what would mellie say

‘Phew! I can’t tell you how relieved I am to get that essay out of the way!’ says Rachel, dropping an armful of files and folders on to the desk next to me and then herself into the chair. ‘It took me right back to when I was a student. And not in a good way.’
‘Writing essays?’
‘I just find it so stressful. But there! It’s done. And you know, the other good thing? It reminded me of Mellie’
‘Who’s Mellie?’
‘She was great, in an odd kind of way. I could never quite figure her out, whether she knew she was being odd, or she just was.’
‘It’s hard to know sometimes.’
‘Our first day, the tutor told us to introduce ourselves with our name and then one interesting fact.’
‘I hate that.’
‘Yeah. Me too. I think I said something lame about how I fell off my skateboard and knocked myself out when I was ten. And that was pretty much how it went round the circle till we got to Mellie. After this strange little pause she always did, y’know? It always slightly put you on edge. After one of her little pauses she said, really quietly: I’ve got a dog. And then there was this silence. And then the tutor said, really gently, like he’s encouraging someone terribly shy: And what’s your dog called, Mellie? And she said Jism.’
Jism?’
‘I know!’
‘That’s great! Mind you – there’s a teacher at Jess’ school called Mr Chisholm.’
‘Euch! You’d change your name, wouldn’t you?’
‘What to?’
‘I don’t know. Spunkmeyer? Anyway. That’s what Mellie was like. We did this session on diabetes once. An introductory thing, looking at the equipment and stuff, and the tutor held up the blood sugar machine and said What would you tell the patient if you had a reading that just said High? So Mellie put up her hand. Yes. Mellie. What would you say? And Mellie put her head on one side, like she was doing an impression of someone being sympathetic, and she said I’m sorry to have to tell you but you’ve got diabetes?’
‘That’s hilarious.’
‘You just couldn’t figure out if she was being serious or not. The worst thing time was when we were taking the psychiatric module. We had this tutor who was completely insane. I mean – my god! She always looked as if she was on the edge of something – y’know? Her hair out here, her eyes…’. Rachel widens her eyes, twists her mouth and leans towards me. ‘Her hands in her pockets. Anyway, she completley terrified us. And she had this trigger light temper, and anything would throw her into a rage. Anyway, she’d set us some reading to do, some incredibly heavyweight and tedious article about something or other, and we’d all been out that night and no-one had read it. That session we were all sitting in the classroom, and she started asking us questions about the article. And it was obvious really quickly that no-one had read it. So instead of moving on or making some general comment about how disappointed she was or how important it was to keep up with the reading that she set, she started to make this big personal deal, going round the whole room to see who had read it or not. Everyone said no and looked away, because the more people she asked the more furious she got, until I really thought she’d explode. Then she got to Mellie. And what about you? she said to her, fumbling in her pocket like she’s got a knife in there and she’s getting ready to use it. Did you read my article? So Mellie paused like she used to, looking a bit pale and vacant, and then she said Yes, I did. Oh? said the Tutor. I see! Finally! At least one person as the common courtesy to do as I asked. And she was about to move on, but then she stopped, and turned back to Mellie. And what did you find most interesting about my article? she said. And we were all willing her to say something smart. But instead she put her head on the side like she did in diabetes, and she said The bit at the beginning?’
‘What a legend! I wonder what she’s doing now?’
‘Last I heard, she was working in intensive care. Which is something else. I mean – imagine coming out of your coma and seeing Mellie leaning over you with her head on one side. God knows what she’d say…’

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