Heaven’s peg

One – Bun

Remember
Doctor at three
Imagine a stethoscope made from three currant buns
One for each ear and one for the heart

Robert screams, ‘Open the door, open the door.’

Father Kelly quickly opens the door, ‘There you go lad. Sorry I forgot.’

Robert turns away. Father Kelly backs quietly out of the room and bumps into Doctor Dawson.

‘Sorry Doctor. I seem to be upsetting everyone today. Are you seeing Master Walsh?’

The Doctor confirms Father Kelly’s guess.

‘I’ve wound him up by closing the door. Sorry I’ve quite disturbed him.’

‘Don’t worry. There’s plenty disturbing Master Walsh.’

‘Aye, but I hear he should walk again.’

Doctor Dawson nods, ‘I’m more worried about his head than his leg.’

Father Kelly signifies his agreement that the head is of greater concern and resumes his mission to find the next patient with catholic tendencies. Suddenly he spins to face the doctor and shouts, causing a passing nurse to flinch.

‘Ask him about his pegs.’

‘His legs?’

‘No pegs. Memory pegs.’

Doctor Dawson wants to ask more but the priest is already effusively apologising to the nurse. He has a great deal of experience of apologising and practices on a daily basis.

Doctor Dawson guesses Robert is awake even though his eyes are closed.

‘Did you hear that?’

Robert opens his eyes to see who is talking.

‘Father Kelly almost took out a nurse while pirouetting down the corridor.’

Robert smiles and the Doctor is pleased to have established rapport so easily.

‘He says I should ask about your pegs but first, how are your legs?’

Robert’s legs are suspended and plastered from ankle to thigh.

‘They itch sometimes.’

‘That’s bad, and it’s also good. It shows everything is working but it must be annoying.’

The doctor and the patient share a moment of silent reflection on how annoying itches can be when there is nothing you can do to stop them.

‘So what about these pegs?’

Robert indicates his bedside drawer and the doctor retrieves six pegs. Each one has a number and a word written on them. The doctor reads them and admits to having no idea what they mean.

‘They’re memory pegs,’ Robert explains. ‘They help you remember things. You start with number one.’

‘One. Bun. So your first memory is something to do with a bun.’

Robert laughs.

‘No. It’s not like that at all.’

Robert tells the doctor that the first peg has the word bun because it rhymes with one. When Robert needs to remember one thing he pictures a bun with whatever he has to remember.

‘So what’s this peg helping you remember?’ says the doctor.

‘Nothing. I’m not remembering nothing now.’

‘I bet you remember lots of things. Go on tell me the first thing you remember.’

*

Robert watched a settee being carried past his pushchair. His family was moving into their house and he was two. The settee moved past him and there was a boy on the other side of the gate. It was Davie eating a sandwich. He pushed the sandwich through the gate and Robert took a big bite. It was chocolate spread and chocolate soon surrounded Robert’s mouth.

*

‘Chocolate spread’s still my favourite. I don’t think it’s a true memory because when I remember I can see my face.’

‘Do you remember it often?’

‘Sometimes when I see a pushchair, or a baby covered in chocolate.’

Doctor Dawson praises Robert for his remembering. She tells him that his mind fills memories with more and more details. He couldn’t see his face when he was a baby but he knows what it looks like when a baby has chocolate all over their face, so his mind has added the detail to make the memory clearer. It doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.

Doctor Dawson gets up to leave, ‘I’ll call in tomorrow when I’ve got more time. Maybe you can tell me more about your memory pegs?’

‘What time? I’ll use a peg to remember you’re coming.’

‘Three o’clock.’

‘I’ll remember.’

Two – Shoe

Remember
It’s Mum’s birthday next week
Imagine a cake covered in icing
Make it more memorable
Add a shoe crushing the cake

Doctor Dawson holds the six memory pegs, ‘I think I get it. You use the pegs to remember a list. You make a picture in your mind using the word.’

‘Silly pictures are best,’ says Robert.

‘Two – shoe. What’s that helping you remember?’

‘Nothing. I only had one thing to remember today. That was you coming at three.’

Doctor Dawson looks disappointed, ‘What was the last thing you used it to remember?’

‘I don’t know. Once I use it I forget. I have a bad memory, that’s why Davie gave me the pegs.’

