Nettle Tea | Camilla Grudova | Granta

Nettle Tea

Camilla Grudova

I went to see Dr Hamori on the recommendation of a friend who had suffered the same ailment as me. I could not get over or out of love with a man who had told me he no longer wanted a romantic relationship with me and had started to see other women. Dr Hamori’s clinic was in a well-to-do, sleepy suburb of the city of London, a narrow, tall brick Victorian end-of-terrace with a simple sign which said clinic on the door. I took a train down from Edinburgh, having booked my stay for four weeks. In our correspondence they said not to bring clothes or entertainment as these would be provided, but to pack a swimming costume if I had one.

Dr Hamori wore a colourful paisley shirt, high-waisted brown corduroy trousers and a yin-yang necklace. He was bald except for a string of braided grey hair protruding from the base of his skull. His office was on the first floor. I heard many sounds from above, screams and dancing. There were marble statues of nude women, abstract paintings and modern-looking furniture on which he told me to sit down. He pointed to the paintings, ‘These were done by former clients of mine, women who have been cured of unrequited love and can now focus on being creative and productive citizens. May I ask you some delicate questions? You said in your application it was a man you love. Did you have intercourse without protective methods? Was his penis uncircumcised and not especially clean?’

Yes, I answered.

‘Do you feel as though there was a black, poisonous liquid flowing through your body?’

Yes, exactly, I said.

‘Love is a matter of yeast,’ he said. ‘Come with me.’

He took me to a room upstairs. A woman lay in the bed. She was cradling a piece of dirty rope, singing to it. The floor was covered in crumpled, unused nappies and toys. ‘Love is a yeast and a psychic phenomenon in the genitals and bowels,’ Dr Hamori said. ‘The creature you see her holding is born of this yeast, and from bacteria from the beloved’s genitals, and as such feeds on fantasy, delusion and crumbs of affection. I am the only clinic that has learned how to expel this creature. We offer a heavy rota of culture and physical activity – opera, ballet, badminton, Pilates, invented by a German soldier while in prison. It is the ideal exercise for someone like you, who has become a prisoner in your own body. We often hold emotion in the bowels and a specialised diet will lead to the expulsion of these unwelcome feelings. It will take a lot of hard work on your part, not just mine. Now this expulsion is not a baby. I must make this very clear to all my patients. It is not a baby and believing it might be will bring forth a descent into madness. When you are near your expulsion, you are not allowed to leave the house. The woman you see here expelled her creature alone in the splendid toilets at the Orangery in Kew Gardens and formed an attachment to it that we cannot break, as of yet.’

I thought of scraping the residue of a yeast infection with my fingernail and smelling it. Is that love?

He showed me another resident in another room, who came rushing to her door as soon as she heard us coming close. She walked with an odd sway. I noticed, growing on one of her thighs, a giant lump, like a hernia. Her curly blonde hair was unbrushed and cut in a short, hazardous way. She had drawn rings on her fingers using blue ballpoint pens, which had smeared, and in places the ink was embedded so deeply into her skin that the lines had become cuts.

‘Has Harry been here today?’ she asked. ‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here,’ Dr Hamori said to her, and took me down to the kitchen where he made us lapsang souchong tea in an antique pot.

‘Elspeth is a particular challenge for me, because her beloved, this Harry, meaninglessly contacts her now and then,’ said Dr Hamori, taking two postcards from his pocket. ‘Hi, how are you x’ was written on the back of a picture of a Kewpie doll that was peeing and giggling. The other was a picturesque postcard from the Isle of Skye. ‘Splendid day, lovely jubbly x.’ The handwriting was childish and hurried, a thought given and quickly forgotten.

‘He is married, with children, and has no romantic interest in our Elspeth. He likes to stay in contact with her, says she is a great chum. We try our best to cut off all contact. She was near expulsion but he sent her a hamper from Fortnum & Mason that we did not catch, and she devoured it – biscuits, chocolates, champagne – hence the unsightly lump on her leg, which we have been trying to drain and forcibly expulse, though yeast remnants remain and regrow. We have a high rate of success at our clinic, but not perfect – it will take willpower from you for an expulsion.’

I signed a contract and started the expulsion regime. We ate a diet with no gluten, sugar or alcohol: potato soup, shredded carrot, unsweetened cranberry juice, tofu, high fibre, mild curry, many greens such as kale, cavolo nero, cabbage, spinach casserole, carob-based desserts, brown rice with rehydrated nori, yogurt with maple syrup, avocados, stewed and dried fruit. We drank cup after cup of nettle tea, which cleansed and detoxified us and pushed the yeast from our bodies.

