Shuffling into the waiting room at the medical centre, Ian Chesterton rested his walking stick against the wall and then sat down on one of the comfy chairs. Opposite was a man who kept glancing at his watch.
“Are they running late?” Ian asked.
The man laughed. “Nah it’s me, mate. My lift got me here half hour early. Usually she’s late so that’s something!”
“I’m early myself. Couldn’t relax. Got an earlier bus.”
“The number 17?”
“I’m not from around these parts, well not for years anyway but I do know me buses. I’m Graham by the way.” He leaned across the little table— which was full of outdated magazines— and shook the old man’s hand.
“Ian. I’m here to see the grief counsellor. I’m a bit nervous truth be told.”
“I’m here for that too…. well…that amongst other things that have been bothering me. Don’t be nervous though, I’ve been a few times, you know… to talk about stuff. Sometimes your family and friends want to help, they love you and all that, bless ‘em, but they’re not always the best at reassuring words.”
“That’s true enough. I have my son but I don’t like to bother him.”
“It’s a cracking place this,” Graham said, peering around at the freshly refurbished building. “Very nice. Puts you at ease. Was it your wife you lost if you don’t mind me asking?”
A sudden tear formed in the corner of Ian’s eye. “Yes, Barbara. Last year.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, mate. I lost my wife Grace recently.”
“How awful, you’re still very young.”
“Keeping busy what’s been getting me through. I’m travelling. I know, I know, crazy at my age but here I am.”
“Did a bit of that myself back in the ‘60’s. Wonderful times. But they remind me of Barbara. We travelled together you see, so even though those memories are good…well it makes thinking of it just that bit harder.”
Graham nodded and there was a brief pause. Both men smiled awkwardly and laughed as they glanced at their wristwatches at the exact same time.
“Blimey, it’s only been two minutes since I last looked,” Graham noted.
“A watched pot never boils. I’m sure the long wait will be worth it.” Ian reached into his pocket and pulled out a bag of sweets. “Humbug?”
Wriggling his fingers excitedly, remembering his own grandparents giving him humbugs as a boy, Graham reached into the paper bag and pulled out a sweet. He unwrapped it and then placed it into his mouth, sucking it carefully. “You not having one?” he said with his mouthful.
“Just had one. Have some sherbet lemons for later too, left over from the grandkids visit. Have you got grandkids yet?”
“Just the one. My wife’s grandson, Ryan. He’s a good lad. He’s actually one of the ones that kind of persuaded me to give this a bash.”
“Sounds like my Emily. She’s my granddaughter. She’s been very helpful. She set me up one of those social medias so I can talk to a few more people. What do you call it, tweets?”
“That’s it. It’s a lark isn’t it?” Graham sniffed. “So, what was your wife like?” he asked, finally finishing his sweet.
Ian took a moment to think and then took two photographs from his wallet. He pointed to the first picture in colour. “That was her the year before she died, and this one in black and white is when she was young when we’d just got back from travelling.”
“She had one excellent bouffant and your barnet weren’t bad neither.”
Ian laughed. “She was a wonderful woman. Intelligent, kind, remarkable really, and always true.” The last few words caught him unaware and his voice trembled with sadness. “And what about your Grace?”
“Strong, kind, so so funny. She always had me in stitches and that wasn’t just because she was a nurse.”
“Sounds like Barbara and me when we had a laugh together. I was a science teacher in those days and she was next door in the history classroom. I used to say there was chemistry between us.”
Both men smiled and each took a moment to reflect on the memories they had shared with their spouses. It was quiet for several moments.
“It doesn’t seem to get any easier,” Ian said. “People always say that she had her innings and yes, Barbara had a wonderful life. We were happy together. But being left here without her has been the hardest thing I’ve ever faced and I’ve faced some real monsters.”
“I get that, mate. Hang in there. For me it’s the lack of time we had— the what could’ve beens, you know? I’ve seen some amazing things and I always think ‘Grace would kill for this’.”
“She’s with you somehow,” Ian said with a smile. “I have a feeling.”
“Cor it’s like we’re giving each other a good talk here. Should we tell the therapists to go home?” Graham laughed.
