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Touch by Angela Cairns

© Angela Cairns

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1. After he died.

I ran down the stairs at Mum and Dad's on my way to have photos taken for my Australian visa.
“I’ll get it,” I called to Mum as the phone in the hall started to ring.
A tingle of excitement buzzed through me. The time difference made it evening in Sydney so that the call could be my boyfriend, Brett. I’d been back in England longer than anticipated, wading through visa red-tape, and I missed him. We fell in love during my post-grad course in Sydney and now planned to stay together in Australia. I longed to be finished with all the bureaucracy and fly back. Momentarily disappointed to hear a female voice, then delighted to recognise our Sydney flatmate Annie, a thousand excited questions bubbled in my head. ‘How was Brett? Did her boyfriend Max get his new job? Did she make her time at the half marathon last week?’ but they died on my lips, and my heart sank again because I quickly understood she was crying.
"Annie, what on earth is it?"
"Ellie, I don't know how to tell you... He's gone."
"Who's gone? What's happened? Has something happened to Max?"
"No, Ellie, not Max," her voice, now a broken whisper, "Brett - there's been an accident, his plane went down this morning, Ellie, he died."
I looked at the receiver stupidly, and time seemed to telescope into a long still moment where I couldn't react or feel anything, and the world stopped. Then in a sudden rush, time hurtled back into the vacuum, nearly knocking me off my feet and bringing with it a cacophony of intense sensation.
The incongruously merry tinkle of an ice cream van sounded outside.
Annie's voice muted through the dangling receiver, “ Ellie, are you still there?"
The pattern on the wallpaper in the hall swirled and distorted in front of my eyes.
Smells of polish and fabric freshener seemed suddenly sickly and cloying.
The urge to run overcame me.
I dropped the phone in disbelief, flicking as if to dislodge the instrument of pain and ran out of my parent's house. As I ran, from the corner of my eye, I saw my mother emerge from the kitchen into the hall, wiping floury hands on an apron, her mouth moving, but I couldn't hear what she was saying. I don't remember anything of my flight, not crossing the road or running across the grass of the Common, until my feet began to slip and slide on the large pebbles of the beach and I had to stop running. I doubled up in pain as if I had been punched. I heard a feral, guttural, groan of despair that roiled up from my guts and became the high-pitched keening of the gulls. I could not cry. Tears came later.
All that day, I walked the miles between the pier and the old gun battery along the water's edge. The sea rolled in, boiling, swirling, throwing helpless pebbles onto the beach, cruelly sucking them back to be tumbled and beaten again. My mother came to find me, bustling with bracing platitudes, to scoop me up, feed me, and tidy the issue away. I wanted her to leave me alone, could she not see? I would shatter like dropped glass if I stopped. Later my father came silently to walk alongside me. He offered no comfort but came to help bear my burden.
The journey back to Sydney for the funeral was the worst I have ever made. A twenty-four-hour marathon locked inside my head. In turn; I hated the stupid visa system that made me leave the country to change from a student to a working visa. It was their fault he died. I blamed myself, and it was my fault. If I'd been there maybe he wouldn't have gone up in the plane at all. I felt guilty. I should have been on the plane with him, would that have been better? Finally, I raged that his precious last moments were not with me. On and on, thoughts swirling in my head, preventing anything but the odd dream-filled snatches of sleep.
Tired and miserable, my hair lank from sleepless nights and grief, skin pale as a winter sky and devoid of make-up, I walked into the Arrivals Hall at Kingston Smith. Annie and Max were there to meet me, for a moment they seemed like people from another life, familiar yet estranged. They appeared slightly awkward in their togetherness, as though it was offensive in the circumstances. But then I saw the dark rings around Max's eyes, his stooped shoulders and Annie's pinched face - she took a faltering step then rushed forward and threw her arms around me. “ Ellie."
Max hung back, but I freed an arm, extending it open and he stepped over encircling us both. We clung to each other, a small island of grief amidst the joyful reunions and the driver pick-ups, sharing our pain and forging the first moments of our new friendship without Brett.
