‘But you can only get it through sex, right?’ Beverly asked, though she knew the answer. Or thought she knew the answer, at least.
There was a pause, not a long one but long enough for Beverly to have a good idea what was going through the doctor’s mind. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘That’s right. Though of course a baby can contract it during birth as well.’
There was a long silence. The doctor had a pretty good idea what was going through Beverly’s mind, too, but waited for the questions.
‘I’ve, um, only ever had sex with one man. My husband.’ Beverly paused. ‘We’ve been married for twenty-four years.’
The doctor waited for Beverly to continue, but nearly a minute passed in silence. ‘Did you want to talk about it?’ she asked eventually.
Beverly looked up. ‘There’s not a lot to be said, really, is there? I’ve only ever had sex with one man, but now I have a sexually transmitted disease. So…?’
The doctor coughed. ‘Quite,’ she said. ‘Now, it is easily treated…’ she turned and typed quickly into her computer. The printer whirred. She handed the prescription to Beverly. ‘I’ve prescribed two lots of antibiotics. One is for you and the other is for your sexual partner. It’s what we call patient-delivered partner therapy, or PDPT. It’s most important that your partner take this, and that you abstain from sex for at least a week, or use a condom.’
Beverly snorted, and the doctor looked a little embarrassed. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I know. You’ll have to sort that out between the two of you, of course.’ She smiled sympathetically. ‘The difficulty, I realise, is getting your partner to, um, do the right thing. So is that something you want to talk about?’
Beverly shook her head. ‘Not just yet,’ she said. ‘I’ll probably have to come back for another test, won’t I? Perhaps we can talk then.’
‘That’s right. The antibiotics work well, but you need to be tested again after a month. Maybe after that, too.’
Raymond telephoned Margery the following day. ‘I’m sorry,’ he told her. ‘We can’t go on. Beverly knows, and she knows because she’s got chlamydia.’ He was in his office and he kept his voice low. ‘She says she’s only had sex with one man, and that’s me, so she must have caught it at home.’
‘But Ray, if she caught it from you, what about me?’
‘That’s what I mean, Margery. I must have caught it from you.’
There was a long silence. ‘You couldn’t have. I don’t have it.’ Margery sounded indignant.
‘You must have, Love. You’re the only one.’
‘But I don’t have it.’
‘You’d better go and have it tested,’ he said. ‘Some people don’t have any symptoms. Please, Margery, go and see your doctor.’
He could hear her start crying. ‘Ray, don’t do this,’ she pleaded. ‘Tell me you’re joking.’
‘No joke, I’m afraid. Anyway, I’m well and truly in the shit now. Get yourself tested, and John too.’
‘But what am I going to tell him?’
‘You’ll have to decide that yourself, Love. I’m sorry about it and all that, but look, we’re finished, you and me. Take care, and thanks for the memory. Thanks for the clap, too.’ She was sobbing when he put down the phone.
Beverly looked hard at him. ‘How can I believe you?’ she asked.
Raymond hung his head. He couldn’t look at her. He said nothing.
‘So what are we going to do?’ She said. ‘You’ve obviously cheated on me, and now you’ve given me an STI. You’ll have it too, of course. So how many women?’
He looked up then. ‘How many?’ he said. ‘How many? What do you think I am?’
‘Someone who has cheated on his wife and given her a socially unacceptable disease. So how often have you done this?’
‘How do you know it’s me? How do I know it’s not you who’s been cheating? Tell me that, huh?’
She looked steadily at him, her eyes seeming to burn into his until he could hold his gaze no longer. He dropped his head. ‘Raymond, I know it is not me who has cheated. And you know that you have. There is no alternative. If you want us to continue together, you have to be honest. Tell the truth. You know, the whole truth.’
He stood up suddenly, his eyes wild. ‘I’ve had about enough of this,’ he shouted.
‘Sit down, Raymond. We have to talk this out.’
‘You can talk it out by yourself,’ he shouted. Then he turned and slammed his way out of the room, down the hall and out of the front door.
‘Well, you could knock me down with a feather,’ Mike said. ‘I’d have never believed it. You old dog.’
‘Not a laughing matter, Mike,’ Raymond said.
‘Well, it’s not the end of the world, either. You’re not the first bloke to be caught out. Nor the first to have picked up a dose of the clap, either, playing away like that.’
‘Trouble is,’ Ray said, ‘I can’t be sure where it came from.’
Mike paused, his beer half-way to his lips. He stared at Raymond. ‘Shit,’ he said.
