Authors: Matthew Formby
Table of Contents
Author's Note: The following story is fictional. Any correlation between characters and events with reality is coincidental.
Love on the NHS
Copyright © Ashley Matthew Formby 2013. All rights reserved.
Cover artwork by Simon Avery.
Luke Jefferson lived in a home that was functional. It served its purpose as a roof over his head - nothing more and nothing less. It was not located in an interesting or beautiful setting and people rarely even noticed it as they walked and drove by.
It was a February morning - neither fine nor overcast, only somewhere in between - when Luke entered his bathroom and noticed a fetid smell. Its mustiness lingered and spread sickeningly. Luke looked around but could not conclude what it was and so reached into the whitewashed cabinet for his toothpaste. After brushing his teeth while holding his breath, he rang his mother Samantha.
"Hi best son!"
"Hi. There's an awful smell in my bathroom."
"What kind of smell?" asked his mother.
"I don't know. Maybe a blocked up drain."
"Have you mopped the floor recently?"
"Yeah," he said, defensively. "Why?"
"Did you dry out the mop?"
"No," Luke admitted, taking a guilty swallow. "I don't know how."
"Did you leave it out in the bathroom?"
"Yeah." Her implication became clear. "Oh! So that's it. I'm useless."
Samantha laughed. "Don't be silly, boy! Put it on the radiator to dry."
"I'm twenty five years old and I don't even know how to dry a mop. Will I ever
in this life?"
"Of course you will, son. I have every faith in you."
Luke wanted to believe her but couldn't say he really did. He had felt okay when he woke up but was irritable now. It happened a lot, this switch of moods in the mornings. It would take a long time for him to get to the bottom of it.
The first six years of Luke's life were spent in the small town of Leece. The town was only fifteen miles north of the world famous Woecaster. He was born with bright blonde hair, blue eyes and a cherubic face: all sweetness and light. His first three years could not have been happier. His mother fed him - and he ate. Whatever she placed in front of him would be ravished. He was a heavy sleeper. On the rare occasion he could not sleep it took only a teaspoon of whisky to sort it out. At his baptism at a Methodist church, the vicar sprinkled water over Luke's head. In response Luke laughed merrily. The vicar turned to the parents chuckling. "Ho ho! This one's going to have a sense of humour."
When her son grew to the age of four, Luke's mother, as was customary in the 1980s, was invited to inject her child with the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. Like most other mothers she was aware of how lethal a bout of illness could be for a child so she quickly accepted. Shortly after he had received his vaccine Luke began to reject foods one by one - until eventually he only ate about three or four foods, all of which must be separated. He became incredibly fussy.
Presently it was time for his mum to prepare him for school and so Luke was taken to a pre-school play group. When they entered, he began to wail and tried to run out. He could not stop crying - all those unknown faces staring at him, with their unknown motives. His mother took him by the hand and they left. Cuddling him, she told him it would be fine and he would soon feel better. She took him in again but he cried even louder. Further attempts elicited the same results. She took him home and until he started school Luke did not mingle with other people very much from that day.
In the summertime the next year his parents, Luke and his sisters went on a caravan holiday to the Lake District. En route Luke and sisters Lily and Bridget looked out of the car's back window and waved to other drivers on the highway.
The family were all living on a social housing estate at the edge of Leece. Luke's mother had befriended a woman on the street behind theirs and her daughter, Helen, became Luke's best friend. Even at the age of five Helen already had Amazonian strength and mountainous tufts of ripening, straw-like hair. Luke would shout at her to bring down the box of Lego she would fetch from his sister Lily's bedroom. He would be stood at the bottom of the stairwell while she struggled slowly down with it, her arms straining. Not appreciating how difficult it was for her he would impatiently yell, "Come on! Get a move on!" which was a source of great amusement to the family.
Luke's father was a self-employed electrician. He also bought cars at auctions to fix and sell at a profit while Luke's mother stayed home to raise the children. The home for Luke's youngest years - the social housing estate - was rough and ready. Bricks were thrown through the windows and children would climb over the fence or up the tree in the back garden, while wrecking odds and ends. There were frequent nuisance rings of the doorbell. Luke's sister, Grace, developed a shrewd response by opening the window above and pouring cold water on those unlucky knaves.
Nestled in a valley in between the great white hills of Snowdonia was Vester. This village was where Luke grew up from the age of seven. It was not the most conventional name for a village and it was evidence that the villagers - at least at one time - had had a great sense of humour. The village was renamed several times during its long history and its latest incarnation, so called since the 1960s, was inspired by the eponymous uncle of the Madams Family. As had happened all over in the United Kingdom, a fever of flower power had gripped Vester in that decade and village fêtes and jumble sales had for a short period been replaced with fancy dress parades through the streets with wild dances in the church hall.
