The Two Doctors
Persephone and Joseph Cohen had a perfect life, or so it seemed.
They had lecturing jobs at the university that they loved, a wonderful home with a nice big garden, and they loved each other more than life itself.
But of course, nobody’s life is perfect, and the Cohens were missing something very important in their family. The house was full of empty rooms, and the silence that comes from not having had any children.
Persephone was lying awake staring up at the ceiling. It was early December and there was a chill in the air, she didn’t want to have to get out of bed until she had to, but it was already seven o’clock.
Joseph was lying there next to her fast asleep, snoring lightly. He had never snored too loudly that it kept Persephone awake, but it was comforting hearing him. It reminded her that all was well, and she was safe.
Her stomach began to churn as she lay in bed.
“Here we go again,” she muttered getting out of bed and rushing to the bathroom.
She knew what the stomach pains meant; it was her time of the month. It meant that she had yet another month without a baby.
She rushed through to the bathroom, but suddenly she found herself feeling sick. Instead of her monthly period as she had been expecting, she found herself being sick into the toilet.
“Oh God,” she groaned, “I knew that seafood last night tasted dodgy.”
“You alright Sephie?” called Joseph from the bedroom.
“Yes I’m fine,” she sighed wiping her face clean and getting herself a glass of water.
Persephone took a small sip from the water and felt better almost instantly and went back through to the bedroom.
“You don’t look, fine darling,” said Joseph worriedly.
“Come on, get back into bed, I can warm you up.”
Persephone smiled over at him and shook her head. Usually, once she was out of bed, she’d have to stay out because she had to get up for work. But today was Sunday, there were no lectures to give or students to teach, they didn’t even need to go to Synagogue. And to be honest, right now bed sounded like the best place in the world.
She climbed back in under the warm duvet, and Joseph put his arms around her and held her close.
“What’s up, sweetheart?”
“Nothing, I think those prawns last night might have been a bit funny is all.”
“That’s what you get for eating shellfish,” chuckled Joseph.
“I know, I know,” said Persephone shaking her head, “this is my revenge for eating non-kosher food.”
“I think you seem to forget sometimes Joseph, just because you’re Jewish doesn’t mean I am. I therefore can eat whatever I like.”
“And then get food poisoning,” he finished shrugging slightly.
Persephone turned around slightly to face her husband; her eyes cold. Joseph stopped laughing instantly and looked terrified as she reached for a large fluffy pillow.
“You wouldn’t?” he asked cowering slightly in mock terror.
Persephone’s face split into a huge grin as she attacked her husband with the pillow.
“I surrender!” he exclaimed putting his hands in the air.
“Are you sorry?” she laughed the pillow still poised in the air.
Joseph nodded his head frantically covering his head with his hands in case she decided to attack again.
“Why is it that I can never stay angry at you,” she beamed as she put the pillow back down.
“Oh, I don’t know,” shrugged Joseph, “maybe it’s my dashing good looks or my cunning brain.
“Or maybe it’s just because I came equipped with every single episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus on videotape?”
“A combination of the three?” she suggested.
“Come on we’ve got to get up,” chuckled Joseph.
“Why?” she sighed. She had just gotten warm and comfortable in bed, and Sunday was the only day she could get a lie-in.
“Well I’ve got rugby training later,” he said pulling on his dressing gown.
“That’s not until this afternoon,” she groaned snuggling under the duvet.
Every single Sunday afternoon, Joseph had a rugby match. He had played for his university team when he was still a student, but now he coached one of the college teams.
Most of the time he was Dr Cohen, lecturer of Modern History, but a few evenings a week, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons he was Joe the rugby coach. They always had matches on Saturday’s and Sunday’s they had extra practise.
“I would love to come and cheer you all on from the side-lines keeping nice and warm in my coat hat scarf and gloves this afternoon, whilst you all practically freeze to death. But that’s not for six hours.”
“Firstly you wouldn’t get cold if you did a couple of laps of the pitch.”
Persephone gave her husband a look as if to say she would rather die than run around the rugby pitch with twenty-odd students.
She reached for the pillow again, and Joseph decided to let the subject drop.
“And secondly, I thought I could take my favourite girl out to lunch first. A nice pub lunch, a walk down by the river.”
“Maybe we could go and look in the shop windows, all the Christmas decorations are up.”
“You don’t even celebrate Christmas,” said Persephone shaking her head as she got out of bed, the idea slowly growing on her.
