Thursday, February 11, 2010

Traffic Offenses

Title: Traffic Offenses
Author Ranger

Payphones are not designed to be user friendly. For the fourth time I shoved the coin against the slot and this time to my relief heard the click of connection. Damien answered the phone within two rings.
"Yes." I admitted. "I'm REALLY sorry-"
"Oh darling, don't be." Damien said acidly, "I'm sure the police will be thrilled that they can stop looking for you."
There was no answer to that. I swallowed. Damien's voice softened fractionally.
"Where are you?"
From his silence, that had come as something of a shock. I cleared my throat.
"I've got a - major problem?"
"Yes." Damien agreed. "Me, for one. Being about a hundred miles north of where you really ought to be at seven thirty on a weeknight for another."
"I came up here to do a delivery-" I coughed, clearing my throat. It was damned cold in Nottingham.  "It was urgent and I had nothing to do so I-"
Oh God.
"About two o clock. I thought I'd be back by six."
"What's wrong? TELL me you didn't have a crash-"
"No." I said hastily, "No I'm okay, the car's fine. I just got up here and uh-"
"WHAT Nick?"
"I meant to get the new tax disc when I got up here." I admitted. Damien sighed.
"I TOLD you do that last week! It's allright, the chances of you being stopped over that are minimal, and if you are stopped they won't shoot you for being a few days overdue."
"It's not that." I said tentatively. "I went to the post office up here to get the new disc-"
"And?" Damien said warily. I winced.
"My insurance certificate is slightly out of date."
Silence. I shut my eyes. Damien's voice when it came back to me over the phone was alarmingly serene.
"You drove all the way to Nottingham without insurance."
"I didn't realise it was out of date, and I COULDN'T drive back-"
"I'm so glad you realise that. If you'd had a crash on the way up there-"
"I know." I said miserably. "I really didn't know it was out of date-"
"How are you doing?" Damien interrupted. "You sound wheezy."
Strike two. "I am." I said, bracing myself. "It was a lousy afternoon and-"
"What have you taken?"
One, two, three-
"I haven't got anything with me."
"My inhaler's at the office in my other jacket, I picked up the wrong one, and I can't find the spacer in the car ANYway so it wouldn't be any use if I HAD got it-"
"Where are you?" Damien cut in. I could hear him rummaging for a pen. "Specifically. If I have to ransack Nottingham for you I'm not going to be happy."
I peered through the door of the phone box. "Er. Gatlin street. There's a pub-" I paused to cough, trying not to be aware of the husk in my voice. "The Blackbird. On the corner. I'm in the carpark over the road."
"Right. Listen to me. Lock the car up, get a taxi to the Forte lodge at junction 24. Junction 24, got that?"
"Get a room, get yourself a coffee and lie down. DON'T try having a bath until I get there, the heat might bring on an attack. I'll be an hour and a half at the very outside. I've got my mobile with me, if it gets any worse, call me. Have you got enough cash on you?"
"Plenty." I cleared my throat again. "I'm really sorry-"
"Its allright Nicky, don't worry about that now. I won't be long. Get yourself to the lodge and keep yourself calm, that's all you need to do. You can do it, you'll be fine."
"I love you." I told him for the umpteenth time, meaning it with all the coherency I had left. His answer was prompt and reassuringly calm.
"I love you too. I'll be there by nine thirty."
It was an effort to hang up. I leaned my head against the glass for a minute, still gripping the receiver, then made myself open the door. He was right. What I needed to do was get somewhere quiet and work on calming down. At the moment I was tight: if I didn't put some effort in now I would have an attack.
It was eight thirty when the taxi dropped me at the Forte travel lodge. The man behind the desk responded to my slightly breathless inquiries by pulling a note off the telephone.
"Mr Hayes? Your partner phoned ten minutes ago, he booked you a room. There'll be someone on the desk all night. If you need help you only need to pick up the phone."
Damien thought of everything. I took the key with growing weariness and headed for room 12. It was warm and the bed was soft. Naturally, now Damien had said NOT to go near the bath, it was about all I wanted to do. I settled for kicking off my shoes, dropping my jacket over the chair and curling up on the bed. I hated the feeling of hovering around on the edge of an attack like this at any time. It was far more worrying to know I had no medication within reach. 
