The Greening of Mrs Donaldson

Alan Bennett

‘I gather you’re my wife,’ said the man in the waiting room. ‘I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure. Might one know your name?’

Middle-aged and scrawny he was bare-legged and underneath his shortie dressing-gown Mrs Donaldson thought he might be bare altogether.


‘Right. Mine’s Terry. I’ve been away.’

He put out his hand and as she shook it briefly the dressing-gown fell open to reveal a pair of tangerine Y-fronts with, tucked into the waistband, a mobile phone.

‘Trouble in the back passage,’ he said cheerfully.

‘No,’ said Mrs Donaldson. ‘I don’t think so.’

‘Mine not yours, dear,’ said Terry. ‘You’re just my wife.’

‘I was given to understand,’ said Mrs Donaldson, ‘that it was your waterworks.’

‘No fear.’ Terry hitched up his Y-fronts. ‘No way.’

‘Frequency,’ said Mrs Donaldson. ‘Waking at night.’

‘Absolutely not. I go before I come to bed and then first thing in a morning. Well, you know that,’ and he sniggered. ‘You’re my wife.’

Mrs Donaldson took out a folder.

‘I think you’ll find,’ said Terry, ‘it’s the other department. Stools hard and difficult to pass. Occasional blood. All that. I thought I could be very shy, which is why you’re here: to hold my hand.’

‘Well I was a nurse,’ admitted Mrs Donaldson. ‘I’m au fait with all the technical terms … bowel, colon, prostate.’

‘Steady on,’ said Terry. ‘Were you a nurse?’

‘No,’ said Mrs Donaldson. ‘I’m a widow.’

‘Hold on a sec,’ said Terry. ‘I’ll go and ascertain,’ and fastening his dressing-gown he left the room.

When he came back he found her sitting in a different seat. He sat down next to her again but without speaking.

‘And?’ said Mrs Donaldson.

Terry indicated his crotch. ‘Waterworks it is, though the bowel could come into it apparently as they’ll have to go in the back door first to size up the old prostate. After that it depends on how much he wants to throw at them.’

The door opened, there was the sound of laughter and a girl with a name tag came out in tears.

‘I did try and tell you dear,’ said an elderly woman who followed, buttoning her blouse. ‘The gall bladder was just a red herring.’

A buzzer went. Terry and Mrs Donaldson got up.

‘After you,’ said Terry, putting a single finger in the small of Mrs Donaldson’s back. She wriggled it off, saying, ‘You’re shy, remember?’

There were half a dozen students this morning, four boys, two girls with the place roughly rigged out to represent a consulting room. There was a desk, a table and, lounging at the back in studied indifference, Dr Ballantyne, the head of the unit. Who was Terry again, Mrs Donaldson thought, though doubtless in superior underpants.

‘Good morning, Mrs Donaldson, Mr Porter.’ Ballantyne uncoiled from his chair.

‘I won’t say, “How are you?” because that’s for our budding healers to find out, though I’m afraid we are minus Miss Truscott who has retired hurt. Well come along, come along. Isn’t somebody going to ask these good people to sit down.’ He sat down himself. ‘Mr Rowswell you’re in charge.’

A nervous red-faced boy with odd ears and whose jacket was too big for him got them awkwardly sat down and took his unaccustomed seat behind the desk.

Searching for his hand up his sleeve he looked at Terry and attempted a smile.

‘What seems to be the trouble?’

Ballantyne sighed heavily and put his hands on his head.

‘Congratulations, Mr Rowswell. You are only in your second year of medical studies yet you are already possessed of a skill that has not been vouchsafed to me in 20 years of practice. You can tell who is sick and who is not.’

The class obligingly tittered.

‘How do you know which of these two seemingly healthy people is the patient?’

Rowswell blushed.

‘He’s in his dressing-gown.’

Ballantyne looked at Terry as if seeing him for the first time.

‘So he is. Why is that, Mr Porter?’

Terry rubbed his bare knees.

‘I thought it would save time.’

‘We are not here to save time, Mr Porter. We are here,’ and he smiled graciously at Mrs Donaldson, ‘to save lives. In the future do not jump the gun.’

‘Supposing Mrs Donaldson were the patient I would not expect her to present herself,’ he considered briefly, ‘… in her negligée.’

With a kindly smile he let the thought linger a moment. ‘Proceed, Mr Rowswell.’

