This week's title is I Spy With... The final entry time this week is 11pm (UK time) 24th March 2017. Predicted prize fund is £50!
5th February 2017
It’s tricky to judge when orders are required to achieve the outcome of improved symptoms, better understanding or longevity. Ordering implies an authoritarian relationship with one party knowing ‘what’s best’ for the other and, more sinisterly, expects obedience of the other.
Most doctors nowadays are trained to work collaboratively with their patients, to communicate clearly and empathetically so as to enable people to make informed decisions for which they, not the doctor, are accountable.
Using even more sophisticated cognitive psychological techniques, a practitioner may lead their patient to a ‘guided discovery’ of their thoughts or behaviours, often not obvious initially, that are affecting their symptoms or experience.
Some of the stories demonstrate how the power of an authoritative trusted position such as that of a doctor can use the relationship with the patient to achieve a personal or political goal. In contrast, in other stories the ‘order’ was often a simplified representation of the consultation they might have had with a doctor, eg to take a holiday, to drink orange juice, or to get a prescription. In these stories the ‘order’ came to be both a very literal undertaking for the character, but also a metaphor for the complexity of the change in their health, behaviour or mood they hope to achieve.
And yet, ‘doctor’s orders’ prevails. ‘If it were you doc, what would you do?’, ‘if you think it best, I will take them, you’re the doctor!’ For some the anxiety that comes with facing no simple ‘order’ but a self-made decision can itself require intervention!
In a cynical twist, the character in the winning story longs for his life before following his doctor’s order, a time when he did not take responsibility for his behaviour, his health or his economic contribution, thus expressing how burdensome being a mediocre sentient being can be. This dark, though comic view, avoids all sentimentality and offers us something closer to the true complexity of human experience, not just polar views of functional and dysfunctional.
Adding the strange phenomena of hypnosis into the relationship between doctor and patient of course makes a mockery of accountable decisions. The thriller of the revengeful hypnotist is very entertaining.
Lastly, the description of a young man’s experience of being given a prescription for an antidepressant evoked in me an empathy for the character, feeling his embarrassment, his paranoia, his vulnerability as he realises that depression could happen to him too. It felt a very accurate description achieved with simple observation and communicated subtly.
I suspect that often my collaboratively communicated advice evolves into a ‘doctor’s order’ when relayed by patients. As a dermatologist my advice to avoid excessive hand washing to improve hand eczema becomes ‘I am not allowed to do the dishwashing or cleaning’, to people with some inflammatory skin diseases for whom I might recommend sensible ultraviolet light exposure, ‘the doctor said we should have a sunny holiday this year’.
Thank you for all your stories. Keep writing – it’s an order!
About the Judge
Dr Maria Martin is a General Practitioner in the NHS in Cumbria, England where she consults patients and manages a practice with her colleagues. She runs a community dermatology service as a GP with Extended Role. Her other clinical interests are sexual health, mental health and cognitive behavioural therapy.
You are covered with the thick synthetic blanket with the charred holes – somebody was smoking in the bed – and everything is deaf now. The noises are lower – the snow swallows it up. Everything is as if after a contusion. The synthetic cotton is not only covering you – it is in your ears, and on your eyes.
It is already gone far in the afternoon, another morning has been overslept. The synthetic cotton is not only covering you, it is inside you. While you slept someone substituted your own mussels with this dry grayish mass and now you can’t really move, but you are good for being a doll, perhaps even a voodoo one. You are going to hurt somebody. But before that you will become it, and then you will feel pain which you caused and then they will hang you at the fence somewhere perhaps or will throw inside the wardrobe.
Do not look back, do not reread, just go farther. What is there, what is further?
The few kilometers or a one page – it is not so far away, it just needs to be flat. I hate when there is a need to climb or descend – I’m a walker. Or a fox – the foxes ran very fast, but on the short distances, maybe 100 meters and only straight, then start to dodge. They hate climbing as well and there is nothing reprehensible in that.
It is about one in the afternoon, and both your hands have fallen asleep and so you try to change the position with your whole body, like an animated doll. That one with closing eyes. The most challenging thing is to get out of the bed – you don’t have to stand straight, you can just roll yourself away and drop on the floor as you are - a bulky bundle of blankets.