‘That’s a shame. I was hoping you could tell me a story with a shoe in it.’

‘I can. I can. It was before Davie gave me the memory pegs. Shall I tell you? Shall I?’

Doctor Dawson smiles and listens eagerly.

*

Robert and Davie were at the small stream known to them as the brook. They played by the brook almost every day. They were under the bridge where the brook was wide and shallow. The riverbed was covered in small pebbles that didn’t hurt the boy’s bare feet. It was perfect for catching elvers. The tiny baby eels stood out against light coloured pebbles making them easy to catch.

‘How many?’

‘Twenty-two,’ said Davie.

‘Great. What shall we do with them?’ said Robert.

‘Aren’t you taking them home?’

‘I’m banned from the brook. Mum would kill me. We could hide them up the tree.’

‘Don’t be daft. We’d never get them up without spilling them. How about hiding them in the pipe?’

*

Robert stops his story abruptly. Doctor Dawson observes his eyes starting to tear up. She puts her hand gently on his shoulder and passes him a tissue. Robert blows his nose and hands the tissue back to her.

‘What happened to those elvers?’

‘They died. They stank. Elvers die if you keep them in a bucket. Elvers can only live in running water.’

‘I’ll remember that next time I catch some. I thought you were going to tell me about shoes.’

‘Oh yeah.’

*

Robert couldn’t find his shoes.

‘Where did you leave them?’ said Davie.

‘That’s stupid. If I knew that then they wouldn’t be lost, would they?’

‘Maybe they fell in the brook and floated away.’

Robert started walking downstream. The brook quickly narrowed and deepened.

‘Careful,’ said Davie. ‘It gets too deep down there. You’ll get your shorts wet and then your mum will know where you’ve been.’

‘I’ve got to find them. I can’t go home without them.’

‘You’ll have to.’

‘I’ll run away.’

Davie laughed.

‘It’s not funny.’

‘Running away with nothing on your feet. You wouldn’t get far.’

‘I’ll hide instead. You can bring me food.’

‘OK. What shall I bring?’

Both boys heard a call. It sounded again and they knew Robert’s mum was about to find them. Robert rushed up the bank and started to climb the tree but the bark was too sharp for his bare wet feet and he barely got off the ground before his mum arrived.

She grabbed him and pulled him down. Robert winced as his feet landed.

‘You’re wet. And do you know what time it is? Come on. I’ve had enough of this. Now get your shoes on. Quickly. You too Davie. Your mum will be wondering where you have got to.’

Robert started to cry. His mum struggled to find her sympathy but as his sobs continued she started to worry that he had really hurt his feet.

‘Now stop your crying and put your shoes on. There’s probably glass and all sorts.’

Robert sobbed even more and struggled to speak

‘Stop that. How can I hear you when you’re crying?’

‘I can’t find my shoes.’

‘Don’t be daft. They’re here.’

His mum reached into the grass and passed him his shoes.

*

‘So the shoes were there all the time,’ says Doctor Dawson.

‘No,’ says Robert. ‘Davie found them on the bank and put them in the grass while mum was shouting. I was so upset that I didn’t get in trouble. But I was banned from the brook, again.’

Three – Tree

Remember
Meet Davie at the bus stop.
Imagine a bus
It can’t stop
A seedling spouts in the road
In seconds it grows into a Giant Redwood
The bus smashes into the tree and stops

‘Can we do the next peg? It’s three. I can tell you about the tree.’

Doctor Dawson looks at her watch. She weighs up the importance of completing her work against the importance of listening.

‘I can tell it quick.’

She nods. The tree is more important than her reports.

*

There was only one tree that was ‘the tree’. It sat on the bank of the brook. It was hard to climb. There were no low branches so the only way up was to cling to the knobbly bark. It was easiest in bare feet but you had to be old enough to climb through the pain of the bark on your bare skin.

When Robert was nine he climbed higher than a tall man but couldn’t go on. He had to jump down, flinching in anticipation of his bare feet smacking into the rough ground. It hurt more than he expected.

Robert was ten when he tried again.

‘At last. I thought you were chicken,’ said Davie.

‘I had to help my mum.’

Robert took his shoes and socks off. Davie took them and threw them up into the tree.

‘Now you have to climb. I’m not getting them back.’

‘That’s not fair.’