Mrs Donaldson had been coming to the medical school for a month or so now and to the hospital itself for much longer. It was here that Mr Donaldson had slowly and not unpainfully died, visited daily by his uncomplaining wife in a routine she had begun by finding irksome but to which she had grown inured and even attached so that his eventual death came as a double deprivation; she missed the visiting as much as the visited and in the afternoons particularly was now somewhat at a loss. With no compelling reason to go out she stayed at home for weeks on end, a process Gwen, her married daughter, was pleased to dignify as ‘grieving’ and was rather gratified by, never having felt her mother gave her father his due.

Though her husband had been an unobjectionable man and Mrs Donaldson genuinely regretted his passing she did not feel nevertheless that she was quite ready to school herself for the dignified solitude her daughter thought was appropriate to her widowed status. Deliverance came from an unexpected quarter.

A muddle over her husband’s pension had left his widow less well-provided for than had been foreseen and so needing to supplement her income. Now alone in a three-bedroomed house it occurred to her that she might take in some students.

While her daughter could not dispute the economic sense of this proposal she found its social implications distasteful.

‘Lodgers? In Lawnswood? I don’t think Daddy would like that. And I don’t see you as a landlady.’

‘Renting the odd room doesn’t make me a landlady. Besides,’ said Mrs Donaldson, ‘they’re not lodgers, they’re students.’

Gwen didn’t argue, reasoning that a few months of tidemarks in the bath, late-night music and unflushed toilets would make the point forcibly enough.

‘The first condom in the loo,’ she said to her husband, ‘and she’ll soon change her tune.’

It may be that Mrs Donaldson was lucky but the two students sent to her by the university lodgings syndicate were in every respect but one not to be faulted. They were neat, quiet and they cleaned the bath and flushed the toilet and were so altogether discreet Mrs Donaldson scarcely knew they were in the house. Laura was a medical student and Andy, her boyfriend, was doing architecture (Mrs Donaldson thought this might have something to do with their neatness), and it was through them that Mrs Donaldson had been taken on as a part-time demonstrator, the advert spotted by Laura in the medical school bulletin.

No special skills were said to be required only the ability to memorise information and present it clearly. Nothing was said in the advert about acting ability or Mrs Donaldson would not have applied; self-confidence wasn’t mentioned either, which would have been another deterrent as Mrs Donaldson had always thought of herself as shy.

It was a point not lost on Gwen to whom she was unwise enough to mention her application.

‘For a start you don’t like taking your clothes off.’

‘I don’t,’ agreed her mother, ‘but it’s in a good cause.’

‘I’d have thought you’d have seen enough of hospitals. I don’t know what Daddy would think’ – Gwen’s role, as Mrs Donaldson often felt, her father’s representative on earth.

Respectable and even praiseworthy though the job was, her daughter saw it as neither; what her mother was planning to do making her a distant relation of the artist’s model with some of the brazenness and even nudity that that occupation could involve.

In fact Mrs Donaldson had never been required to remove her clothing, which some patients were more ‘into’ than others, Terry for instance never slow to get into a hospital gown even when his particular animated diagnostic conundrum scarcely required it.

Mrs Donaldson felt that such readiness to disrobe was practically a symptom in itself, though of what she would have found it hard to say, sadness just about covering it and also middle age. But it was an inclination she was happy not to share.

‘I don’t even see it as acting,’ she told her friend Delia in the canteen, ‘just a case of keeping a straight face. It’s a way of not being yourself.’

Delia was another member of the medical troupe.

‘It’s just nice to be looked at,’ said Delia, ‘even as a specimen. How often do young people ever look at you? At our age we’re invisible.’

Though their paths only occasionally crossed and few people at the hospital knew of their extramural association it happened this morning that Laura was in the class where Mrs Donaldson was demonstrating and indeed had now taken over the examination of Terry from the blushing Mr Rowswell who, about to conduct a rectal examination, had fallen at the first fence.

‘Gently, gently,’ said Dr Ballantyne. ‘Think of it as your girlfriend.’

For Mr Rowswell who had never had a girlfriend this was no help but Laura was now doing rather better, so much so that Ballantyne felt able to slip outside to take a call on his mobile.

It was at this point that Mrs Donaldson suddenly pitched forward on the table unconscious.