Three or four times I reached for the phone to call Damien. Each time I put my hand down again, knowing it was going to do nothing but scare him. He would be here as soon as he could. I put the tv on and tried to stay calm. In the end I fell into an uncomfortable half doze on the bed, full of dreams where I couldn't breathe.
I woke at the familiar pressure of a mask being settled over my face. I rolled over and found Damien sitting on the edge of the bed, still in his jacket and looking very tired, despite his smile. I got a hand up to his face as much in apology as in greeting and he turned his head against my palm in a firm kiss. I lay back and breathed the steam from the nebuliser, getting hold of his nearest hand while the other went rapidly over my chest, pressing with the deftness of long experience. He knew what to look for, he knew what to do, I had nothing to worry about now. He sat with me for some minutes, his hand still resting on my chest, then he got up and started to take off his jacket. The clock stood at ten past nine pm. He hung his jacket over the chair at the desk, took two cups off the little complimentary tray of tea and coffee and flicked the little kettle on. I pulled the mask away from my face.
"I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry-"
"It's okay." Damien sat down on the bed and put the mask back into place. "Don't worry about anything now, you'll be fine."
"I didn't mean to."
"Okay." He pushed his fingers through my hair, shaking it back from my face. From the pile of stuff on the dressing table he'd brought every piece of medication and equipment I owned. He got up as the kettle clicked off and I lay, watching him make tea. So calm. So naturally together as though we spent every night in a travel lodge, miles away from home. He carried two cups across to me, settled back against the pillows and held out his arms until I shifted across to lean against him. He reached past me for the remote control, turned the sound up on the tv and the heavy hand over my chest began to rub deeply and slowly.
It was twenty minutes before he clicked the machine off and I rather hesitantly peeled the mask away, sitting up. Damien unplugged the nebuliser and lifted it down to the floor. I curled my legs under me, waiting for the explosion and not sure whether I needed to get in first.
"I'm sorry." I said again, "Really. I didn't know the insurance was-"
Damien leaned back against the pillows and his look was anything but annoyed.
"Nicky. I've just had a long drive on top of a day's work, it's getting late and you're in no condition to talk about anything, never mind anything stressful. Leave it for tonight. We'll sort this out tomorrow."
"Morning?" I said hesitantly. Damien gave me a faint smile.
"In a hotel?"
My heart thudded unpleasantly. Damien reached up to tousle my hair.
"When we get home. It's allright. Come here."
I lay down against him and his arms wrapped around me, pulling me closer. I closed my eyes and turned my head into his neck, my chest gradually unknotting.
He woke me at eleven to make me take the night medications and do a peak flow test before he got me undressed. I fell asleep in the dim light from the bathroom and the reassuring sounds of him in the shower. 
I woke first as usual, and lay for a minute wondering where we were. Then dragged myself upright and opened the curtains out over the carpark. We were in Nottingham and Damien was going to murder me as soon as we got home. Dry mouthed, I got out of bed and picked up the evidence from the dressing table. One out of date insurance certificate. One car licence. One MOT certificate. I'd been driving without insurance for ten days, I could only marvel at my luck in not hitting anything.
"Is that the certificate?" Damien said behind me. I swallowed and took the whole pack across to the bed. Damien sat up and leaned against the headboard, scanning through all three.
"I didn't realise," I said miserably. "I took all three into the post office, handed them over and the girl told me. I'd forgotten  from last year, the insurance and tax came together-"
"Pass my wallet over."
I fumbled for it in the pocket of his coat. "SO stupid. It's an arrestable offence too, I KNOW that-"
Damien's fingers cupped under my chin, turned it up and he kissed me until my eyes stopped stinging. Then he got up and took the phone off the desk.
"Hello, this is room 12- can I have an outside line please?"
Being Damien, it took less than ten minutes. He called the insurers, poured charm into the ears of whoever answered the phone and within five minutes was quoting credit card numbers and thanking his listener warmly. He put the phone down just as I was considering curling up in a ball and hoping I disappeared. Arms wrapped around my knees, I gave him a wary look.
"You're insured."
"Just like that?" I said, surprised. Damien smiled.
