"Hngh? I'm fine?" whined the patient; disappointed and disbelieving.
"Yes, fine," Dr. Kumas sighed. "Just as you were last month. And the month before last."
Dr. Kumas took in a deep breath to stop himself from insulting his patient, a 24-year-old man who could quite easily pass for 16. The man certainly didn't look like an adult. He was small and thin, 5-foot-7 and weighing only 9.5 stone. His face was pimpled and his hair matted and greasy, like that of a boy who has yet to figure out how to groom himself properly.
"Oh, moan. I don't feel fine," his patient complained. "Surely there's something wrong?"
"You are pale and underweight," Dr. Kumas said, "but those things could be remedied by getting outside and eating properly."
"Hmmm. But surely it's more than that." the patient whinged. "Perhaps if you ran some more tests? Maybe a rectal examination. I'd be more than happy to provide blood or urine samples. Would you like me to swallow some barium?"
"No. If you are desperate to be ill, Mr. Sneaveweedle, I suggest you seek out a private doctor. I am sure that he or she can find something wrong with you and charge ridiculous rates to cure it. As far as I and the National Health Service are concerned, however, you are fine."
Dr. Kumas clicked closed his ballpoint pen to emphasize the finality of the visit and started to walk from the room. Just before opening the door, he spun on his heel, closed in on Sneaveweedle and jabbed the ballpoint into his sternum.
"Also," he said, "it was not necessary for you to be unclothed for this examination. If you return again next month, as I have no doubt you will, do not disrobe. Understand me?"
"Hmmm, yes," sighed Sneaveweedle.
"Now, put your clothes on and go for a walk. Good day," Dr. Kumas said, slamming the door shut.
Sneaveweedle let all the air out of his lungs with a long sigh. Dr. Kumas was clearly losing patience with him.
His eyes moved up to the mirror across from him; he looked at himself and sighed again, watching the little ridges of his sloped spine move as he took the breath. He knew there was nothing wrong with him. He desperately wanted there to be, but he had been cursed with good genes. He hadn't had an actual cold since he was 11 years old; not even a sniffle in at least five months.
Regardless, for the past three years he had visited Dr. Kumas on the 4th of every month, or the closest Monday, if the 4th were on the weekend. He did this not because he was ill, but because he was lonely.
In addition to good genes, Sneaveweedle had been cursed with a number of other things that most people spend their lives praying for. Most obvious among these things was wealth; Sneaveweedle was easily the richest man in the county. His affluence came from birth; he had never worked a day in his life. He was relatively intelligent, holding a master's degree in biochemistry.
What he lacked, however, were self-confidence, ambition and personality -- qualities that any number of U.S. presidents have shown to be far more valuable than station or intellect.
In lack of personality Sneaveweedle suffered greatly. And what little he did have tended to annoy people. He was a pest. In the time that it takes to make tea, he would ask at least four times whether it was ready. He wasn't trying to be a pest, it just came naturally to him. And it might have been forgiven were it not for his accent.
Sneaveweedle spoke in a whining, ridiculously upper-class English accent. He spoke like a caricature of a Prince Charles who had just been soaked in urine. People often thought that he was kidding when they first met him, but caught on quickly that he was incapable of being so witty. After that, they did their best to avoid him.
Even the shallowest of gold-digging women had passed him by. Of course, he didn't exactly flaunt his wealth. His clothes were drab and fashionless. His haircuts cost £7.70 with tip included. His mobile phone was a 6-year-old Nokia that didn't accept text. He owned car -- a 1.3-litre Ford Ka, but usually chose public transportation when going anywhere. And despite Dr. Kumas' pleadings, he was strictly NHS.
The absence of any job or obligations or friends or ailments meant that he never felt the need to impress anyone, he never needed to be at any particular place at any particular time, and he never needed urgent medical care. He was cursed by comfort and found it terribly, terribly lonely.
This was why he had taken to visiting Dr. Kumas once a month. The medical profession is morally bound to help people; morally bound to look after everyone; morally bound to pay attention to people.
True, the modern emphasis on customer service meant that there were any number of people out there willing to pay attention to Sneaveweedle, but one can only book and cancel so many holidays, one can only open and close so many bank accounts. Those people always expected something from him, too, which made him nervous and unhappy. And almost certainly they all eventually got sick of him.
After three years, Sneaveweedle could see, even a doctor's patience can be worn. Dr. Kumas had been quite attentive at first, even sending him to the hospital to have various lab work done. It had all been very exciting. But in the last year, especially since both Mrs. Calen and Mrs. Stout had had twins, thus increasing the doctor's regular workload some 20 percent, the visits with Dr. Kumas had grown more and more abrupt.