All eyes being on Terry it was a moment or two before anybody even noticed. Then they all crowded round, someone opening a vacant glassy eye and one of the girls (not Laura) fumbling with Mrs Donaldson’s dress to try and locate the heart.

‘I’ll get somebody,’ said Terry, who had rapidly pulled up his pants and got on his mobile. ‘Who do you ring?’

‘Fuck me,’ said Rowswell. ‘This one’s got piles and the other one’s had a stroke.’

‘Or has she?’ said Minskip. ‘It might be all part of the act.’

‘No,’ said Terry. ‘I’d know if it were. She was just supposed to be my wife.’

‘In any case,’ said Rowswell, ‘we haven’t done strokes.’

Now Dr Ballantyne returns and all doubt as to the gravity of the situation is banished. Sizing up the contingency immediately he gets on his mobile to summon the resuscitation unit. Then, never one to let an opportunity slip, in the interval before it arrives takes the students through the procedures consequent on what is plainly some sort of cerebral accident.

‘Could it be stress?’ said Terry. ‘She was quite chippy with me earlier on. Only she looks the type who keeps it under.’

Ballantyne ignores this, simply saying, ‘Where the fuck are they? Time is of the essence. We’re in a hospital already. What would happen if she was out on the street?’

‘Mrs Donaldson,’ said Laura, kneeling by the unconscious woman. ‘Mrs Donaldson.’ And, tearfully, ‘I know her, you see. She’s my landlady.’

‘Is there anything else we could possibly be doing?’ said Ballantyne. ‘Think, you idiots. Think!’

Everybody thought, knowing, though, that if there was anything else to be done Dr Ballantyne would have done it. ‘She has a daughter,’ Laura said. ‘Perhaps we should try and get hold of her.’ Mrs Donaldson’s frock had ridden up her legs, revealing stocking tops secured by suspenders, a form of fastening so archaic it was only the gravity of the situation that stopped Ballantyne drawing it to the students’ attention. As it was he gently eased the frock down, lifting Mrs Donaldson’s legs in the process and saying kindly to the insensible form, ‘There we are.’

Laura was still knelt beside her and now put her hand on her neck.

‘Her pulse is good.’

‘Yes,’ said Dr Ballantyne, ‘only you’re taking it in a glove that has just been up Mr Porter’s bottom.’

The insensible woman gave a perceptible start.

‘She’s coming round,’ said Terry.

‘That’s because she’s never been away,’ said Ballantyne.

‘All over, dear lady. You can get up now.’ And he helped Mrs Donaldson back onto her chair.

‘Ballantyne obviously fancies you,’ said Delia when they were talking in the canteen afterwards. And when Mrs Donaldson pulled a face, ‘You could do a lot worse.’

There had been some chuntering after Mrs Donaldson had ‘come round’.

While all the students were in varying degrees abashed, the most put out was Terry, who, seeing himself as virtually a paramedic felt entitled as one of the group to be in on the subterfuge. But, as Mrs Donaldson knew but did not like to admit to herself, this was unlikely to happen if only because she was a fragrant 55-year-old widow with neat shapely legs whereas Terry was an unbecoming long-nosed scruffy-looking man with lank, sagging underpants and a tattoo of a bluebird startled out of his navel.

Still Terry was right; they were a group, if an ill-assorted one. With no qualification required and with its skills undefined it was hardly surprising that the troupe was recruited from the dropouts of a variety of other occupations. Typical was Delia, who had been an actress and would still describe herself as such; Terry had been (among other things) a security guard and a hospital porter; what Miss Beckinsale had done nobody knew but as the oldest it enabled her to be both superior and condescending and with a claim, too, to specialised medical knowledge having once briefly worked in a chemist’s.

Into this ramshackle assemblage Mrs Donaldson didn’t fit at all. She was (or thought herself) a conventional middle-class woman beached on the shores of widowhood after a marriage that had been, she supposed, much like many others … happy to begin with, then satisfactory and finally dull. But thinking herself typical, in this motley company she was anything but.

It meant, though, that she had to put on two performances. In herself she had to seem more open-minded, more ‘relaxed’ than she sometimes felt lest she seem prim.

‘I’ve never even liked swearing,’ she confessed to Delia, ‘so when people swear I feel out of it.’

‘Don’t worry,’ said Delia. ‘Two months of this place and you’ll be saying “shit” with the best of them.’ (She actually meant ‘fuck’ but didn’t think Mrs Donaldson was quite ready for this yet.)

