• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 11
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See More of the World

‘I’ve never stepped outside South London,’ I said.

The doctor, who appeared on the computer screen as no more than a floating head, ran a hand across his jowls and lips.

‘For the sake of your sanity, Mrs Barker,’ he replied, ‘you must see more of the world.’

I switched off the screen and called out to Bernard.

‘The doctor says I’ve to get out and about. Why don’t we take a trip to the coast?’

‘You go,’ came the response from the bedroom. ‘My back’s playing up.’

I looked out a jar, decorated the top with a crimped pastry case, and put it beside an open window. After changing into a corduroy skirt and my best jumper, I squeezed my hands into a pair of cornflower-blue gloves. ‘Those gloves match your eyes,’ my mother had observed years ago.

When I returned to the jar, I found a butterfly, caterpillar and moth inside.

‘You’ll be my travelling companions,’ I told them, placing the jar in my handbag.

I went to the front door.

‘That’s me, Bernard,’ I said over my shoulder. ‘See you soon.’

‘What am I going to eat while you’re away? It’s Tuesday. The cupboard’s always bare on Tuesdays.’


See More of the World

I’d forgotten we had almost no food. But I didn’t want a trip to the shops to distract me.

‘You’ll find a carrot by the sink, Bernard. It’s a long one, so it should last a while.’

I opened the door and hurried down the street.

Because this was my first holiday, I wanted to travel in style; on a boat, for instance. I cut through the allotments to the river.

‘Have you taken my advice?’ someone asked.

I turned and saw the doctor. He looked the same as on the computer screen: a pale head without a body.

‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘And I’ve brought some companions.’

I showed him the jar.

‘Good, Mrs Barker. Let me help you.’

The doctor pursed his lips around a nozzle attached to a length of flaccid plastic. He exhaled and inflated a canoe.

‘Put the canoe in the water and hop in,’ he said.

‘Are you coming as well?’

‘Of course.’

Once we were aboard, a strong current in the river carried us backward.

‘Don’t worry,’ the doctor said.

I removed the jar from my handbag. The butterfly, the caterpillar and the moth grinned at each other, while the doctor and I gazed at the water’s blue shades.

‘Look,’ the doctor remarked at one point. ‘There’s a shade the colour of your gloves.’

I dozed and woke when we bumped on to a beach. With the jar and my companions in one hand and the doctor by my side, I strolled across the sand. Above us, the sun pulsed with warmth.

‘I’m seeing more of the world,’ I murmured.

‘Just as I prescribed,’ the doctor said.