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Catherine - a Comedy

by Lottiey 

Posted: 24 October 2008
Word Count: 1462
Summary: Just a short story - written to get in the mood for Halloween / Bonfire Night

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It was not, they said, unusual to see cases like this one; in fact, the doctor assured them in glib tones more befitting of a fairground attendant whose ride is almost full, the hospital had recently seen a huge rise in people presenting themselves to the unit as Henry VIII. This, the highly trained medical staff had concluded, was as much to do with the popularity of the BBC series Tudors as anything that was ‘in the water’.
‘But what about Catherines?’ Mr. Hooper asked earnestly, ‘have you seen any Catherines before?’
‘Aragon, Boleyn, De Medici…’ listed the doctor, ‘we’ve seen them all, don’t you worry. History is very fashionable at the moment.’
‘But have you seen a case just like this one?’ Mr Hooper’s wife pressed earnestly. Her hands fluttered about nervously in her lap and half picked-away red nail polish lent the impression that her fingers had recently been involved in an accident with a paper shredder. ‘Have you ever seen a Saint Catherine?’
‘Well, no Saint Catherines per se,’ confessed the doctor slowly, ‘but we have seen plenty of children with Catholic guilt complexes’.
‘But we’re not Catholic!’ Mr. Hooper started defensively, ‘Gemma has never been to a Mass in her life’.
‘We’re not even Irish’ chirped in Mrs. Hooper. She was quickly silenced by a withering look from her husband; Mr. Hooper had long since tired of Mrs. Hooper’s pointless points of information.
‘Can you tell me how it began?’ asked the doctor. ‘Tell me from the first time you noticed the umm - condition - and don’t miss anything out.’
‘Of course doctor,’ started Mr. Hooper, ‘can I call you Dav-’
‘Mathers. Dr. Mathers is my name’
‘Right-oh, well…Dav- I mean, Dr. Mathers…um, it began quite a few years ago really…’ And so Mr. Hooper – with only the occasional spontaneous outburst from Mrs. Hooper - began to tell the story of when his little girl had first exhibited the symptoms of being Saint Catherine; or of being an ill little girl who believed she was Saint Catherine, or perhaps even of being a little girl who was infected by the spirit of Saint Catherine. After all, no-one could conclusively tell the poor parents if this was an illness, a possession or simply a pre-teenage phase. The local Catholic Church Mr Hooper told Dr Mathers, had not been much help; walking down the aisle during a busy Matins service with his screaming child in his arms, Mr Hooper had been shooed into a vestibule by a verger.
‘Can’t you see this is a service?’ the ferrety little man had hissed at the pair, whilst a rousing rendition of ‘Salve Regina’ was quickly arranged to save the Priest’s embarrassment.
‘My daughter is ill,’ Mr. Hooper had later told the Priest after the congregation had disbanded. ‘She believes she is Saint Catherine. My wife and I would, umm – ’ Mr. Hooper had broken off as he observed the priest watching his ungodly daughter’s chubby hand reaching for the alter silver. ‘Uh, my wife and I would like an exorcism.’
‘An exorcism!’ The request seemed to have thrown the preacher, who for a second had looked like he was about to explode with rage. ‘My dear sir, we only exorcise malevolent spirits. After all, if a man – or girl – is possessed by the spirit of a saint, we would call them a liar.’ The priest had paused before adding, ‘or lucky! A true believer sir should be filled with joy at being ‘possessed’ as you say, by a saint.’ The priest had then begun to wander off – no doubt having had his fill of what he perceived to be that day’s local nutter.
‘But we’re not believers sir,’ Mr Hooper had protested in vain. ‘It’s all so strange to us! Please help.’
‘The church door is open my son,’ the Priest had finally called from his vestibule wearily as changed his robes, preparing to clock-off from yet another hard day at the office. ‘Feel free to find your own way out.’ And so they had; Mr. Hooper had carried the screaming little Miss Hooper down through the church, past the font and under the ancient Yew tree, that had once been said - in times of old - to protect the Church from daemons, spirits and all those possessed by the devil.
