Remember Your Posture

By Lisa James

 

The waiting room was crammed full of stale, drooping figures. Their watery eyeballs rolled towards the entrance foyer as the door scuffed along the carpet and ground to an audible halt. A stray piece of Lego had wedged itself under the runners and was staging a protest. Rosie took a deep breath and puckered her nose as the stench of decay assaulted her. The very air seemed to crease and fold with each rasping breath from the crowd. Waves of oxygen scooped through folds of loose, grey skin on each inhale before being expelled again with a wheeze.

Good God, thought Rosie. Old People.

She crept along the edge of the waiting room, taking care to keep completely silent and avoid eye contact. She knew the slightest misstep would spook them. The last thing she needed was for a ripple of dissent to flow across the hard, plastic seating. She inched towards an empty chair, clutching her appointment slip between taut, white fingers. She had almost made it to safety when the musical notes of the tannoy sang through the foggy air.

“Rosie Stevens,” the loudspeaker called out, “Dr. Prakesh will see you now.”

The fidgety guests of Helsby Street Surgery stilled and inhaled as one. The air churned to a halt and for one long slice of the second hand nobody moved. Rosie was first to break the silence. Spinning sharply on the spot, she turned and walked back through the waiting room, eyes fixed intently on Dr. Prakesh’s consultancy room.

“What’s she doing?” rattled the first complainant.

“I’ve been here for forty minutes.”

“She’s only just walked through the bloody door.”

“I’m next!”

“No, I’m next!”

Rosie pushed through the door to Dr. Prakesh’s office just as the waiting room erupted into revolt. Like seagulls descending on spilled chips, the mob of pensioners crowded around the reception desk, vying for attention. Rosie closed the door behind her and exhaled. The noise of the waiting room mutiny snaked through the cracks in the door frame and Rosie felt shame course through her body. The seconds ticked by, yet Rosie remained against the door, hands wrapped around the handle and forehead pressed against the cherry wood.

“Rosie, how nice to see you,”” said Dr. Prakesh from behind the desk, “and right on time too.”

Rosie turned and caught Dr. Prakesh’s hazel eyes before throwing her gaze down to the carpet at her feet. Did she see the hint of a smile dancing around the edges of Dr. Prakesh’s eyes?

“I’m so sorry, Doctor,” mumbled Rosie. “It’s just, my appointment was for 10:20. So I got here for 10:20. My bus stops right outside, but everyone--”

“You are right on time,” repeated Dr. Prakesh with a smile.

Dr. Prakesh was a curious creature and Rosie always struggled to figure out if she was in trouble with her or just plain boring to her. Her face stayed completely rigid throughout their discussions, even when Rosie dropped bombshells from her Doctor Diagnosis internet research back at home. But it was her eyes that intrigued Rosie, seeming to dance and blaze like tongues of fire. Rosie would swear to anyone who would listen that her eyes were never the same colour from one visit to the next. She studied those eyes as she walked towards the desk and took a seat. Green. Like seaweed, but ringed with something. Was it gold, or brown? It was difficult to say. The colour seemed to sway and dissolve by the second.

“So,” said Dr. Prakesh, breaking the silence with one swift drum of her nails. “What can I do for you today?”

Rosie had rehearsed all the different scenarios of this conversation during the bus ride into town and each version had the same outcome. Cancer. She had cancer.

“Well, I have this lump on my boob. Sorry, breast.” Rosie shrank deeper into her seat as the blush prickled at her ears. “And from what I can see from my research, it feels cancerful.”

She looked up at Dr. Prakesh, straightening her back as she delivered her predictions. She’d been working on her confidence with Mrs. Smith, her drama teacher at school, and recently learned that posture was a snitch in disguise. Sitting tall in her seat and forcing the blood away from her reddened face, Rosie waited with a mixture of pride and crippling fear for Dr. Prakesh to confirm the diagnosis.

“Okay then. There’s only one thing to do,” began Dr. Prakesh, delving into her desk drawer to extract a clean, white glove. “We’re going to have to have a feel.”

Rosie breathed deeply as Dr. Prakesh snapped on the latex glove and began her examination. Within a minute, the examination was over and Dr. Prakesh was back behind the desk, gazing at Rosie with a newfound softness in her eyes.

“How old are you, Rosie?” she asked.

“Fourteen.”

“And your breasts, are they painful to touch?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“I’m going to write a prescription for you. There is absolutely nothing for you to worry about. Your breasts are simply changing at the moment, and once you grow into your woman’s body you won’t feel any pain at all,” Dr. Prakesh explained. “But for now, you can take two paracetamol as and when the pain bothers you.”

“My woman’s body? I already am a woman,” answered Rosie. She shifted the handbag on her lap and felt the lip gloss roll around its base.

“I know,” said Dr. Prakesh. “You just have a few more changes on the horizon yet, Sweetie.”

“Right, okay, thank you,” mumbled Rosie, collecting her prescription and making her way towards the door.

“Rosie?” said Dr. Prakesh across the room. “Would you like to stay a few minutes longer and we can discuss your options for contraception?”

Rosie dropped her mouth and felt every known word about to rush out of her body and disperse into the air, well out of reach.

“I, well, I don’t really think that’s necessary. I haven’t, I don’t, there aren’t any boys and I’m supposed to--” She grasped at stray words as they drifted through her brain, but everything muddled together into an incoherent mass.

