‘Lost In Thought’ Chapter three – Daniel
From the lane outside the cottage came the cries of children on their way to school. Luke glanced at the clock on the wall. They’d be late. They had to get to the top of the hill, meet the bus for Bodmin, change there for Plymouth.
He found Daniel’s school bag on the piano in the living room. He gathered up books scattered across the floor and the pencils arranged neatly in a row, according to colour, on top of a drawing pad. Luke shoved the things into the bag, something for the boy to read on the bus, while they hung around at the hospital, then ransacked the kitchen for a packed lunch.
He took the boy’s hand and led him into the narrow, cobbled lane of the Cornish fishing village. Luke glanced at the flaked paint on the window ledges, the frames, the fascia board and felt the same slug of guilt he did every morning, heard the same nagging voice in his head telling him to get it sorted. Then he remembered yesterday’s letter. He didn’t have to worry about fixing up the outside walls. Not any more. It wasn’t his house. Not his problem.
Jeannie Powell waved as they made their way down the lane. “You’ll be late for school,” she called out.
“Not today,” Luke said. “Off to Plymouth, see the consultant.” Daniel’s big day. At the hospital. With the important doctor. Or psychologist. Luke wasn’t sure which. He thrust a hand into his pocket to make sure he had the letter confirming the appointment. Jeannie called out “good luck,” and Luke hurried Daniel along. Father and son hurried past The Shipwrecker’s Arms, where the smell of stale beer still lingered in the air, and turned left up the main road, past the school where lessons had already started, and on towards the main road.
As they left the village, Luke realised it was the first time he’d been outside Porthelyar in more than a month. By land at least. If you didn’t count the sea.
Luke ruffled his son’s hair but Daniel’s expression didn’t change.
“What are you thinking, eh Kiddo? What’s going on in there? Looking so serious?”
The boy scrutinised his reflection in the chrome panelling of the lift door.
“Seeing the big consultant today. Best behaviour.”
Daniel inched his head towards Luke, his eyes flashed contrition, a prayer for salvation from demon powers. Then he returned to scrutiny of the world inside the mirrored chrome.
A fresh-faced nurse passed by and Luke watched her absent-mindedly as she pushed a trolley through the double doors. “Hospitals aren’t all bad,” he said, as he watched her disappearing.
Daniel maintained a solemn silence, his face a clean canvas, unsullied by emotion.
“We’ll get a grin out of you yet.”
Daniel looked up at his father, and a forced smile flashed across the lips of the eight-year-old for an instant.
The lift door opened and Daniel put his feet together. He leapt the crack in the floor and landed in the lift, as solemn as Armstrong stepping on the lunar surface.
The lift lurched upwards and when the doors slid open Luke steered his son into the corridor. He fumbled in his pocket for the letter with the name of the consultant and glanced at his watch. Five minutes late. He swore under his breath and knocked.
The consultant shuffled his papers, looked up, ignored Luke’s furrow of the brows and the boy’s fidgeting, and went back to his reading.
“He has issues to resolve.” The consultant didn’t look up from his papers. “Nothing conclusive. Seems the boy is talented in many ways.”
Outside, the drilling in the road stopped, to be replaced by the sound of a car alarm, and the steady hum of traffic.
“He’s a smart boy.” Luke patted Daniel’s knee.
The consultant shuffled paper. “He needs help in certain areas. That doesn’t make him autistic.”
“People keep saying…”
“People do, these days. Bit of a trend.”
“What do you think?”
The consultant looked up, staring at Luke over his glasses. He frowned, paused, put his hands together. “It’s funding. If he’s diagnosed, there are projects, special resources, teaching, drugs. It’s bureaucracy, of course.”
“I don’t want the boy labelled, if it can be helped. He’s a good boy.”
The consultant murmured to himself for a moment. “Any autism in the family?”
Luke looked into an abyss. The madness that had dragged his mother down. The strangeness that made his father so cold.
“Not on my side. His mother’s not around. Wouldn’t know where to find her.”
“The family gene pool though, shows examples of great intelligence? High achievement?”
Luke shuffled in his chair. “He won’t get that from me.”
“But your father? I assume, an unusual name. You must be related.”
Luke stiffened in his chair. “We’re not close.”
The consultant peered over his glasses at Luke once more, as if examining a specimen in a petri dish.
“A great man. You’re not close?”
“We don’t talk.”
“Ah.” the consultant made a note, clicking his pen decisively as he finished. “At public expense, there’s not much we can do, at this stage. Privately, though, if you had access to funds?” The consultant raised an eyebrow.
“Your father, perhaps? Would be willing to help?”
“We don’t talk.”
“Perhaps, for the boy…”
“It won’t happen.”
The consultant pushed the papers away and sat back in his chair. “You’re familiar with his work? Not ready for clinical trials, of course. But one day.”
Luke starred at the consultant, his brows furrowed, hands gripping the seat of his chair.
The consultant pressed his palms together, fingers skyward, as if praying. “The therapeutic possibilities are extraordinary.” He removed his glasses and put them on the desk. “There’s excitement among the profession. Papers, preliminary results. Early days, but great promise.”
“I thought it was for gaming.”
“A remarkable invention. To use it for therapy you would need the full immersion, unrestricted access. Allows us to go right inside the mind of the patient.”
“Is that safe?”
“It could be a breakthrough in therapy. But then, the expense…”
Luke stared at Daniel’s feet swinging against his chair.
“You could talk to your father, surely, for his grandson. It could make such a difference.”
“Out of the question.”
“Families come together, in a crisis.”
“Not this one.” Luke closed his eyes, lips pursed into a scowl.
“Ah. Well. What to do? The diagnosis is the thing.”
“No labels. Not for the sake of it.” Luke felt sweat on his forehead. He was making decisions on the fly that could determine Daniel’s life, with no chance to talk them over, no one to turn to for a second opinion. He realised his jaws were clenched tight.
“It’s likely he’s on the autistic spectrum somewhere,” the consultant said. “These things can change, so fast. A year from now, you might wonder what the fuss was about.” He paused, his pen poised, a guillotine primed and ready to fall. “I’ve seen enough to make the diagnosis, if it’s what you want.”
Luke looked into Daniel’s eyes, his thoughts racing. Yes or no? A life changing decision. Stay away, he thought, keep out of hospitals, don’t get dragged into the system. The teachers at the school would kill him, they’d fought so hard to get the boy here, to get them both in front of this consultant. “No,” he said. “We’ll get by.”
The consultant’s hand relaxed, placed the pen on the desk. “There’s nothing more I can do. I’m sorry…” The words drifted into silence, as though ushering Luke and Daniel towards the exit. “If you’ll excuse me.”
As they made for the door, Luke heard two swift strokes of the consultant’s pen. A file snapped shut. A filing cabinet opened, then the drawer clanged closed.
“Come on Kiddo.” Luke clicked the door shut behind him. “Looks like we’re on our own.”