The scene flashing past the car window as we drove across town was normal. The sun shone, glinting on the water as we crossed the bridges and everywhere Jacaranda trees blossomed. People queued for buses or walked, some busy in work suits, others casual in flip flops and shorts. It seemed surreal that so many lives were untouched by the tragedy of Brett's death. I was an extra in their life script, a pale face glimpsed in a passing car, a background to the drama of their important interview day or whatever parallel, elaborate epic of which they were the star. There were thousands of other lives going on that I would never know about and people who would not mourn Brett's passing. What did I expect? I didn't know, but I hadn't expected the city I loved to look normal.
Outside our flat, I made a brave show as I got out of the car. I fussed with my bag and walked firmly down the plant-lined path and through the front door of the block. But couldn't continue inside.
"Just a minute." I dropped my bag and fled from the front door of the flats heading for an escape in the garden. Taking in gasps of fresh air, another great wave of misery washed over me.
I walked numbly to the end of the garden and sat on the grass with my legs hanging over the end wall, where Sydney Harbour's blue water lapped. I stared blindly across the water lost in my thoughts. How dare Fate take Brett with a snap of its fingers, erase his strength and vitality and snuff out his love for life and charm? Our future together washed away as surely as writing in the sand when the tide rolls in.
Sometime later, I heard a soft voice I didn't recognise, "Ellie, can I join you?"
I looked round to see a small, slim lady with a weathered face and unruly grey hair. We had never met, she lived in India, working for an aid organisation, but I had seen many portraits of her: smiling, laughing, serious, eyes full of love, Brett's camera capturing her intelligent and loving spirit. It was Elsa, his mother. I nodded, "Of course, I umm..." my voice trailed off. I didn't know what to say.
"Shhh," she bent down to tuck a stray wisp of hair behind my ear, "We both loved him; he loved us - it's enough."
Elsa was generous to me in those few days. She left me to sleep in Brett's room: the one that had become our room. I rolled myself in the sheets that still smelt of him. She selflessly allowed me to pack my favourite photos, his hoodie and peaked sunhat, some of our well-thumbed books and poems and of course the poster of Humphrey Bogart. Her strength, as she grieved, came from her knowledge that she would survive, that she had a cause and a reason to live. She was her own woman as well as his mother. She had already lost him in small ways many times before, in the way that all mothers do as they let their children go towards independence, although I would learn those things with time and life experience, I felt I had lost my entire world, and she knew that.
As I arrived at the church for the funeral, I was aware of a blur of faces all looking; looking away, looking down, looking at me. Faces, speaking, words.
"Such a shock."
"So sorry."
"If there's anything..."
"Will she stay on?"
Once I reached the calm, sanctuary inside the Chapel, its atmosphere enveloped me and bore my sorrow as it had born the sorrows of many before, absorbing it into the wood, stone, and refracted light from the stained-glass windows. The blur of faces from outside the chapel became soothed into recognisable groups of friends, colleagues, and family. Many spoke from the congregation. They shared memories, a funny story, or a poem, simple and spontaneous.
"He was an awesome Photographer. His pictures jumped off the page. He got it all: The image, the emotion, the mood. God bless you, Buddy, we're gonna' miss you."
"He loved life, and his patients loved him; he made them feel good about themselves; he inspired us. None of us at the clinic can believe he's gone."
Max stood up, his voice vibrant with emotion, "He was my best mate from before school. He knew all my secrets. He had my back, and he'd give me a kick up the backside when I needed it too. Wherever you are, I love you, you bloody idiot. Why did you go and get yourself killed?" He tried to carry on, but his voice faltered. Annie stretched out her hand, and he crumpled into the seat beside her, his frame convulsed by sobs.
In my head, I had words and pictures too, of how we laughed and laughed, walked and talked, loved each other and studied together. How we quarrelled, dark shadows passing across his brown eyes if I was flippant over something he cared about. Words to describe how much I loved him. But it all remained in my head.