Sneaveweedle sighed again for emphasis, hopped off the examination table, and started to get dressed. White cotton socks first, to keep his feet from getting cold, then underwear, khaki shorts, blue polo shirt, green windcheater, bum bag, and Birkenstock sandals. He then made his way to reception to schedule next month's visit.
"Three o'clock on the fourth, yes, I've already got it Mr. Sneaveweedle," the receptionist said as he walked into the room.
"Uhhhmmm?" Sneaveweedle moaned.
"Your next month's appointment; I've already written it down. Good day," she said, waving her hand in an attempt to shoo him away.
"That's for next month? Not for a different month? Or you're not looking at a different month's calendar?"
"Yes. The fourth of next month at 3 p.m. We'll see you then, OK? Good day."
"You're sure you've written it down?"
"Yes. It's right here on the computer screen, see? Good day."
"That won't get deleted? Maybe you should actually write it down."
"Yes, I have done that as well, see. In this large black book. In the computer and in the book. No one will forget. Good day."
"Hmmm. Perhaps I'll call a few days before to make sure you haven't forgotten."
"No, Mr. Sneaveweedle, as I've told you many times before, that is not necessary."
"I'll call, still. That's probably the safest thing to do."
"It's unnecessary Mr. Sneaveweedle. It's in the computer and in the book. Look, here, I will write it on my hand, too. See?"
"That will come off."
"No it won't. I've written it in indelible ink, and I promise not to wash for the next month. OK? Do not call us, Mr. Sneaveweedle."
Sneaveweedle moaned, did a stutter step and then turned for the door.
"Yes!" the receptionist shouted. "I mean, yes, there you go. Have a good day. Goodbye. Remember not to call us."
"Perhaps I will write you a letter."
"No, don't do that, either."
But Sneaveweedle was gone, and the receptionist certainly wasn't going to chase after him.
Sneaveweedle walked across the village of Grivelsby to Molly's Cafe for afternoon tea. When Molly saw him coming down the lane, she wrapped her dishtowel around her neck and squeezed hard. After a few seconds, realizing that she would not die before he arrived in the cafe and not wanting to risk his knowing CPR, she grabbed a large metal tea pot, and scrambled for a tea bag. As she did this, she shouted to Sneaveweedle, who was still outside: "Hello, Sneaveweedle. As you can see, I am very, very, very busy and I cannot talk, but I am making you a large pot of tea right now."
"Hmmmm," Sneaveweedle moaned as he reached the counter. "I know you're quite busy, but may I have a pot of tea, please?"
"Yes. This pot of tea is for you. I said that. This pot that I am putting water in is the pot that I will give to you."
"Ah. Uhm, I would also like to buy today's copy of The Grivelsby Yodler," Sneaveweedle said.
"Yes, that's fine. They're on the counter there. Help yourself."
"That's in addition to a large pot of tea, I mean."
"Yes, Sneaveweedle. A large pot of tea and The Grivelsby Yodler."
"And these biscuits."
"Yes, fine. £2.40."
"That includes the large pot of tea?"
"Yes. Large pot of tea, biscuits, The Grivelsby Yodler. £2.40."
Molly took the money with one hand while pouring milk into a small pitcher with the other. As she handed Sneaveweedle his receipt, she threw a handful of sugars onto a tray with the small pitcher of milk. She turned to grab something from the counter behind her.
"Uhm, oh, moan. Should I sit down and come back for my tea, or?" whinged Sneaveweedle.
"Your tea is right here!" Molly shouted, startling an old woman at the back of the cafe.
She sucked in a breath and then hissed at Sneaveweedle: "Normally I am quite happy to be the only cafe in this village. No competition is good for business. But you. You! You!"
She took in a deep breath and wrapped her dishtowel tight around her fist.
"You," she said, mustering all the sweetness in her voice that she could, "sit down over there and drink your tea and eat your biscuits and read your paper and stay for as long as you like, but not a word to me. I'm very busy. Alright?"
Sneaveweedle moaned to the affirmative, sat down, unwrapped his biscuits and started reading the paper.
He read every single word of the paper every day. There wasn't much else to do, and besides, The Grivelsby Yodler wasn't a very difficult read. It rarely numbered more than 24 pages, with the majority of those pages taken up by advertisements or surreptitiously taken photos of celebrities.
Sneaveweedle read through the stories of elderly residents inconvenienced by sidewalk repair, the mum and daughter who fell in love with a father and son, and the angry residents who still hadn't figured out what to put in the recycling wheelie bins distributed by the council. He saw pictures of Madonna eating breakfast, Radio 6 presenter Nemone wearing a bikini in Majorca, and possibly just a bit of Kirsetn Dunst's nipple as she slipped on the rug at an award ceremony. He was into his third cup of tea when he reached the classified ads and something caught his eye.
