Listen to Your… Chest (Part 3)

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(Continued from Listen to Your… Chest (Part 2))

The following Friday, at a birthday drinks, I told a friend about the guy off Tinder I’d been chatting to for the last year but had never met. I omitted a few salient details and he looked at me like I belonged at the funny farm.

‘You have to meet him,’ he said.

If the past twelve months had shown me anything it was that I definitely didn’t have to meet him, but I wanted to.

That night, waiting for the last train, I texted Neuro. The platform was deserted except for a man in his 60s wearing a shabby raincoat. He came over and alerted me to the fact that I was facing the wrong way so I might miss the train. I thanked him and he asked where I was travelling to, did I have a boyfriend?

‘Yes,’ I heard myself say.

‘Are you meeting him now?’

‘Yes.’

The train arrived and we boarded. He was still talking, nineteen to the dozen, when Neuro replied.

‘Where are you?’ I sent back.

‘Home. U?’

‘I’ve never raped a woman and I’ve never touched a child,’ my neighbour was saying.

‘Ring me!’ I sent back.

He did, just as the train pulled into my station. I took advantage of my tipsy state to announce that we needed to meet. It had been a year. We needed to meet.

‘Come over now.’

‘I can’t. I… I need more notice.’

It was early February. The last time I shaved my legs there were leaves on the trees. But, more to the point, he was a virtual stranger. I wasn’t about to rock up at his flat in the middle of the night.

He suggested the next day.

‘You don’t sound very sure.’

‘Or Sunday?’ he said.

‘Hmm Sunday’s tricky.’

He said he’d be in touch the next day.

 

We never did meet. As I write this, a referral letter from the hospital where Neuro works lies open on the kitchen table. The appointment is for next week…

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Listen to Your… Chest (Part 2)

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(Continued from Listen to Your… Chest (Part 1))

Around 8pm on Christmas Eve I got a call from a private number.

I picked up. ‘Hello?’

The briefest pause. ‘Hello.’

Another pause, while I let the accent sink in.

‘Hello,’ I said again, heading through to the sitting room.

‘Happy Christmas.’

‘Happy Christmas. I didn’t realise it was you – it showed as a private number.’

‘Oh.’ Another pause. ‘How are you?’

‘Yeah, good.’ My tone was flat. ‘I, er, I’m just with family, so it’s a bit of a tricky moment.’

‘OK.’ He sounded sad. ‘I just wanted to say Happy Christmas.’

I hesitated. ‘Oh, er, well, thank you.’

Pause.

‘Well, I’ll let you get back to your family.’

‘Thanks and… Happy Christmas.’

 

Channels of communication re-opened with my new zero expectations in place. I went on the odd Tinder date; he filled in the gaps. We never chatted for long – he rang too late for that – but I didn’t much mind.

Work got busy and I missed a couple of calls from him. Things were still busy and I had a bad cough to boot when, one Saturday evening, a year after we matched, I dropped him a text. He rang the next morning and we chatted about our plans for the day. He was meeting family; I had a book to read for work. He was clever and successful in his own field but the only literature books he’d read were those that his school had forced on him.

I’d seen my ex the previous weekend and, in the wake of it, had suffered some kind of existential crisis. He was a Harvard, MIT and Cambridge-educated theoretical physicist who dabbled in etching and filmmaking – your definitive Renaissance man. Since our last meeting he’d got a great new job, bought his second London flat and bought a yacht. I was interning, unpaid, at production companies in the hope of securing a badly paid entry-level position. The contrast made me feel shit on many levels.

Neuro didn’t care about my job. Admittedly, I sometimes got the feeling he didn’t care to know much about me at all. But when he started to fulfil the surgeon stereotype and hold forth about every aspect of his life, I could at least call him on it. Two and a half years on, I still analysed most of what I said to my ex, either before or after it came out of my mouth. Neuro got the unedited version and it felt good.

My cough was bad by the time I hit the hay on Sunday evening. That morning, Neuro had said we’d ‘speak later’, but I hadn’t heard from him. That was fine: I had work to do and he would be in touch, eventually. I was doing my best impression of a consumptive when I heard my phone vibrate.

‘Hey, I’ve got a cough so I can’t stay on–.’ I broke off, coughing.

Neuro asked about the cough. It sounded worse than this morning? Was I taking medication?

‘I think – am I right in saying – you can’t medicate a productive cough?’

I descended into another coughing fit.

‘What colour is the stuff you’re bringing up?’ he said. ‘Is it white, yellow, green, red… grey?’

I’d spoken to my mum that afternoon and said I’d ask my doctor friends what I should do about the cough. I’d meant Rachel, or Stephanie.

I laughed. ‘This is amazing.’ Then: ‘Yellow.’

He explained what it could be and the different treatments. If I couldn’t get to my GP in the next couple of days, he’d email me a prescription for antibiotics. I thanked him and said I’d book an appointment the next day.

‘Let me know what happens.’

‘I will.’

The coughing had stopped.

‘I should probably sleep,’ I said.

‘Yep.’ A pause. ‘I’m looking forward to finally meeting you.’

‘Me too.’ I laughed. ‘Was it the cough that did it?’

‘No. It’s just… I’m looking forward to putting a face to the voice.’

‘Yeah.’

‘And the moan.’

‘I’m hanging up now.’

He laughed. ‘Night Anna.’

‘Night.’

(TO BE CONTINUED)

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