Afterwards, I could not watch him buried. For me, Brett continued as a life force, he was outside, in the air, the sun, the sea, not buried, never buried. I excused myself to Elsa, took a cab into town, and walked out to Mrs McQuarry's chair. From there, I watched the changing light on the harbour instead.

2. Survival

Still stunned by grief and loss, I returned to England despite Max and Annie's pleas that I stay on and give things a chance in Australia without Brett. I hadn't cared where I was, when I came back, except I knew I could not be in Sydney. That beautiful but cruel place had robbed me of Brett. I hated the vicious natural beauty that had so fascinated him and ultimately lured him to his death.
After the funeral, I returned to my parent's house on the South coast temporarily. Initially, it was a relief to hand over the day to day concerns of living, back to my Mother and to spend days lying in bed staring at the ceiling. My childhood bedroom, still papered with pictures of horses, was my refuge, I emerged only to pick fretfully at the food that I could not swallow. I refused all offers of ‘a nice film,' or ‘a trip to the shops' to cheer me up. As well as my bedroom, only the deserted beach with its shuttered, deserted huts and gunmetal grey sea, thrashing endlessly at the pebble beach, felt like a place that knew me. After a particularly stressful day, with another of my Mother's pep talks, my wide-eyed stare at her lack of understanding and my Father's crossly muttered "Leave the girl alone Susan, she needs time," I suddenly knew I needed to get away, to get back to work for some normality. I couldn't sustain the awful pain, and I had too much time to think. I answered an advert in the Physiotherapy Journal:
"Physiotherapy practice looking for experienced Physiotherapist for maternity cover. Manual Therapy and Acupuncture skills an advantage."
Based in Essex, somewhere I'd never been, and where no one knew about Brett's death, the prospect appealed to me. My grief and everyone's sympathy had become disabling. I felt the real me might get lost forever in the well-intentioned kindness.
Martin, my new boss, was a taskmaster. Due to start at eight on the first morning, he had asked me to arrive at seven-thirty, to settle in.
"Hi Ellie, glad to see you, you've got a busy day today, so you'll need to keep to time. Here's your list."
I stared in some dismay at the page he showed me in the diary, which had a seemingly impossible number of patients entered on it.
"You can work between two rooms. While you are treating in one room, the receptionist will show the next patient into the other so they can change into a gown ready for treatment. That way, you don't waste time while they're changing. You have fifteen minutes to treat them, half an hour for a new patient."
Phew! Barely time to ask, ‘Feeling the same, better or worse after last treatment?' and treat each patient again. There were some treatments I regularly use, that wouldn't be possible in the time allocated. But Martin was still talking.
"At the end of treatment, they can change and go out to reception to be re-booked. You swap rooms and get on with the next one. You'll get the idea. Don't run late."
I'd have to be absolutely focused to work so intensively and how would I manage with the patients who needed to be listened to and have time to talk, I wondered?
Looking again at the diary page for that day, I said, "I seem to be full from eight this morning until eight this evening with only an hour for lunch."
"No, half an hour for lunch, half an hour for note writing and phone calls. You'll get odd extra spaces, with cancellations on some days."
Slightly doubtful about my ability to manage such a ferocious timetable, but not wanting to seem difficult on my first morning, I said "I'll give it a go. I am used to working with half-hour appointments, so until I'm up to speed, I think I may need a quarter of an hour break mid-morning and afternoon to catch up, as well as my lunch break."
He grudgingly agreed, but added, "As long as no one gets turned away."
I started to say, "No, of course..." But he was off again.
"I've left all the notes up to date in the files, so I doubt you'll want to change much in my treatment plans, you won't need to reassess anyone that I've already seen."
Glancing at the scanty notes he'd made in the patient files, in his cramped, spiky handwriting, I could see that he mainly gave advice and exercise sheets, with an occasional ultrasound treatment or a joint manipulation. Basic stuff for someone with such impressive qualifications. He wasn't much interested in the people who attended, because his system allowed them so little time. I found it hard to understand. Oh well, at least I'd be busy, which might blot out some of the shell-shocked disbelief and grief that accompanied me everywhere these days and hung over my head like a thick black cloud.