"Just like that. They'll fax the documentation home, we'll get you a tax disc tomorrow. Now all we need to do is get breakfast and go home."
I looked up at him as he found his clothes, doubtful and upset. Apart from that I'd dragged him out here, and I knew he wasn't happy- it wasn't like him to let me off the hook so easily.
Bills- non payment of- and documentation, procrastination with, were bones of contention that dated back to the first week we'd lived together. And he was horribly predictable over it all. He'd talk me through it- chase me through it- but he always made me sort this kind of mess out myself. He never just picked up the phone and bailed me out like this. Unless I'd pushed him to the point where he was so fed up with it all that he'd given up. An hour ago I would have been delighted if he would take over the paying and organising of every bill and license in our lives. Now I felt like dissolving into tears. Damien sat down with his shirt half on, put an arm around me and gave me a crushing hug.
"Stop it. It's solved, let's just get something to eat and go home."
 "I SHOULDN'T have let that happen-"
"No." Damien agreed. "And we'll talk about it later. But NOT now. Come on darling, it's six thirty, we need to be fed and at work for nine. Get under the shower, I'll set the nebuliser up-"
"I don't need that, I'll be fine with the ventolin." I said sniffing. Damien's swat was firm as I passed him.
"You nearly had an attack last night, you do twenty minutes on the nebuliser before you go anywhere so get a move on. There's a Little Chef over the road, we'll get breakfast there."
It was one of his harassing mornings. He dragged me through the shower, medication and far more bacon and tea than I wanted to deal with at that time in the morning, and by the time we collected my car, I was feeling distinctly more cheerful. There was no one else around and Damien took advantage to grab me and spend several minutes lifting my mood still further.
"Drive carefully." He ordered when he let me go. "I'll ring you at lunchtime." 
I got to the office at ten past nine. Damien called dead on time and we chatted briefly, but I was too engaged in work to think much. It was about four pm as the office began to shut down that it started to impinge on me. This was not going to be a good evening.
The insurance was a huge issue and I knew it. I'd forgotten to renew it. I'd lost track of it, let it get out of control, let the tax get out of date. Driven without insurance, which was illegal in itself. Had I been involved in a crash- I swallowed at the thought.
And beyond that? I'd had to call Damien for help and drag him 120 miles north to bring medication which I knew very well I should NEVER have gone anywhere without.
It was all things we'd discussed before, solo and chorus, and I knew he was going to be very far from happy.
I got more and more nervous as I collected my belongings and started the drive home. It was still worse to find Damien's car already on the drive. He didn't often leave work early: for him to be home now meant only one thing. He was waiting for me, intending to get this discussion dealt with. It took me several years to lock my car.
He was cooking a casserole from the warm, spicy scent in the hallway as I opened the front door. I hung my jacket up, kicked my shoes off under the coat rack with the general feeling that we were going to have far more to worry about tonight than where I left my shoes, and headed for the kitchen. Damien was wiping the kitchen counters down, and turned around as he heard me, holding his arms out. I gave him a hug, went past him to the fridge and grabbed the box of fruit juice, determined to have a drink at least before we embarked upon the nightmare. My heart sank as the box was taken gently out of my hands.
"Nicky. Sit down."
Oh God. Okay, it was better to face this and get it over with. I knew it rationally, and yet my stomach was still clenched as I took the kitchen chair he'd pulled out for me. Damien sat down beside me and leaned on the table, speaking so gently and steadily that he'd covered several sentences before I understood what he was saying.
"Darling I've got something to tell you about Anastasia. When I got home yesterday-"
"Anastasia?" I said blankly, glancing around for her. Damien put his hand over mine to keep me at the table.
"There was a note through the letter box. She must have wandered out in to the road, or she was on the pavement, panicked and ran the wrong way. She was hit by a car."
My heart lurched so hard I thought I was going to be sick. Damien's voice was ridiculously soft.
"The driver took her straight to the nearest vet. They read her collar and left a note-"
"Is she allright?" I demanded. "Damien? What happened-"
"She's alive." Damien said quietly, not responding to my raising voice, "They had to do some surgery on her, she had some bad internal bleeding and they had to resection some of her gut. They're doing the best they can for her."
