Only about twenty minutes in do I become aware of the grey hanging file folder on the table
beside him. It is not exceptionally thick but there are a good few pages in it.
Notes, maybe medical records from hospitals or GPs.
My name is hand written on a white paper slip below a plastic cover. It is part of the register,
designed for the slip to be taken in and out.
Maybe if a file is digitised, the name can be taken out and replaced with the next patient’s name.
Or when someone changes their name. After getting married. Or for another reason.
I haven’t gone by the name on the file for almost twenty years.
I remember back then I used to often hitchhike to appointments.
In summer I enjoyed that journey. To leave early enough to walk to the other side of town, to its
boundary on top of a hill. Just after the sign with the crossed out name the road would slope
downwards and the landscape opened up to meadows and a lake.
This time I have come by car, and walked a few hundred metres through the rain to the house.
Waited a few minutes underneath the canopy at the door. Checked my phone.
Back then there were no mobile phones, not really.
The place was familiar, but not familiar in a revealing way, no feeling of retracing past steps and
having an epiphany. I have been here before, yes, but that’s it. I am not slipping into the skin of
that girl I was when I was here the last time.
He has not changed much.
I am now the age he was then, pretty much.
I want to ask him how he has been, where he will go on holiday when the season starts next
week, what course his daughter is doing at uni, maybe a passing reference to the latest in
politics. A conversation with a friend or acquaintance one has not seen for a long time. Also a
strangely adult conversation it appears to me now.
Nothing I would have contemplated twenty years ago.
But he has not been my friend.
That is probably one of the words written on some of the papers in the file.
I was possibly in worse shape then, all in all, but I was young.
It seems to me that I had an advantage then that has now completely disappeared.
I am still twenty years younger than he is, but it is not an asset now.
I am a middle aged woman, the car I came in is a rental car. It is raining.
Someone who knows me, used to know me.
Knows things. Things that I have forgotten about, I only feel them tapping on my shoulder from
behind now, seeing the file. But I haven’t turned around yet.
Someone who knows things that nobody else knows about me.
For a long long time I have not met anyone I can say that about.
I had burnt the bridges.
That sounds dramatic, which it wasn’t. It was just leaving and never mentioning certain things
I wonder about that file.
I had made contact three weeks earlier, on a whim.
I didn’t know what to do, had to do something, was hoping for a divine intervention of sorts.
A sign. People who have no inner compass because they have learnt that there can be
trapdoors everywhere and it is only ever a question of when, not if, they rely on signs.
And so I had woken up one morning and the idea had just been in my head, I just remembered
him. Oh, there was this one. Maybe he is still in the area, maybe he still works in that job.
And I had found his website and sent an email.
“Hi, I don’t know if you remember me.”
But he did. He probably took the file out after and got reacquainted with “the case”.
I did not think of any file. I probably would have thought if there ever had been one, it would
have been discarded after a few years. Maybe there is a law that it must be kept.
But twenty years.
And it looks almost new. It has sat in a warm and dry place, not in an attic or a cellar.
Maybe if the police came to look for information, years later, when someone was a suspect in a
crime. Someone with a history.
Or in case of an insurance claim.I don’t really know what I mean by insurance claim, but I want
to think of another reason that someone might want to look at the file. Has the right to look at it
and therefore it needs to be kept.
Maybe it could have been destroyed exactly after twenty years, but I got in touch just days
before the time would have been up. And now it has to be kept for another twenty years. Even if
there is just the addition of a note: patient got in touch via email.
Seemed distressed, but coherent.
But there would be more. I am sitting here now. In that room. It is the same room.
The same armchair.
He might have gotten the file out and sat in that other armchair, just like he does now.
Flicking through the papers, stopping here and there to read a paragraph. Pausing to think.
But maybe he didn’t have to.
Maybe it had come back to him straight away. A special case. Some sort of tragedy.
As I said, something is tapping on my shoulder. It might be nothing.
Not nothing, obviously, but just ordinary stuff. Anorexia, suicide attempts, drugs, promiscuity.
There are surely categories of files, maybe a filing system: teenage delinquency. Marriage
problems. Alcohol. Midlife crisis. The classics: Overbearing mother. Daddy issues.
He talks about options, fingers tapping on the file. He mentions a clinic that he can recommend,
on the outskirts of one of the villages. At the woodland edge. Single rooms, mostly.
