There was no reason a GP appointment should make her so anxious. Women went to the GP for contraception all the time. It was normal. But sitting there as the woman read through her past history—her palms felt damp as she waited for the questions.
‘So you’ve not had contraception before?’
She should lie, but of course, she didn’t. ‘No.’
There was a pause. Was she supposed to explain herself? She gripped her hands together and said nothing.
‘Oh. I see. It says here you’re autistic?’
Did they use that tone about all diagnoses—it says here you have diabetes? It says here you’re paraplegic? As if she was supposed to justify and explain who she was.
She looked at the floor. ‘Yes.’
‘You don’t look autistic.’
‘What am I supposed to look like?’ Not even managing the sarcasm the question deserved.
The doctor bit her lip. ‘I mean, you must be pretty high-functioning.’
‘Yes.’ Wanting to say what does that even mean? and can we get back to the point now?
‘Have you tried the diet?’
‘Diet?’ This time she did stare. The doctor was no longer looking at her, instead typing rapidly. ‘Here. There’s a website. This doctor cured her son of autism with diet. Cutting out,’ she pointed, ‘All sugar, gluten, fructose, dairy and meat.’
What was the kid? A rabbit?
‘Was alcohol allowed?’
‘No. He’s a child,’ she exaggerated the word. ‘You should try it. She says it helps the gut symptoms. And it made his behaviour much more normal.’
‘Autism is a neurodevelopmental issue—’
‘We don’t know much about it. It’s probably lots of different disorders all lumped together, and some of them respond really well to diet.’
‘Actually we know quite a lot—’
‘You could probably cure yourself if you try the diet. There’s a book; I’ll write it down for you. You really should make the effort, you know. And it sounds very healthy. It would probably help you lose weight. You don’t have to give up when you get a diagnosis of autism, you know. It could be completely wrong.’
She was on the pavement, walking toward the tube station. No memory of how she arrived there. One moment in the chair, the next outside. Her feet moving one-two, one-two, people drifting past, their mouths moving but sounds only static. A strange heat from her arm. She lifted it up, saw three long scratches, red and sharp on her skin. Still walking, a wordless panic driving her forward. Had to find somewhere to stop. Find somewhere. The city a rush of noise and smell and garish pattern. A Starbucks loomed up; she joined the queue. Wanting to press her hands to her ears, to rock, to block out everything but her own breathing.
You could be cured.
Make the effort.
Don’t give up.
Was there anyone, anywhere in the world, who understood this, who didn’t frame it in could try harder, who didn’t consider her a broken thing in need of mending?
‘Iced latte, please.’
Yes, I know it’s winter. Yes, I know what I just ordered. Cold drinks help settle my overload, not that you’d understand what that was, or be remotely interested.
‘Iced latte. No sugar.’
Make eye contact. Normal people make eye contact.
‘Two fifty, thanks.’
Careful not to touch, handing the coins over. Skin on skin, can’t bear it.
Sink into a chair with the cup, music playing, lights overhead, traffic vibrating the floor, boiled milk scent, hot sweetness in the air and a rush of people talking as if all this was normal, as if the smells and the lights and the shaking and the noise didn’t bother them at all. As if it took no effort to shut it out.
Don’t look at me. I’m a broken thing who won’t cooperate and cure herself. Not worth knowing. The architect of her own downfall, and a little less than human.
You know, the most depressing thing about writing this novel is how much stuff I can lift directly from life.