Be careful what you wish for; my new job consisted of twelve-hour days, short appointments, and no sympathy at all. The only saving grace was that the relentless pace and physical exhaustion helped me survive the worst of the early bereavement. I was not my usual self at that time, because it took a year, for me to act on the almost immediate suspicion that working Martin's way wasn't right for me. I'm still not sure why I put myself through it. Perhaps in some perverse way, I was punishing myself for being alive when Brett was dead. Having time for people, talking, trying to understand all aspects of their problem, and helping them to feel well, was how I worked, what I believed to be effective. Whatever possessed me to accept his awful de-humanising, conveyor belt work ethic for so long, I can't think. Bereavement distorted my normal functioning and stripped away my confidence. Not considered an illness, it felt like one to me.
In November, Martin called me into the office. I wondered what I had done now; eaten two biscuits at coffee-time instead of the designated one? Used too much ultrasound gel? Some other heinous crime. But no, charming as ever when he wanted something, he smiled, "Ellie, Jana would like to go to South Africa for Christmas, to show the baby to her family, before she starts work again. Do you think you could cover the practice alone for a month, to let us go away? It's usually quieter in the New Year."
I was happy to help them take a holiday. Jana had seemed low since the baby was born. "Yes, I can cover, the only thing is, the cottage I'm buying should be ready to complete around then, and I'm not sure of my moving date."
The day Martin and Jana left, he popped into the clinic and said, "About your move..." I expected him to say "Don't worry if you have to take a couple of days off," but instead he said, "Make sure you don't take any time off."
I had picked up over the year, that he was a self-centred person and very money orientated, but his remark took my breath away, talk about ‘looking a gift horse in the mouth.' When I thought back to the caring relationship I had had with Brett, and how much he loved people, Martin's hard-boiled, critical attitude shocked me. But it wasn't just that, I had overheard him being patronising and dismissive to some of his female patients and he adopted a very dictatorial and bullying attitude to our admin colleagues too. His slight disdain for a perceived weakness in anyone gave me chills. Martin and I were not a great fit at any level, but his misogyny was unsettling. I wasn't sure what it could lead him to do if crossed. Jana was such a kind and gentle soul, which is perhaps how she managed to cope with being married to him because any normal person would have run screaming in the other direction.
I doubted very much that he was faithful to her. Several veiled remarks made by my patients had already alluded to the fact he was a player. It's hard to keep secrets in a small town, and Jana was the youngest daughter of this particular town's monied "Royalty," so people seemed to look at them and their doings with particular interest, almost a living soap opera. I couldn't think why she had, but she had married him. I suddenly felt lucky. What on earth was I doing here? I could leave. The thought made me feel lighter, why on earth hadn't I thought about leaving before, there were plenty of other jobs in this area, I didn't envy Jana one bit.
As I saw Martin clearly for the first time, I realised with a pang, like a knife in my stomach, that I had found a total gem of a person in Brett; funny, loving, confident, interesting. I doubted I'd meet two like that in a lifetime, and I wasn't settling for less. I'd rather be alone to the end of my days, which seemed increasingly likely.
When my moving date fell within the time Martin and Jana were away, and I felt obligated not to close the clinic at all, Dad and Mum arrived without saying any of the things they were thinking. How Dad muzzled Mum, I'll never know. They moved my belongings from my rented flat, into the cottage, while I worked and kept the practice running without a break.
It was my Dad that inadvertently put the idea of setting up my clinic into my head.
"This is a lovely little town, but all the new building makes it look raw, but there seems to be a good community growing here. Lots of young couples about with children, I think it will mature into a very nice place. Is there a Physio practice here? That chap you're working with at the moment doesn't seem very nice if you don't mind my saying."
