Jessica didn’t go to the memorial. She stayed true to her initial instincts. But she did visit the hospital quite regularly, and ten years later, when she was 67, they invited her to a celebration of local doctors. For she was about to retire herself, and her contribution to the community was going to be recognised publicly. Not really her thing, but she agreed to go, and worked on a short speech.
She arrived early and wandered around looking at photographs of prominent staff members. She had prepared herself even before she saw it, but the sight of Jeremy Stackson staring out with a well-trained expression of benignity shocked her nevertheless. It had been taken close to his own retirement. He sat at an angle, as instructed by the photographer. Jessica lingered. Then someone appeared at her shoulder.
“Hi Jessica. Ah, Jeremy Stackson. Did you know him?”
It was the Alexander France, a senior surgical consultant whom she knew.
“Not well. We met a few times.”
“Carried on right to the end, trying to keep up to date. The senior surgical trainees were coming through with techniques he could never get to grips with, he was one of the last old-fashioned general surgeons I think, happened to fall into vascular. In his day he could do craniotomies, bowel resections, anything!”
Jessica felt like talking now.
“I was his registrar once. I found him difficult, to be honest.”
“Yes, he had a reputation like that. High standards.”
“That is one way of describing it.”
“Ah. I see. You really didn’t get on?”
“It was pretty bad.” But Jessica didn’t need to expand. There was no need to share the reasons for making the choices that she had.
“When was that, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Really! Well, of course, that was a bad time for him.”
“He lost his wife. Quite a long illness. And the hospital couldn’t let him go on extended leave, just couldn’t… there was too much work to do. He was holding the department together really. They talked him into staying on all through her treatment… “
Jessica made an excuse. When the time came for her speech she crumpled up the paper and just said a few positive words. No-one seemed to mind.