Short story: ‘Connective Tissue’ by Jane Fraser
Nation.Cymru is delighted to publish the title story of the Gower-based, prize-winning writer’s latest collection to coincide with publication.
Maggie Morgan has her head in the hole that’s been manufactured to accommodate it. She keeps her eyes open and stares down through the dark space at the floor. She’s lying flat on her stomach on the black couch in the treatment room.
“How have we been since last time, Maggie?” Jenny asks. “Any pain? Headaches? Tenderness?”
“About the same. No worse. No better,” she says.
Her own voice sounds strange to her; distant somehow, as though in a great void.
She wonders why it is always necessary to refer to her in the first person plural these days.
She can’t recall exactly when it first started, though knows it was some medical context or other.
Still mobile are we, Mrs. Morgan? Wearing our distance glasses for driving are we, Mrs. Morgan? Taking our tablets are we, Mrs. Morgan. Opening our bowels regularly are we, Mrs. Morgan?
She’d like to remind Jenny that she hasn’t been a ‘we’ for almost twenty years, that she is very much an ‘1’. Singular. First person. Alone and almost invisible. But she can’t somehow bring it up. And she’s a lovely girl anyway. Doesn’t want to upset her.
“Just going to work down your spine first, Maggie. The usual. Don’t mind if I unclasp your bra?”
“Long as your hands aren’t cold,” she says.
“Warmed them up especially for you. Feel.”
She knows Jenny’s hands by now: fleshy finger tips, firm, young, know what they’re doing. In the snug of the hole, she detaches herself from Jenny the girl and gives herself up to the hands.
There is a thick silence in the room now as Jenny works down Maggie’s spine from neck to coccyx, vertebra by vertebra, feeling towards understanding. Maggie is soothed by the process, the pressure on her frame creating a state poised somewhere between pain and pleasure, the warmth and energy radiating though her cold bones.
“There. Done. You can lie down on your back now, Maggie. Have a bit of a breather,” Jenny says as she does up Maggie’s bra. “Take your time.”
Maggie emerges from her cocoon and turns to settle herself as told. Jenny holds the blue blanket to her skin as she shifts round. It feels snug and warm, protective even. She feels comfortable now, easing gently into the Thursday afternoon.
From this position, the yellowed skeleton hanging in the corner of the room comes into view along with the clock on the wall signalling that she is already a third of the way through her weekly forty-five-minute session. That £10 has already been used up.
“You’re taut as a string, Maggie. Knotted up.”
“Mmm. Need to relax. I do try, you know.”
“I know you do. Not a criticism…Okay. Going to try some organ work, this week. See how we get on with that.”
“Not just bones, you know. Ligaments. Tendons. Connective tissue,” Jenny says.
“Our mysterious inner workings.”
“Like join the dots…You’re going to restore my wellbeing, then? Just likes it promises on the leaflet,” Maggie jokes.
“Do my best. Can’t promise, though. Don’t do miracles in Mumbles,” she says.
“Will it hurt?” Maggie asks.
“Shouldn’t do. But everyone’s got their own pain threshold. You might feel a little discomfort when you get home. But it’ll wear off. Frozen peas will do the trick. Just say, if you want me to stop.”
Maggie watches as Jenny lifts her bare, right leg, raises it off the table and pulls it close to her chest. She rotates Maggie’s hip gently and then releases the tight grip and asks Maggie to push as hard as she can against her hands, and then let go.
Maggie likes the task: the tension in the thigh, the resistance and then the relinquishing, letting the muscles relax, watching her limp leg being placed back on the table. Maggie enjoys the repetition on her left leg. There’s comfort in the pattern.
She lies on her left side, then her right, Jenny making sure that the blanket keeps her warm and covered as she works her magic.
More than bones
Jenny presses the soles of Maggie’s feet into her hands. She’d always liked having her feet held. She pushes hard into Jenny’s palms and then releases, seeing each foot in turn flop back down onto the table.
As Jenny works, Maggie glances at the skeleton. Wonders who the shell once was, now just a scaffold hanging on a hook in the corner of a consulting room in a city suburb: a collection of bones and joints: femurs, radii, ulnae, tibiae, patellae and a pelvis.
She takes a look at the clock again. Almost done.
“You’ve got a very acrobatic pelvis, you know, Maggie. And your left patella is not exactly where it should be. Nothing major. The accident probably.”
“Well, you can’t expect to come out unscathed when you’ve been through what we went through,” she says, realising that ‘we’ is being used in its correct sense for once.
He was the last person she’d actually touched; been touched by.
“Like you said. It’s about more than bones, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Much more than bones,” says Jenny.
Maggie lies flat on her back for the last fifteen minutes so that Jenny can continue her healing.
She gazes at the intense concentration visible in Jenny’s young, unblemished face, trusts her steady, probing fingertips, sure on her sternum as it rises and falls.
It’s worth it, she thinks. Thirty pounds for forty-five minutes once-a-week is a small price to pay.
“I’m going to leave my hands on your ribcage for a while, to finish off,” Jenny says softly. “Breathe slowly. Nice long, easy breaths. In. Out. In. Out. Feel yourself relaxing. Just being. That’s it. Good.”
Connective Tissue is published by Salt and is available from all good bookshops or you can buy a copy here.
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