Sophie squeezed his hand. Murray forced a smile, and squeezed back. Gradually his head drifted down into place and once again he was staring at the rich dark oak floorboards, the match of the heavy panelling lining the walls of the exclusive waiting room. This was like no other hospital he had ever visited. Being a Government employee wasn’t always a drawback.
A soft murmur of alarm from Sophie reminded Murray that he was still squeezing and he dropped her hand.
“Sorry, love,” Murray said, a thin smile on his lips. “I’m... I’m.” He shrugged.
Sophie grabbed his hand and wrapped it in both of hers. “It’s okay, pickle. You mustn’t worry. The doctor is going to tell you. Wait and see. There’s nothing wrong with you. You mustn’t worry. I expect all you need are some vitamins. Please, don’t wor-”
Murray cut her off. “Now, who’s worrying?” he asked, leaning into her until his forehead was resting against her own. She could feel how hot his brow was, but forced herself to silence.
“The doctor will see you now.” The nurse had appeared without either of them noticing.
The pair rose from their seats together.
“Doctor Jessop is only expecting Mr. Law,” the nurse said.
Murray gently pressed his wife back into her seat. “You stay here, babe. You don’t know what embarrassing things the doc is going to do to me.”
Sophie managed a weak laugh.
The nurse led Murray into the doctor’s office. After the classic elegance of the waiting room, Murray was relieved to see that the doctor had managed to stamp his own personality on the place, giving it a more informal air. There was even a fishing rod and tackle box leaning against a table in the far corner.
“Sorry, doc,” said Murray, “am I keeping you from something?” He nodded towards the fishing gear.
A wistful look played across the doctor’s face. “Milton Booth was here six months ago. You knew Milt? Of course you did. We called him in for a check-up and he forgot to take them with him. I haven’t had the heart to move them.”
“It was a real shock,” Murray said, his voice drifting away as he spoke. He looked at the doctor expectantly.
“So I’ve seen your notes, what do you think is wrong with you?” the doctor asked.
Murray shrugged. “I don’t really know I... I just feel... it’s like I’m off my game, you know?”
The doctor nodded, jutting out his lower lip. “Can you be more specific? Did you do that little thing we spoke about on the phone?”
“Oh sure, doc,” Murray said, fishing a piece of paper out of his pocket. “I had to ask Sofe to help me. She’s right outside, if you want to bring her in. You know, if you think it’ll help.”
“You tell me what you’ve got first and we’ll see if we need to bother her.”
Murray flattened out the piece of paper and studied it. “This is probably stupid...”
“Go on, son,” the doctor said, nodding his head encouragingly.
“Well, my eyes aren’t right.” Murray leaned forward to let the doctor look into his face.
“Blue.” the doctor said. He got out of his chair, walked around the desk and indicated that Murray should stand. Murray rose out of his chair and the doctor realised his mistake as Murray towered above him. He motioned Murray back into his chair and perched on the edge of the desk so he was looking directly into Murray’s eyes. The doctor produced an ophthalmoscope from a coat pocket and used it to examine Murray’s eyes, first the left, then the right. Finally he put away the scope and gave a small sigh. “Definitely blue.” He moved back around his desk to take his seat.
Murray ran a finger along his piece of paper. “This is what Sophie said in a letter she sent me after our first date. I copied what she wrote exactly. I wanted to bring the letter but she has them all packed away in my memories box.” Murray raised his eyebrows at the doctor, who acknowledged the look with a knowing nod. Murray continued, “She said she- well she said a lot of stuff but she said my eyes were ‘piercing blue, so strong and masculine’. Here, there’s more.” Murray reached into his pocket again and produced a much re-folded newspaper clipping. “This is from my first mention in the local paper.” Murray scanned through the text, before jabbing at the faded paper with his finger. “Here! ‘his honest blue eyes, once they have you, have you at his command’. Boy, that journalist.” Murray glanced back towards the door, then turned back to the doctor and said in a conspiratorial whisper, “She had a thing for me, but nothing happened. I’d never, you know... don’t say nothing to Sofe, okay?”
The doctor winked at Murray, then turned his attention to scribbling notes in his journal. When he’d finished he said, “I’ve been going over your own doctor’s notes from your last visit, and some of the casework from your unscheduled trips to casualty. Would you mind standing for a moment.”
Murray assented and got out of his chair and allowed the doctor to direct him to stand just so.
“Now, just turn your head to the side for me, son.... that’s it. Now lean your head back a touch.” Murray hesitated for a second before complying.
The doctor sucked in a little air. “Tell me, Murray, have you noticed your chin isn’t jutting and determined?”
Murray blinked slowly, then nodded. After a couple of seconds, he added, “And my chest doesn’t seem to be swelling with manly pride.”
“I see,” the doctor said.
“At first I thought it was my new jersey but it’s definitely my chest.”
“At least your shoulders are still broad, brave and brawny.” the doctor said.
Murray tapped his left shoulder. “Naw, doc, I’ve always used pads. It’s for the look. So, do you need to examine me now? Find out what’s wrong.”
“That’s not going to be necessary, Murray. I’ve already seen a lot of this. I can’t give examples, obviously, but it’s more common than you’d think.” The doctor waved a crooked finger at the fishing rod and tackle leaning against the table in the corner of his office. “Ever since then, you’ve all been grounded, right?”
“Is this something to do with what happened to Milt?” Murray said, his voice rising.
“No, of course not, son. But the agency has had you boys sitting in the office for the six months now while the investigation is carried out. You’ve gotten rusty, in short, you’ve lost your heroic sheen.”
Murray snorted, but then he screwed up his eyes and his lips tightened. After a moment's thought, he said. “Is there anything you can do for me?”
“I’m afraid not, Murray.” Murray’s jaw dropped, but the doctor continued, “but there’s plenty you can do to help yourself. You’re not allowed to do anything officially, but there’s plenty an ordinary Joe can do around his neighbourhood to make a difference.”
“I have old neighbours, doc. Seriously decrepit, some of them. I never even thought to ask them if they needed anything. I mean, I was busy, you know?”
“Sure, son, but now’s your chance. Help your neighbours, fetch cats down from trees, that sort of thing. I’ll be honest, the differences won’t be dramatic but it’ll stop your symptoms from getting worse and once you’re back to work you should recover fully in no time.”
Murray got out of his chair and moved round to pump the doctor’s hand. The doctor escorted him back to the waiting room where he let Murray give his wife the good news.
As Sophie and Murray were leaving she asked him, “Do you really think that’s all it was?”
“Pardon my French, babe,” Murray said, “but damn right I do. Did you get a load of that guy’s eyes? I never seen nothing so wise.”
Sophie’s face crinkled in a smile and she pulled herself tight beside her husband as they walked into the sunset.