I’m here, in the future of your own past, spying with the glass at your yesterday's wall. I also forecast you another late horrid morning – because you always stay up late and don’t have an idea how to wake up. Here I am not a master, but at least the one who paid his dues, or, as Russian would say – who ate a dog at that. I was booking flight tickets, eating paper, shit and mushrooms, reading about the guy who was pricking himself with the pin to wake up and was pricking myself with the pin to wake up. Settling the alarm clock at 5 a m to get a sip of espresso and go back to bed again, asking the passers their names. Trying to find my own hands like Don Juan taught. Trying to read. Making relations, usually long and flavorless. Went for hiking, repaired the house, took a loan and another degree. Once I’ve killed a man – he was on touch like a mass of soft rubber. He couldn’t stop laughing while I was stubbing him again and again.
Or for example the rainbows. In the dreams they always spark and deflate once you’ve touched them. The clock doesn’t show the time. But the death is the best cure. Ready, set, go. The long flight and fear at the bottom – you won’t feel the asphalt, you will finally wake up.
It is not a matter of self-destroying, it is about a strong shot of fear. That is only what I can say, as my body is achingly resting after another very severe attempt, now with some other kind of shots. So many years you’d say, and what for? You are not awaken, but you are always disturbed. Even if you close your eyes you are in the turbulence. The run over frog still wants to run away.
As my body is rotting, so unfit and aching for yours - on the contrary synthetic and nice, I am a rat and a nutcracker while you are a pretty voodoo doll, and I send you clean kisses, the ones I saw at the train station, and also the flowers which we passed once at the field somewhere in Poland, and the waters of one river I saw in the mountain forest, and the freshly made croissants on the seaside café and flourishing Maldivian fishes – all this world, which appeared at my dream once, so clean and bereft my awkward and unnecessary smell.
- safemouse: To the marker who gave me zero for not answering the prompt (an alternative explanation): at the end of the story the child lists the reasons she has been given for why wars occur. Then she says she has her own reason and states it. That is the alternative explanation. I would have thought that would be worth at least 1 out of 1oo. Would you consider raising your mark to one out of a hundred or shall we meet half way and make it o.5? Willing to negotiate... :-P
- safemouse: Good point, Maje...Thanks!
- Tauren: I have too, sometimes you don`t get three to mark, occasionally I`ve only gotten two, did you get any at all?
- Maje : Answering the question about marking live the dream I have on friday
- writerSZGWAJNHNH: Has anyone received their stories to mark for Live Dream?
“You didn't do it, did you? Not with him!”
Rita closes the dorm door, and looks over at her roommate. She throws her purse on the floor and crashes down on the bed. Her roommate sighs.
“Oh my God, you did do it! You've got that look. Fuck! Jesus, I mean...how could you? He's so...” She throws her hands up in the air in a dramatic gesture that is lost on her companion. “old, and gross.” She emphasises the last word and returns to cutting her toenails.
Rita stares up at the ceiling and observes a small brown moth flying round and round the light shade. She wonders if she'll ever get the chance to fly? If she did she decides that she’d soar like a bird and crap on everyone that'd ever crapped on her.
Her roomie continues. “You're asking for trouble you know. He's not that famous, I mean Bobby Cole's never heard of him and neither has Billy Lee...”
Rita laughs out loud as she tries to picture the two jocks reading anything more than a comic book. Her roommate stands up and walks over to Rita's bed.
“I read some of his stuff. It's so obscene, so...dirty!“
Rita ignores her and watches the moth fly round and round and realises that for twenty or so minutes, whatever it had taken, she has flown with giants. She leans over, picks up her bag and pulls out a book. She lies back, opens it and begins to read. Rita will tell everyone that he'd given it to her in gratitude for one night of sex. She'll tell everyone that he never gave any of his other women anything, but that he was so blown away by her that he gave the book. She won't tell anyone that she's stolen it from his briefcase while he was taking a piss, that wouldn't do at all.
