Paul WarnesEspresso with a hint of chocolateDerek’s upstairs having a kip, bless him. He’s never going to desert me because he needs me as much as I need him. How did we get together? Well, I suppose looking back, it’s Dr. Richards I’ve got to thank. Dr. Richards was a real treasure. I swear he used to look forward to our weekly chats and there was never any fuss about prescribing my pills. 'So, Mrs Jones, some more of your little pick-me-ups then?' That’s what he used to call them, my little pick-me-ups. One of the old school he was, beautifully turned out, always wore a suit with a red handkerchief poking out of the top pocket. He lent me it one time when I got a little tearful. It was silky soft and smelt of roses. He never failed to ask after my boy even though Terry hadn’t been to visit him for a good ten years. He’d say, 'And how’s young Terence, Mrs Jones? Keeping out of trouble is he?' Terence! Nobody else called him that. As I said, quality, that was Dr. Richards. And then he went and retired didn’t he. Didn’t even tell me, his best customer! I just turned up one week as normal and one of those witches on reception said,'I’m afraid Dr. Richards won’t be seeing you today.' 'Why not? Is he ill?' He’d never been away before and you don’t expect a doctor to get poorly do you? 'He’s retired,' she said, not even looking at me. 'He didn’t say anything to me about it.' 'A sudden decision. Were you expecting him to consult you?' She said this with a tight little smile from her perfectly made up lips. I knew she was being cruel but I haven’t got the words to fight back, never have had. I couldn’t get angry because I still needed my pills. 'I’ve booked you in with the new doctor, Dr. Chatterjee.' 'Who?' 'Dr. Chatterjee. Is that a problem for you?' I’m not stupid, I knew she was trying to needle me but I didn’t take the bait. I was panicking inside though when I was called through. I told him straight away that Dr. Richards always gave me a repeat prescription but he said he wouldn’t do it. I explained about my breathlessness and my chest pains and my depression but I don’t know how much he understood. He said I needed to lose weight! The cheek of it, just a boy from god knows where and he thinks he can make personal comments like that! No respect, that’s the problem. 'I’m going to send you to the gym Mrs Jones.' 'I’d rather just have my pills.' 'I’m sure you would but you’ve been taking them for, how long is it, eight years and they don’t seem to have made you any better do they?' 'Better than I would’ve been without them,' I mumbled. 'What’s that you say?' he asked, leaning towards me from his chair. I reeled back. 'Nothing.' Anyway, he said I had to go to the gym for three month before he’d give me any more pills. So that was that. The week before my first appointment was a nightmare. Without my pick-me-ups I couldn’t settle to anything and it was all I could do just to get out of bed. I couldn’t sit in front of the telly, couldn’t read my magazines, couldn’t make my little greetings cards. And I was terrified about going to the gym. I phoned Terry. He was always ‘pumping iron’, as he called it, when he was inside. 'I won’t know what to do son. How do you work them machines?' 'For God’s sake Mum. I’ve told you there’ll be someone there to show you what to do.' 'Well I’ve got nothing to wear either.' 'It don’t matter what you wear. Big t-shirt, your old tracky bottoms and a pair of trainers. No problem. Look, you’ve only gotta do this for a few months and everything’ll be back to normal. Sorry, gotta go now.' He wasn’t much help. You’d think I’d deserve a bit of sympathy but he doesn’ t care. Can’t wait to get off the phone and back to his ‘bird’. After all the sacrifices I’ve made for him, bringing him up on my own and then as soon as some little hussy shows an interest he’s off. Deserted me he has, just like his father. Story of my life. As it turned out the gym wasn’t too bad once I’d plucked up the courage to go in. There was loud music thumping out, same sort of stuff Terry used to fill the flat with every night. Made it feel a bit like home! The room was full of all these machines that looked more like instruments of torture than anything else. But Ryan came to my rescue. Ryan was my instructor. He said he was a bodybuilder and I reckon he’s got muscles in places I haven’t even got places. A lovely young man and if I’d been twenty years younger and ten stone lighter…No, who am I kidding, he still wouldn’t have given me a second glance. Anyway, he put me on the running machine first, just starting at what he called a very gentle walking pace. Well after a couple of minutes I’d had it, I was exhausted and sweating like a pig. I had to press the emergency stop button. Ryan came over. 'Had enough already Jean?' 'I’m sorry but me legs have turned to jelly!' 'It doesn’t matter, just take it as slow as you want to start with and you’ ll improve each time you come I promise you.' As he said that he took my arm to help me off the machine and I went weak at the knees once again! I couldn’t wait to go back. It was nice to have something to look forward to and leave the house for. I felt important, having an appointment to attend three times a week. I didn’t even miss going to the surgery. Ryan left me to follow my own programme after a while, said I should do less chatting and more exercising, said he had other people to look after. I didn’t know why he bothered, none of them looked as if they needed much help to me. I think he was just making excuses. After I’d been a few times I started to recognise some of the other regulars. I didn’t speak to any of them of course. Keep myself to myself I do and anyway I’ve never had the confidence to just start talking to somebody. I wish I did. There was one bloke who was always there, though he never seemed to spend much time actually exercising. He seemed very popular, always chatting with the receptionists and the instructors and the other exercisers. He was dressed for action -- white jogging bottoms, trendy trainers, well pressed t-shirt and a white towelling head band. The head band was a bit naff but I had to admit he was well turned out. He walked awkwardly, lifting his right leg as if he was climbing a step and he held his right arm at a strange angle. Maybe he’d had some sort of stroke. I was on the exercise bike when he first spoke to me. 