Dr Lorenz is tall and slim and apologetically greying; somewhere in his forties, latter end, I’d say. He clearly runs or some other such exertion because he seems fleshless but I wouldn’t say he was glowing with health. Looked a little sallow to me. He eyes were so sad, he might have been a recreationally-kicked dog in another life.
He was in grey suit trousers, an off-white shirt and a dirty blue tie.
“As you know,” he said after the awkward formalities, “I’ve taken over from Dr Henge. He’s been the consultant dealing with your mother for the past eight years. He retired. He was old, you see. Very old actually. Time to retire, when you’re old.”
“He was pretty ancient,” I added.
“Yes, yes, ancient. We’re none of us immune from age. Ha! Not that you seem anywhere near retirement age. You work, do you?”
“No, I took redundancy from the law firm.”
He turned white at once.
“Dear God you’re a lawyer. I knew it! I knew it would come to this.”
“I’m not a lawyer. I was what you used to call a legal secretary and I did it for what felt like five thousand years. Dr Laurence – sorry Lorenz! – might I ask why you’ve called me here? I’ve had a hellish week since you called. I’m the type that likes to deal with things head on. I don’t like having to imagine what might be. I know I have something awful to confront and I’d rather you just told me. If you don’t mind my saying, I’ve already deduced that you might be the type to beat about the bush a bit. Please don’t be offended. I rather we both dived into that bush together. Head first, as it were.”
He looked at me with an expression of suffering.
“We both dived into the bush?”
“Oh do excuse my way of expressing myself. I write awful books.”
His very knobbly fingers danced over each other.
“Shall we dive, Dr Lorenz?”
“You write books, you say?” he tried.
“Why am I here?”
And so he had no choice but to cough it up at last.
“Dr Henge had a number of regular patients, of course. He was very respected in his field. Our hospital is a world leader in dealing with this condition.”
“Well that’s a relief to hear.”
“He kept extensive files and notes about treatments and tests and progress and everything he needed to have a close knowledge of his patients. He was scrupulous, was Dr Henge. Old Dr Henge.
“He was godlike in my mother’s eyes,” I told him. “She talked about him all the time. His diagnosis explained so much for her, made sense of her life.”
“It did?” he squeaked. “Your mother suffer a lot does she?”
“Oh Doctor,” I sighed. “She does. She does indeed. And the most awful thing about it is that I’ve been so flippant about it. It became my cross to bear, more than hers, in a way. I can’t tell you how low I’ve been since you’ve called. I’ve done all I can to make her happy and feel loved. I did the right thing, didn’t I?”
He looked abashed.
“Erm, yeah, why not?” Then after a deep breath: “Back to Dr Henge.”
“Dr Henge diagnosed your mother some eight years ago.”
“There was something wrong with the diagnosis?”
“No, the diagnosis was spot on. The cell clusters were unmistakable, as were the symptoms: ganglia, psoriasis, predisposition to blepharitis… It all points to the same condition. He wouldn’t get something like that wrong. He is an expert in his field, is old Dr Henge.”
“Really, Dr Lorenz, despite my suggesting we dive into bushes together, nothing of the sort seems to be happening. You seem fixated on Dr Henge’s infirmity. Wait a minute, my mother doesn’t have those symptoms.”
“He was top notch when it came to diagnosis. He never got it wrong. You couldn’t ask for a greater expert.”
“She’s never had psoriasis in her life. Ganglions?”
“He was just rubbish at filing.”
“What’s blepharitis? No one’s ever mentioned blepharitis.”
“He made the correct diagnosis. Only he made it of the wrong woman.”
I paused, my mouth open. My brain was still catching up on my hearing.
“You don’t know a Mrs Harkness, by any chance?”
“Why would I know a Mrs Harkness? What has Mrs Harkness got to do with my mother?”
“Of course. Why would you? Why would you?”
I just waited, not least because I found speaking suddenly very difficult.
“You see, we’re having a similar conversation right now with a Mrs Harkness who has found out some eight years late that she does indeed have the condition. Your mother – and you’ll be utterly delighted to hear this – does not. Isn’t that great news?”
Yet more silence.
“I expect you are struck dumb with joy. You’re the type to go quiet with good news, is that it?
But actually I was quiet only for a couple of heavy seconds. And then… well then I spoke alright! This is what I said…