The Gynaecologist’s Wife
I was in the Italian coffee shop thumbing through Calvino’s collected letters. Seemed like the right place to do it. The woman glanced at me as she came through the door. She got a latte and came to my table, sitting heavily in the chair opposite. “Don’t panic,” she said. “I’m not a stalker.”
She was small, around forty years old. She had large eyes and a long straight nose framed by the craft of an expensive stylist. No makeup but an arresting perfume. I’m tempted to say the scent was Shalini or Fleur Cherie but I’m no Raymond Chandler.
Although she had a winning smile her face and features were pinched as if they’d been packed in a box designed for something smaller. Her name was Sally. “I’ve got a story,” she said. “Something for one of your books.”
Sally with a story. This happens from time to time. Everyone has a story but there are people who don’t know what to do with their story and can only give it away. I only want stories if they sparkle. I’m a magpie. Or if they leak jouissance. I need to feed my darkness.
Sally’s story was about her friend, Caro, who was married to an obstetrician. “‘The vaginal man with his pokey fingers,’ was how Caro referred to him. The house would fill with the tinkling laughter of us women in the book group or the Ladies Bridge Club.”
“I won’t be consulting that husband fellow of yourn,” Sally said. “With his blue beard. I’d rather keep the itch and scratch it my own self.”
That word, ‘yourn’, the way she knew how to use it, gave her the feel of a character in a book.
“My Gyno was a proper female, a horse for the course, so to speak. And several of our friends felt the same way, that another woman was more suited to the job. Caro said, if the need ever arose, that she herself should want sorting out down there, she would ask for the telephone number.”
Sally touched her cheek with the middle finger of her right hand. She sipped her coffee. “We spent a lot of time together, Caro and me. She was a nurse attached to his department. That’s how they met.”
“She didn’t always admit to her husband being a Gynaecologist. There had been awkward moments when she told people what he did. That shouldn’t happen, of course, in this day and age. But she was not beyond inventing a fictional profession for him. He was sometimes a plumber; which wasn’t entirely a lie. And depending on the recipient and the occasion she might say he sold insurance, which was blatant. But needs must.
“I remember having a new boyfriend who was a legs man. ‘The Gynaecologist is neither legs nor tits,’ Caro said. ‘If anything he’s a uterus man.’ When they met his favourite tune was ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, only he would sing, ‘Fly Me To The Womb’. The other nurses said if he was a pilot he’d fly to the womb and back every day, perhaps with a slight detour to Fallopia on the return journey.”
What interested me about Caro’s story, apart from the black humour implicit in the references to the husband, was the revelation about the woman’s imagination. It emerged that in the fire-breathing Chimera of a parallel life she had not married him at all.
“She met him and married him and regretted it on their honeymoon,” Sally said. “So she would invent sequences of events to mask the reality of it all. She imagined, after the groping in his consulting room she had had herself transferred to the Diabetic and Endocrinology Department and almost immediately became a single mother with the help of the departmental charge nurse.
“Toby, her dreamworld son, was as black as his father and grew to be a toddler where he stayed for ever. Toddling through every day.
“The father upped and offed back to Uttoxeter to be close to his own mother, who needed him more. She invented a whole new world for herself, a place where the Gynaecologist was only an unfortunate incident in the past.”
“But she still lived with him?” I asked.
“When he was around. He worked all the time. He was a keen caver and spent weekends and free time scooting off to the Yorkshire Dales, the Swansea valley, or somewhere in the High Peaks. Derbyshire, I think. One year he organised a conference in South Africa specifically to spend time at the Cango Caves in Western Cape. His obsession with crevices and caverns knew no bounds.
“And it was while he was away on one of these jaunts that she disappeared. Didn’t say a word to anyone, not even me,
“Just walked away into the winter, year before last. He couldn’t believe it. None of us could.
“I went to Uttoxeter that summer. Spent a week there. It was the only clue I had. But she wasn’t there. Or if she was I didn’t find any trace of her.
“That’s it. My story. It’s true. I know you’ll have to invent a different ending. Because people don’t run away, do they? With no explanation?”