Harry the barkeep at the Alexander Hotel has never heard of Bukowski. He never reads books, at least not the ones without pictures, but Zinovski, the manager warns him about this guy.
“A poet” he said, “a bastard who likes a drink. And sex. Watch out for the girls. Don't serve them if they're under age.”
Harry recalls telling Mr Zinovski that he'd never seen or heard of the guy so how would he know him. Zinovski shows Harry a small flyer that advertises the reading at the college. It shows an old guy with a pock marked face and a pot belly. “No girl's going to sleep with him.” Harry says. The manager laughs.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover, Harry. The guy’s a stud.” Zinovski laughs as he walks away.
When Bukowski walks in eventually, Harry takes an instant dislike to him. He's loud, obnoxious and drunk. He swears at other customers and he has this great looking chick with him. Guys like him aren't supposed to have girls like that, Harry thinks. She couldn't have been more than nineteen but she clings onto his arm like a limpet. He tries to get the girl a drink but Harry refuses. He starts quoting poetry at Harry and orders himself a beer. He buys the girl a Coke. Harry the barkeep hates poetry. Harry does his job. Harry’s one of the best.
Bukowski starts smoking and blows smoke rings towards the girl. She coughs, then laughs and tells the old guy that it was great. Harry thinks it's a cheap trick and wants to tell the poet that he once served Babe Ruth, but the opportunity to talk baseball doesn't arise. Babe Ruth was a real man, Harry thinks, not a drunk poet. The guy orders a bottle of wine and asks for it to be sent to his room. Harry watches as they leave the bar, the old guy's hand on the young girl's ass. Harry thinks that poetry could never be that good.
Cathy, Rita's roomie lights up a smoke and watches as her boyfriend puts on his pants. Since talking with Rita she's had time to get laid herself and smoke three cigarettes. She's not happy with life and is pissed off as hell with Rita for fucking that poet. She knows Rita'll make the most of that, probably for the rest of her life. Sometimes she wishes she could be as wayward as Rita, but her Catholic upbringing holds her back from anything remotely dangerous. Her boyfriend pours himself a beer. This is as dangerous as it's going to get for her and she begins to cry.
“What's the matter?” he asks.
“I wish I was a Baptist.” she replies. He shrugs and decides not to date her again.
Charles Bukowski's sitting on the john and feeling ill. He doesn't think the reading was one of his better ones and even the little student girl he'd taken back to his room had screwed him over literally as well as physically and stolen his only copy of “Burning in Water”.
He wipes his ass, pulls up his shorts and goes back to the bedroom. He calls Linda, but there's no reply. He wonders what she does while he's away and decides that it’s best not to go down that road.
He thinks about that girl again although he can't recall her name. His pecker's sore and he thinks that maybe he shouldn't have screwed her but if he hadn't then she'd have nothing to tell her children.
Finishing off the bottle he starts to write, then gives it up. It's too late to think about words. He turns on the tv and watches a re-run of an old ballgame. Babe Ruth hits a home run. Charles lights up and wonders if Babe Ruth ever got as much pussy as he did.
He guesses not.
Last Week's Winner!
Winning entry by Maje
A way of smiling
looking at the rectangle on a long stick
typing then head bent
everything captured by a sunglasses emoji
sand and sea irrelevant
when your seen by everybody
on Bondi/Great Barrier/Ayers/Darwin/Tasmania......
Hi yeh can you wait
until I have satisfied the beast.
Look these 18 hr days are my apprenticeship.
Prestigious firm? Yeh
Like an episode of Suits.
Some day soon I'll be able to exhale.
You know that's a real possibility.
Then we'll have everything
that house in Rose Bay for $3.5 mill
plus a desert retreat near Ayers rock.
Then you and me babe will really be living that god damn f.....king dream!
