Seven Lies

Seven Lies by James Lasdun

Book: Seven Lies by James Lasdun Read Free Book Online
Authors: James Lasdun
revolving drum of graph paper. From the nurse’s room I drifted somnambulistically on towards the deeper and denser space of the X-ray room. In a cubicle with a poster of Erich and Margot Honecker greeting the Ceausescus outside the Kremlin, I removed my school shirt and jacket, then stepped into the chamber itself, where the radiologist fastened a lead girdle about my waist to protect my seed, my orange seed, then positioned me against the backing plate, angling my shoulders forward to touch the cold metal. ‘Now take a deep breath,’ she would say, at which, with a soft buzzing sound like the perpetual buzzing in my own ear, the rays would probe into me.
    I felt as if I had gone back underground, back to the place of obligatory yet never fully explicable rituals that I had submerged myself in during my storage room phase, repetition once again endowing each stage with a gloomy ceremoniousness. After the X-ray, the forty-minute wait in the passage outside the changing cubicles. Waste bins overflowing with phlegm-sodden tissues. Metal chairs attached to the linoleum – bolted to it, as though a weakness in the lungs had been found to predispose a person towards chair theft. Then a summons down a further set of corridors to a small waiting room, the antechamber to the offices of the physicians themselves. Quieter here; silent, in fact; the silence of thought finally undistracted from mortality – the contemplation of an emphysema here, a pleurisy there, there a lung cancer. My name was called and I walked to the numbered room where my physician awaited me – not the young emergency room doctor but an older man, Dr Serkin, an enigmatic person whom I lacked both the means and the will to understand at the time, and whom even now I find difficult to bring into clear focus.
    He was about sixty. Sixty during the seventies, which meant already twenty and thirty during the thirties and forties. A survivor, then; veteran of the nazification, the denazification, the Marxist-Leninisation of his profession. At first his manner was distant, with the remote, deliberate calm of someone practised in the art of inward emigration. I associated him with the machines – the ancient, cumbrous, beige-enamelled machines – that stood about in the various rooms I passed through on my way to his. He seemed to aspire to their condition of imperturbability, and he projected something of their contained, humming power.
    â€˜Come in. Sit down.’
    I sat beside him at a table under the mounted light box. My case notes lay open on the table. Beside each entry was a small pictogram of my lung, which Dr Serkin drew meticulously each week in turquoise ink, with arrows pointing to a mark that represented the infected patch.
    â€˜How do you feel today?’
    â€˜All right.’
    â€˜Still orange?’
    â€˜How many of me do you hear at the moment?’
    â€˜Just one.’
    â€˜Any buzzing?’
    â€˜All the time.’
    He glanced at the notes.
    â€˜Here – do you see something?’ Pulling out a blank sheet of paper, he thrust it towards me. A bluish radiance quivered briefly across the white surface.
    Having felt no symptoms of the illness itself, I was now suffering in numerous ways from its cure. The dense orange capsules of isoniazid I took every morning dissolved in my system like blocks of indelible dye, staining all my bodily fluids an unnatural sunset colour that made me feel like a creature from another planet whenever I sweated or ejaculated. Overstressed by the toxicity of the pills, my liver sent thick drifts of floaters up across my visual field. Sometimes when I looked at a blank sheet of paper I saw palpitations of blue light flicker off the whiteness. My hearing too had been afflicted: a sound like the roll of a soft, insistent snare drum played continuously in my left ear. Occasionally a single voice addressing me would refract into a whole

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