Ray turned his head to look at his friend. ‘Quite,’ he said. ‘Shit.’
‘What do you mean, you can’t be sure?’
‘Work it out for yourself, mate. And it’s not the clap. That’s gonorrhoea.’
‘D’you mean you’ve been having it off with more than one bird.’
Raymond sighed. ‘Yes,’ he said simply.
Mike leaned back and looked at him. ‘Christ,’ he said.
Both men leaned on the bar glumly and sipped their beers. ‘Course, it’s not like it sounds. I haven’t got them lining up or anything.’
Mike said nothing. This was turning out to be a day of revelations.
‘D’you remember when we went to that match? What, a couple of years ago?’
‘What’s that got to do with it?’
‘Well, maybe nothing,’ Raymond admitted. ‘But that might be where I picked it up.’
‘You don’t normally get a dose from watching soccer, do you?’
‘No, but you remember the celebrations when we won, don’t you?’
‘And remember I went missing?’
Mike looked hard at his friend. ‘Yeah, now you come to mention it, you did, didn’t you?’
‘I wasn’t missing. I was shagging this bird.’
‘I was. Don’t remember a thing about it, but I got a call the following day. It was the bird I shagged. Wanted to know when she’d see me again. Reckoned she was in love with me. Frightened the life out of me.’
‘I’ll bet it did. What the hell did you do?’
‘Got rid of my phone so she couldn’t call me again. Told Bev I’d had it stolen, but I smashed the SIM card and chucked the phone in a bin. A bit thick, I reckon, to shag someone and not remember anything about it. Could at least have had a happy memory about it.’
‘And now you’re wondering if it was her gave you a dose, not this Margery?’
‘Could be, couldn’t it?’
Mike took a mouthful of beer and swallowed it slowly. ‘That’s the trouble with having it off with someone else. Not knowing.’ He turned and looked at Raymond, who was looking regretful.
‘Yeah, well, I wish I never had, now. Bloody stupid.’
‘Surprising how many people do it, though. Blokes and women, too. I sometimes wonder if I’m the only bloke who hasn’t had a bit on the side.’
‘Shouldn’t think so,’ Raymond said glumly.
They were silent for a while, glancing up at the TV on the wall from time to time.
‘So what’re you going to do now?
Another of those deep, heartfelt sighs from Raymond. ‘Well, I’ve broken it off with Margery. Told her she’s probably got chlamydia, and suggested that I must have got it from her. Suppose that means her husband has it too, by now, so she won’t know one way or another. Come to think of it, I don’t know either, do I? Was it my playing-away shag, or was it Margery? No way of knowing. Only sure thing is that poor old Beverly has it too, now. Somehow I have to make it up to her.’
‘Reckon she’ll get over it?’
‘Get over it? I bloody doubt it. But you know, in a quiet sort of way I love her. Don’t want her to chuck me out.’
‘Should a thought about that before, shouldn’t you?’
‘Get away, you pompous bastard.’
Beverly is sitting in her car in a car-park at a popular tourist spot fifty seven kilometres from home. It is raining. Beside her is her best friend, Emily. She is holding Emily’s hand, and Emily has her arm around Beverly’s shoulders. They lean against each other. Beverley has red hair, that rich coppery colour that sometimes comes with green eyes. Emily has jet black hair, cut short almost like a man. They have been friends for a very long time.
‘So, chlamydia. I had it once before, about twenty years ago,’ Emily says.
‘You told me.’
‘Easy to treat. ’S no big deal.’
Emily pats her friend’s shoulder. Beverly sighs and squeezes Emily’s other hand. ‘So what are you going to do now?’
Beverly looks at her friend. ‘I suppose I’ll try to make it work with Raymond. I wasn’t actually sure he was having it off with someone else, though I suppose I suspected something. Anyway, I know now, and it’s a bit hard to take. But I’ll try. I don’t hate him or anything. Just don’t want to start all over again, not at my age. Our age, I suppose.’
‘But what if he does it again?’
Beverly smiles. ‘Oh, I’m not going to have sex with him again. So I suppose it wouldn’t matter any more.’
‘He’s not going to put up with that.’
‘He will if I say I want to but his affair has made it impossible for a while.’
‘Oh, you devious thing. I’m glad it’s not me that offended you.’
Beverly looks closely at her friend. ‘I wouldn’t put it quite that way, Em. But look, I’ve got this prescription for you. I want you to use it and then get tested before we get back to… normal. Okay?’
Emily takes the prescription and has the decency to look a little guilty. ‘Right,’ she says slowly.