There were lots of things you absolutely couldn’t do, when you’d recently quit as a doctor. You couldn’t pretend you hadn’t, and convince everyone you’d only been on holiday. You couldn’t persuade them to let you go to Wales for a day, with so many patients in Manchester. And you definitely, absolutely couldn’t do that because you’d ruined the life of the person you wanted to see. It was the most irresponsible thing in the world. The Doctor kept telling herself that, just in case she’d believe it was true.
“You’re up early,” said Lorna as she pulled on her uniform. “Which is odd of you, what with the time machine.”
“It’s about empathy,” said the Doctor, taking mounds of devices out of a tiny bag as she frantically searched for her stethoscope. “She won’t have slept, with everything that she’s going through. Least I can do is try and feel the same.”
“An empathetic psychiatrist,” said Lorna with a smile. “Now I know you’re an alien.”
She looked in the mirror and her hair was still wrong, not sitting properly through being so quickly dried.
“I was thinking this morning,” she said. “After we’d opened your gift. You’re always telling us things when we’d both really rather you didn’t, but I’ve never thought about what I might want to know. You must have tips, right? Things you could tell us idiots stuck down on Earth.”
“Right now?” said the Doctor. “Your wallpaper’s full of mould. And it’s alien, or bits of it are.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“There’s asbestos, too. That’s not alien, but to be honest it’s more likely to kill you–“
“Not that. You’ve been around, right? Meeting Plato, and Socrates, and whoever. And you’ve seen so many things! If you had to write a book, you know. A motivational one. What would it say?”
The Doctor laughed. “Nothing anyone should read! Dashing around saving everything; it’s not a life I’d wish on anyone. And it’s not like a human life is. Going to work, doing extra hours. Hoping there’s enough for your daughter to go on a trip. It is work, but it’s not“–
She sighed.“Maybe it’s too different in the end,” she said. “You could all just be too far away. You can travel in time and space, but never into another person’s life, and now everyone is so, so angry–“
“I wouldn’t buy this book,” said Lorna cheerfully, “it all sounds very depressing.”
The Doctor paused.
“How about this, then?” she said with a smile. “When I was younger. Before my hair turned not grey. I used to think I knew it all. But now…”
She frowned to herself, looking down at the hairdryer on the floor.It looked nothing like an alien and even less like a person, and everything felt impossible once again.
“Maybe it isn’t the real world,” she said. “Maybe there’s somewhere that all of us are the people we’re supposed to be, living lives that don’t feel like they all went a little bit wrong. But we’d miss so much, in that real world where we aren’t. We’re like frosted glass, I think; there’s so much we don’t see if we never have to break.”Her pager was beeping again, and this call was from Wales. Lorna was fidgiting as she looked up at the clock, and the Doctor realised she’d better hurry up with her wisdom.
“I’d seen the world through so many different eyes,” she went on, “that I’d forgotten they were really all the same. That however much I saw and wherever I would go, I’d never been outside of my stupid head. And that doesn’t change,” she said, “however many heads you end up having. There are so many worlds I can never get to, aren’t there? The one in your head, and your daughter’s, and the rest. So much there that I’ll never really know, obvious stuff which I’ll never get to see. I’ve learned so many things over the years. But that’s the most important one. That I’m like all of you, in the end.”
She smiled sadly.
“I don’t understand.”
“Right,” said Lorna. “I can think about that on my break. But I’m already running behind, and Christina can’t be late for school. So unless there’s any more”–
“No,” said the Doctor. “There isn’t any more.”
“Great,” said Lorna. “Then let’s get to work.”
The two of them started to leave the house, ready for a day in a world that wasn’t theirs.