"But?" I demanded, reading his tone. Damien shrugged slightly, eyes very soft.
"It doesn't look very good darling. I don't think it's likely-"
"No." I said to cut him off. He let me get up. I headed for the lounge, just wanting to get away from the whole idea. He followed me across the lounge to the windows where I stopped and glared at the garden, arms folded. Damien's hands rubbed over my shoulders.
"I phoned them as soon as I got home, She's conscious but they're only getting fluids into her through a drip, she isn't moving and they can't get her to eat."
But she was just a baby. Only four months old. .She should never have been out in the first place. I swallowed hard, trying not to shake.
"Who hit her?"
"I don't know."
"You said there was a note."
"Nicky, I don't know. And if I did, I wouldn't tell you. Whoever it was didn't do it on purpose."
"They were probably driving too fast-"
"It must have been a glancing blow or she wouldn't have survived it at all." Damien turned me around, trying to get me to look at him. "I'm sorry sweetheart-"
"Yesterday. Yesterday!" It dawned on me how long ago that was with a rising sense of fury. "Why didn't you tell me!"
"Because you were in no state to drive last night and I didn't want you to have an attack. And there was nothing you could do."
"I want to phone them."
"I thought you would." Damien let me go. "The number's by the phone."
He sat on the bottom of the stairs and listened while I talked to the receptionist and then a nurse. Yes she was alive. No, she was in no pain. No, I couldn't see her tonight. Yes they would do the best they could for her, there was a nurse on duty all night. But I had to remember these were serious injuries. I hung up, cold to the bone and my hands shaking. Damien got up and folded his arms around me. 
His casserole ended up in the fridge. I didn't want to eat and it seemed that he couldn't either. He insisted on turning the tv on, mostly as a distraction, but neither of us watched it. He wouldn't let me phone the vet again until 11pm. We curled up together on the sofa and lay there in silence. He sent me at some point to have a bath, made me change into night clothes before he let me downstairs again. There was no change at 11pm when I rang the vets. He said nothing, just looked sad when I told him, and carried on turning out the lights. I balked when he moved towards the stairs.
"You go, I don't want to go to bed."
"What are you going to do?" Damien said gently. "Sit down here and brood all night?"
"How is that worse than lying up there and brooding all night?" I inquired. Damien sighed.
"Sweetheart, you need to work tomorrow, which means you need to sleep."
"So you're going to wave a wand are you?" I said nastily. Damien came back to me unhurriedly, lifting his arms over my head to link around me and pull me close to him.
"Come on baby. Come and try."
"What if they phone?"
"They won't until seven am at the earliest." Damien steered me towards the stairs. I ducked his arm and slid away from him.
"YOU go, I can't."
"I can't." I said with conviction. "I'm not going to go up there and lie in the dark so I can think about it better. I'm NOT just being difficult-"
"I know." Damien said quietly. "But you need to sleep and I don't want you to wind yourself up any higher-"
I lost all control over the tears at that point. I swallowed it down as best I could and headed for the tv, trying to breathe deeply enough to calm down. Damien followed, took the remote out of my hands and set it for the video channel before his arm hooked around me and he kissed what he could reach of my face.
"Okay. Find a video, I'll bring a quilt downstairs."
So relieved he wasn't going to make a fight out of this, I searched the video shelf, struggling to get myself back under control. He was gone two minutes; by the time I had The Full Monty set up and ready to play he had made a bed up on the sofa and two mugs of tea and a packet of biscuits were on the floor.
I know how his mind works. He just intended to let me fall asleep down here and then shift us easily to bed. By one am he was asleep on the sofa and I was depressed about the state of the steelworks in Sheffield as well as thinking about a very small cat. I got up as quietly as I could and changed the video, looking until I found a home made tape I had of Dad's Army. I needed something long, funny and not at all upsetting. Damien stirred half way through the first episode, found me wandering and demanded until I lay down with him on the sofa. He fell asleep again within twenty minutes.