‘So the Priest didn’t take you seriously?’ Dr Mathers asked, as he raised his now-blunt pencil from an elaborate doodle he had been steadily etching into Gemma Hooper’s patient notes.
‘Exactly, which is why we’ve come to you. “Church first, doctor second” that’s what my mum always says’.
‘Well, that’s what the old dear always used to say – she’s been dead these eight years now – died of a terrible case of chicken pox, right in the middle of a Sung Eucharist.’
‘I see.’ Doctor Mathers stood up. He was getting steadily weary of this exasperating couple. ‘So, to cut what I’m sure is quite a long story short, that is why you’ve brought Gemma to the clinic today?’
‘It just got too much for us,’ Mrs Hooper chipped in. ‘What with yesterday being Bonfire Night and all…’
‘I’m sorry Mrs Hooper, I just don’t see what anything had to do with Bo-‘
‘It’s the Catherine Wheels you see…our girl, she’s terrified of Catherine Wheels.’ Mrs Hooper began to sob; loud shoulder-shaking sobs that suddenly made the consulting room feel twice as small as it already was. Mr. Hooper withdrew a small roll of peach loo paper from his pocket, tore off a single sheet and passed it to Mrs. Hooper without even looking in her direction. From the fact that the roll of paper was already half-used, Dr. Mathers concluded that Mr. Hooper must be well used to outrageous scenes of public weeping on the part of his wife.
‘Hmm, Catherine Wheels…’ Dr Mathers mused aloud as the sobbing from the other side of the table gradually began to subside. ‘Aren’t they those spinning fireworks? I must say they always seemed a little second-class the minute a rocket was fired. As a boy I loved big rockets, the bigger the better: blue ones, red ones, pink ones-’
‘Dr Mathers –’
‘Sorry. Err, where were we? Oh yes, umm Catherine Wheels.’ Dr. Mathers looked desperately to his patient notes to help him try and recollect his thoughts; all he found was a rather neat Spirograph.
‘Catherine Wheels are named for the wheel on which Saint Catherine of Alexandria was martyred in the fourth century A.D’ said Mrs. Hooper surprisingly eruditely.
‘You’ve done your research!’
‘Oh no, Gemma told us all about it.’
‘Told you?’
‘Well, we had to type what she told us into “Google Translate”, but she certainly told us in her own special way,’ clarified Mr. Hooper.
‘Why does what she tell you need translating?’
‘Oh,’ said Mr Hooper as he rustled around in his pocket for another leaf of toilet paper, ‘Gemma only speaks in Latin… Fourth Century Alexandrian Latin to be precise.’ He clarified.
‘It caused real problems at her playschool,’ Mrs. Hooper squeaked as she desperately tried to stifle a sob.
‘Playschool!?’ asked Dr. Mathers, feeling slightly concerned about the child in question for the first time. ‘Just how old is your child Mrs. Hooper?’
‘Gemma? Why surely you have all that information in your casenotes doctor! Gemma is three years old next week.’ There was a stunned silence as Dr. Mathers tried to process the information he had just received.
‘Here she is doctor,’ Mr. Hooper suddenly chirped as the door to the consulting room swung open. A tiny dark-haired girl, barely steady on her own two feet was gripping the hand of the practice nurse with her left hand, whilst the thumb of the right hand was stuck resolutely in her mouth. ‘Why don’t you ask her some questions yourself?’
‘Hello Gemma,’ started Dr. Mathers cautiously as he flicked through his paper work to find the necessary ‘Admit Patient’ forms he was surely about to need. ‘How are you feeling today?’ Gemma said nothing, but rather continued to suck defiantly on her thumb.
‘Answer the nice doctor darling,’ cooed Mrs. Hooper. ‘It isn’t nice to be rude you know.’
‘Answer the doctor for daddy,’ added Mr. Hooper as he picked his daughter up and put her on his lap.
‘Libera me’ said the young child gently as she pulled her thumb from her mouth for the briefest of moments. Her dark eyes grew wide and a tiny tear began to form in the corner of one of them; Mr. Hooper dabbed at it with one of his ever present tissues, as his daughter added almost imperceivably under her breath, ‘Culpae poenae par esto.’

The End.

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