Shingles seem to be winning at the moment. I had no idea – how can one with a name like Shingles? It sounded so musical and benign, a nursery book kind of a word or Brighton beach, surely no worse than having, say, the Sniffles, and just a bit of a rash? I heard people refer to it as painful but was never close enough to anyone who had it to know what that might mean.
When awake the best thing is to keep distracting myself, but one is limited by not being able to focus for very long and being tired. I can only lie down and sleep for an hour or two before pain kicks in and the only thing to do is get up. I have been given carte blanche by the doctor to take as many prescription painkillers as I want but they don’t really stop the pain – apparently nothing does with this (apart from drugs with side-effects I can’t tolerate), you just have to sit it out and hope it goes away sooner rather than later. Having M.E. does of course add a further dimension to the picture. It may be time for some therapeutic self-pity, but that, like the pills, doesn't really hit the spot . I have, for the moment, given up not smoking. It is, as Lou Reed once said, “a health measure.” In his case, it stood between him and a heroin habit. In my case, it just makes everything feel better to say that at least I can punctuate the day (and night) with a cigarette here and there.
I have, though, been considering the Doppelganger character. I said she had to go but she is still hovering around, which is a bit of a liberty considering I haven’t even written about her that much. Though she pretends to be me, she isn’t at all. For a start, she has never smoked, though she may have had the odd puff of home-grown marijuana in her teens. The real difference between us is that she is essentially English whereas I am the daughter of refugees (it’s a long story) and have never felt myself to be that. She is wisteria, damp gingerbread, pressed flowers and sagging curtain hems. I don’t mean to sound disparaging, she just is.
It is of course possible that I am a figment of her imagination but, not being a writer, she won’t know what to do with me, whereas I can do whatever I want. She might take herself off to see a counsellor and between them both they will finish me off or I will be in some way absorbed by her so that she and I become one, a more rounded, integrated sort of person, but essentially tame. I won’t let that happen. But wait:
“What does it mean,” says the counsellor, “that this shadow side of yourself is someone who refuses to be tame?”
“I suppose,” she will dutifully respond, “that it’s the part of me I never really wanted to look at or admit to.” The counsellor smiles encouragingly.
“And what do you think she would be saying right now if she were here?” Doppelganger blushes, discreetly so no-one would notice, but she can feel the heat in her cheeks and the back of her neck.
“I suppose she’d swear a lot.” (Damn right I would, sweetheart).
“Yes?” says the counsellor.
“And actually, she’d probably –” but she won’t say it of course, it would be rude, so I will say it for her. She’d put the money down and say thanks, but no thanks, like the hip gunslinger that I am and she can never be. Ok – it’s not what I would actually do, but I’d be completely conscious of wanting to, which she isn’t. Or is she? Bugger. Are we merging already?
“And what does she look like, the shadow?” says counsellor, still on the track to balance and integration.
“Well – ” she hesitates. (Don’t say it, just don’t). “She looks a bit like me, really.” Fuck.
But she wouldn’t wear a cast-off grey hoodie, would she? Especially not one with a Weirdfish logo that teenagers wear, no, she really wouldn’t. She has an embroidered cotton handkerchief in her hands that she twists and twists as she talks, and she smooths the folds on her crushed cotton skirt.
Other than this, she talks about her children and her unfulfilled ambitions (which were what?) and the shadow that follows her, the sense that there is something just around the corner waiting to reveal itself because she is a (what did they used to call them?) – a “Sensitive” – a clairvoyant (which is not the same as reading the signs, so don’t think it), only she doesn’t know it yet, and the counsellor (who is nothing like Ms Melancholy) may well be sneaking a look at her watch wondering if the hour is up yet and whether it isn’t time for her to go.
Perhaps she will catch shingles.