By three am I slipped out to the hall and tried to ring the vets. Whoever was on duty overnight didn't answer telephones. I got the answering machine and that was all. On the tv, it was the episode with the parade, where different platoons raced each other through the village. It was one that creased Damien up every time he saw it, but then he'd grown up in a village with it's rigid communities and it's characters. Which reminded me. I wandered out to the kitchen and glanced through the calendar until I found his parents' wedding anniversary. About two weeks away. We needed to get a card this weekend. I hovered in the kitchen for a moment, looking out at the garden in the dark and wondering how long this night intended to go on for. It felt like an eternity already and I wasn't sure how much longer I could go on feeling this miserable. I had to do something. Anything. Something to get rid of some of this intensity.
The release to the drinks cabinet has a distinctive click and I froze for a second after opening it, worried I'd disturbed Damien. There was no sound from the living room. I found a glass, the bottle of whiskey and slopped in enough ginger wine to make it palatable. The effect was warm and sweet. And carrying overtones of much pleasanter winter evenings. I shut the cabinet softly and wandered, swallowing the syrupy drink in gulps. It was a lot stronger than I liked, but it wasn’t the taste I wanted. Once swallowed the heat was something else to focus on, and the sensation was comforting. I bolted the glassful in a couple of minutes, rinsed out the tumbler and quietly put it away. Warmer, marginally calmer, Damien and the sofa seemed far more inviting. He shifted over when I lay down with him, automatically wrapping an arm around me. I lay against him watching the tv sometimes with my eyes open, sometimes with them closed, and eventually it got too much trouble to keep them open.
Damien woke me at seven. The tv was off, he was dressed and shaved, and I had the sofa and the quilt to myself. He handed me a mug of tea and a plate of toast and sat down beside me to finish the piece of toast in his hand.
"Sorry darling. I left you as long as I could."
"Urg." I struggled upright, far from clear headed. Four hours sleep wasn't close to enough. "Vets."
"I just rang. She's no different."
From his tone, he didn't find that any kind of reassurance. I stared into the tea.
"I'm going to stay here today-"
"No you're not." Damien said decisively. I flinched.
"I'll be good for nothing anyway and I want to be by the phone-"
"You'll be a lot better out of the house with something to do and something to think about." Damien picked up the toast and gave it to me. "Get that down, I'll get your inhalers."
He didn’t listen to a word I said. Just stood over me while I dressed, hustled me into the car and made me promise to ring at lunchtime. 
I WAS good for nothing at work.
I straggled through a long morning without the energy or interest to do anything but look at the phone and think about how long before I could call the vet again. About eleven am I gave up the struggle and talked to Beth who was her usual sweet, sympathetic self. I went home.
The vet was not encouraging. She still wasn't moving, she still wouldn't drink, no it probably wasn't a good idea to come and see her. Why didn't I ring back in four hours or so?
That reminded me. I rang Damien.
He sounded as depressed about the news as I felt. For all he'd resisted Anastasia moving in with us, he adored her and I knew it. I didn't mention that I'd come home and we only spoke very briefly as he had a meeting.
Left to my own devices, I wandered around the house, miserable and hating the thudding, relentless anxiety. Too much to read. Too much to work. I tried having a bath. And was dressed and downstairs fifteen minutes later, too stressed to do that too. In the end, in sheer desperation, I grabbed another whiskey laced with the ginger wine syrup and stuck the tv on.
The trouble with sweet things tends to be that you miss the taste when it stops.
Dad's Army was still rolling when Damien's key in the lock nearly gave me a heart attack. It was three pm. I stuffed the glass out of sight under the sofa and waited, deliberately casual, until he came in.
"Hi. You're home early."
"I rang your office after the meeting. You sounded so down." He came across and sat on the arm of the sofa, thankfully not coming too close. I gave him a faintly apologetic shrug.
"I came home at lunchtime. I couldn't do anything anyway, I'd rather be here."
"You couldn't have told me?"
"You were in your meeting." I said, rearranging the facts slightly. He gave me a look, but thankfully didn't pursue it. Just leaned across to tap my knee, partly to make me take it off the arm of the chair.
"Come on. Let's go out for a walk or something. Newsham park."
"I want to stay by the phone."
"Nicky. Get up, get your coat. Now."
I knew that tone. Damien pulled me out of the chair and steadied me as I stumbled.
He catches on FAR too fast. I saw his brows snap down over his eyes, his expression instantly transmuting from Damien more or less teasing to Damien not prepared to be messed about with at all.