At the centre
the sky tormented
underneath an old tree long dead
disappearing bare footprints
its name passed down
in a language
still clinging to its precipice
Sacred this rock
to the Anangu
for more than 10,000 years
they see it every night
walking with their ancestors
The weak morning sunlight trickled into the hotel room, promising a day of brightness and warmth. For Tomasz, the day could not seem any brighter than it already was. He reclined against the plump pillows on the large bed as the breeze from the open window raised pleasant goose-bumps on his arms. He selected a piece of warm, crispy bread from the tray on his knees and held it up to Justyna's lips. Justyna, glowing from happiness and from their recent love-making, giggled and opened her mouth the accept the offering. She had never looked so beautiful and Tomasz fell in love with her all over again. Justyna crunched the bread and poked around on the tray for a moment. She lifted a piece of sausage and wriggled closer. The bed sheets she had gathered around her fell away, revealing her naked body for an instant before her raven-coloured hair covered her breasts. She placed a hand delicately on Tomasz's chest and raised the other to his mouth. Tomasz breathed in the scent of the meat, detecting the sweet herbs added to flavour it. His stomach rumbled and Justyna laughed, bird-like and full of life.
"Eat, my love," Justyna said, smiling sweetly. Tomasz stared into her pale blue eyes and opened his mouth. He relished the rich, succulent flavour of the meat almost as much as the feeling of Justyna's fingers on his lips and on his chest. Desire awoke within him again and he gently cupped her face. He leaned forwards and moved his face towards hers...
A bell sounded, piercing and urgent. Tomasz awoke with a start and immediately cried out in despair.
"No! Not again!" he wailed, covering his eyes with his hands. Tears coursed down his leathery, wrinkled face and fell to the floor. The bell rang again impatiently.
"Oh, Justyna!" Tomasz moaned as he swung his weary legs from the warmth of his single bed. He could still taste the sausage on his tongue, and her fingertips still lingered on his lips... Tomasz dressed quickly in a simple shirt and trousers, shoving his feet into his reliable old boots. He stood and gazed at himself in the small, grimy mirror on his bedside table. His rheumy eyes took in the image of an old man, crumpled and heartbroken. His eyes strayed to his left arm and he sighed. He hadn't removed the Artifact; he detested that part almost as deeply as waking up. He unclasped the leather binding as swiftly as his arthritic fingers would allow before pulling it away. He winced as the sharp stud pulled free from his flesh, dripping blood in a thin crimson river down his forearm. Tomasz wrapped a simple bandage around the wound before shrugging on a battered overcoat. The bell rang again as he tucked the Artifact into a secret compartment next to his bed. Tomasz swore.
"I am coming, you cretin!" he said through clenched teeth. "You had better have a lot of work for me today, I wish to sleep for longer tonight!" He patted the unassuming wooden panel hiding the Artifact for reassurance, then he shuffled out of his tiny room. His employer awaited.
"Tomasz, what the hell kept you?" the mage demanded, his ridiculous green eyebrows arching in annoyance. Tomasz bowed, causing his back to crack audibly.
"My apologies, Master Aleksander," he wheezed. "I must have overslept."
"This is happening too often, old man!" the mage snapped, crossing his arms in his voluminous golden sleeves. "Honestly, if you ever came to your senses and ask for proper payment I would dismiss you and hire someone younger!"
"Do not fear, Master Aleksander," Tomasz said with practiced humility. He glanced up with a sad smile. "All I require is for my tasks to be exhausting and for somewhere to sleep once they are complete. Nothing more." Aleksander eyed Tomasz with distaste. The man had been using the Artifact again; he positively reeked of the ancient magic. Aleksander shuddered at the idea of using fresh blood to awaken a spell, it was almost medieval. For a moment, Aleksander's coldness evaporated. If only he could find a way for the Artifact to work with magically-induced sleep...that would give Tomasz a bit of an easier time...if he could just- but no, Aleksander did not have time to waste researching such frivolities.
"Good," the mage said stiffly, regaining his poise. He jerked a poultice-stained thumb towards a set of wooden stairs. "I have twelve barrels of healing potions which need decanting into the one-hundred-and-twenty flasks you will see in the cellar. They have already been laid out, and they will each need to be stoppered and labelled. Do not spill a single drop, Tomasz, it is expensive stock!"
"Right away, sir!" Tomasz said eagerly. "I do apologise once again for my lateness. I will make it up to you, I promise." With that, he hurried off to the cellar steps and descended into darkness. Aleksander frowned after him. He was almost certain that the old man was thinner than before. He looked almost skeletal.
