I came rushing upward out of the blackest sleep to find myself surrounded by doctors . . . American doctors: I sensed their vigour, barely held in check, like the force of the growth of their hair; and the heavy touch of their heavy hands. Although my paralysis was pretty well total, I did find I could move my eyes. Availing themselves of my immobility, the doctors were, I sensed, discussing matters having to do with their copious free time. And the thought came to me, fully formed, fully settled: how I hate doctors. Any doctors. All doctors. Consider the Jewish joke, with the old lady running distractedly along the sea shore: Help! My son the doctor is drowning! Amusing, I suppose. But why the pride in these doctor children (why not shame, why not dread?): intimates of trauma and mortification, of bacilli and trichinae, the routine excruciations of time, with their disgusting furniture and their disgusting vocabulary (the bloodstained rubber bib, hanging on its hook) – life’s gatekeepers.

The doctors around my bed were in leisurewear, a frieze of freckles and shorts, tan, arm hair. Insultingly casual though I found their manner, I was reassured by the very vapidity of these doctors or joggers or weightlifters – something to do with their unsmiling pursuit of the good life. In my sleep I had dreamt . . . No: that sleep had been too dark for dreams. Presiding over that darkness, however, was a figure, a male shape, with an entirely unmanageable aura, containing such things as terror, beauty, love, filth and above all power. This male shape or essence seemed to be wearing a white coat (a medic’s clean white smock). And black boots. And a certain kind of smile. I think the image might have been a ghost-negative of doctor number one – his black tracksuit and powerpack plimsolls, and the wince he gave as he pointed to my chest with a shake of his head.

Over the next few days and nights I moved in and out of consciousness. Great and unceasing struggle, with the bed like a trap or a pit, and the sense of starting out on a terrible journey, toward a terrible secret. The secret was of course inscrutable, but I knew it involved . . . it involved the worst man in the worst place at the worst time. I was becoming stronger. My heavy-breathing doctors came and went (they didn’t do a damn thing for me). There was a nurse, always, night or day. For some reason I kept shaking my head direly at her, whereupon she suggested that I go into hospital. Hospital? No way! She worked the drip (her uniform made a packety sound) and, annoyingly, kept taking my pulse and peering under my eyelids; I stuck my tongue out at her and she checked on that too. Because I was feeling much better now, really tiptop. Sensation and all its luxuries returned first to my left side (suddenly) and then to my right (with exquisite stealth). Deploying my new-found litheness, I could almost turn over in bed – more or less unassisted! I lay there gurgling proudly to myself for however long it was, as time went on by like this in hilarious futility, until the big day: the nurse disconnected me, and packed up her stuff and left; two golfing doctors backed themselves solemnly into the room and attended to me with climbing agitation; and then – if you don’t mind – two young orderlies hurried in, roughly clothed me, and stretchered me out into the garden! Then I must have blacked out.


A House in the Country
The General