Marguerite was at the gynaecologist’s when the earthquake struck. The nurse was asking about her children, their ages, progress and activities; Marguerite was perched on the end of the examination table; the speculum had just been inserted and the doctor about to take the pap smear. A second later, the table capsized and Marguerite was thrust sideways onto the cold floor. Her cotton robe slid across the polished vinyl surface, leaving her wedged against the doctor’s desk.
The nurse was silent; it was obvious from her misshapen skull and the angle of her broken neck that Sister Ann would never cheer a nervous patient with happy conversation again. She had taken the full force of the heavy beam supporting the roof, which now lay across the surgery, forming an oblique triangle of the once spacious, light-filled room. Dr Kosiak crawled under the fallen beam and felt Sister Ann’s twisted neck for a pulse. Finding none, he snapped off the harsh examination light that had still been burning, spotlighting the nurse’s poor, pale, surprised face.
In the black, airless space, there was silence. At last, Marguerite heard him crawl towards her and crouch beside the desk.
Are you alright, Marguerite?
Yes. Nothing broken. But I still have this lump of metal in me.
Dr Kosiak grunted. He crawled back to the light. Marguerite heard the switch being flicked, but no light came.
The doctor was at her side again. Never mind, I can do this with my eyes closed.
She knew he wasn’t lying—this doctor had looked after her since she first visited these rooms twenty years ago, a naïve young woman, miscarrying her first pregnancy. He had been the one who couldn’t find a heartbeat for that first, unfinished foetus. He had monitored each successive pregnancy and checked the movement of each baby in the womb. He had delivered her sons, a lead player in these significant highs and lows of her life. She felt his chunky fingers pat along the floor and find her left leg. Just lift up a bit…it was awkward, crammed as they were against the faux-timber desk, but in a moment the implement was removed and Marguerite sighed with relief. For once, no awkward moment of eye contact, no wondering where to look. There is no protocol for this, Marguerite considered. Where does one look when a doctor, a dentist, or podiatrist is doing personal things to one’s body? Perhaps these procedures should always take place in the dark.
A moment later the shivering set in.
Are you cold?
You’re in shock.
Dr Kosiak crawled under the beam and groped for his coat which had been hanging on a rack behind the door. He dragged it back and covered Marguerite with it. Her fingers, shaking, grabbed the coarse tweed and pulled it tight around her body.
Now that the light had been extinguished, they could see three pin pricks of light where the window had been.
How long before we are rescued?
It will be a while, I should think. At least we have air.
They sat in silence. Marguerite was still shaking and becoming cold now, but tried to focus on the three points of light forming a little triangle high up to her right.
Marguerite heard him scrabbling around in the dark, the screech of something being dragged over a hard surface. A little crash to the left of her made her jump.
Sorry. The phone’s dead.
Doctor Kosiak crawled back to Marguerite and sat beside her.
You’re still shivering.
He put his arm around her shoulders for warmth.
Don’t worry. We’ll just sit tight til someone comes.
There was a strong smell like burnt rubber but Marguerite tried to ignore the possibility of fire. As her eyes became more and more accustomed to the dark, she could see the crumpled shape of Sister Ann like an abandoned marionette in the corner of the room. Mustn’t cry, she told herself. Think of something else. Like looking at the pictures of green ferny waterfalls on the ceiling whilst in the dentist’s chair. She flexed her legs and clenched her naked buttocks, cold on bare floor. How odd to be sitting like this, undressed, in the dark beside a man not her husband. She rested against the warmth of him. Marguerite could hear the steady intake of his breath, feel the movement of his chest with every exhale. Some women fantasised about their gynaecologists, but she had always thought of Dr Kosiak more as a father figure than a lover. Not that he was that much older than she. The spicy scent of his aftershave seemed to grow stronger in her nostrils. Even now, almost naked beside him… no, it was no use looking for her clothes. They had been left on a chair near the blocked doorway, where Sister Ann lay. Wonder had happened at home? Where were Brian and the boys? Must call…
Peter, (she knew Dr Kosiak’s first name but had never called him by it in twenty years) Peter… is my handbag on the floor? Can you find it? My mobile is in it…perhaps we can …?
Dr Kosiak crawled around in the awkward spaces between fallen rubble and furniture, cursing as a sharp object tore at his trousers and he cracked his head on an open filing cabinet drawer. This it? he asked, pushing a soft leather form into her hands.
This was something she could do with her eyes closed. The phone was in the side pocket, as always. She pressed the buttons and heard the dial tone. It was then the tears began to flow.
Marguerite’s family were fine; their house only slightly damaged. She phoned emergency services.
Do you want to phone your wife? She knew, from past conversations, he was married.
No need, she didn’t survive.
As a siren sounded outside the building, Dr Peter Kosiak stared at the crumpled form of Sister Ann, bowed his head, and wept.