‘You can do it.’

The tree seemed taller than yesterday.

‘Show me how to do it.’

‘I showed you yesterday.’

‘Just show me once more.’

‘Just once, then you’ve got to do it. Promise. You’ve got to promise.’

Robert promised he would try. But that wasn’t good enough. Davie made him promise he would do it.

Davie provided an instructional commentary as he climbed. ‘It doesn’t matter where you put your hands or feet – you just grab the bark. If you lean back like this it’s harder. Keep your body close to the tree. Once you get a hand over the top it’s easy. There. Now your turn. Hang on – chuck my shoes up.’

Robert threw the shoes and Davie caught them. Although hard to climb the tree was perfect once you reached the top. All its branches emerged from the same height making a comfortable platform large enough to lie on.

Robert started his climb.

‘Put your hands wider apart then you won’t have to lean out as far. Pull your bottom in. That’s it. Now your left leg. Come on. You can do it.’

‘I can’t. My arm’s aching.’

‘You’ve almost done. Just one more bit and I can grab you. Look I can reach your hand. That’s it. You can do it. Yes. Put your hand there. I’ve got you. That’s it. That’s it. Yes.’

Robert lay on the platform. He didn’t trust himself to stand or even sit. Davie handed him a can of coke.

‘Give it a shake and spray it like Grand Prix winners do.’

*

Doctor Dawson smiles at Robert, ‘That was fantastic.’

‘It was, until it was time to get down. To get down you have to hang onto the branch and drop. That’s why we threw the shoes up, so it wouldn’t hurt our feet. I was too scared. I hung on and then climbed back up, and hung on and climbed up, and hung on and climbed up again. I was too scared to let go.’

‘So how did you get down?’

‘Davie said he would catch me when I dropped – so I dropped.’

‘And did he?’

‘Yeah. Not like a baby. He just caught hold of me and guided me down so I didn’t fall over and could land on my feet.’

Doctor Dawson comments on how fortunate Robert is to have such a friend. She leaves in search of coffee. She needs to write reports but her mind is stuck up a tree.

Father Kelly is nursing a mug of hot chocolate.

‘A penny for your thoughts,’ says Doctor Dawson.

Father Kelly laughs, ‘Don’t waste your money. There’s hardly a thought in this head. Talking of heads, how’s Master Walsh.’

Doctor Dawson almost falls. Father Kelly has unhelpfully pulled out the chair for her just as she is about to sit.

‘He’s starting to trust me. Thanks for the tip about the pegs. We’ve used them as a starting point for our discussions. Next one is four, four for door, so that should be significant.’

Four – Door

Remember
Take a potato to school
Imagine a door
An old red door lying on the ground
A potato plant grows though the keyhole
Lift the door and find thousands of marble sized potatoes

‘There’s nothing interesting about doors,’ says Robert.

‘How about something not interesting then?’

Robert remembers hearing that the standard size of doors is too short now so many people are tall. He doesn’t think Doctor Dawson will be interested as she is so small.

‘Can we do the next one? Five – Hive. I can tell a story about bees.’

‘You sure there are no interesting doors.’

Robert shakes his head and Doctor Dawson is forced to accept that Robert is not going to open any doors today.

*

Robert’s boat got stuck against the bank. He’d been banned from the brook so was staying out of the water. He broke a stick from a small tree and climbed down far enough to free his boat. The boat moved a few metres and stuck again. Robert crab-walked along the bank towards his boat but stopped when he heard a strange noise. It was like humming but in surround sound.

‘Can you hear that?’

‘What?’ said Davie.

‘Humming.’

‘I can’t hear anything.’

‘Aaagh.’

Robert slipped down the bank into the stream. Davie would have laughed but could see Robert was disturbed.

‘You alright?’

‘The tree. It’s alive. It’s moving.’

Davie jumped across the brook and looked where Robert pointed.

‘It’s bees. A great big swarm of them.’

‘Get back. They might sting.’

‘That’s wasps. Bees only sting if you squash them. Come look.’

‘No way. I’m going on the swings to get dry.’

*

‘Did he get stung?’ asks Doctor Dawson.

‘Not once. I even saw bees crawling on his arm, but they didn’t sting him.

‘Did you go for a closer look?’

