“There’s a man here to see you. Says he’s your brother?” Curiosity is avid in the portly receptionist’s face. Despite the calls she ignored, May is taken aback.
“He can wait,” she says, too sharply. “Patients first.”
“I can squeeze him in?”
May’s declines with a tight smile and a brisk shake of her head, snaps a fresh towel over the massage bed; hopes she’s inscrutable. The receptionist gets the hint.
It’s close to six before May finally allows Kelly to send Aaron in. She put out hematite and rose quartz to boost her energies but her nerves are still jangling. Is it five years? More?
Aaron sweeps into the room, all haughty anger. Seeing him is a jolt. He seems imposing in the small space, despite his slight stature. It could be Papa standing there disdainful. Papa in an expensive suit.
“I hope you’re proud of that pathetic power play. Very mature.”
He surveys his sister’s realm; the pastel furnishings, the incense, the posters. Ludicrous, he thinks.
“In fifteen years as a surgeon I’ve never come across a chakra. What does one look for?”
At school they’d called him Dr Wrong. He brought it on himself, acting superior. The years of looking down his nose have lent his face a sour look. May stands, tiny bells on her skirt tinkling with the movement.
“Tell me what you want or leave now.”
She holds his gaze. Despite himself, Aaron looks away first. A worm of self-disgust twists in his gut.
May’s fascinated to watch his body language change as he wrests himself under control. Finally he sits, in the patient chair. He looks old. Whatever this is, it must be big. She waits.
It takes all his courage to say the simple words.
“I need money.” He can’t look at her. There’s no response.
“Jesus, are you deaf?” His voice is a roar. May feels a rush of power she knows is far from spiritual.
“You came to me, Aaron.” She knows she sounds smug. The ghosts of old battles hover between them. Again Aaron wrestles his emotions.
“Can you lend me some money, May?” he says with effort, “Please?”
“Golden boy, number one son, needs the black sheep. Well, well, well.”
Aaron’s pride rears, an unbroken stallion reigned only by his need. His jaw clenches to hold his silence.
“What’s it for? Knock up another student?” The flash of anger across his features is gratifying. How long has she waited for this?
“Stop playing games. You know I wouldn’t be here if I had a choice.”
“What have you ever done to earn my kindness? When I needed brotherly love, when were you ever kind to me?”
“As often as you acknowledged me as your brother, I should say.” A sadness in his voice stays her cynical tongue. She waits.
“It’s for Mum.”
“Get out,” says May, all five-foot-nothing quivering with anger. “Get OUT. How dare you come here and lie to me? Get out or I’ll call the police.” She picks up the phone, hand shaking, backs up against the window. He’s on his feet too, supplicant.
“Wait.” He hangs his head. No option.
“There were…problems with some of my cases. I need money to get an injunction, keep it out of the press.” He looks up, eyes beseeching. May still clutches the phone.
“It would kill her. You know that.”
And that would be my fault too, May thinks. She had visited their mother just days before. She was unconscious, demented by a urinary tract infection, strapped to the bed to stop her wandering, toothless mouth agape with laboured breath. She stayed with her anyway, laid on hands, not knowing if she was doing it for show or to assuage the guilt she felt at liking the old woman better like this, sharp tongue dulled by infection.
Aloud, she says “Press this time? How do you even have a job?”
The old arrogance straightens Aaron’s spine and draws his features into a sneer, “You sound like them. Bureaucrats.”
May waits. Aaron says, “I’ve been suspended.”
The healing worked its magic, and Eunice had been on the phone to May that morning, berating her for not visiting, telling her she’d been near death but Aaron had healed her. Eunice never tires of reminding May what a disappointment she is, of telling her Papa would be alive if she had been a better daughter, of asking over and over why couldn’t she be more like Aaron?
“And you call me a charlatan.”
Aaron’s face is a snarl.
“You peddle snake oil, call it medicine. I am a surgeon. I save lives! So patients died. They wouldn’t be in hospital if they weren’t seriously ill.” He remembers himself: where he is, why he’s there. Sits back in the chair, tries to compose himself. He is, May thinks, an ugly man.
“I have nowhere else to turn. I just want to protect Mum.”
“You want to protect yourself. Can’t have the boys at the golf club knowing about this, can we?”
“I don’t play golf.”
May’s contempt is alive.
“All my life I lived in your shadow and you did everything you could to block my light. Everything. You turned my own parents against me so you could be the star. So much easier to look good when you’ve got a fuck-up for a sister, right? You know what, maybe it’s time the scales fell from Mum’s eyes? Maybe it’s time she saw her precious son for the pig he is”
“You’d do that wouldn’t you, you selfish bitch. Your behaviour killed Dad, why not go for the double?”
May slaps him.
“Get out. You deserve everything you get. Don’t ever come here again.” She turns her back on him, feeling trapped in the tiny office, ashamed of herself for losing control. He hasn’t moved; in her mind she begs him to go. Tears of frustration threaten.
“I didn’t mean that, May. Please. I’ve got nowhere else to go.”
The tears spill over. He reduces me to adolescence, she thinks. All I’ve achieved, wiped out. She wipes her face and turns. He looks scared and she feels her power to say no like a shot of adrenalin.
“You heard me, beg me. You need my help? Get down on your knees and beg me for it.”
His face clouds with hate. He grips the patient chair with one manicured hand and uses the other to pull his trouser leg up as he bends one knee at a time, dark eyes fixed on his sister.
Aaron seethes at the injustice. On his knees before his flake of a sister; no choice but to do what she says. He suddenly wonders if he would be in this situation if he were really good at his job. It’s a stab to his heart.
May sees the pain in her brother’s face and the healer she is cries out to go to him. The stroppy teen, hardened through years of battling for approval, holds her back. Think of the patients, she whispers. Think of their families.
“Please lend me money, May,” he says, voice breaking.
In his mind, the story splashes across the papers; his old school nickname back to haunt him, approbation wherever he goes. The fragile shell of his success crumbles.
May’s skirt tinkles as she bends to offer him a hand to get up. She looks so like their mother he reaches out, hugs her to him in a rush of desperate love. Through sobs he begs again, “Please May, please.”
May is unbending in his embrace. She thinks of Eunice, of the visits filled with praise for the son and scorn for the daughter. She thinks of her lover, of a warm kitchen redolent with spice and of her patients, the hundreds of lives she has helped. When his sobs cease, she pushes him away. Aaron gets to his feet, no longer imposing.
“How much do you need?”