There are other options. I am a person with options again. And part of the people here again.
People who live here, spend some time in a clinic and then go back to their lives.
Where I have spent the last twenty years doesn’t matter.
What I fucked up or might have built is erased and I am reduced to symptoms, a diagnosis
maybe, words in a file.
At the same time I am being let back into the fold. The community of patients, and that of locals.
My old membership card, my old role.
Resistance is stirring inside me, but it is also a chance.
I am homeless, at the end of the day. Without a winter coat, and the days are getting cold.
It’s like walking past a bench and there is one, a coat. Someone has dropped it there and
A bit wet, the smell is repulsive at first. It is not my size exactly.
But of course I will try it on, won’t I.
It is cold.
He has lost weight, seems taller.
The clothes might still be those from twenty years ago, it’s the same style. A lightcoloured shirt
underneath a dark blue blazer, fawn slacks. He might be one of those men owning ten pairs of
the same shoes and ten similar jackets, so they don’t have to worry about not being able to find
the same fit for the next twenty years. Maybe this combination is the last of that batch from
twenty years ago. Maybe he is about to change his style, just after this appointment.
He taps his fingers on top of the file again. He looks up towards the ceiling as if he is trying to
gauge the sounds, listen more closely to discern a certain frequency.
I look at him and try to tune in as well, into what he might be listening to. Or waiting for.
He senses me looking at him and smiles a smile of being caught out.
He says that he should mention that the clinic has a Christian ethos. It might be irritating at first,
but they are not in your face about it. And it could be an advantage.
I am not used to having a car. In the past weeks I have taken long drives around the area,
something I have never done twenty years ago. I didn’t own a car back then either. I have
stopped in remote forest car parks and got out and just took deep breaths. Unique scents of
local plants transporting me to a childhood spent in the woods.
In the villages I have driven slowly, past front gardens, with paths leading up to the front door of
small detached houses with wonky DIY extensions. Some of the roads had been my paper
round back then, I knew all the names on the postboxes.
There are cars in a good few of the front gardens, wheels flat or removed, no number plates.
I wonder what future they are kept for. Why am I thinking of them now?
I like them sitting there, it speaks to a part of me that likes to hold on beyond the sell by date,
beyond freshness and usefulness, caressing the border to decay and putrefaction.
Is that a good thing or sick?
One has heard of people keeping dead relatives in the house. Mothers not wanting to let go of
stillborn babies. Or babies they had shaken too hard because they didn’t stop crying.
Will they be used again, assigned a different purpose? The cars.
Or will they rot and poison the soil around them?
Maybe it is purely a money thing, it might cost too much to have them scrapped professionally.
Do the owners sit in those cars, some evenings, smoking a cigarette, hands on the steering
wheel- reliving past journeys or planning road trips of the future?
Why would it be an advantage?
I have to ask, even though the tapping has started to grow more intense and I might know why.
I don’t know if it would be an advantage, but I have an idea why he says it.
We both listen into the ether again.He hasn’t answered yet, seems to want to find the right way
to put it.
Very faint there might be the sound of a siren, far away, just touching the edge of our aural field.
Maybe just that of mine. Maybe his one doesn’t reach quite as far, being twenty years ahead
with the wear and tear of the body and its functions. Regardless of maintenance regimes or
He doesn’t have the build of an athlete, not even a former athlete, a bit withered and shrunken
He is a man who has never had to do manual labour for the past twenty years. This office is the
place where he must have spent most of his time, listening, talking, reading, writing.
His hands are slim and delicate.
Maybe his bones have already started to become a bit brittle, as has his hair.
Now the siren has become audible. We are holding each other’s gaze. He still hasn’t answered.
It might be an ambulance on the way to an emergency.
Are there different sounds for different sirens or are they all the same. Ambulances, the
emergency doctor, accidents with poison or a forgotten bomb from WWII. Police.
They are slightly different in different countries, so I find it hard to tell.
His throat is not an old man’s throat yet, like a turkey, with razor burn, but it has started to go
that way. I must have stared at it, he touches it with the hand that had sat on the file.
The file. The fingers of my own hands are interlocked. I stretch and turn them, it’s a warm up
gesture, even if one is not an athlete.
It could be a chance, but I am still twenty years younger after all. There are other options.
We listen to the siren.