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Chapter no 28

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

THE NEXT FEW DAYS were somewhat challenging. On several occasions, Raymond arrived unannounced, ostensibly to bring comestibles or relay messages from Bob, but in fact to check that I hadn’t committed an act of self-slaughter. If I were to compose a concise crossword clue to describe Raymond’s demeanour, it would be the opposite of inscrutable. I could only hope that the man refrained from playing poker on all but the most casual basis, as I feared he’d be leaving the table with an empty wallet.

It was surprising that he should bother with me, especially given the unpleasant circumstances in which he’d found me after the concert. Whenever I’d been sad or upset before, the relevant people in my life would simply call my social worker and I’d be moved somewhere else. Raymond hadn’t phoned anyone or asked an outside agency to intervene. He’d elected to look after me himself. I’d been pondering this, and concluded that there must be some people for whom difficult behaviour wasn’t a reason to end their relationship with you. If they liked you – and, I remembered, Raymond and I had agreed that we were pals now – then, it seemed, they were prepared to maintain contact, even if you were sad, or upset, or behaving in very challenging ways. This was something of a revelation.

I wondered if that’s what it would be like in a family – if you had parents, or a sister, say, who would be there, no matter what. It wasn’t that you could take them for granted, as such – heaven knows, nothing can be taken for granted in this life – it was simply that you would know, almost unthinkingly, that they’d be there if you needed them, no matter how bad things got. I’m not prone to envy, as a rule, but I must confess I felt a twinge when I thought about this. Envy was a minor emotion, however, in comparison to the sorrow I felt at never having a chance to experience this … what was it? Unconditional love, I supposed.

But there was no use in crying over spilt milk. Raymond had shown me a little of what it must be like, and I counted myself lucky to have had the opportunity. Today, he’d arrived with a box of After Eight mints and, improbably, a helium-filled balloon.

‘I know it’s daft,’ he said, smiling, ‘but I was passing the market in the square, and I saw a guy selling these when I was going for my bus. I thought it might cheer you up.’

I saw what he was holding and I laughed, an unexpected burst of feeling, unfamiliar. He passed me the ribbon, and the balloon soared towards my low ceiling, then bobbed against it as though it was trying to escape.

‘What is it supposed to be?’ I said. ‘Is it … is it cheese?’ I had never been given a helium balloon before, and certainly not one this odd- looking.

‘It’s SpongeBob, Eleanor,’ he said, speaking very slowly and clearly as though I were some sort of idiot. ‘SpongeBob SquarePants?’

A semi-human bath sponge with protruding front teeth! On sale as if it were something completely unremarkable! For my entire life, people have said that I’m strange, but really, when I see things like this, I realize that I’m actually relatively normal.

I made tea for us. Raymond had put his feet up on the coffee table. I was considering asking him to remove them, but then the thought came to me that he must feel at home in my house, comfortable enough to relax here and make full use of the furniture. The idea was actually rather pleasing. He slurped his tea – a much less pleasant intrusion – and asked about the GP. Earlier in the week, after Raymond had delivered a persuasive argument about the importance of obtaining an expert, objective view of my emotional state, and of the efficacy of modern treatments should any mental health issues be diagnosed, I’d finally agreed to make an appointment at the surgery.

‘I’m going tomorrow,’ I said. ‘Half past eleven.’

He nodded. ‘That’s good, Eleanor,’ he said. ‘Now, promise me you’ll be completely honest with the doctor, tell her exactly what you’ve been feeling, what you’ve been going through.’

I thought about this. I would tell her almost everything, I’d decided, but I wasn’t going to mention the little stockpile of pills (which no longer existed in any case – Raymond had, with scant concern for the environment, flushed them down the lavatory. I’d professed irritation but

was secretly glad to be rid of them), and I had also decided to say nothing about the chats with Mummy or our ridiculous, abortive project. Mummy always said that information should be divulged to professional busybodies on a need-to-know basis, and these topics weren’t relevant. All the doctor needed to understand was that I was very unhappy, so that she could advise me how best to go about changing that. We didn’t need to start digging around in the past, talking about things that couldn’t be changed.

‘Promise,’ I said. I had my fingers crossed, though.

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