Dr Lochran’s Journal
Last night a dead man came to call on me – a friend, thank God, though to my shame I let our friendship fall away in the years before he died. For my defence it had got that we met, even spoke, so very seldom. Everyday life interposed itself, bedevilling every arrangement, thwarting our best intentions – in the usual way of things. Still, for all my regret I can’t say I was glad to see my old friend now, risen from the tomb like Lazarus. Hearing the rap of our old brass surgery-knocker I went down and opened the front door. There stood Edmond, tall and fair-haired and foursquare as was. But this time no customary crushing handshake, no ‘Ah, Grey, old boy!’ He was silent, smiling faintly and strangely, waiting for me to bid him over my threshold, which, of course, I did.
On closer inspection he didn’t look so different, save for a certain lunar whiteness to his corneas, glinting in the half-light of our living room. He lowered himself into the grasp of Livy’s beloved baggy blue sofa. I fetched us the humidor and a dram of the good Glenlivet, which he ignored. He asked after ‘Olivia’ and Cal. I responded politely, asked likewise of Anna and Peter – for all that I knew the truth, and that these poor exchanges were just as flat as those we would rush through in the desultory late years of our friendship.
It was enough to set me thinking back, pondering how much Ed and I ever really had in common beyond our vocation in surgery. A love of good sirloin, certainly. Our summer places in Dorset, barely a mile apart. And Lions rugby, I suppose, though Ed always professed a pseudo-plebeian fondness for football. In the main, though, he was a man for The Arts; and though I’m no philistine, I can’t be doing with high-flown chitter. But as he sat there before me, sphinx-like and unnerving, I suddenly remembered that stormy etching of Livy’s he always admired, gilt-framed at the left of the rear reception fireplace. So I glanced back over my shoulder to check on its dependable presence, and, of course, something wholly other hung in its place. Then we were talking about some unfathomable business in which he believed I could be of help to him – some will or matter of probate, the setting of his worldly affairs in order. It all began to seem so sad and fruitless that I felt a catch in my throat.
‘But Edmond,’ I uttered finally, ‘you died already . . .’ Spoken like a child, or some tipsy oaf at a party – a long way short of my best bedside manner, at any rate.
Ed merely smiled as if in pity. ‘Grey, old boy, that never happened. We don’t die. Not us.’
All of a sudden he held a pack of cards in his hand, offered to ‘tell my fortune’. I’d no truck with that. It ended up that we walked outdoors awhile, in the general direction of the Heath. But one minute he was at my side and then he was gone, then I was elsewhere entirely – in the usual asinine manner of dreams. The setting dissolved to the first hospital I ever worked, that grim old hole in Norwich, then to some dank and moss-grown shed in dense woodland . . . On waking from this mire of sinister nonsense I wasted no time in getting dressed and downstairs, the kettle on and the day’s graft begun. Still, I confess, I found myself brooding about Edmond for much of the morning.
To this day I shudder to think of how cruel and basically bloody avoidable was his death. He drowned on holiday in the Florida Keys, trying to rescue Peter, then only nine years old, in waters that had by all accounts turned very suddenly turbulent. The lad was never a strong swimmer but he’d bobbed and breasted a fair way out to sea alone, only to crack his head on a buoy. Edmond saw it too late. Being plenty robust he swam out swift as Leander, managed to get an arm round Peter and make some headway against the blasted current – but only so far, the shore still a way off, and so he headed for the tip of a rocky peninsula, where he managed to push and shove Peter up and onto a low ledge. By now, though, Ed hadn’t the strength left to propel himself out of the water, for the waves were fairly pounding on him. Worse, the rocks were coated with razor-sharp shells that slashed his fingers wherever he tried to grab hold. The panic, on top of the physical exertion, must have been catastrophic to his already thickened coronary arteries. With unsettling ease I can imagine myself in Edmond’s place, assuming his plight – the shortening breaths, the numbing fingers, the fearful strain on the left ventricle. At the funeral Peter, quite desolate, told me that he had watched from his ledge on the rocks, groggily semi-conscious, as his father’s grip loosened by a little and a little, and then Edmond toppled back and the water roiled over his head.
I do wonder – if Ed’s rescue effort had failed utterly, and Peter instead had been carried out to sea – could he possibly have lived on with the loss of his child? I doubt it. And had he a choice, even a devil’s choice like that, he would have chosen it to be as it played out. As for Anna – Edmond would have known she would just carry on, because she was a coper and a stoic, and in time she would find some other man to be with her for the rest of her days.
But what nags at me now is that I just don’t know if she ever did. Or what became of Peter. We simply drifted out of touch, another form of death. This is what ‘Time the Enemy’ will do to us, if we allow it.