"You're not eating properly, are you?" Aleksander mumbled. He shook his head; he had no time to care about the whims of an old labourer!
"Bah! If he wishes to tread this path, so be it!" he said to himself. "I'm not his keeper! I'll not interfere!"
Tomasz fell asleep almost as soon as his head hit his pillow that night. He had willed his aching, fatigued body back to his claustrophobic room and had attached the Artifact as soon as he could. The brief sting followed by the unnatural throbbing as the magic leaked into him did not prevent him from slipping away quickly. His eyes opened within a dream almost right away. He looked down at his hands. They were old and wrinkled, so it was not a dream of younger times. A shame, but it couldn't be helped. He glanced around him, and his heart sank in his chest.
He was in a hospital. Sterile white walls surrounded him on all sides and the reek of stale urine and futile disinfectant invaded his nostrils. A corridor stretched out in front of him, and at the end of it was a single bed. On it lay a shape which he couldn't quite make out, but he knew it was Justyna.
"No, not this one..." he croaked, closing his eyes tight and willing himself to wake up. The offensive odour grew stronger and he heard a weak voice call his name.
"Tomasz? Tomasz, where are you?"
"Justyna!" Tomasz opened his eyes and lurched forward as a strangled sob escaped his lips. His footsteps boomed on the floor, echoing loudly around him and lancing into his ears like daggers. He staggered into a run, seeing the bed moving closer, but slowly, oh so slowly!
"Tomasz? Tomasz, are you there? Tomasz...I'm frightened..."
"I'm coming, my love!" Tomasz called desperately. "I'll not leave you!" Tomasz hauled himself along the corridor, his old legs protesting and his chest tightening painfully as his breathing came out in short gasps. After what seemed like hours Tomasz reached the bed. It was a simple affair, just a thin mattress on top of a bench, but that was all the space the hospital had been able to provide them with at the time. The Plague had spread so quickly...
"Tomasz?" Justyna tried to raise herself in the bed, her wasted arms trembling with the effort. Her once-radiant face was gaunt and discoloured by the consuming disease, and the light in her beautiful eyes was dim. Tomasz gently lowered her back down and took both of her hands. He forced a smile and blinked away tears as he fought to catch his breath.
"I am...here, Justyna," he said. "I will...always be...here,"
"Oh, Tomasz, I hurt so," Justyna said miserably. Her back arched and she winced in pain. Her bony fingers gripped his weakly, and Tomasz felt her wedding band slide up a few millimeters at the movement.
"It's alright, my love," he wheezed, leaning down to kiss her cheek. It was so cold, and so thin. She even smelled wrong, like the disinfectant on the floors. Tomasz's lips trembled as he kissed her and he fought to the urge to cry out in despair. Instead he whispered in Justyna's ear.
"I love you, Justyna," he said, channeling all of his passion into the words. "Gods, I love you so much..."
"I love you too, Tomasz," Justyna said, cradling his head with her arms. They clung to one another in silence, neither knowing what to say. Tomasz wished he could do something, anything for her.
"Tomasz, will we see the Grand Budapest again?" Justyna asked, breaking the oppressive silence with a faint voice. Tomasz choked down a sob; the Grand Budapest was the hotel where they had spent their honeymoon.
"I think so, my love," he whispered. "You just need to get better first. The doctors will make you strong again, you'll see."
"Oh, that's good," Justyna said, lying back down with her eyes closed. She wore a smile, and Tomasz smiled as well. Justyna's breathing became less labourious, and she appeared to relax. Tomasz still held her hands in his, and felt the tears splashing on to them. He opened his mouth to speak to her...
The bell rang sharply. Tomasz was jerked awake and ran a hand across his wet cheeks.
"Oh, Justyna," he said, shaking his head and groaning. He sat up and pulled away the Artifact, not caring that the blood spattered onto his pillow. He stood and dressed himself, preparing for the next day of work. He stared into the mirror once again, and then staggered off. He sincerely wished for a better dream that evening...