"What have you been drinking?"
"Nothing but WHAT?" Damien rapped out, making me flinch. I swallowed.
"Just ginger wine-"
He held out his hand. I tried looking blank for all of eight seconds before I found the glass under the sofa and surrendered it to him. Goose not so much cooked as barbecued. 
Damien took one mouthful and winced hard on the sweetness.
"How many have you had?"
"Only that one-"
He headed for the kitchen and brought the whiskey bottle back with him, putting it down on the coffee table with a worryingly loud bang.
"NICHOLAS. This was nearly a full bottle! And that syrup stuff you drink is about 15% proof- I don't know how you're still standing!"
"I sort of-"
I hesitated, not sure whether it was going to help any to explain I wasn't QUITE as drunk as he thought.
"I sort of had some yesterday-" He was looking at me again. I heard my voice drift upwards towards a wail, starting to operate independently of me. "I didn't know what to do, I just wanted to stop thinking about it-"
"How much?" Damien grabbed my chin and made me look at him. "NICK…"
"Three- maybe four," I added, slightly more doubtfully. It must have been the alcohol. I never saw him move. All the breath rushed out of me as my torso hit his lap, his arm wrapped around my waist and I yelped as his hand walloped down across the seat of my trousers.
"That has to be one of the LEAST intelligent solutions you could possibly have come up with. QUITE apart from how dangerous it is to be drunk while alone, you are PERFECTLY well aware alcohol is not something to be played with!"
Apparently tired of punctuating himself with his hand against my cords, he rapidly and efficiently pulled my slacks down, pulled my shorts down after them and embarked on a far noisier, far more acute back up to his lecture that brought tears to my eyes within seconds.
"No one who can't use alcohol without abusing it, has the right to be using it in the first place. It's NOT a safe substance, it needs handling with respect and maturity. There is no excuse whatsoever for letting yourself get drunk, it's self poisoning. And I will NOT let you do it any more than I'd let you poison yourself with anything else. Do you understand me?"
By about that point I would have promised him anything without reservation. Never to drink again. To be sober until the day I died. To win a gold medal in the next Olympic decathlon. Anything he wanted.
"Drinking too much is nothing more than irresponsibility and bad habits," Damien went on, quite unnecessarily. "And drinking alone and at stupid times like this is another terrible habit and NOT one you're going to pick up. If I can't trust you to be sensible about having alcohol in the house then I'll start keeping that cupboard locked."
"I only wanted to stop feeling so-" I said, struggling for breath.
"It’s a drug." Damien said curtly, pausing for a moment. "If an aspirin doesn't stop a headache, would you overdose?"
I shook my head, rapidly shutting up. Damien sounded flatly determined above me.
"You promise me now, you never drink unless I'm with you. If you can't drink sensibly then you do it under supervision or you don't do it at all."
"I promise." I said miserably, "I won't- I'm sorry."
Another brief and sharp hail of swats fell, stealing any breath I had left. Then Damien lifted me back onto my knees and lifted my chin. I was gulping, miserable and nearly too ashamed to look at him, although there was no edge left in his voice.
"How sober are you?"
"Sober."  I said, meaning it.
He helped me to my feet and turned me towards the stairs.
"Get out of those clothes, wash your face and clean your teeth."
I fled, demoralised and too shaken to argue. I was downstairs again as soon as I could, wanting to be close to him. Damien was in the kitchen, rinsing out the tumbler I'd been using. He filled a mug with water and handed it to me.
"You'd better drink as much water as you can or you're going to have a terrible headache."
I buried myself under the arm he held out, too shaken up now not to cry. He stroked my hair, not trying to stop me.
"Did you ring the vet?" he asked eventually. I shook my head against his chest.
He rang.   Still no change. 
He didn't give me an inch all evening. He made soup which he insisted I ate, dragged me mercilessly two miles around the park in freezing, drizzling twilight and listened to about two words of protest at nine thirty before he told me in no uncertain terms that I was going to bed.
He did at least come with me.