Her other performance was as one of the group when she had, like the rest of them, to pretend to be whatever the case notes required … a grieving mother, a depressed daughter, a truculent patient. On the whole this second line of pretence came easier to her than the first. The job involved some degree of preparation with the SPs or Simulated Patients as they were officially designated, required to familiarise themselves with the circumstances of the person they would be representing and which apart from the particular symptoms being presented or the predicament to be explored included social background and medical history. This meant that last thing at night she was often reading up the case notes for the next day. That she was more conscientious about this than some of the others Dr Ballantyne was not slow to notice with the result that she was given some demanding situations and the more rarefied conditions. She was, there was no doubt about it, an asset.

Still, conscientious though she was, she felt badly that she had been unable to tip Laura the wink about her upcoming falling down but Ballantyne had only cleared it with her shortly before the class began, treating it as some sort of trick he wanted to play on the students rather than as a proper teaching exercise. Mrs Donaldson hadn’t cared for the sense of conspiracy in which Ballantyne had cloaked the manoeuvre (‘Our little secret’), preferring always to know well in advance what it was she was supposed to be suffering from so that she could have all the symptoms at her fingertips. True, this putative cerebral accident only involved her passing out but were there other warning signs … a headache for instance, which she could have referred to beforehand or more plainly counterfeited? Ballantyne brushed these considerations aside even giving her a squeeze of congratulations afterwards so that as with some of his other antics she felt the whole thing had less to do with the enlightenment of the students than with getting on a more intimate footing with her … something he had not yet managed to do.

‘You can understand it,’ said Delia. ‘You’ve lost your husband, he’s lost his wife. A son in Botswana apparently and the daughter’s married an optician. He’s probably lonely.’

When Mrs Donaldson got home Laura was in the kitchen.

‘To tell you the truth,’ said Laura, ‘I felt a bit sorry for you. He’s so disgusting.’

‘Terry?’ said Mrs Donaldson. ‘Yes, he is.’

‘No … or rather yes but Terry’s just a creep. I meant Ballantyne. All that, “You can get up now, dear lady.”’ She pulled a face. ‘I’m surprised you go along with it. Don’t you ever get embarrassed?’

‘He’s a man,’ said Mrs Donaldson. ‘And I only had to faint. Besides I should be grateful; the money comes in so useful.’

This was not an unconsidered remark.

Ideal though the young people were, in one respect (and that not the least important) they were both a disappointment and a worry since they were regularly behind with the rent. It did no harm, Mrs Donaldson thought, occasionally to remind them that householder though she was and with her own little car, she was not exactly flush and that their contribution to the housekeeping if and when they chose to make it, was not just a bonus; it was essential.

Had her daughter been made aware of the young people’s payment record Mrs Donaldson would never have heard the end of it and so contentious an area was it she had the sense to keep it to herself, never in this or any other respect expressing less than satisfaction with what Gwen still referred to as ‘the lodgers’.

To be fair, the children, as Mrs Donaldson thought of them, were not unconcerned about their own fecklessness. They did not want to be reported to the lodgings syndicate still less thrown out and Laura had made up her mind to speak to Mrs Donaldson just at the time Mrs Donaldson had determined to speak to her.

Laura got in first taking the older woman’s hand.

‘About the rent,’ she said.

‘Yes?’ said Mrs Donaldson.

‘What’s this, what’s this?’ said Andy coming into the kitchen. ‘Holding hands?’

‘I was just telling Mrs D. We’ll get there in the end. With the rent.’

Andy took her other hand.

‘Yes. We’ll work something out.’

Mrs Donaldson didn’t think there was much to work out. They owed her money. It ought to be paid.

But Laura had made her a cup of tea and Andy volunteered to change the Hoover bag so the moment passed.

Mrs Donaldson’s next session at the medical school was with a duodenal ulcer, a complaint which she had no need to read up on as Mr Donaldson had suffered from it for most of his adult life. She knew all the symptoms, the site of the pain and what brought it on. In the case she was presenting she decided it was stress from her job as personal assistant to a captain of industry. What had brought it on with Mr Donaldson she couldn’t think; herself, she wondered sometimes, but if so he had never let on.

