‘Bye, Debs. I’ll ring you to find out what she said, mind.’


‘OK, OK.’


But Debbie knew she was lucky. Bossy and critical Sandy might be, but she was a good friend and she owed her. She would keep the appointment with Dr Deerbon if for no other reason.


The surgery was a couple of miles away on the other side of the town, and normally she would have caught a bus, but this morning Debbie walked. The route was not interesting, but every step she took made her feel positive; she was walking in the fresh air, breathing it deeply into her lungs and she was conscious of the expanse of sky above her and the earth deep below her, to both of which she, Debbie Parker, was attached by invisible but powerful natural forces. She remembered everything Dava had said to her about expanding her mind and spirit to feel in tune with the whole earth, the heavens, the universe beyond.


‘Nothing is alien to you, nothing is hostile. Everything is part of you and you in turn are part of everything. You are held securely and you can feel it to be so if you will only open your heart and mind. Walk, walk and breathe and look and listen and you will notice that every time you do you feel freer and more in harmony with all things.’


It was true, she did feel in tune with the world, the turning earth beneath her, the layer upon layer of … she did not know of what, but she had a picture in her mind of roots reaching down. She looked up. Above her was simply light grey cloud but she found it easy to picture the heavenly blue behind it, and beyond the blue she imagined shimmering gold, into which she could gaze.


The walk was invigorating, though she had to stop several times because she was out of breath. Still, that would improve as she walked more and got fitter. Dava had told her to classify her moods and attach symbols to them, to weigh them and give them colours and shapes. This morning, her mood was light, it weighed almost nothing; it was silvery white, and had soft cloudy edges.


One visit to Dava had transformed everything in Debbie Parker’s world. She knew that she did not really need to visit Dr Deerbon this morning. Dava would shape her future and guide her through all the changes that would take place on her way to a new self, a new life. She would be slim, with a clear skin, she would be light-hearted and optimistic, equable and joyful; she would study something or get a new job. She would make more friends and her whole being would expand.


She reached Manor House Surgery damp with sweat and with a blister forming on her left heel, but otherwise happy enough to feel she might break into song. Even while waiting she felt happy. The room was full of young women with coughing toddlers and old men complaining about the delay and the magazines were dog-eared, but to Debbie everything was beautiful and part of the one harmonious whole. It seemed astonishing to her that everyone else here did not know about Dava and his powers, the great healing and help he could give them, his beauty and spirituality. She might even bring some of the blue cards and leave them on the table beside the magazines, though after a few moments she thought better of it, acknowledging that even if the patients were grateful, the doctors might not be impressed.


‘Debbie Parker please.’


Dr Deerbon looked pale and had a cold. It seemed to have put her in a bad mood.


‘For goodness sake, what were you thinking of, Debbie? Had you any idea what you were taking or what the stuff you put on your face had got in it?’


Debbie felt crushed.


‘Let me have a look at your skin. Come over to the light.’


‘I don’t see that I was doing any harm.’


‘Really? After what happened?’


‘Well, I didn’t know it would, did I? You said yourself people can have reactions to all sorts of ordinary things.’


‘Yes, I did. I’m sorry. Blame a bad night but I shouldn’t take it out on you. Now, let’s sort out this acne. Why didn’t you come here first, Debbie? This is so easy to cure now. I’m giving you an antibiotic which you’ll take for six weeks. Make sure you finish the course. The acne will gradually improve and it won’t come back.’


‘And is that it? No creams and stuff?’


‘No. You don’t need to put anything on your skin and don’t buy any lotions that claim miracles, the antibiotics will do the job. No – you haven’t had asthma before, have you?’ She looked down at Debbie’s notes.


‘No. I don’t think so anyway.’


‘Probably a one-off reaction then, but I’m going to prescribe you an inhaler. Have it with you all the time, in your bag, by your bed. You may well never have another attack for the rest of your life, but even one has to be taken as a warning. Don’t be without this inhaler. After you’ve seen me, wait behind and the nurse will give you five minutes. She’ll take you through how to use it properly – it’s not difficult but there’s a knack to it.’


‘Right. Thanks.’ Debbie stood up.


‘No, Debbie, don’t go. I want to talk to you about this person you went to see at Starly.’


‘Oh.’