"Although I'm sure you're well aware who I am, I will introduce myself for the sake of formality," an older man bellowed as soon as Sneaveweedle walked into the office. "I am Sir Percival Artemus Llewelyn Penhill III, KBE, PhD. I am senior lecturer on ancient Celtic history and culture at the School of Very Ancient Things here at Charlesfield University. You are here about the position I advertised in The Grivelsby Yodler."
He was tall and gaunt, with enormous and untameable scrub-brush eyebrows. His wiry grey hair appeared not so much combed as pushed back by the wind, as if perhaps he had parachuted into work that morning. He wore thick-framed glasses that had slipped off his bumped nose as he spoke; the glasses were hooked to a small chain around his neck and had simply fallen against his chest. He wore a blue tweed suit, complete with matching tweed waistcoat, all of which appeared to have spent several years crammed into a wet tube before being worn.
Penhill spoke with an upper-class accent similar to Sneaveweedle's, but there was no whining to be found here. He spoke clearly and loudly -- more full than Sneaveweedle had thought possible for a person to sound without the aid of electronic devices.
"Hummm, yes. You were advertising for a travelling assistant," Sneaveweedle stammered.
"Yes, of course, boy. I am well aware of what the advertisement said. I wrote it," Penhill said, propping his glasses back on the bridge of his nose. "What's your name?"
"Hmmm, everyone knows me as Sneaveweedle, Mr. Penhill."
"That's Sir Penhill!" the professor growled. "Sneaveweedle you say? English name?"
"Yes, sir," Sneaveweedle whined.
"Good. Where did you get that banana?"
"In the reception area..."
"The reception area?!!" Penhill shouted. "Was it set in front of a small statue of a monkey?"
"Sneaveweedle, you're hired."
"Hunh? But you haven't..."
"I don't need to. Boy, that monkey is an ancient idol. You've stolen an offering to the Tumamahamakuakua-ulie. Any man brave enough to commit thievery against the monkey god is more than capable of serving as my travelling assistant."
"Oh, moan!" Sneaveweedle cried. "I thought the bananas were for anybody. I looked around for someone to ask but... I'll go put it back."
"It's too late for that, boy," Penhill boomed. "Stealing from the Tumamahamakuakua-ulie is serious business, and his wrath is dubiously unpleasant. First, every hair on your body is plucked one by one by the undead bride of Hawaleeamkaka, Then, your eyeballs are fed to dogs with mongoose heads. Afterward, you are strapped to a pole and poked with sharp sticks for 10,000 lifetimes."
"Oh, dear," Sneaveweedle whimpered, almost collapsing.
"But don't worry, boy. It's a sack-load of rubbish. What's important is that banana belongs to my colleague, that seditious Welshman Dr. Rhys Davies. Nothing makes me happier than to see him miserable, as no doubt he will be when he discovers his lunch missing," Penhill laughed, clenching his fists in victory. "As I say, you're hired."
Sneaveweedle found himself on an emotional rollercoaster. He sat down gingerly in a small office chair and fluttered his windcheater a few times in an effort to get some air. This was exciting. Really exciting. For the first time in his life, he had a job. He was doing something.
"Thank you, sir," he yelped. "I promise you won't regret this."
"Of course I won't," Penhill said. "Sneaveweedle, you will find that I am almost never wrong. Indeed, in my 67 years on this Earth, I have been wrong only once. And that I chalk up to youthful transgression."
"What does a travelling assistant do?"
"What do you think a travelling assistant does? You travel with me and serve as my assistant, and you assist in my travelling. You start immediately. I pay £7 an hour plus expenses."
"Hmmm. Is that good?"
"I should say so! More than reasonable. Although, you will almost certainly spend it all on shandy and hip-hop music. Now, I want to travel to western Ireland this weekend. You will make all the arrangements. Don't be too extravagant, but nothing below four-star. Understood?"
The above is the first bit of Flickr Fiction I've done in a month. Also taking part this week are: Donal, Isobel, Linus, Sarah and TadMack.
This week's stories are based on this photo, from Flickr user Gavin Mackintosh.
To make things extra hard on me, this piece of Flickr Fiction is written to fit into several others that will come after, each following the adventures of Sneaveweedle and Penhill and incorporating the weekly photo. It's a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure thing, except it's a choose-a-picture thing and I don't choose the picture. To that end, I'd really appreciate your input on what, if anything, you like and what you don't like and where you'd like to see this story go.