This excerpt from The Woman Who Walked into Doors is copyright © 1996 by Roddy Doyle and is reprinted by permission of Viking Press, New York, New York. Lisa Dittrich, senior editor of Academic Medicine, is the editor of “Medicine and the Arts.” Unsolicited submissions to the column are welcome.
In this scene, Paula Spencer is in the hospital, waiting in a curtained cubicle to see the doctor. She has been brought there by her husband, Charlo, after he has beaten her.
Sometimes I'd think that I could escape if I could get behind the right curtain, if I was asked the right questions.
Charlo was always beside me, always near, but if I got the right doctor or nurse I'd be safe. They'd see, and they'd take me away. They'd take me through a door and I'd be gone before Charlo knew it. I'd have the kids out of the house before he got home. We'd be gone without ever having to look at him again. They'd help; they'd do it for me. There was a room up at the hospital where we could stay, a place where he could never find us, with huge windows and a balcony. The right curtain. I just had to be in the right place in the queue. Open Sesame. I'd be led behind the curtain and it would be over. I'd be mended and safe. We'd be happy and safe. I'd get worked up waiting. I believed it was just a matter of luck. Maybe this time. A nurse would look at me and know. A doctor would look past his nose. He'd ask the question. He'd ask the right question and I'd answer it and it would be over.
Charlo was always with me. He was always there. Behind the curtain was the only time I was alone. His shadow on the curtain. A few minutes. One question. One question. I'd answer; I'd tell them everything if they asked.
I'd have told them everything, I swear to God I would have. If they'd asked. I'd have whispered it. If they'd asked first. He pulled my arm behind my back and lifted me off the floor. It would have been easy after that, watching them listening. He hit me. He kicked me there. He burned me here. He did it. He did it. Save me. I'd have told them everything. I just had to be brought behind the curtain, asked the right question.