‘I’m not like some GPs, who disapprove of every kind of complementary treatment. I send people for acupuncture and to the osteopath and I keep an open mind about several other therapies. But there are a lot of cranks about and the whole thing is completely unregulated, you know. It just isn’t the case that if they don’t do you much good they can’t do you any harm. They can. I’m very concerned about protecting my patients. You’ve been depressed and that can make you very vulnerable. So, who did you see?’


Debbie was uncertain how much to say. She trusted Dava, he was wonderful, he spoke to her as no one else ever had, but she felt foolish in the face of Dr Deerbon’s questioning.


‘He’s … he was really good, Doctor. It was just talk really.’


‘Talk isn’t always harmless. Besides, he prescribed the pills and the ointment. I took them away the other night, did your flatmate tell you? I’m having them analysed. What did he do?’


‘It was just talking, like I said.’


‘What, like this?’


‘Sort of …’


Debbie was not going to tell her about the couch and the strange sense of having been out of herself and of real time, the floating feeling and the sense of having been touched by something extraordinary.


‘Would you be willing to give me a name?’


‘What are you going to do? I’m not making a complaint, am I?’


‘Of course not. And there is nothing I can do, even if I wanted to. But as I said, I do have a duty of care over my own patients.’


‘He’s called Dava.’


‘Dava what?’


Debbie shrugged.


‘Did he give you any medical advice?’


‘No. He talked a lot about spiritual things. My psyche. He said I should … be in tune with the universe. I should take walks and things in the fresh air. He said that would help my skin.’


‘It certainly won’t hurt it.’


‘Food. He gave me a diet.’


‘Ah.’


‘I have to eat everything organic and wholefoods … wholegrains and fruit and vegetables, no meat, no dairy stuff.’


‘Plenty of soya?’


‘How did you know?’


Dr Deerbon smiled. ‘Most of them seem to be keen on soya.’


‘Is it bad then?’


‘No. But some people are allergic to it.’


‘So can I do it? The diet?’


‘Yes. Make sure you have enough protein … some fish or eggs. The fruit and vegetables and wholegrain are good, and give yourself a bit of a treat from time to time. It’s important not to be too rigid. You’re vulnerable there too, Debbie, as you’ve been depressed. So have a cappuccino or a glass of wine or a bar of decent chocolate sometimes. Don’t be hard on yourself.’


‘OK. Thanks then. Is that it?’


‘That’s it, end of lecture.’


Debbie turned with her hand on the doorknob. ‘He made me feel wonderful. Do you see? He made me see everything differently. I’ve never met anyone like that before.’


For a few moments after Debbie had gone to see the practice nurse, Cat Deerbon sat doodling on her notepad, turning over what the girl had said. Dava. The name was phoney and meant nothing, and it was an affectation not to admit to a surname. The advice she had been given seemed either quite positive, though nothing she could not have gleaned from a lot of magazines, or at least harmless, but one or two of the remarks Debbie had made hinted at something else, some mumbo-jumbo of a familiar kind about inner harmony and tuning into the universe. It was easy to dismiss it all, and she doubted if the tablets contained anything more than a useless mixture of mild herbs bulked up with soya, or that the ointment was dangerous; it had been Debbie Parker’s bad luck that she was allergic to something in one or other of them.


Yet, Cat worried. A girl like that, overweight, with bad skin, unattractive and badly presented, without a job or much of a social life was indeed vulnerable and the fact that she had been seriously depressed sent out more alarm signals. An untrained therapist giving psychological counselling to someone like Debbie Parker, especially if it involved delving into the past, or ‘regression’ and ‘rebirthing’, could do untold harm.


She wrote Dava on her pad. She had no power to put someone like that out of business, and in any case, if he closed down in Starly, he could open again anywhere else he chose.


‘Dava.’ Cat spoke the name aloud, derisively, before ringing the bell for the next patient.


Debbie Parker did not walk the two miles home. It had started to drizzle and her blister was painful. Instead, she waited half an hour for a bus at the end of Addison Road. She felt confused. Dr Deerbon did not seem to have disapproved of some of the things she was doing as a result of her hour with Dava; the diet, the exercise – she had nodded quite approvingly at those. But there had been something about her expression and tone of voice that had made Debbie feel both uneasy and guilty. It had been like an interview with the head teacher. You felt smaller and more foolish afterwards than you had on the way in. But she was a grown woman now, so why should she be made to feel like a silly kid?