“No, but the shop windows look nice, and the lights are pretty.”
“Besides,” he whispered, “just because we don’t celebrate Christmas doesn’t mean somebodies birthday isn’t coming up. We could have a look around. Even your favourite little bookshop?”
That sold it for her, Persephone gave Joseph a quick kiss on the lips before rushing off to go and get dressed.
It was a cold day, so Persephone got dressed in one of her warmer jumpers. It was holly red and hand-knitted. Her mum had made it for her a few years ago, and the jumper was super soft and even warmer.
She pulled on a pair of jeans with her jumper and then sorted out her hair. Her hair was a lot of people would call mousy brown, but Joseph always said it was the colour of toffee, which coincidentally were his favourite sweets. It was fairly short though and only fell to just above her shoulders.
“You ready darling?” called Joseph from the other room.
“Just coming,” said Persephone as she pulled on a thick velvet headband to match her jumper.
“You look, beautiful darling,” said Joseph kissing her softly, “as always.”
“I don’t,” she laughed, “but thank you for saying it anyway.”
“Do you want to take the car, the bikes or walk?” she asked as they pulled on their hat’s coats, scarfs and boots.
“Well seeing as we’ve got all morning, why don’t we just walk?”
Persephone tied Joseph’s scarf around his neck properly as they headed out of the house.
They lived in a fairly quiet area of Oxford, near enough to the university so they could go in on the bikes, but far away enough so they weren’t constantly affected by student life and parties.
The road they lived on had two rows of identical houses, with a road full of parked cars between the two rows. Some of the houses were student houses, and five or so students lived in each, other houses were owned by small families such as the Cohens.
The houses all looked the same apart from the gardens most of the year. Some of the houses had well-kept front gardens, which grew beautiful flowers. One of the houses even had a small rose garden with a stone bench outside the house. Some of the houses though had several bikes fastened to the front gate, as students at the university, in particular, rode bikes around the city rather than walk or drive.
The Cohen’s garden was somewhere between the two, the garden was well kept. Joseph always mowed it once a week in the Summer. But they didn’t grow anything and two bikes were kept in the front garden one red, one blue. Even though Joseph and Persephone were now lecturers rather than students, there was usually so much traffic in the morning that it was much faster to cycle rather than drive to the college.
There was one other major difference between all of the houses in December though. All the houses on the whole street put up some kind of decoration. Some of them just had a small Christmas tree lit up in the sitting room window, others had lights covering the whole house.
One family with small children had an inflatable Santa clause and reindeer, they had even left a hand-painted sign on the garden gate saying ’Santa, please stop here.”
The house next to the Cohens was lived in by five students, some of which were even on the rugby team. They didn’t have lights or inflatable father Christmases, but they had covered everything they could find from the garden gate to the front door in sparkly gold and silver tinsel.
There was also currently three boys outside the house on the pavement wearing shorts and t-shirts and stretching.
Two of the boys looked extremely fed up, one of them seemed quite groggy which was hardly surprising as it was half-past eight on a Sunday morning, and the other one was clutching his head as if he had a splitting headache. The third boy was full of energy and was leading the other two in stretches.
“Morning lads,” chuckled Joseph.
“Morning Dr C, Dr C,” beamed Matt bouncing up and down leading his friends in star jumps.
“Morning sir,” said one of the boys groggily.
“What’s got you so tired Nick?” asked Persephone
“I was up studying; I’ve got a French exam on Monday.”
“You can have a day off from training if you want Nick,” suggested Joseph.
“He’s as ready as he’ll ever be for that blasted exam,” said Matt putting an arm around Nick.
“Been studying all week, I’m dragging him to practise this afternoon just to get him away from his books.”
Nick simply smiled nervously and straightened his glasses.
“What I want to know,” asked Henry the last boy, “is why you’ve dragged us out of bed this early, practice isn’t for over five hours.”
“I always go running,” said Matt matter of factly, “you’ve got a hangover to run off, and I promised Nick if he came along for this, and to practise this afternoon, I’d test him all evening if he wants.”
“Right,” said Matt as he finished stretching, “10K here we come.”
“Ten kilometres,” stammered Nick as he ran after Matt.
“Help me,” mouthed Henry as he jogged away reluctantly.
“See you at practise boys!” called Joseph laughing as he and Persephone walked into the city together.
“Where do you want to go first?” asked Joseph as they reached the Highstreet.
“I want to look in all the windows,” she said taking one of his gloved hands in hers.
