The psychiatrists at the hospital had many opinions about what the Doctor did in the canteen. Not long after she’d started, one of them had said there was a Member of Parliament just like her– who’d eat with the cleaners and dinner ladies, while people of her profession ate elsewhere. And the Doctor had frowned and asked why all the Members didn't do the same, and now that psychiatrist didn't talk to her any more. Some of her colleagues thought the Doctor’s behaviour was stupid, and some of them thought it was noble. But none of them came to sit with her as she sat where she did for lunch, to be with her as she munched away on her oddly-cut corned beef sandwiches.
“People think I'm normal,” she said to her good friend Mary. “I'm still not used to that. Time was they'd say things like ‘Why are you wearing those question marks?’ or ‘What are you doing in my garage?’ Normal is a whole different ball game.”
“I don't think anyone’s really normal,” said Mary. “My friend draws pictures of men with chicken heads; my niece is mad about underwater hockey. Normal’s just a word people use, to describe folk they don't really know.”
“I think it's the eyebrows,” the Doctor went on as though Mary hadn't said anything. “I used to have giant eyebrows. Attack eyebrows.” She mimed a hair explosion on her brow. “People think there's something going on, when they see eyebrows the size of that.”
“Get them plucked, did you?”
“Something like that.” The Doctor took a big bite out of her sandwich. “Thing is,” she said through a mouthful of whatever corned beef might be, “it wasn't just the eyebrows. I would lecture people, tell them things they already knew. Pudding brains, I used to call them.”
“Pudding brains!” said Mary, shocked. “That doesn't sound like the Jean Smith I know at all.”
“Oh, but it was. And I still believe it, in a way. People do have pudding brains– but have you seen the puddings they have on the shelves these days? There’s all kinds of stuff in them; you never know what you’re going to find.” She swallowed. “I was so busy thinking about what I knew I'm not sure I noticed what I didn't, you know? And there’s always so much of it, more than I’d even realised.” She laughed. “But I haven't changed that much, have I? All these monologues, talking about myself all the time. How about you, Mary? How’re things with you these days?”
Mary looked cornered. “They're… they’ve been better, Jean. I work two jobs now, you know, cleaning this hospital then the other. I hear people talk. Everyone’s struggling, even if they say it in private. The health system’s at breaking point. And there’s so many people coming here, aren't there? Who we say are sick in the head. Sometimes I wonder if it’s not the people who’re sick, Jean, but something else– like the sickness is coming through us, corrupting us. What can people like you even do, against something like that?”
The Doctor looked into the distance, her jaw set. A human would have said she was looking into nothing, but there are lots of things a human cannot see.
“We can do something, Mary. However bad things get. I promise you we can do something.”
“Well,” said Mary, “that’s a vague thing to say. S’how I know you’re a psychiatrist, Jean.”
The Doctor mock-glared with a face that was covered in crumbs.