“No thank you,” she finally said, “must go now. Thanks Dr. Prakesh. See ya.”

In a flash, she left the room and ploughed through the waiting room towards freedom. Narrowed eyes watched her with envy before returning to their stack of musty gardening magazines. Once outside, Rosie stuffed the prescription into her purse and flipped open her mobile phone. The good thing about doctor appointments during school time was that nobody ever checked up to see if you had made it back to afternoon classes. She called Sophie, the only person who she knew would have skipped out on class, hoping for some company.

“Hi Soph, whatcha doing?” She barely waited for the phone to be answered before launching into description mode. “I just finished at the doctors. Turns out I’m fine but it was a bit tense for a while. Yeah, they didn’t know whether to send me in for some more tests but I just said that I had shit to do today, so maybe I’ll just see how things are next week. At least then I can blag some more time off from school.”

Rosie was already on the bus and halfway towards Sophie’s house before she received the invitation to hang out. There was a party at Skagg’s house, some random guy Sophie had met in town the week before, and she was heading over there. Glancing down at her outfit, Rosie realized that she was still in her school uniform. The words of Dr. Prakesh echoed in her mind, Do you want to discuss contraception? She quickly removed her tie, shuffled out of her tights and rolled the waistband of her skirt to shorten the length. The bus was empty, apart from the Mums n Tots group at the front, but she still felt a wave of paranoia as she stuffed her tights into her purse and stood up to leave the bus.

Sophie was ready to leave the moment Rosie knocked on the door. She made a swift appraisal of Rosie’s outfit and whistled with relief.

“Thank God you tarted yourself up a little bit,” said Sophie. “I was worried that you’d make us look a pair of kids. Here, stick some lip gloss on and we can walk over there now.”

Skagg’s apartment was above an off-license, and walking towards the entrance she felt the eyes of the local layabouts travel up her bare legs along with the breeze. Remember your posture, she thought, and resisted the urge to pull her skirt down at the back. She imagined the men behind her taking in the scenery as she ascended the dirty, stone stairway to the back of the apartment. The wind caught the hem of her skirt and she cringed, feeling the material rise and fall against her underwear.

“Okay, so I like Skagg, but you can take any of the rest of them,” said Sophie.

“But what do I do when I’m ready to leave? Or if I don’t like any of them?” asked Rosie.

“Hah. Don’t be ridiculous,” scoffed Sophie. “These guys are eighteen and they have their own apartment. They know we’re still in school, so its fine because they know we’re cool, but don’t go offending anyone by turning your nose up at the boys.”

The door opened and before them stood a tall, greasy boy.

“Alright, babes,” said Skagg, engulfing Sophie with an arm which seemed to reach for days. “You want a beer?”

He nodded towards Rosie and she nodded in reply. Perhaps in greeting, perhaps in receipt of a beer, who knew. The apartment contained a single room with a sofa bed pressed against one wall and a makeshift kitchen along the opposite side. Bodies were strewn against every available surface and the conversation seemed to be stalled at a permanent halt. Sophie disappeared into the bathroom with Skagg, and Rosie nervously sat down in a corner by the TV. One of the boys sitting nearby leant over and draped his arm across her knees, clasping a stubby hand around the back of her calf. Remember your posture, she thought. Shall we discuss contraception? You’ll make us look like a pair of kids. Don’t turn your nose up at these boys.

“I’m Rosie,” she said with a forced smile.

“Alright,” came the reply. “Nice body, shame about the face.”

He laughed and so did the others in the room. Sophie stayed in the bathroom with Skagg for another thirty minutes or so while Rosie waited patiently in the living room, surrounded by empty beer cans and cigarette butts. The nameless gent held a possessive arm around Rosie’s knees for the whole time. He didn’t speak again, but his fingers traced circles along the back of her calf. Small at first, then widening in size and creeping further along the back of her thigh. Rosie straightened her back and did some breathing exercises she’d seen online last month when she suspected she might have angina. The repetition of the exercises helped to fight the waves of nausea, as the clammy fingers drifted higher and higher.

When Sophie finally emerged, she was laughing and gazing up at Skagg with shining eyes. He slapped her on the arse and waved goodbye. She grabbed her purse and yanked Rosie to her feet.

“Bye, boys,” Sophie drawled in a juvenile attempt at mass seduction.

Once outside, Sophie talked incessantly about her bathroom exploits and the wonders of womanhood. Rosie nodded along in silence. Nice body, shame about the face.

“I’m gonna come back next week, probably on Wednesday when we have double science with Bates in the afternoon,” said Sophie. “I couldn’t care less about science, so let’s skip out again and meet everyone. Are you game?”

“Sure,” said Rosie blankly. “I’ll come to yours first and maybe you can do my makeup. I don’t think I’m doing it right.” Nice body, shame about the face.

“No worries,” replied Sophie. “Looks okay to me, but what do I know about anything.”

With a wave, Sophie turned and left. Rosie watched her saunter along the pavement, shoulders back and nose held high. She had all the swagger of a lioness after her first kill, but the further away she walked the more the image distorted. The saunter turned into the tottering of a child in her mother’s shoes, and the swagger faded before the leering eyes of the locals. She seemed younger somehow. Frailer. Rosie flipped open her mobile phone and dialed.

“Mum?” she said, trying in vain to steady the quiver in her voice, “Yeah, it’s me. I know, I’m sorry. Can you come get me? Please.”