The bus was warm and steamy, and sitting in it, wiping her arm across the window to see out, Debbie remembered the last bus she had been on, to Starly. Thinking of that ride, and the time spent waiting in the café, the memory of Dava’s house in the steep, narrow little lane, and of the consulting room, as well as of the amazing man himself, made Debbie both excited and defiant. He had done her more good than anyone, hadn’t he? Her misery had lifted, she felt positive and happy for the first time in months. How could that be bad? She was grateful to him and she would show it. It had not been Dava’s fault that she had reacted badly to the medicine, that could happen any time, to anyone. Dr Deerbon had said as much.


She got off the bus in the centre of Lafferton and bought herself a bar of organic chocolate to munch on the way home. That ought to please both of them, she thought, as she stripped off the wrapper.


There was a letter for her on the doormat. When she slit open the envelope, she saw the wonderful blue of the card immediately. It seemed to glow in the darkness of the hall and the glow made a circle of warmth around her.


Dava
Please attend for your next appointment promptly at two fifteen on Tuesday, 30 January.


This time has been carefully and personally selected as being the most auspicious for your therapy.


Debbie made a cup of tea and sat at the kitchen table with the card propped in front of her, gazing into the depths of the magical blue. The effect it had on her was almost as powerful as being in the room with Dava himself. She felt invigorated and changed and that her future held endless possibilities, beyond anything she could have dreamed of before she had taken that one, brave step.


The kitchen seemed to glow all day with the emanation of spiritual light from the card. But later, she realised that she wanted to do everything Dava had told her over and over again, so that when she went for the next appointment he would congratulate her and be proud of her; so, after putting a strong elastoplast round her heel to protect the blister, and then two pairs of socks inside her trainers, she went out to walk. It was half past four, and the schoolchildren were coming home, bouncing about on the pavements with their brightly coloured bags, emptying out of cars with arms full of violins and games kit, books and lunch boxes. Debbie felt a halo of goodwill and friendliness towards them surrounding her with such brilliance that she was surprised they did not stare at it.


The afternoon was dank and it was still drizzling lightly, but the snowdrops were up under the trees in the long gardens of expensive houses on the way to the Hill. She felt drawn to this ancient green heart of Lafferton; she knew that the Wern Stones were supposed to have special powers, rather like the Starly Tor. It was said that the Stones saw everything and that if they were ever split open, all the secrets of Lafferton over generations would be found engraved within. If people went on the Hill after dark to meet illicitly, the Wern Stones saw them, however safe they felt, and if a lie was told in the Stones’ hearing, it would be found out, though many years might pass. Debbie thought she would ask Dava about the Hill.


It was almost dark now. A couple walked a dog along the path ahead of her but they soon turned off, back on to the road. Debbie walked briskly, lengthening her stride and swinging her arms, breathing deeply. She wished there was a moon and that she could have looked up into the heavens and seen the stars, but it was simply darkening and murky. Her trainers screeched slightly on the wet path and after a while, irritated by the sound, she moved off it on to the grassy track that climbed up between the undergrowth towards the Wern Stones and then up to the clump of ancient trees at the top. After a short time the track became quite steep and Debbie was out of breath. She stopped and leaned on a tree, bending forwards to ease the stitch in her side. Below, she saw a few dim orange lights from the town. Above, everything was blotted out. The night smelled good, of damp grass. She tried to think of the spinning earth beneath and the arc of the heavens over her head and of herself as in harmony with them and, for a moment, it seemed that she was able to conjure up a sense of being joined to the universe, a part of the spirit of everything created.


She was brought up by a slight sound, perhaps a step, perhaps a rustle of wind in the undergrowth. She turned her head to try and make it out. There was no wind, the air was quite still. It came again, a few yards below her, but whether to the right or left she could not tell.


Debbie was struck by a bolt of fear that made her numb, and as if her breath had stopped. Her heart pounded in her ears like waves rushing. She could not see and she dared not move. She was paralysed by fear and by the realisation of her own vulnerability. How stupid was she, to come up here alone after dark and without having told anyone where she was? She was acutely, terrifyingly aware of the slightest sound or movement but now there were none. The dark and the silence were absolute, pressing in on her, heavy and suffocating. She was disorientated, not daring to move because she did not know which way would lead her back down to the road. She gripped the cold damp trunk of the tree for support and for comfort. The tree was a living thing, part of the universe and linked to her; if she stayed in touch with it, she would be strong and safe.

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