In bed, curled up with my head on his lap, I lay and listened to his soft voice reading AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh, at least partially distracted, as this was about my second all time favourite thing to do with Damien in bed. I'd first coaxed him to read aloud to me not long after we first met. At that time my asthma was out of control and disturbed nights were frequent, and we were often looking for distractions. He has a wonderful voice for reading. Quiet and matter of fact with a gift for bringing out the humour in some of the truly crafted stories. Stalky and Co. Emma. He does a fantastic Red Queen when I can talk him into reading Alice through the Looking Glass. But there is nothing he does as well as AA Milne. It was ten past ten and we were wandering through the heffalumps and woozels, his free hand fingercombing through my hair, when the phone rang.
The way he put the book down said it all. He put my hand away from the phone without looking at me and picked the receiver up.
I stared at his face, trying to read his expression. None of our friends would call at this hour, even if it wasn't the vet it was a problem of some sort. Damien's free hand rested on my knee, not exerting any pressure but keeping me where I was. He still wasn't looking at me, his face immobile.
"Yes. Yes I see. Yes, thank you for letting us know."
Oh God. I closed my hands to stop them shaking and tried to think of other reasons why he might say that. He put the phone down with a quiet, precise click.
"They got her to eat some tuna, she kept it down and she got herself up to take some more when the nurse went back to her just now. It's not a guarantee but the vet thinks that's a pretty good sign."
Saturday morning. We both slept late, hung over from late nights. It was nearly nine before I woke with the unpleasant feeling there was something not right about today. 
Once I was fully awake I remembered what it was. We had several things to talk about that we'd been putting off while Anastasia was so ill- today would very likely be the day we continued negotiations. I knew from experience how Damien felt about slip ups with official documentation. Especially when it was due to me not filling in or posting forms on time. This wasn't going to be fun.
It was the not taking medication with me that really bothered me though. Damien had made threats about that before. Threats that left me seriously worried that he would count this as a caning job. It was the absolute ultimate sanction with us, something he very very rarely used- where I'd put myself or someone else in serious danger. Unfortunately, if he chose to argue that I had- by separating myself from medication I KNEW I needed- I would have to admit he had a good point.
Damien stretched beside me, one of his long, deep groans that means he's waking up and wishes he wasn't. With his hair in his eyes, first thing in the morning, he looks like a ten year old. A long, very well muscled ten year old, but the effect is rather sweet. I leaned over and kissed him which produced a slightly less plaintive sound in response. He opened his eyes and gave me a somewhat hazy smile.
"Hello beautiful."
"What time is it?"
"Just after nine." I held on as he stretched, long limbs arching in all directions. "I only just woke up."
"Sweetheart." Damien's arms wrapped around me, yanking me down again. "Darling. Angel. I will do anything you say if you'll go and make me a decent cup of tea."
"Anything?" I teased him.
His eyes were closed again, but his grunt was wary. "Within reason. Killing dragons. Hunting Snarks. NO art galleries."
"Not even the national portrait gallery?"
"Not even if I can take a book and a walkman."
He dug his fingers in my ribs, making me yelp.
"Tea. Please?"
Actually he would never have to beg. I brought a mug upstairs to him, strong and orange in hue, the way he likes it, and sat on the end of the bed to watch him drink it. He never goes quickly from asleep to awake. I wanted to ask him straight out, except a part of me didn't want be the one to raise the subject. I knew he would have forgotten, it was just- we didn't have to rush into anything.
It took us a long time to get going that morning. I went down to make breakfast, looked at the clock and got bacon out of the fridge. It was near enough to lunchtime that we might as well combine the two. We ate slowly, listening to the news on the radio, and washed the dishes in accompaniment to a range of 60's songs, which usually Damien would have hummed along with. Damien wiped the counters down when we finished, slung the tea towel over the edge of the sink and looked at me.
"Done a peak flow test this morning?"
I shook my head. Damien held out a hand to me and we went upstairs. I hadn't taken much notice but thinking about it he'd been sticking the thing into my hand at regular intervals over the last few days. Stress was a fairly major trigger for me.
"It's okay." I told him, shaking the dial down to zero. "I'm not even tight."
"Just do it." Damien sat down on the end of the bed to watch me. I took a deep breath and did the three tests I was supposed to. Damien reached over and tipped my wrist to see the dial. The results were okayish. Not readings where I'd get nervous, but not wonderful. I looked at him, just waiting now for him to make a decision. He took the monitor away from me and leaned over to put it on the dressing table. I took a deep breath.