These were the first year and the diagnosis involved some inexpert kneading of her diaphragm, the students so vigorous in their application that Mrs Donaldson’s cry of pain when they hit the spot was scarcely feigned at all.

Ordinarily Dr Ballantyne would have been quick to protect the proto-patients against over-zealous interference by the students if only because it was almost a ritual opportunity for heavy sarcasm (‘Has difficulty in swallowing, Mr Horrocks? Hardly surprising when you’ve got your fist down his throat’). Today, though, it was different as he was wholly taken up with a new weapon in the clinical armoury, a camcorder with which he was recording the proceedings.

Ballantyne insisted on wielding it personally (‘It’s a therapeutic tool. One needs to know where to point it. A camera to me is like a knife to a surgeon’). That he often pointed it at her notwithstanding, Mrs Donaldson thought it more of a toy than a tool but this was because her husband had been prey to similar passing technological fancies which were equally jealously guarded. The lawnmower had been a proscribed area, the CD player and even the electric carving-knife, all of which his death had liberated for her promiscuous deployment, one of the several joys of bereavement being that she no longer had to play the little woman.

Mrs Donaldson was also sceptical of the filming process itself since she felt the camera brought out the worst in the Simulated Patients, tempting them to dramatise and show off, an assessment with which Delia tended to agree.

‘How can you be natural with that thing poking up your nose?’

There was Terry, for instance, who that afternoon had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Now whenever he felt the camera in the offing he looked into the middle distance as if contemplating his tragic future and the coming beyond.

Miss Beckinsale, though never one to underplay, was in this instance unimpressed. As she pointed out to Mrs Donaldson she was no stranger to the camera as her presentation of dementia was so highly thought of she had even done it ‘on a proper camera’ in Glasgow and taken it to a case conference in the Isle of Man.

As it was Mrs Donaldson’s scepticism over the camcorder seemed fully justified. The following Thursday she had Crohn’s Disease but by this time the instrument had lost much of its appeal and seemed no longer to be the vital weapon in the fight against disease it had been the week before.

To be fair, this was not due to Ballantyne’s lightmindedness. He thought highly of his little troupe who were in their way pioneers. But when he came to review the material he had shot Ballantyne was depressed to find how unconvincing so much of it seemed; it was lengthy, flat and wholly without form. Presentations which at the time he had found real and natural, on tape seemed stagey and contrived.

Some of this could be put down to the inexperience of the patient simulators where the camera was concerned but in fact all that was wrong was that the tape needed editing. With nobody to put him right Ballantyne gave up on the whole experiment and since he could scarcely explain or account for this to the group it seemed to confirm Mrs Donaldson’s unkind prediction at the start.

She at least had come over well on tape, or so the doctor thought, while at the same time aware that he looked on her with a kindlier eye than he did on any of her colleagues; if the truth were known he was also slightly afraid of her. Had she been aware of this she in her turn might have felt kindlier towards the doctor, but as it was all she and Delia saw was that the toy of the week before now spent much of the session confined to the top of its tripod where it surveyed what went on with its single Cyclopean eye.

‘And then they say they’re underfunded,’ said Delia.

At home the matter of the rent remained unresolved with the young people now four weeks in arrears. Cyril would never have put up with it, she told herself, though he would never have had lodgers in the first place and her own resentment made her feel both a bore and a spoilsport. Still she determined to speak out.

Actually she hadn’t seen them for several days, both keeping out of her way she imagined, but coming in from the hospital one evening she found them together in the kitchen and it was as if they had been waiting for her.

Andy made her a cup of tea. (That was the way they were good, she thought, though knowing that Gwen would just tell her she was naive.)

‘What did you have today?’ said Laura.

‘I presented with another boring duodenal ulcer but there was some suggestion from Guess Who that it might be a hiatus hernia. Heartburn anyway.’

‘Worry?’ said Laura.

‘Probably,’ said Mrs Donaldson, ‘though the most recent research suggests that it can be bacterial.’

‘That’s right’ said Laura. ‘I’m supposed to know that. About the money.’

‘It’s four weeks,’ said Andy.

‘Is it?’ said Mrs Donaldson. ‘I’m not sure’, and pretended to count. ‘Yes, it’s four weeks.’

‘We’ve got one week,’ said Andy and put an envelope on the table. ‘We can’t manage any more right now and the thing is we wondered if we could come to some agreement about the rest. Do something …’ and he examined the inside of his teacup ‘in lieu.’