We were given our own rooms. They were cleaner than any place I had ever lived in, though after a few days I learned that I would have to clean it myself, that this was part of the regimen. On the nightstand was a booklet of postcards. A nude woman having her bum slapped, a topless man wearing revealing swimming trunks, copies of Renaissance paintings, and so forth. I didn’t know what these were for until another patient, Frederick, told me they were masturbatory aids, and that the drawer below was filled with all sorts of implements. It was encouraged, he said, as orgasms were yeast-cleaning and balanced the pH levels, as long as we did not think of the people we were supposed to forget. We had communal bathrooms with signs that said not to leave anything, not a hair nor a toenail. This was strictly enforced due to one patient, Kay.

‘Once I was compelled to eat something rotten from the rubbish bin as a child for good luck and something good happened,’ she told me. ‘It’s a weird sort of witchcraft I invented, if you are brave enough to eat nasty things, you are given a reward. It’s how I found George. I ate a urinal cake at a pub then met him there later in the night. I stopped doing it when we were together, and now that he’s left me, doing it again might bring him back.’

If one of us left something half chewed on our plate or coughed up a grain of rice, she tried to eat it. If she managed to – she made repulsive faces – this wasn’t fun or pleasant for her but something she felt she had to do. Afterwards, she would impatiently wait, pacing the house, for George to come pick her up, or call the clinic, and then when there was still no word from him, she would decide that she hadn’t gone far enough.

‘Oh no no, I just haven’t eaten enough. Love is an enormous thing rather, so it will take a lot,’ she muttered.

Kay smoked a lot, and strangely this was encouraged by Dr Hamori, who left antique glass ashtrays everywhere around the house for her, since, as he saw it, nibbling on her own cigarette butts was better than pubic hairs left in the bathroom or bits of nori found in the sink after washing dishes. She was temporarily banned from outings because of this: she was found drinking the water from a toilet in the Victoria and Albert Museum and eating scone crumbs off the floor of the magnificent cafe, but we could bring her presents and sugar-free, wheat-free treats.

Our excursions were carefully planned. Dr Hamori had a map of Britain with the addresses of our exes pinned to it, along with a brief list of their interests. I was fortunate, mine was far away, up in Edinburgh, though King’s Cross Station gave me a sickly nostalgic feeling because of the north-bound trains, so we avoided the British Library.

We went to the ballet, theatre, opera, classical concerts – all matinees as our beloveds might attend in the evenings on dates. We were given vegan ice cream made from dates and coconut to distract us from these thoughts, which Dr Hamori brought to the theatre in a cold metal case. Frederick and I held each other and wept during the operas – Dr Hamori was pleased as he said this was healthy. ‘I always thought I would be the object of affection,’ said Frederick, who was tiny with strawberry-blonde hair. His fixation was an older, married MP named Wilfried, who wore ghastly ties and needed to hoist his trousers up at regular intervals when speaking to the public. I had seen photos in the newspapers and on the television, but this was forbidden knowledge. We visited all the museums, big and small, and went for walks in the glass houses of Kew Gardens to admire the ferns. We never left the house on evenings and weekends, though, as we were more prone to run into our desired ones, and instead spent them in the house, watching Ealing Studios films or playing board games. We were allowed as many library books as we wanted – we had to make a list, however. We were banned from going ourselves, as Elspeth would read the peerage encyclopedias to see if Harry had any more children, and a girl named Jeanie would find pictures of her beloved – an actress, wearing clogs on the cover of Vogue, or seated with a new girl in Tatler, just as Frederick would rip through the business pages of the Financial Times and the Telegraph.

We were brought to a salon where we all, to our despair, emerged with the same bowl cuts and French manicures; perhaps it was a bulk discount, but Dr Hamori said a new look was vital, though nothing too extreme. I agreed. In the weeks following my break-up, I had wandered around Edinburgh wearing a peculiar coral shade of lipstick and a gigantic waxed raincoat with a Rupert Bear badge pinned to the front.

We were given vintage high-waisted wool trousers to wear. Dr Hamori said these would give us a feeling of determination and independence but I was fat in the thighs, and the wool rubbing against them gave me a brittle and crusty rash. Frederick said, ‘My God, I look like Evelyn Waugh in these.’

Camilla Grudova

Camilla Grudova is the author of The Doll's Alphabet, Children of Paradise and The Coiled Serpent. She was born in Canada and lives in Edinburgh. Photograph © Alice Zoo

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