Luke's original hometown of Leece had changed a lot. Cities and towns, even villages, do change remarkably quickly. The closure of coal mines in the area coupled with a national recession had inspired Luke's father, Bruno, to follow his dream of living - where he had gone on cycling holidays as a child - in the wilderness of North Wales. Vester in the county of Snowdonia was ideal. It had an abundance of forested hills, rivers, lakes and waterfalls. It was only a few miles from heathland in the one direction and sandy beaches in the other. Three miles in another direction was Slatetown, an old mining town. Unlike where Luke's family had come from, however, this mining town had been in the business of slate rather than coal. Misshapen, hardy slates still lay in colossal slag heaps on the edge of the town, where they were discarded delicately.
Almost everyone in Snowdonia was white and spoke Welsh. After the family moved up - except for Luke's sisters Grace and Adriana who were old enough to move out, and wished to remain in England - Luke had to go to a special school for a year to learn the language. As he spent the next twelve or so years growing up here, the area would have a significant impact on forming his character. He barely met any black or Asian people, or indeed anyone who was not archetypally white, during his childhood. His young years were nothing too remarkable; he went fishing for tadpoles, jumped from heights into rivers and had go kart races down steep roads, in which the participants not only hoped to win but also avoid being run over. But as rustic as many of his pastimes were, he was not far behind his urban contemporaries.
Video games were played at home. The children of the family had already had an Atari 2600, later replaced with the Mega Drive in their home in Leece; they also acquired the Super Nintendo and the Sony PlayStation later in Vester. His sisters Lily and Grace initiated him into the virtual world. Luke had four sisters of whom Grace was oldest and Lily second-youngest. His other sisters were Adriana who was second-oldest - too feminine for video games - and Bridget, the youngest. Luke was the baby. The rest of the family would say how adorable he looked as he savoured tins of spaghetti and microwavable snacks. A running joke was related to how he often asked his dad for a plate of buttered crackers. His mother's buttering technique was not to the high standards he expected and Luke loved cream crackers.
He would tear apart pieces of processed ham with smiley faces and eat plates of unaccompanied rice - his diet left something to be desired. His mother did her best but she did not have much money. For most his childhood, Luke's mother could afford to buy him only the bargain varieties of foods in tins and in the frozen or refrigerated section. No one in the household was employed. Luke's father had retired a few years early due to a nervous breakdown and his mother was uneducated, having grown up in a vice-ridden ghetto of Woecaster. She had attended a school where teachers would ask her to stand on tables and laugh at her until she cried.
If they were poor Lily, Bridget and Luke were certainly not sad. There was a wealth of games they would play. Their favourite was called boy meets girl. To play the game the three sat, faces towards one another, in a circle. The name of a boy was written on a piece of paper. The paper was folded over then passed to whoever was next left in the circle. The same rule continued as a girl's name was written, where they met, what the boy said to the girl, what the girl said to the boy and what happened in the end. As simple a game as it was, with their imaginative minds it was a lot of fun. Lily was the sister Bridget and Luke looked up to as she was the oldest and most mature. They one day wanted a hi-fi like she did, on which she listened to Bryan Adams on repeat. At first Luke could not stand him but through a process of osmosis the melodies seduced him and he became a huge fan.
Before he had moved to Wales, Luke had not made many friends. In the first year at school in Leece, like most boys, he had a birthday party. He invited all the class, of which there were an equal number of girls and boys. The day came and no boys arrived yet all the girls did. Two of them fought for his affections on the dance floor while he kept returning to the buffet table for more sausage rolls on cocktail sticks. The only friend he made at the school in Leece was Robert. The other boys did not think Luke was their sort, his mother and father were not natives of the town - and he was quieter than the others. It is overlooked how soon people form into cliques. School in Vester was another story. He was the cosmopolitan boy from England! He sounded and looked different. His nose was more prominent and although his family could afford only charity shop clothing, at such a young age it was irrelevant. As the years rolled by much changed and his popularity waned as people noticed how shy he was. He did, though, keep a few friends and his primary school years were quite content. Many a happy summer's day was spent climbing trees and playing cricket in the fields.
A tendency to have fits of laughter - which were quite embarrassing - got Luke into trouble a few times. When someone had to read a book aloud in class it would tickle Luke fiercely. He couldn't say why but certain words desperately made him want to laugh. Even when he held his mouth the suppressed sound of laughter still attracted attention. These attacks of mirth periodically afflicted Luke for the rest of his life - for on occasions something really amused him, even if he didn't want it to. He began to self-stimulate, or as it is more commonly known, stim. Being around the other children could be too much and if he wanted a little break, he would lie on the grass to play with his eyes and alter his vision. Using his knuckles and fingers, he could move his eyes so that everything appeared in double, or close them shut and by pressing against his lids see swirling patterns and approaching shapes. That wasn't very sociable so if he wanted to be with the others but was stressed he would - quite unconsciously - start flapping his hands repetitively or rub an arm or one of his temples meditatively.