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173 Pages

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Carol Trehorne�s only child, Max, is in ICU with severe burns. Max, a performance artist, has set himself alight. He recovers but it becomes clear that he is planning further performances that will put him at risk of serious injury or death. Carol, a single parent and a GP in a busy suburban practice, is worried that her son is not the genius his friends think he is, but might be on drugs or going psychotic. As she discusses her concerns with her son�s psychiatrist, she wonders if her past behaviour, in particular her relationship with the adventurous and anti-social Jack, has influenced Max�s determination to use his body as a site of violent art in the pursuit of revelation. Carol cannot accept that Max�s self-harm will have any effect other than to add to the meaningless violence in the world. Accident raises questions about what kind of life is worth living and what death is worth dying. It explores the different responses artists and scientists can have to violence and self-destructive behaviour, and throws into sharp relief the difficulties parents face when their children me decisions that appear incomprehensible.



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Published 19 July 2017
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EAN13 9781928215349
Language English
Document size 3 MB

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Published in 2017 by Modjaji Books
Cape Town, South Africa
© Dawn Garisch
Dawn Garisch has asserted her right to be identified as the author of this work.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
mechanical or electronic, including photocopying or recording, or be stored in any
information storage or retrieval system without permission from the publisher.
Edited by Emily Buchanan
Cover text and artwork by Carla Kreuser
Book layout by Andy Thesen
Set in Palatino
Printed and bound by Creda, Cape Town
ISBN print: 978-1-928215-33-2
ISBN ebook: 978-1-928215-34-9Thank you to the friends who read drafts of the novel, to Emily Buchanan my wonderful
editor and to Colleen Higgs for holding the space open.+
1 .
At last the door labelled Psychiatry Registrar opened and a short, stout man dressed in
brown trousers and a striped shirt stepped out. He looked down at the folder he was
holding. ‘D r Trehorne?’ he called, scanning the waiting room. His thick lenses, set into
black spectacle frames, amplified his gaze.
Carol was seated at the back of the waiting room next to a dying pot plant and as far
away from the other patients as possible. S he ran a comb of fingers through her fringe,
stood stiffly and pushed her way past various angled knees. The collective gaze followed
her across the room, accusingly, assuming correctly that she had pulled rank and jumped
the queue.
The registrar offered his hand. ‘Good morning.’ His head did a funny li le bob. ‘I ’m D r
N dlovu.’ A n earpiece of his glasses was broken and had been fixed back onto the frame by
a wrap of white plaster.
Carol grasped his palm. I t was warm and slightly damp. J ust her luck to get an anxious
psychiatrist. He waved her into his office.
S he remembered the small room from the time she had worked as a medical officer in
the emergency unit next door. I n the intervening years nothing much had changed – the
shiny white enamel paint, high industrial window, basin in one corner and large desk
taking up most of the space. Whenever the alarm bell from psych casualty had sounded, it
had been her job to grab a vial of sedative, a syringe and needle and to run with the
security guards towards the mayhem, where a psychotic and paranoid patient had realised
that the system had him cornered.
D r N dlovu closed the door. Carol had hoped for a woman. A n older woman, someone
who was a mother herself, someone she could relate to. S omeone who responded to
breakage with something more appropriate than plaster. But you couldn’t choose who you
saw in the state system. You got what you got.
‘Have a seat, Dr Trehorne.’
‘Carol. Please call me Carol.’ D r N dlovu nodded, a crank of his head on the stiff hinge of
his neck, but he did not offer his first name.
He sat behind his desk, put the folder down and opened it. Picked up his pen and
sniffed as he perused the notes. A n awkward silence hung in the room. Was there
something he was struggling to tell her, something of which she was as yet unaware? N o, it
was probably the difficulty of their altered relationship in this se ing. They were
colleagues after all, although they had never met. He had no doubt a ended to some of the
patients she’d referred to the state hospital, patients too poor or crazy to be treated in a