They walked all the way down the Highstreet of their favourite shops. There was the shop were Joseph bought his videotapes, and another one for his cassette tapes. The tea shop where Persephone used to go for afternoon tea and cakes with her parents.
The best shops were at the end of the road though, as they were on the corner, they were the biggest. One of them was a huge bookshop, Persephone and Joseph could spend hours in that shop between them and never want to leave, especially Persephone who was an English Literature professor.
The other shop was a toyshop. It had the biggest shop window, which was always full of toys, especially at Christmas time.
In the shop window was a huge Techni Lego Ferris wheel that spun back and forth. There was also a large advent calendar, the first four days had already been opened. A shop assistant was currently opening the fifth window, which had a picture of a doll that was so beautiful and big, that it was almost real.
Persephone was looking longingly at a collection of a variety of teddy bears in the front window.
“Next year darling,” said Joseph quietly squeezing her hand gently, “next year we’ll have a baby.”
“I hope so,” whispered Persephone.
“Come on, the bookshops opening," said Joseph.
Persephone nodded and dragged her attention away from the toy shop.
They went into the bookshop, there were displays for Christmas in there too. Huge stacks of glossy new hardback books which had been brought out in time for Christmas.
One of the displays had a familiar face smiling up at them from the front cover.
“Oh, Joe! They’ve got the new Michael Palin!”
“You’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the Palinster haven’t you?” chuckled Joseph looking at the display of Full Circle books.
He started making a mental list of things to get Persephone for her birthday as she rushed around the shop inspecting all the books as excited as a five-year-old.
There were several reasons why they didn’t celebrate Christmas, Joseph and his parents were Jewish, Persephone’s family had been Christian, but Persephone wasn’t a very devout Christian. There was also the fact that Persephone’s birthday was on the twenty-fifth of December.
Persephone looked quickly through all the new books, before heading off to her favourite section of the shop, where they kept the Classics. In a corner of the bookshop, five towering bookshelves reached the ceiling and had everything from Jane Austen to William Shakespeare.
As usual, at this time of year, they were trying to push A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
“Oh Joe,” she muttered pulling a copy of Pride and Prejudice, “would you look at this?”
“Persephone Cohen," he asked shaking his head, "how many copies of The Complete Works of Jane Austen have you bought over the last thirty years?”
“She’s my favourite,” she beamed stroking the soft leather cover somewhat longingly.
Joseph was trying to talk her out of looking too closely at this particular book, as he had something hidden at the back of his wardrobe because he knew his wife’s partiality for Austen.
“Sure, I can’t tempt you into this copy of Ulysses instead?” asked Joseph pulling a random book off the shelf.
“Oh no! Joyce is simply ghastly!” groaned Persephone.
“I’ll take your word for it,” laughed Joseph who had never read James Joyce.
Once Persephone had spent enough time looking through the books, they went to Joseph’s video shop.
“Why is Michael Palin determined to haunt us today?” asked Joseph shaking his head as he looked at the videotape of Full Circle which had been broadcast earlier that year.
They both loved Michael Palin and his travel shows, and always watched them as they came out. They already had Around the World in Eighty Days and Pole to Pole at home.
“Oh, go then,” chuckled Persephone picking up the tape, “we can watch it after practice tonight.”
“Unless you’d rather wait a week until Hannukah,” she asked smiling at him mischievously.
“You wouldn’t make me wait,” said Joseph, “because you want to watch it too!”
They continued to look through the videos, and the list inside Joseph’s head continued to grow before they eventually bought the Michael Palin video.
“Now then, do you want a pub Sunday lunch, or would you like to pop into Mrs Clarks for tea, sandwiches and cake?” asked Joseph.
“Mrs Clarks please,” she beamed always excited to visit her favourite tea shop.
“Good morning Mrs Clark,” called Joseph as they rushed into the shop and slammed the door shut quickly so the cold wouldn’t be let in.
“Joseph,” exclaimed Mrs Clark coming over to hug her favourite customers, “Sephie.”
“I’ve got you your table free as usual,” she beamed ushering them over to their window table where they could watch the world go by.
Up until a year ago, Persephone’s parents had always brought her in here when they visited. But her mum had had a bad cold last January and it had turned into influenza and she hadn’t recovered, and her dad had died from heartbreak a month later. If it hadn’t been for Joseph and his parents, she wouldn’t have pulled through.
“Here you are!” beamed Mrs Clark bringing over a pot of tea and two plates of sandwiches.