"No there isn't, and you're right, he's the pits." After doing my course in Australia, I didn't want to return to hospital work. I liked having a bit more freedom in the clinics I worked in out there. "Martin's clinic is too impersonal for me."
"Oh well, sweetheart, you'll have to look around. I'm sure you'll find something."
Mum chipped in with, "Sometimes you have to get on with things, you've got a nice little cottage now, so working with Martin hasn't been all bad, you can't have your cake and eat it you know. Although, a steady hospital job might be better for later on if you have children..." She trailed off as I gave her a ferocious look, she was so insensitive sometimes.
The final straw that pushed me to take the plunge was the horrible things Martin said the day he asked me to stay on for longer in the clinic because Jana wasn't ready to come back to work.
"You've done fairly well for yourself here, made the most of a fantastic opportunity. As you know, I can help you earn lots of money, and at least you seem to be able to put in a decent day's work without moaning, unlike my wife."
Jana had already told me, rather tearfully, over a cup of coffee, that she didn't feel ready to return to work and that Martin may ask me to stay on. Who could blame her? The baby had yet to sleep through one night. She must have been exhausted.
"She's got a good dose of lazy-itis if you ask me, Jana isn't doing anything, just mooning over the baby. She isn't back to running or the gym, and she's turning into a hippopotamus. She is starting to remind me of some of my patients."
I ignored the last patronising comment with difficulty and said, "Surely, you don't think she's lazy? She's a lovely, intelligent girl dealing with an unsettled baby and chronic sleep deprivation. Give her time..."
"Plenty of women around the world give birth in the morning and are back at work in the fields by the afternoon. But not her, she mopes about, I don't know what she does all day, the house isn't always tidy even! She'll have no brain left at all if she stays at home."
Always a full of himself and apt to believe his own PR, I was nonetheless shocked, it hadn't occurred to him she was struggling to cope. As I looked into his eyes, which showed not an ounce of compassion for Jana, I couldn't help but compare. I remembered Brett tears running down his cheeks as he showed me some photographs,
"Oh, Ellie look, how beautiful they are and so young, still children themselves."
It was a series of pictures he had taken of nomadic Arabic girls. During their mostly unassisted births, many of them sustained pelvic floor tears, which left them incontinent. As a result, often, these girls were abandoned.
"These women are beautiful Ellie. Their bodies are beautiful. They have given birth. They are not unclean."
His photographs had been part of an awareness drive, to fund a team of Physio's to go out and teach necessary pelvic floor rehabilitation to the local staff at a refuge.
It seemed evident to me that Jana may also have post-natal depression and wondered why the thought hadn't occurred to Martin.
"She needs to get over it, get a Nanny, and get back to work."
"Would you like me to have a chat? I think she may need a bit more support, but as she's always coped with everything alone in the past, she hasn't realised."
"No! Don't you go sympathising and encouraging her to be all weepy and pathetic. She's much better if I ignore it. I've told her friends that too much talking about feelings isn't good for her and to stay off the subject. She's just got to man up! I'm the one you should be having a sympathetic chat with. She's left me high and dry with a business to run. I was banking on her being back at work by now, and time is money."
I made a mental note that I'd have that chat with her, despite his moronic attitude, poor girl.
I began to understand why he was happy to work short appointments, no space for people to talk about their worries or problems. Every patient was just a unit sale to him, not a real person. I tried one last time to get through, "We're all different, and lots of women have plans to return to work quickly, but feel differently when the baby arrives. Jana hasn't been off for six months yet, give her a chance."
"Well, I can't carry deadwood forever, she'll have to buck up soon."
I was speechless with horror, but rapidly discovered as well as being insensitive, Martin could get very angry. When I politely turned his offer down to stay longer, maybe permanently, at the practice, any charm he had expended on me, rapidly disappeared. He realised he wasn't going to get his way and rounded on me.
"You'll regret this, letting me down. You won't get a great offer like this every day."
I found myself blurting out, "I would like to work nearer to my new home. There isn't a Physiotherapist there yet, and I am going to set something up." There, the half idea that had been in my head was out. Working as I wanted to, without someone else dictating to me how many times I could see someone or how long an appointment should last, appealed to me.