private institution. Yet here she was, of middle income and well cushioned by medical aid,
being interviewed as a family member of a patient. S he had been summoned from her
son’s bedside in the high care ward upstairs.
A turbulent yo-yo was disturbing her innards. Had a minute gone past? Five? S omething
had to happen, or she’d snap. S he went through things she might say to put her colleague
at ease, to get things going, when D r N dlovu turned to her and blinked his magnified eyes.
‘This must be very hard for you,’ he said. I t sounded rehearsed, something registrars had
been instructed to say to parents of kids in trouble.
A nnoyance pushed in her throat. ‘I know what it looks like but it’s not what you think.
I ’m aware, of course, that patients who’ve harmed themselves are automatically referred to
a psychiatrist, but Max wasn’t a empting suicide, D r N dlovu. I t was a prank, gone horribly
wrong. Let’s not forget he’s an inexperienced young man. Young men sometimes play with+
fire. Literally and figuratively. A lthough,’ she felt forced to add, ‘as an artist I ’m sure my
son would see it differently.’
Dr Ndlovu adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose. ‘How would your son see it?’
‘Well, he’s a performance artist. I imagine he’d say something like... he was making a
statement about the world, making a visual display of how messed up it is. He really didn’t
mean to hurt himself.’ The psychiatrist nodded, crank, crank. ‘A pparently he took the
precaution of using a barrier gel.’
Barrier gel was probably the wrong word – it sounded like a contraceptive product. What
had the plastic surgeon called it? Fire retardant? ‘I f he’d done his homework properly,’ she
continued, ‘if he’d protected his airway, if he’d got proper advice from a stuntman, or
someone, if the stupid security guard hadn’t sprayed the fire extinguisher right in his face,
he probably would’ve got away with it. He has a social conscience, you know, and he’s
bright. He got a first in his finals at art school.’ S he was sounding mad, even to herself, but
medics needed to understand that there was a whole world of people out there who didn’t
see things through scientific lenses.
Dr Ndlovu cleared his throat. ‘The police want to lay a charge.’
That was unexpected. ‘No, why?’
‘For public disturbance, maybe arson.’
‘Goodness! I didn’t know that setting fire to yourself could be considered arson!’
D r N dlovu sniffed again, whether from allergies or disapproval, Carol wasn’t sure. ‘He
put other people at risk by doing so in a public space. He could have set fire to other
structures. I t’s a place where children or people with psychological difficulties could see
him. I t’s very traumatic to see someone burning.’ Carol flushed with embarrassed
indignation, that this man at the beginning of his specialist career felt he had to spell all
this out to her. She didn’t know what to say, needing to defend her son, to defend herself as
a mother, needing to barricade her heart against everything the psychiatrist was implying.
D r N dlovu inserted his forefingers behind his lenses and rubbed his eyes. He looked
tired; no doubt he’d been up all night trying to talk people down from psychotic ledges,
medicating them back to reality. He se led back in his chair and sized Carol up as though
through a visor. ‘We have to look at why he has chosen public and violent displays to voice
his concerns. This could have ended very badly.’
Performance art is public by definition, Carol wanted to object. Her cell phone erupted
in her handbag; she probed around and found it. Peter’s name on the screen. S he silenced
the phone, dropped it back. ‘Sorry.’
‘D o you mind if I ask a few questions?’ Carol shook her head. Of course she minded but
sometimes one had to comply. ‘You’re in private practice?’ Was that a veiled accusation –
that she was one of the lazy, entitled doctors who had abandoned the listing, understaffed
ship of the state medical services in favour of self-enrichment?
‘Yes, a family practice. I’m one of four partners.’
‘You’re divorced? From Max’s father?’
‘I’m his only parent.’
‘His father’s deceased?’
This was so annoying, to have to go into it all here with this man, for this reason. ‘His
father... well, he’s never been involved. I n fact, he doesn’t even know about my son. His
son.’ Carol shifted under D r N dlovu’s gaze. This information wouldn’t look good if it were
plo ed on a N ormal Family Behaviour Chart. ‘I met him overseas, while travelling after
internship. I only found out I was pregnant once I was back. You know how it was in those
days – or maybe you don’t. I t was almost impossible to get an abortion in the old S outh
Africa. Besides,’ she added quickly, ‘I wanted a baby.’