‘You do so much for us,’ said Laura. ‘We wondered if we could do something for you for a change.’

‘In lieu,’ said Andy again.

Mrs Donaldson’s thoughts were running to housework, gardening and even painting and decorating, none of which she needed help with and certainly not to the tune of three weeks arrears of rent.

‘We talked it over in bed last night,’ said Laura ‘and it occurred to me that having seen you down at the hospital demonstrating we wondered if you would like it if …’

‘We put on a demonstration for you,’ said Andy. ‘In lieu.’

Mrs Donaldson did not immediately understand.

‘A demonstration? What of?’

Andy took out his diary.

‘This used to be our room,’ said Mrs Donaldson, ‘when Mr Donaldson was alive.’

‘We like it,’ said Laura.

It was a few nights later and Mrs Donaldson had just drawn the curtains and with as much care (though for a different reason) as her mother would once have drawn the curtains in the blackout.

With regard to what was on offer Mrs Donaldson was still having difficulty bridging the gap between her first misapprehensions on the lines of Bob-a-job and the something more … grown-up that was now in active preparation. She was far from looking forward to the prospect but was finding it hard to put off these well-meaning young people without seeming ungrateful.

‘Have you ever seen anyone making love?’ said Laura.

‘To tell you the truth,’ said Mrs Donaldson pretending to cast her mind back, ‘I don’t think I have.’

‘Oh good,’ said Laura. ‘We were bothered it might not be much of a novelty.’

‘Oh no,’ said Mrs Donaldson, ‘it would. It would.’ Though given the choice she still wasn’t sure she’d have preferred marigolds. ‘No I’ve never done anything like this before.’

‘We haven’t either,’ said Laura. ‘We’ve done it with other people around obviously, the way you do, at parties and so on but never by pre-arrangement. Not … not …’

‘Formally?’ suggested Mrs Donaldson.

‘Formally, that’s it.’

‘Oh it won’t be formal,’ said Andy coming in only in his shirt and underpants and with a bottle of water. ‘It’ll be very relaxed. Though I wouldn’t want you running away with the idea we do anything particularly adventurous. It’s good wholesome stuff, nothing … esoteric. We’re not into that, are we, Lol? Not yet anyway.’

‘Well the way I look at it,’ said Laura, firmly, ‘is that there is plenty of time for that in due course. Don’t you agree?’

‘Oh yes,’ said Mrs Donaldson. ‘All in good time.’

‘Now, candles, candles,’ said Andy and went out.

‘Where would you like to sit?’ Laura said.

‘I don’t mind,’ said Mrs Donaldson, who was all the time thinking that there must come a point when she would pluck up courage and call a halt. ‘I can sit here if you like.’

She perched on a chair at the foot of the bed.

‘Fine, if you’re happy with that,’ Laura said, who suddenly had no top on or bra either so that seeing her Mrs Donaldson had to rummage in her handbag for a tissue.

‘Except,’ said Laura, ‘the drawback with sitting there is that you’re going to get an awful lot of Andy’s bum and not much else. I think you’d be better off here.’ And she patted the chintz-covered stool that stood in front of the dressing-table mirror on which, when she and her late husband inhabited this room, Mrs Donaldson used to perch every night to apply her cold cream.

‘If you sit there,’ said Laura, ‘you’ll see him and you’ll see me like, you know, interacting.’

She disappeared into the bathroom leaving Mrs Donaldson sitting by the bed. At which point she had (and almost heard) that slow deep pumping of the heart she had not felt since she was a girl. ‘Life,’ she thought.

Andy now came in with three candles which he lit and disposed around the room, one of them Mrs Donaldson noted in a bowl they had been given as a wedding present, but she didn’t say anything. Andy switched off the light.

‘That’s better.’

He took off his shirt though not his pants and lay on the bed, his hands clasped behind his head.

‘This is awfully kind of you,’ said Mrs Donaldson, wondering at the same time if they were going to take the coverlet off first.

‘Don’t worry,’ said Andy. ‘We’d be doing it anyway. It’s not just for your benefit.’

He looked down his flat narrow belly to his exiguous underpants.

‘Nothing much doing at the moment, I’m afraid. It’s not a problem but I’m finding that’s often the case these days. I have to wait until the dog sees the rabbit.’

The full text of this fiction is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

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