Alan had never liked the way he looked. He no longer hated his lack of height; he had when he was a kid, but he’d got over it. At forty three, he’d long since accepted that he’d never grow taller than five foot two and a quarter. His youthful looks also bothered him slightly less than they used to. His appearance did still worry him though; people hardly noticed him and never took him seriously. It wasn’t only for himself that he worried, it was for his patients too.
When he first qualified, people were reluctant to allow him to treat them. Alan couldn’t really blame them; he looked as though he’d barely completed senior school. No one could be blamed for doubting he’d completed medical training. Even after he became a senior surgeon, patients lacked confidence in his abilities.
“Have you ever done this op. before, doc?” nervous patients had asked.
“Several times, yes,” he answered, knowing if he told them the truth, that he’d performed the technique hundreds of times, they’d think him a liar and be unable to trust him.
For a time, he’d carried around letters of thanks from grateful patients; he got plenty of those, because he was a very good doctor. They hadn’t helped much and had made him feel as though he were carrying a note from his mum.
It hadn’t been all bad though; in some ways, his disappointing physical development had helped him. He never got picked on at school; the bullies literally overlooked him. Maybe he didn’t seem worth the effort. When his mates had been hanging about on street corners, getting into trouble, Alan had gone down the library. He’d read every medical book he could find, hoping to find a way to increase his height. Although he didn’t discover a growth formula, he developed an interest in biology and medicine. The studying helped him through exams he’d never expected to pass. Being unable to buy alcohol, without considerable fuss and embarrassment, had made sticking to his studies easier than for some of his friends.
“Coming for a drink, Al?” they’d ask after a lecture.
Alan would shake his head. The others would either have to wait whilst he returned to his digs for identification, or he’d have to ask one of them to go to the bar for him.
“You go on; I want to write up my notes before I forget what was said.”
Looking like a schoolboy hadn’t made him very popular with the girls. They usually didn’t notice him; when they did, they thought he was sweet, but wanted to go out with boys who were taller than them and who shaved. They did it nicely, but they usually turned him down.
It’d hadn’t been like that with Janet. She’d had a Saturday job in the grocers and he’d had to ask her to reach something for him. He’d been embarrassed, but she’d been really nice about it. “It’s not much better being tall, you know. I have a job getting clothes to fit and people are always asking ‘what’s the weather like up there?’ and I bang my head on things.”
“How tall are you?” he’d asked.
“Six foot two.”
“That is tall.”
“I know,” she reminded him.
“Sorry, yes, of course you do.”
“What about you, then?”
“Five two and a quarter.”
“You’re kidding?” She’d laughed as she said it.
“It’s not funny.”
“Sorry, no, your height isn’t. It’s just that there’s exactly a foot difference. I’m actually six two and a quarter.”
“I suppose you kept quiet about the quarter so as not to scare me off?”
“Something like that.”
“Well, as I’ve not been scared off, would you come out with me?”
She’d agreed. They hadn’t pretended the height difference didn’t exist, they’d joked about it. It had been a relief to talk about it to someone who understood. Janet hadn’t minded that he looked younger than her either. “Maybe it’ll rub off on me,” she’d joked, or later, “My friends are all jealous, they think I’ve got a toy boy.”
Alan explained his frustration when patients wanted an older-looking doctor. “It’s really annoying. For most people, looking young would be an advantage, but not for a doctor.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll keep getting older and eventually it will show.”
“Look on the bright side: when your colleagues look as though they’d be too old to remember what to do, you’ll still be looking in your prime.”
She’d been right, of course, and Alan tried to accept his lot, without wishing his life away.
Going grey hadn’t been any consolation. Alan’s already fair hair had just looked a little blonder. However, it had been his hair that had finally provided the look of maturity he’d craved. Or rather the lack of hair had compensated for his lack of inches and apparent lack of years. At forty-three-and-a-quarter years, Alan had developed a bald patch. The best bit was that as his newly shiny head was below most people’s eye level, he could be sure everyone would notice it.
Patsy Collins lives on the south coast of England, opposite the Isle of Wight. Her stories have been published in a range of UK magazines including; The Lady, Woman’s Weekly and My Weekly. Her work has also been accepted by a variety of websites including Every Day Fiction and PatientUK.
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Camilla d’Errico: A character designer and artist who dances on the tightrope between pop surrealist art and manga inspired graphics. Explore her paintings, characters and comics: Tanpopo, BURN and Helmetgirls.