"Are you going to cane me for going to Nottingham?"
Damien lifted his eyebrows. "It's not that bad a city."
I looked at him. He shook his head.
That was a relief, and something of a surprise. Damien held out a hand and waited until I sat down on the bed beside him.
"It was dangerous."
"Very. And something we've gone over and over. You DON'T go anywhere without checking you have medication with you. It's your condition and I expect you to be responsible about it."
I flushed. Damien shook my knee gently.
"But you rang me."
I looked at him. He gave me a faint smile.
"A year or so back when you realised you'd painted yourself into a corner you would have panicked. Probably abandoned the car and tried to get home on your own. The last thing you would have done is picked up the phone, explained the problem to me and got  help. I'd rather you didn't get yourself into the situation in the first place, but if you have to, that was a responsible way to handle it. The driving without insurance I'm NOT happy about but we're not getting into that when your chest's this tight."
That wasn't good news and I knew it, but it was better than I'd expected. Damien's voice went on over my head, calm and steady.
"I'm taking your car keys. Your car is out of action for ten days, the ten days you drove it without insuring it. And by the time I've finished with you, you are going to know the renewal date of every piece of vehicle documentation by heart." 
He wasn't kidding. I put my pen down on Monday evening to stretch my fingers and looked across at Anastasia, stretched out full length in front of the fire, exactly four inches away from the carefully lined basket the vet had asked us to give her. The whole of one side was shaved, from her shoulder to her hip, and the operation scar was livid, as were the eight stitches she heroically wasn't chewing out. She was eating like a horse, and when we followed the vet's instructions to keep her shut in the one room, she'd nearly battered the door down in indignation. I clicked to her and she rolled over, stretched and blinked at me. Then got up and leapt onto the table, wading across several hundred sheets of paper, on which I was transcribing for the rest of eternity that my MOT was due on the 7th of June, my insurance was due on the 8th November and my car tax was due on the 1st November. I was starting to repeat the sentence in my sleep. Madam walked over the paper without the faintest regard for any of it, confiscated my pen and batted it briskly onto the floor. When I didn't argue, she bounced down to the floor, dribbled it across the room and filed it under the sofa.
Best place for it.
I assembled the sheets of lines just as Damien came far enough down stairs to see me.
"Nick. It's half ten."
Anastasia, hearing Damien's voice, abandoned the pen, trotted to the foot of the stairs and opened her mouth in a long, plaintive wail. I turned the light out, hearing my man's voice answer her in an undertone, instantly responsive.
"Allright little girl, I'm coming."
Gently, he picked her up and carried her upstairs. I followed, wondering how long she was going to play this game. She had absolutely NO doubt in her mind as to which of us was worth her vamp act. She flirted with Damien shamelessly. Apart from insisting he carry her up and downstairs, she had only eaten for the first couple of days if he fed her. Personally. (If he wasn't around, she ate whatever she could find, with gusto). Damien, who caught on to this sort of thing with me at the speed of light, fell straight into her trap every time.
By the time I got upstairs, she was sitting on the windowsill, looking small, wan and graciously pathetic. Strictly speaking she wasn't allowed upstairs. Especially in the bedrooms.
"How many did you get done?" Damien inquired from the bed. I changed and crawled across to him.
"Another five hundred."
He leaned over and snapped the light out on my side of the bed, leaving just the soft glow of his lamp. I lay against him and pulled the book into his lap, turning the pages until we came to the right place. Anastasia yawned, leapt from the windowsill to the bed and climbed over me, flopping pathetically down between us. Damien, by all appearances, hadn't noticed we had a cat in the bed. Tipping his head back against the head board, his free arm around me, he shifted to get comfortable.
"Eeyore, the old grey donkey, stood by the side of the stream and looked at himself in the water….." 
~The End~
Copyright Ranger 2010

1 comment:

Key said...

"Are you going to cane me for going to Nottingham?"

Damien lifted his eyebrows. "It's not that bad a city."

Coming from Nottinghamshire I'm still laughing at that line!!

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