‘I don’t like bees. I was stung once. I was crying. Mum said sit down while she got some cream. I sat down and got stung again – on the bottom. I don’t like bees.’

*

Doctor Dawson swears into her coffee cup and then almost chokes as Father Kelly drops into the chair opposite her.

‘You look troubled,’ he says.

‘Just thinking.’

‘I’d hate to see you worried is that’s your thinking face. Sorry – was that rude?’

‘It’s Robert.’

‘What’s happened?’

Doctor Dawson shares her disappointment. With Robert screaming if the door is closed she was sure today’s session was going to be significant.

‘I guess he’s not ready,’ says Father Kelly.

‘He’s so open and then suddenly we get near to what happened and the shutters slam down.’

‘He still hasn’t said how it happened?’

‘No.’

‘Maybe he can’t remember. You know the trauma and all that.’

‘I’m sure he remembers. He deliberately moves the conversation away if we get too close. I’ll carry on with the last memory peg but after that I think I’ll need to be more direct.’

Six – Stick

Remember
Football tomorrow
Imagine a football
As big as a house
Falling on top of you
You stab a hole in the ball with a stick
 The ball whooshes away like a deflating balloon
and smacks into the P.E. teacher’s face

Doctor Dawson can’t find the pegs.

‘I don’t want to do the pegs?’ says Robert.

‘We’ve only one left.’

‘It’s not interesting.’

‘I’m interested. I enjoy the stories you tell me. Let’s do the last one and see what you can remember.’

‘I can’t remember nothing. Mum’s taken the pegs to keep them safe.’

‘Well the last peg was six wasn’t it. Six – Twix? Licks? What was it? I know it was six but what was the word. Mix? Fix? Picks?

‘Sticks,’ shouts Robert. ‘I’m not telling you about the stick.’

‘Do you remember what day it was?’

‘Friday.’

‘So you were at school.’

‘It was after school.’

‘I bet you were playing at the brook.’

‘We were in the field.’

‘Near the brook?’

*

Robert was wearing shorts. Many kids his age had moved on to long trousers but playing in the brook was easier in shorts.

Davie swung his stick and decapitated a nettle. It bounced off Robert’s knee. It didn’t sting.

‘That hit me.’

‘What shall we do?’

‘Race to the brook.’

Davie won as usual. He climbed down the bank hoping to find bees to swipe with the stick. Robert was pleased the bank was silent.

‘Let’s go to the pipe,’ said Davie. ‘It’s probably dry. It’s not rained for ages.’

To reach the pipe the boys had to wade into brook. The water was lower than usual but still almost reached their knees. The pipe was set into a concrete retaining wall with a concrete plinth. The plinth was covered with green algae but that day the algae was dry and not slippery.

Robert climbed onto the plinth and lifted the heavy metal storm door that covered the end of the pipe.

‘Hold it up,’ said Davie.

‘It’s too heavy,’ said Robert and let it drop. Echoes reverberated in the pipe.

‘Hold it up and I’ll prop it with my stick.’

‘Hurry up. I can’t hold much longer.’

‘Done it. You can let go.’

The stick held the door open and the boys took turns to shout into the pipe and hear echoes moving further and further away.

‘Let’s explore,’ said Davie.

Robert carefully manoeuvred past the stick into the pipe.

‘Can you see anything?’

‘It’s too dark.’

‘Wait until your eyes adjust. I’ll close the door so your eyes adjust quicker.’

‘Don’t close the door. I can see there’s nothing – just more pipe. I’m coming out.’

There wasn’t enough room to turn around so he crawled feet first towards the entrance. He saw Davie pull the stick and the door swung down with a loud thud that Robert felt through his whole body. There was no light. Robert shouted for Davie to open the door. There was no answer.

*

Doctor Dawson passes Robert tissues and a drink. She also pulls out emergency chocolate. Chocolate calms Robert enough that she feels safe to ask what happened next.

‘I waited. I thought he was just outside. I thought he would open it if he got bored. I listened and waited and then I knew he wasn’t there. He couldn’t be there because it was too quiet.’

‘I pushed against the door but it wouldn’t open. He’d used the stick to wedge it shut. When my eyes got used to the dark I could see light further up the pipe so I crawled towards it. The mud in the bottom got wetter and wider. I had to spread my feet and hands further apart on each side of the mud. I could see a manhole. I would have got there but then I saw a rat.’

