really bad stuff

Margaret’s basement flat is as deep and sombre and lightless as a mausoleum with TV and en-suite. The shadows in the corners have been undisturbed so long they’ve thickened and taken on an independent life of their own, rustling in the corners; I imagine when she dies, someone will have to tempt them outside with scraps of black cloth.
‘You have an interesting last name,’ I tell her, struggling to make conversation as I run through the basic obs.
‘Scotch-Irish,’ she says. ‘On my Dad’s side.’
‘Really? I love all that family tree stuff. I looked into it once, but then I got put off when I read somewhere we’re all related to Charlemagne. I mean – what’s the point?’
I write down her blood sugar level.
She stares at me.
‘It was quite interesting finding out about my grandparents, though,’ I flounder on. ‘What they did in the war and all that. But you don’t have to go back very far before you start getting overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers. It all gets a bit dilute.’
‘I did the family tree once,’ she says.
‘But I started turning up stuff no-one wanted to know about. Bad stuff. So I had to stop.’
Bad stuff? Like what?’
‘Just bad stuff, you know. And everyone started to go a bit funny, like they really didn’t want to know about it. You see, I’d started doing all this work. Digging around, bringing things to light. But what I didn’t know was how uncomfortable it would make everyone.’
‘What kind of stuff?’
‘I don’t know. The kind of stuff no-one wanted to hear about. It made them feel bad or something. I don’t know. So I stopped.’
‘Wow! I wonder what it could’ve been?’
She doesn’t rise to the bait.
After a moment or two I wrap a cuff round her arm and put my stethoscope to her vein.
‘So what was it you found out?’ I ask, trying the innocent busy doing something else not really paying attention approach. ‘The mind boggles!’ I say.
‘When I started telling people about it they got all funny like they really didn’t want to know,’ she says. ‘So I put it all away, ‘cos I thought – I’d better not do this. People are getting quite upset. They really, really don’t want to know.’
I flip the stethoscope back over my shoulders.
‘That’s all fine!’ I say, ripping the Velcro and freeing her arm. ‘Family trees, hey? Who knows what you’ll find!’
She grips the arms of the chair, and stares at me whilst I write.

2 thoughts on “really bad stuff

  1. God you’re right I am nosey. Mind you, there are worse things.
    Tell me there are worse things…
    What’s that you’re wearing?
    Where did you get it?
    Yeah? Whereabouts….? (and so on)


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