“Ham and cucumber for Sephie," said Mrs Clark.
“Thank you they look wonderful," said Persephone.
“And Marmite for this dashing young man," said Mrs Clark.
“I might be dashing but I’m not young,” said Joseph as he tucked in ravenously to his sandwiches.
“If thirties old, then I must be ancient!" muttered Mrs Clark shaking her head.
Mrs Clark soon came over with a tower of mini cakes and tiny biscuits. There was even a couple of mince pies.
“I might not celebrate Christmas,” said Joseph as he helped himself to a piece of Christmas cake, “but I can never turn down your marzipan.”
“I take that as a great compliment Dr C,” said Mrs Clark as she went off to serve some other customers.
Once they had finished their tea and cakes, they walked back to the house, and Persephone put on a thermos of tea before they headed out to rugby practise and Joseph went to go and get changed into his rugby kit.
The rugby pitch that they practised on was near the edge of Oxford which meant it wasn’t too far from the house.
About twenty boys were stretching on the pitch waiting for Joseph to arrive. He had been on the rugby team for the Corpus Christi College when he had been a student himself, and a few years ago the coach had left so now Joseph found himself helping out with coaching the team on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Henry seemed to have shaken off his hangover and was ready for a proper training session. Matt was testing Nick on his French vocab as they stretched.
“Afternoon Dr C, Dr C,” chuckled Matt as Persephone got out her thermos of tea.
“Ok lads you know the drill, one lap of the pitch and then we’ll get started on some passing drills.”
“And anyone who complains of being cold,” said Henry as he started running, “can run another lap!”
Persephone watched with elation as Joseph ran back and forth with the students throwing the ball back and forth and helping them with their tackling.
He had always had a very hands-on approach to his coaching, and by the time the session was over, he was covered in mud but beaming from ear to ear.
“Do you ever miss it?” asked Persephone as they headed back to the house, Joseph’s muddy boots hanging around his neck by the laces.
“What the rugby?” he asked.
“Not really, three coaching sessions a week is enough for me.”
“You don’t wish you’d gone professional?”
“No,” shrugged Joseph, “I’d have missed teaching too much.”
“Besides, you’ve seen what professional rugby players look like, they’re right ugly bastards. I’m far too handsome to have ever gone professional.”
“Not to mention the fact that I was never good enough,” he chuckled.
“I’d much rather be married to an average rugby player with an excellent mind who loves me, than a man who’s away all the time and can’t string two words together because he’s had too many concussions," said Persephone.
“Good,” said Joseph spinning her around her kissing her deeply, “because that’s what you’ve got.”
Persephone laughed as he spun her around, and kissed her in the middle of the street outside the house. Joseph got her face covered in mud, but she just didn’t care.
“Somebodies Christmas has come a bit early!” laughed one of the students who lived across the road from them.
“Hannukah will have come a week early when you hand in an essay on time Lucy,” said Joseph.
“I’ll have that essay in for you tomorrow morning Dr Cohen,” said Lucy rushing back into the house and going to finish the essay that was due the next day.
“Maybe miracles do happen,” smirked Joseph as they headed into the house.
“Right," said Persephone, "I’ll go take a bath, and then I’ll warm up some soup whilst you decrud yourself.”
Persephone ran upstairs and took a warm bath to get the chill off her from standing on the rugby pitch.
She then got into a pair of warm pyjamas and a flannel dressing gown and went downstairs to heat some soup for dinner.
Joseph had been building a large fire in the sitting room and went up to go and take his bath whilst Persephone made the dinner.
Twenty minutes later, they were both sat on the sofa by the fire in their pyjamas and dressing gowns eating bowls of hot tomato soup with bread rolls.
“Right,” beamed Joseph as he finished his dinner. He had just gone through the shopping bag from earlier.
“Take it away Mickey!” he exclaimed as he loaded the first tape into the video player.
They snuggled up next to each other on the sofa and watched Michael Palin visit all his colourful and exotic countries.
“So, Dr Cohen,” said Persephone as she snuggled into his arms, “what’s on your list for Hannukah?”
“I’ve got eight days’ worth of presents to buy for you,” pointed our
“I’ll tell you what Dr Cohen,” said Joseph smiling mischievously, “I’ll tell you what I want if you tell me what you want for your birthday.”
“Why don’t we just surprise each other as usual,” laughed Persephone.
“You know I love you right?”
“Of course I do,” muttered Persephone as she drifted off into a light sleep in his arms.