*

Robert screamed and jerked back. His bottom hit soggy mud and his head cracked into the pipe hard enough to knock him out.

The rats woke him. One ran across his hand and that was enough. He woke and screamed again.

Robert was too scared to go on to the manhole so crawled back to door. He shouted but Davie had gone. Davie had left him.

He pushed against the door but it didn’t move even a tiny amount. He turned to lie on to his back. He placed his feet against the door and he pushed – as hard as he could. It still didn’t open but shifted enough to give him hope.

He pushed and kicked. His feet hurt and even in the darkness he could tell they were bleeding. He wished he’d put his shoes on before entering the pipe.

Robert thought he heard a rat and with adrenalin fuelled fear kicked as hard as he could.

The stick broke. The door swung open. The light blinded his eyes. His feet shot forward out of the pipe. The door swung up… paused dramatically…  and started to fall back down.

*

Robert is silent.

Doctor Dawson completes the story for him. ‘The door crashed back down crushing your left knee and cracking a bone in your right leg. You were unconscious, with your legs dangling out of the pipe. The man who found you thought you were dead. He just saw two bloody legs sticking out and phoned the police. You almost died.’

*

Doctor Dawson doesn’t notice Father Kelly knock over the menu cards while attempting to sit at her table.

‘You look worse than ever,’ he says. ‘Sorry am I being rude again. I’m never sure. Is Robert still not talking?’

‘Christ. Fuck. Oh. Sorry Father.’

Father Kelly waves the blasphemy away.

‘It’s just that he has talked and it’s not a pretty tale.’

‘So it wasn’t an accident.’

‘I don’t know. Yes. I suppose it was an accident really. It’s one of those schoolboy pranks that went wrong.’

‘Isn’t Robert going home soon. I hear he’s recovered remarkably well.’

‘Physically he’ll be fine. He’s already up and starting to walk with help from the physios. Mentally I’m not so sure.’

‘I’d heard he’s much better.’

‘Talking has helped. He’s stopped screaming at closed doors and he’s having less nightmares. It’s his relationship with his friend Davie that worries me.’

Doctor Dawson tells Father Kelly the gist of what happened.

‘No wonder he doesn’t want to see this Davie chap.’

‘Davie thought it would do Robert some good – help him get over his fear of the dark. He planned to come back but got grounded by his mum. I’m sure Davie had no idea of the consequences. For God’s sake, he’s only a boy himself. He’s suffering as much as Robert. They’ve been best friends since Robert was two. Maybe you could talk to Robert.’

‘I’m not sure what I can say,’ said Father Kelly.

‘Talk to him about forgiveness. Isn’t that the essence of Christianity?’

Seven – Heaven

Remember to write a sorry letter to mum
Imagine an angel
It pulls out one of its feathers
It dips it into the Red Sea
and then writes ‘sorry mum’ in red ink on a white cloud

Doctor Dawson pushes Robert’s wheelchair to the lift. Robert’s mum is bringing the car to the front of the hospital.

‘I’ve got a present for you but it’s a bit strange. I’m going to look after it until you’re ready for it. Here, have a look.’

‘A peg.’

‘It’s number seven. I’ve been reading up about memory pegs and discovered that seven is heaven. I want to hold onto the peg until you have a memory of heaven.’

‘That won’t happen ‘til I’m dead.’

‘Father Kelly told me that before you approach God you have to make peace with your friend. Even if it’s your friend’s fault and not yours at all. So I’ll hold onto the peg for you until you’ve made peace with your friend.’

‘He’s not my friend.’

‘Please think about it Robert. He’s helped you achieve so much. I’m sure he could help you now.’

‘I don’t want that silly peg.’

*

Doctor Dawson rings the doorbell which elicits an immediate response. The door opens to reveal Robert standing unaided in his hallway.

‘Hey, you’re standing without a stick. That’s brilliant.’

‘I can walk without it. Look.’

‘Wonderful. I’ve got the wheelchair but I’m not sure you need it.’

‘I can’t go far. I get tired.’

Doctor Dawson pushes Robert in the wheelchair down the street, through the alleyway and to the bridge over the brook. Doctor Dawson wants to see elvers but Robert knows it’s the wrong time of year and the only way of seeing elvers is to walk in the water.