'Going anywhere nice?' he said. 'Sorry?' 'I said are you off anywhere nice!' he shouted, rather embarrassingly. 'I’m not deaf you know and I’m not going anywhere!' I replied. 'Well I’m sorry I disturbed you.' And with that he went away. I could have kicked meself, only I’d probably miss. I must have sounded very rude and he did look a bit shocked but, as I’ve said, I’m no good with words. And it didn’t help that I hadn’t got my little pick-me- ups. I’d have been a lot less stressed if I’d had them. Bloody doctor! I was glad I’d frightened him off in a way ’cos I was knackered and I didn’t want to stop cycling while he was there. But I could have done with a bit of company, it was getting pretty lonely down there what with Ryan having deserted me and all. I mean I’m used to being on my own but a bit of male attention wouldn’t have gone amiss. For my next visit I decided to spruce myself up. Put a bit of lippy on for the first time in years, bought a lovely pink t-shirt down the market and even picked up a pair of leggings! Bit revealing they are, but what the heck. He was lying down on a narrow bench when I arrived, there weren’t many other people about. He was pushing a weightlifting bar up from his chest and then lowering it again and I could see the sweat glistening on his skin. He spoke as I passed. 'Hey love you couldn’t just support this bar for me could you? I get a bit shaky on the last few reps.' 'Reps?' 'Repetitions. I need someone just to support it when I straighten my arms and I reckon you look more than capable.' I was gonna get annoyed again. Did he think I looked like a weightlifter then? But I remembered last time and I stopped myself. 'Alright, where do I stand?' He told me, so I got into position behind his head and shadowed the path of the bar for him. 'Cheers,' he said, getting up 'well that’s done me in! Thanks, the name’s Derek by the way.' We got into a routine where he’d ask me to hold the bar for him while he did his thirty reps. I remember the first time he asked me to have a drink with him. 'You finished as well Carol? Fancy a coffee?' 'I don’t like coffee,' I said. 'Oh, alright then not to bother.' 'I like tea though, love a cup of tea.' 'Tea it is then young lady!' He had all the chat did Derek. He was very easy to talk to, even if he was a bit mutton jeff. I didn’t mind repeating things for him. He told me he was a widower, wife died five years ago on their thirtieth wedding anniversary. Bad car crash it was, left him pretty smashed up as well, meant he couldn’t work any more. They hadn’t had any kids. I felt very sorry for him and I don’t think he liked talking about himself much. He was good though, he let me prattle on about myself for ages. Reminded me of Dr. Richards he did. We didn’t have a lot in common but we did share the same hobby- making cards. We both watched that shopping channel on telly and ordered our sequins and ribbons and all the other bits and bobs from them over the phone. saves having to struggle out to the shops. Turned out that Derek didn’t just make cards, he sold them as well at craft fairs of a weekend. I’d never even been to a craft fair before but, to cut a long story short, I was soon making cards for Derek to sell and then I got to going along with him to help with the shifting and selling. He used to pick me up from the end of my road in his big, silver estate car. I felt like Lady Muck I did and I used to love it if I noticed the neighbour’s nets twitching. I never invited Derek in though and he never asked me round to his. So life was pretty good what with the gym and the fairs. I was seeing a lot of Derek and people we came across began to see us as a couple. If only! I’d have been up for it like a shot but Derek didn’t see me like that. He was kind and funny and clever, everything Terry’s father had never been and yet he didn’ t give me what I wanted. I tried to get him to say something at a Xmas fair in early December. We’d set the stall up together and were sitting on his canvas chairs waiting for customers. 'This is nice isn’t it,' I said. 'I wish we were selling a bit more.' 'Don’t you think it’s nice anyway? Sitting together like this side-by-side. We’re like an old married couple we are. Partners!' I couldn’t have been much more obvious could I! 'Less of the old thank you,' he laughed. But I didn’t mean it in a jokey way. 'No, but we are like partners aren’t we Derek,' I said. 'Partners in crime more like!' He was annoying me now. I decided to be bold. 'I love you Derek and I want us to be together always. There I’ve said it. What do you say?' What did he say? He backed out didn’t he, told me he’d never thought of us in that way. Then why did he lead me on like that? Happy to use me as his training partner, happy to use me to flog his poxy cards but…nothing more. Deserted again! That was our last fair together. But that, of course, wasn’t the end of the affair. I met up with him again at the gym. I played it cool, pretended nothing had happened and took up my usual station at the head of the bench. I could tell he was surprised to see me but he didn’t say anything, just continued lifting. And on his last repetition, when his strength was ebbing and he was relying on me to support the bar, I’m not sure what happened but the weights slipped through my fingers. The bar fell straight onto Derek’s neck. The hospital did what it could but his neck was broken and his voice box crushed. He was left paralysed and voiceless but he was lucky in a way. He’s got me to look after him now; everyone thought I was very good to volunteer to be his carer but what fiancee would give up on her intended? There’d be no desertion this time.
Paul Warnes lives in Kent where he teaches and writes. He has written a novel called The Society of Unexampled Brilliance and is looking for a publisher. He watches The Big Bang Theory every evening between 6 and 7. Today he was wondering why people who hitch rids carry numberplates. He has one follower on twitter and five friends on facebook. He would like more. He hopes this bio is not too flippant.