifted off to sleep, still joined. The joining didn’t endure, and they slept on in another growing wet patch.
.... There is more of this story ...