Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Desperately Seeking Janet

“The problem I’m having,” I told Lady, “is that we’ve lost the art of recuperation. In fact, I wonder if we’ve even lost the art of sickness. It used to be an honorable estate, just like marriage, but now it’s stigmatized. You used to be able to be a sickly person, a person who enjoyed—in every sense—ill health. Look at Florence Nightingale: she got done with the Crimean War at a relatively young age, came home, went to bed, and never got up again. True, from her sick bed she did a great deal—invent modern nursing, pioneer statistics in health sciences, even try to reform the War Office. But she did it all as an invalid, which is absolutely what I want to be at the moment.”

“What,” cried Lady, “not possible. Your spot is at the last red table before the shrine to Clara Lair. You can’t be an invalid!”

“There’s no transition,” I told her. “I went from being at imminent danger of paralysis to being, seemingly, out of the woods. And am I grateful? Yes, but I long, somehow, for a lingering recovery. And I definitely wish I had been more demanding, a la Florence. She made everybody’s life impossible by being the constant martyr. How everyone pressed her, a poor frail woman forced by cruel fate to face insuperable odds! Yes, I should have had all you people around, and put you to work! My pillow! How can you expect me to rest, let alone recover, when my pillow is as hard as a rock! Janet! Fluff the pillow at once, Janet!”

“Who’s Janet?”

“You are,” I told Lady, “since all chauffeurs are named James, and all ladies’ maids are named Janet. And as Janet, you would have been completely at my beck and call. Janet! Janet! I must have my tea! At once, and see that it isn’t stone cold as it was yesterday! Ah, how all of you vex me, try me, a poor cripple barely able to raise his head above the pillow, and all of you—hale and able bodied—doing nothing but vex me! I suffer, I suffer, how greatly do I suffer!”


“Yes, you, Janet—you are the very worst of the lot! How you loll about, wagging your tongue at any passerby, throwing yourself at the butcher’s boy and the postal clerk, when you know, Janet, you know that I lie in agony, virtually having crossed the vale and into the arms of our savior, and do you care? Not a whit! Ah, fie, Janet.”

“Fie, Marc?”

“Fie indeed,” I told her, “and I’ve always wanted to use that word. Anyway, the point is that someone—if not a league of someones—should have been lingering around my bed, anxiously pressing cooling handkerchiefs to my fevered brow….”

“But you fell, Marc, you didn’t have a fever….”

“If I am in bed,” I scolded her, “I have by definition a fevered brow. Every invalid knows that. So first you refuse to be Janet, and now you completely ignore my fevered brow, which may in fact trigger—I fear it greatly—a reverse. And nothing, as you know, could be worse than a reverse!”

“You mean a relapse?”

“I have no idea what a relapse is,” I told her, “but a reverse would call for the gravest of measures. Janet, summon the doctor—the doctor must attend me at once, ere I perish!” 

“But how do I know…”

“Curse the girl! Haven’t I told her that I am having a reverse? Janet, fetch the doctor, and then have the goodness to summon the solicitor, and then the vicar or the curate, whichever it is who abides in the village and attends to those soon to leave this vale of tears!”

“But Marc….”

“No, Janet, another morn I shall not see, and may it rest on your shoulders, Janet—you, who met my love with insolence, who closed your ears to my feeble pleas for succor, you who closed your eyes even as I grew pale, and lingered facing the grim visage of death itself. Yes, Janet, you vexing creature, on your head shall rest the death of one who loved too much, and was cast a base coin by all who knew her!”

“Her, Marc? Don’t you mean ‘him?’”

“I shall not be gainsaid,” I cried. “Do not try me with trifles, I so soon to cross the bar, to meet my maker face to face….”

“Hey, Tennyson,” said Lady, “I know that one! ‘And I hope to meet my maker face to face….’”

“You really made a hash of it, you know,” I told her. “You were completely useless as Janet. And you know what? There was absolutely no Janetry anywhere on the horizon, all those months when I suffered alone and unattended, cruelly cast off from an uncaring world….”

“Well, you could have called….”

“No, I was thrust onto the dust heap,” I told her. “When the story of my life is writ…”

“You mean written….”

“IS WRIT,” I told her. “And I certainly know what I mean. No, the stones themselves will shed passels of tears….”


“Passels—and don’t ask me what they are, or send me searching through Google to find out. If I tell you the stones themselves…”

“Fie, Marc,” said Lady, getting up from the seat she had never sat in (which made it easy to vacate, and anybody can see that!) “Fie, Marc, this post has been a complete waste of time! No information, no narrative, just a lot of tomfoolery, and I won’t be called Janet!”

She flounces out the door.

You see how cruelly I am used?