“It’s been nice to have someone understand.”
At that moment, a young blonde woman walked into the medical centre, wearing a long coat and looking around the room curiously. Her hands were thrust inside her pockets and she was shuffling her feet awkwardly across the floor until she spotted Graham in the waiting area.
“You done yet, Graham?”
“Done yet? Doc, I’ve only been here fifteen minutes and the appointment aint ‘til one.”
She sat down next to him and placed her feet on the table. “Right, must have got my timings off. I’ve been around the whole universe in the time you’ve been sitting here.”
“Doc!” Graham cocked his head, indicating that they were not alone and that Ian was sitting opposite, very much listening.
“Oh, right, humans.” She turned her head to look from Graham to the man, but when she did, her mouth hung open and she squeaked. “It can’t be!”
Ian wondered why the woman was staring at him in the way she was, mouth open wide, eyes bulging. He was unnerved by the intense gaze.
“Do I…know you?” he asked.
“A bit yeah.” She suddenly held a magazine over her face and leaned over to Graham. “It’s Ian! It’s Chesterton, Chesterfield. I am having a mad day right now,” she whispered.
She lowered the magazine and grinned before reaching into her pocket, pulling out her sonic screwdriver and waving it in front of Ian’s face. It whirled as the yellow light scanned over him. She scrunched her face up as she looked at the screen on the device.
“What is that thing?” Ian was still shielding himself with his old frail hands.
The Doctor smiled. “Sorry. Double checking it was you.”
“Are you a doctor then?”
“Yeah, I am as a matter of fact.”
“Why were you doing that with that silver thing?”
“Routine check. Check your blood pressure, heart rate.”
“It’s up right now,” Ian said, feeling a little like an experiment.
“It feels like that spending time with her, my heart’s always going like the clappers,” Graham added.
“You should try having two of them!” the Doctor said.
Ian and Graham exchanged glances and there was an excruciating silence for several minutes as the Doctor continued to stare at Ian, this time grinning like a Cheshire cat.
“How have you been?” she finally said.
“I’ve been alright. Good days, bad days.”
“And how’s Barbara?”
“Doc!” Graham nudged her.
Ian’s eyes watered. “I’m afraid Barbara passed away. Did you know her?”
The Doctor’s eyes also appeared to water and she looked down at the ground suddenly, not speaking for several moments. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. And yeah, I did know her.” The Doctor suddenly sprung to her feet and headed toward the doors. “I’ve gotta go, be back in a minute.”
“Is that young lady alright?” Ian asked, watching her leave.
“Don’t know, but she seemed to know you, didn’t she? And your wife. I think it upset her. Your Barbara really must’ve been something.”
“She really was. I suspect your Grace was too.”
“One in a million.”
Suddenly without warning, the Doctor re-appeared, causing both Ian and Graham to jump in their seats.
“Bloody hell, Doc!”
“Sorry about the quick exit there. I had something in my eye.”
“Thought you were a bit upset, Doc.”
Ian sat forward as the Doctor once again sat opposite. “How did you know Barbara?”
The Doctor took a moment’s pause. “Ah. Well, now that is a very long story, which I will tell you about if you want to grab a coffee or tea sometime. Graham can come too.”
Ian nodded, unsure of the invitation.
“My door is always open. Except when it’s closed. Which actually is most of the time. But give a steady knock and I might hear you and we can have a catch-up.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude but how do we know each other? My memory’s not as good as it was. Were you one of Barbara’s students?”
The Doctor smiled, nodding. “Yeah, you know what? She was an amazing teacher. I didn’t always want to learn but you both taught me a lot.”
“Me? You were one of my pupils?”
“No, Ian, but my granddaughter was one of yours.”
She looked deeply into his eyes and then he looked deeply into hers and he felt a peculiar sensation travel down his spine. The Doctor was staring at him and for a moment it could’ve been the white-haired old man looking back.
“Doctor? You mean…it’s you, after all these years?” He grabbed her hand in his and squeezed it. There was a brief pause as everyone tried to take in what had just happened.
Graham leaned forward, took a pause and then said: “Hang on, you’re a grandmother?”