The piped oriental ambient music never lets up and there is a strong smell of temple incense. It smells like burning leaves mixed with something else I can't place. This place is very strange to me, nothing matches and the entire house has wall-to-wall Prussian blue carpeting. It's as though this carpeting has been recycled from a different place. I walk down the hall to the bathroom and just before the doorway, off-centre, there is a raised patch of carpet, worn vaguely in the pattern of fish scales.
The bathroom is like any suburban bathroom, but squeaky clean. It's very dark, so I switch on the fluorescent light, which hums at a mosquito-like pitch. There's a tiny handwritten sign asking please to switch off after visit. The bath is filled almost to the brim with cold, clean water. There is an infant's chair submerged in it. Under the basin, near the wall, there is a patch of very worn, almost threadbare carpet. It reminds me of the art installations I saw in Europe. The ones where you are too embarrassed to ask: "Please, what is the meaning of this?", because people are walking about and nodding their heads sagely.
In the waiting room, I look down and see that my black jacket is covered in small white dog-hairs. Someone told me that the doctor and his family breed Jack Russell terriers. In between the short white hairs I see a long, coarse and wavy silver hair.
Ida's turn. I ask if I may watch and am ushered along the passage into what must have been a bedroom in the house. In fact, it still looks like a less than affluent family bedroom. There's a pile of blankets and two beds, one already occupied by the still form of a man with his eyes closed. I don't see any needles protruding from him. He is snoring softly.
The doctor is a small man of indeterminate age with black hair in a bristle cut. He is dressed like a preppy university student - chinos with neat ironed creases down the front, loafers and a golf shirt. I hang back while Ida sits down on the bed and explains where her back aches. The doctor reaches into the cupboard next to me and removes several packages of sterile needles. He tells me that they are thinner than a human hair. He slips one out of the foil packet, holds it by the snug plastic tubing and taps it into Ida's neck, tapping, tapping, until it must have gone in two inches or more. He continues in this way, tapping eight needles into the back of Ida's head and neck, then asks her to lie down, on top of the needles. I stand frozen: Munch-like in a silent scream, eventually clasping my hand over my mouth. Three needles into each hand, sides of calves two, feet two. The last four he agitates quite vigorously and I feel myself sway. At the furthest edge of my right eye I see the carpet ripple, as though a rodent is scuttling on a pathway beneath it. I float down the passage and sink into a plush red chair in the waiting room. It takes a while for me to come back from inner space and then I realize that the Anthony Kiedis lookalike is trying to make eye-contact. I pointedly pick up a pamphlet about acupuncture, thinking bad thoughts about the baby and the bruise and the gun.
The receptionist walks past us into the passage and an airy bit of artificial flower arrangement on the mantle wafts down in her wake. She is a diminutive Chinese girl with the feet of a seven-year-old. She blushes and this accentuates her bad case of acne. I look down again at the pamphlet in my hands and see the list of ailments alleviated by the needles. Point Four: SKIN. Acne, Psoriasis, Boils, Eczema, Hives. I wonder about the movie heroine and her pincushion body. I wonder about the receptionist's skin. Somehow I don't think I'll be coming back, even after reading Point One: NEUROLOGICAL. Fears & Anxiety.
(Excerpted from a story I wrote some years back, after visiting
Dr Lin's house in Plumstead.)
I've never been one for the needles. But yesterday I went to a chiropractor - a calm, clear-eyed man who explained things before he did them, also telling me exactly what to expect with each tweak. The pain was bearable - like the natural loosening of a milk tooth. I am intrigued. Afterward, I was so spaced out that I could barely count the notes in my wallet. Today I can bend in ways I haven't been able to for several months.
I will be back.