"If you think you can just walk away and steal my patients to set up on your own, you're mistaken because I'll sue."
"Martin, I have no intention of stealing any patients, it is at least fifteen miles away and in a different health authority catchment. Completely different Doctor referrals and it's too far for your patients to want to travel. I shall be building up my clientele gradually." My temper started to flare, who did he think he was attacking my professionalism?
"What would you sue me for? I'm not in breach of my contract with you, and I shall be working well outside the exclusion zone you put in it."
"Well, don't come running to me when you're bankrupt, it takes more than Physio training and a pretty face to run a successful business." Red-faced, with a vein pulsing in his forehead, he almost spat "Get your things and go, I don't want you accessing my client files before you leave."
Face burning with the sting of his words and the injustice, I collected my things and left. There was no chance to say goodbye to the receptionists, who had all been so kind to me.
My anger didn't last long. Fear quickly took its place. What on earth had I done? How was I going to pay my mortgage? I worried about my patients too, at least during my time at Martin's clinic, I had treated them kindly, not like bugs under a microscope, despite the time constraints. One lovely lady, Louise, who I had seen for the first time that morning, was so stressed. She was a case in point, who needed someone to talk to and coach her about pacing her life a bit better, just as much as she needed physiotherapy for her pain. If what I'd heard today was anything to go by, she'd be told to "Man up!" by Martin. Hopefully, she'd spit in his eye and find somewhere more caring to have her treatment. Delivering efficient technical treatment wasn't the whole story. "Time is money," unbelievable! I never thought I would hear a Physio say those words.
Mum predictably had a melt-down prophesying all manner of doom and disaster. She didn't need to. Inwardly, I was panicking enough myself.
Dad was calmer, "Get yourself an agency job to tide you over and have a proper think about this project, Ellie. Why don't you talk to your Uncle James?" he was referring to my Godfather, James, honorary Uncle, and successful businessman. He hugged me, "Don't worry about your Mother, you know she frets, we both believe in you. Do what's right for you love."
I found a place to begin working for myself in my new ‘home' town. It was rather cramped and on the first floor with no lift, which wasn't ideal for some of my patients, but it was a start and affordable. Two rented rooms with a cupboard-sized tearoom and a tiny toilet, on top of the shoe shop in the town square. For three years while I got established, I worked crazy hours on a shoestring budget. I taught on courses, and managed some agency work as well, to make ends meet. Rose, my fantastic admin colleague, a loyal supporter from day one at the shoe shop, reception genius, and all-round treasure; along with Pen, my best friend had kept me sane through it all. If I'm honest, during those three years, I was still running from my shock and despair at losing Brett, if I was busy and exhausted, I wasn't thinking.
Then, six months ago, a hammer blow fell in the form of a curt letter.
"Rose, come and see this." Something in my voice brought her running.
"Whatever is it, Ellie?"
"The shoe shop is closing, the building sold to developers. I can't rent my rooms anymore."
"What? Let me see."
All my hard work and now no premises. My safe place, my bolt hole, gone. I felt the blood drain from my face, suddenly realising how much it all meant to me.
Oh, Ellie, no! How long have we got?"
"Six months, that's not long."
"Well, you can't give up now." She said firmly, "we'll have to find something different, and that's all there is to it!"
I was grateful for her confidence but wished it was that simple.
Later that week, seeing me like a headless chicken, my Godfather James, offered to look at my figures for the last three years.
"Ellie, this business looks very sound, but to take it forward, you may have to look at investing."
"Investing what? I haven't got any money."
"It may be time for a business loan. I think the banks would be interested as long as you gave them a solid five-year plan for where you want to go,"
He helped me draft a new business plan, which would allow me to invest in the business and buy a property to continue in, something more substantial, that gave room for expansion and a proper office. I left feeling inspired, plans for taking my fledgling business into the next phase, whirling in my brain.