The footpath is dry enough for the wheelchair with its lightweight occupant. It is only a short push to reach the tree.

‘Is that really the tree Davie helped you climb. No one could climb that.’

‘I can. I’ll show you when my legs get better.’

A little further on Robert points out the tree that hosted the swarm of bees and shows Doctor Dawson where Davie and he built such an effective damn that the whole stream dried up.

‘Is that the pipe?’

‘Yes.’

‘It’s smaller than I thought.’

‘Keep going. I don’t want to remember that.’

‘Come on, I bet you have loads of memories here. Think of another time you played near the pipe.’

‘We sometimes put our shoes there to keep them dry. It’s where Davie stored our elvers in the bucket – but they all died.

‘What other secrets did you hide in there?’

‘We once hid some food. We put it in a tin to keep it dry even if it rained. Look. That’s where my boat got stuck and that bush has a den in the middle. The park’s up there. See that stone? We jumped across to that.’

‘Where from?’

From just there. The jump is called Angel Falls because you have to have wings to fly far enough to make it across.’

‘It’s miles. Did you really jump it?’

‘Honest. Davie did it first. I was too scared but he stood in the water and said he’d catch me if I didn’t make it. Then we counted down from ten and I jumped. I made it. I wasn’t scared after that and did it ten times. When my legs get better I’ll show you.’

‘Is that the pipe you walked across? Wow, I think you and Davie must be related to spiderman.’

‘I was eight when I first walked across it. There’s the park. Can I go on the swings?’

Robert lets Doctor Dawson push him on the swing. He could do it himself but his knee hurts. The doctor watches Robert waiting for the right moment to talk to him. Swinging is perfect. She knows the swinging motion will calm his body and also help engage both sides of his brain, which will help regulate his emotions.

‘Before we head back I want to ask you something. Have you got your memory pegs?’

‘No.’

‘Well let’s see if we can do some remembering without them. I want you to think about our walk up the stream and all the memories you’ve told me.

One – bun that’s under the bridge where you and Davie caught elvers. Two’s for shoes, when Davie put them in the grass for your mum to find. Three, that’s the tree of course, where Davie caught you when you dropped. Four is the door you and Davie used in your dam. Five – hive, that’s got to be when you and Davie found the bees. Six, that’s the stick Davie used to lock you in the pipe. Seven is heaven so that’s Angel Falls where Davie stood in the water to catch you. Eight – gate, where you and Davie first met. Nine – line, for when you went fishing and ten is the den in the bushes where you and Davie hid from the gang.’

Doctor Dawson pauses and counts five swings before continuing.  

‘That’s ten memories and there are loads more. So many good memories and only one where something happened that shouldn’t have happened.’

Another pause. Another five swings.

‘Is it right to chuck out all those other memories and allow just that one to change everything? To me it seems such a waste of good memories.’

‘But it’s his fault. It’s his fault that I can’t jump the brook today. It’s his fault that you have to push me around in that stupid wheelchair. He’s ruined everything.’

‘Wouldn’t it be better if you were friends? You know how much Davie has helped you. It’s at times like this that you need a friend like Davie.’

‘He made it all happen. Why should I be friends with him?’

‘He could help you get better. I’m sure he could.’

‘If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t need help. It’s his fault.’

‘You’re right. It is his fault. He doesn’t deserve to be your friend.’

The doctor counts ten swings.

‘But what about you? I am sure you deserve a friend like Davie. You can choose to be friends with him. Not because he deserves it.’

Another pause. Another swing

‘But because you deserve a friend.’

‘I can’t.’

‘I know how strong you are Robert. I’ve seen you do so much. It’s your choice. Only you can decide.’

Doctor Dawson stops pushing. The swing slows and stops. She brings the wheelchair nearer to Robert but allows him to make his own way into its embrace. They head across the park to the road.

Robert is silent. Doctor Dawson would pray if she shared Father Kelly’s faith. She knows they will pass Davie’s house and deliberately chooses the right side of the road.

‘Can you stop? That’s Davie’s house.’

Robert pulls himself from the wheelchair.

‘I’m going to talk to him. Will you wait?’

‘Of course I will. Here I think you might need this.’

‘What?’

‘Number seven – heaven’s peg.’

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