In the ensuing six months, there were tough negotiations for the loan to buy and equip the new premises. Those meetings with Bank Managers still gave me night terrors. Like Martin, they didn't care about the people, only about the money. I wasn't stupid, I did understand that to remain open, the Clinic books had to balance, and I had to be able to live, but they seemed to have no concept of the therapeutic needs of the venture. Surely, I could achieve both?
Seeing my terror at the size of the loan he had suggested, Uncle James phoned one evening.
"Ellie, I wonder if you would consider something. I could offer you a temporary personal loan, for part of your needs."
"Uncle James, that's a very kind offer, but I can't ask you to do that."
"You didn't, I offered. Think about it, Ellie. It's a smart move for me to invest in a growing business. I have every faith that you will work hard to see this project through, because you have grit, and I would like to help you."
I felt overcome by his kindness and his faith in me. His offer meant I could keep any bank loan, with its crippling interest, to a reasonable size. It was too tempting to refuse and a further phone call from my Aunt, urging me to let him help, sealed the deal.
The long, difficult search for a suitable building, one which the council planning department would approve for medical usage, seemed to take forever.
"Rose, sometimes I wonder if I'm doing the right thing," I was looking at yet more forms to fill in, "I feel like it's never going to happen."
"It's been a hard slog, and I think you're exhausted. Don't get disheartened, put those papers down for today, and go home. Get a good night's sleep and come back to it fresh in the morning."
Wearily I headed home, and as I ate my dinner, still thinking about the new project, I heard Brett's voice in my head, "Go for your dream Ells." He would never have quit.
"I've decided to call the new clinic if it ever materialises, Touch," I said to his memory, which failed to reply.
"Statement of rebellion against Martin's uncaring, hands-off approach, see?" I knew he would see because Brett and I believed in the therapeutic properties of touch at the heart of our treatments.
I blew a kiss into the silence, he might not be here, but this project would have made him proud, I felt better again.
Just in time for our period of notice, I found a perfect space, the council agreed to the change of use, and we were finally about to move into our dedicated clinic space.
"Just think Rose, you'll have a proper office and reception," I bubbled excitedly.
Busy, whittling down the contents of the cupboard and ruthlessly discarding any extraneous objects before we moved, she said, "It will be nice, but I managed very well before." I think she was as excited as I was, but she would never have let on. With her neat blonde hair perfectly in place, conservative clothes and economical manner, Rose remained dignified at all times, but she didn't fool me.
My hard work during those years above the shoe shop had gradually born fruit. From being a total unknown in the area, I was gaining a good reputation. We had a steady trickle of Doctor and Consultant referrals and thankfully, lots of word of mouth recommendations.
"If things continue to go well, Rose, there may be enough work for another physio, and now there'll space for that to happen." I couldn't keep the grin off my face.
"Let's get moved first, Ellie, we've got to stay busy in the new place for a bit. But I can see you'd enjoy that."
I shivered, she was right, setting up alone had been a white-knuckle, roller-coaster ride, there had been more than a few times when I thought I might end up bankrupt, just as Martin said I would. With all the extra costs of the new premises, Rose had just reminded me it was still a distinct possibility. The nasty little voice of doubt that plagued me in the early hours of the morning, when I lay awake worrying, once again whispered spitefully, "You must be mad." I ignored it, as I had more or less managed to do over the last three years, and kept doggedly working hard, sticking to Brett's maxim that ‘you make your own luck.'
I saw myself as a young sapling, tentatively pushing its way upwards, growing stronger, branching out, vulnerable still, but managing so far to survive.
I didn't bother to say that to Rose. She would think I'd gone mad.
I wanted to write to Martin to tell him how wrong he'd been about me. Pretty face, indeed, the bloody cheek! Hard work and a leap of faith had got me this far, and now the buck stopped with me to continue to make Touch successful. I set my shoulders square. I wasn't giving up any time soon. Somehow, the success of the practice had come to represent my recovery, and I wasn't sure how I'd manage if it failed.

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