Sam Plummer was one of the last people in the town i’d expect to see walking into my surgery. At twenty-five, he was right smack in the middle of that most indestructible of demographics: males aged 15 to 35. Short of horrific accidents and self-inflicted gunshot wounds, there was very little that could bring someone like Sam down. The only reason i would normally have had to see someone like him would be as the consequence of a venereal adventure on the end of year footy trip, and Sam was too salt-of-the-earth even to fall into that profile.

Aside from watching him on the field, helping to kick the local footy side to runners up in the Premierships, the only other reason i’d had to take the slightest interest in Sam was his name: he was a carpenter named Plummer. That struck me as funny.

But i could tell from his body language as he strode across the room that this wasn’t going to be a funny visit. He smiled warmly as he took my soft, GP’s hand in his weathered chippy’s paw and shook it, but i could see that there was something troubling him to his core. He sat on the patient’s chair like he was afraid it would break, and when he placed his mobile phone on the desk beside him he immediately started playing with it absent-mindedly.

Doctors have to have a little of the Poirot in them, to help with diagnosis, and while all of that was very interesting, from a diagnostic perspective, it was especially interesting that Sam spoke first, rather than waiting for me to begin.

“So, Doc. Ya know how they say that great art can really speak to ya?”

I’d been in this small town practice for almost five years now, and i’d never gotten used to the way that the locals cut straight to the chase. This question, though, seemed especially cut-the-bull. I nodded.

“Yes, Sam. I have heard that said.”

“Well,” he looked down at his knees for a moment and then straight back into my eyes. He glanced away for an instant as he laughed one of those you’ll-think-this-is-pretty-stupid, dismissive laughs that i hear a lot of in my job, and then, after a moment’s pause, he asked, “That’s just an expression, right?”

Four possible diagnoses lit up in my head. I needed to decide which of those four was the winner.

“How do you mean?” i asked, allowing Sam the chance to eliminate the three least likely with a simple clarification.

“Well,” he looked at his knees, his phone, the glaucoma poster, my laptop, the consult couch, and finally my phone, biding his time. I could see that he understood that whatever he said next would be something that he couldn’t take back. “See, there’s this girl…”

Now i was confused.

I said nothing. Sometimes silence is the best question.

Sam had hit a dead end and had to start over. “I was at this woman’s place, old Mrs Knight, up on Meier Road? She was having trouble with her kitchen cabinets, and so i was there to replace the hinges and shit.” He was starting to get cotton mouth, and i thought for a moment of getting him a glass of water, but i didn’t want to break his concentration. “Anyways, i’m goin’ through the front room to get to me truck, cos i needed some more tools, and there’s this painting on the wall…”

He stopped. He stood up. He’d lost his nerve.

I stood up, too.

“It’s all right, Sam. Have a seat. What was the matter with this painting?”

He didn’t sit down. I needed him to say the words, and i’d have preferred them to be said with us both sitting down, but i realised that he probably did most of his business standing up, so this was a more natural stance for him. I remained standing, awkward though it felt to me.

“I saw a girl. In the painting.”

I had narrowed the possibilities down to two. The next question was obvious.

“What was the painting of?”

I hesitated to ask if it was a painting of a girl, since that could easily have been taken the wrong way. Sam was quite agitated now, and since i’d copped a roundhouse to the side of the head earlier in the year for asking a question that a dairy farmer had taken exception to on the grounds that he thought i was implying he was an idiot, i was very cautious.

“Flowers,” he said. “Just a whole bunch of flowers.”

I sat down. “A bunch of flowers?”

“Well,” he explained, realising that i’d misunderstood. “Not an actual bunch of flowers, Doc. A paddock of flowers. Like some sort of a garden. With a path and shit.”

He sat down. Some sort of crisis had clearly passed in his narrative.

I recognised that he was looking at me for my professional insight into his problem. I recognised that i still didn’t have one. I needed a little more information.

“A girl, hey,” i replied, purposefully. I hmmed to myself and stroked my chin thoughtfully. “I think it was Shakespeare who said that sometimes we see a cloud that’s dragonish. Perhaps your imagination was just being overactive…”

“She spoke to me. Did Shakespeare’s dragonny fucken clouds talk to him, Doc?”

And the lucky winner was, of course, schizophrenia.

So, now what to do about it…

“Is this the first time that a painting, or any other sort of object has spoken to you? The sort of object that you wouldn’t normally expect to talk to you, that is?”

He stood up again.

“Doc, i’m not fucken crazy! This girl in the painting talked to me, clear as day. Clear as you’re speakin’ to me right now.”

Sam was being a great help. He’d quickly and efficiently allowed me to diagnose schizophrenia, and now he was obligingly showing me that i would have to simply medicate him and put him in touch with a big city specialist. I was, at the end of the day, just a small town GP, and i only had my rounds in Casualty and a two week mandatory psych placement to go on here. Occasionally in Cas we’d get someone brought in by a terrified relative, because the loved one in question had suddenly discovered Jesus, not in the sense of accepting Him as their own personal saviour, but rather they’d discovered Him in the vegetable crisper, and they were now holding conversations with Him via the changes in pitch of the refrigerator motor. In most cases, it was a latent genetic disposition triggered by exposure to marijuana. I imagined the same pathogenesis here with Sam.

“I can help with the voices, Sam, but it will mean that you’ll have to go on a course of medication for a while, and i’d like you to see a specialist down in town…”

His agitation increased significantly.

“Doc! I don’t need pills! There’s this girl in the paintings, and she’s talking to me! How’re pills gunna fix that?”

I switched to humour-the-patient mode, which is a recognised conflict resolution strategy, if a little risky. It was all i had, really, since i was alone in the surgery, my secretary having taken her regular Tuesday afternoon off to take her turn at the primary school reading with the Grade Ones.

“It would depend, Sam. Do you see and hear this girl all the time?”

“Only sometimes. And only in the paintings.”

I furrowed my brow, begging an explanation. It’s not good to confront the schizophrenia sufferer with the implausibility of their world-construct, but i calculated that it might help Sam to talk through what was happening, and hopefully that country-boy cut-the-bull gene would come into play.

He picked up his mobile phone.

“It’s like this, OK? When the phone rings, the picture of the person shows on the screen, yeah? It’s the same with the paintings. When she wants to speak to me, i can see her.”

That made sense. I was always fascinated in med school with how the mind can make the most illogical things seem logical.

“Paintings?” i asked. “You see her, and she speaks to you from more than one painting?”

“Yeah, there’s this one guy. I asked Mrs Knight, and his name’s Monet. There’s a shitload of paintings he’s done all over town. There’s one in the Bistro, one down in the Shire Offices where i have to get permits and shit from, and it’s like every other house i go into has one of these guy’s paintings on the wall…”

I realised that there was one in the dental surgery next door. Clive the dentist only came in once a fortnight to do checkups, and it seemed unlikely that Sam had ever been in that room since his schizophrenia started. I was just wondering whether or not to take Sam in and show him the print, to see what would happen, when he reached into the bib pocket of his overalls and produced a small, square, glossy paperback.

“So i bought this, down at the newsagent’s. It’s full of paintings by this Monet character. And sometimes i open it up and there she is. What the hell, Doc?”

His paranoia seemed quite contradictory, with him needing to have a trigger source handy at all times like that. Imagine, carrying a collection of the very paintings that were tormenting him in his overalls! I wished i’d kept up contact with Dr Krishnaputri, the supervisor on my psych placements; he’d have loved to get his hands on a case like this…

“The first thing we have to do now, Sam,” i explained, again using his name to calm him down, “is to get you onto a course of medication so that we can stop this girl annoying you, all right?”

That seemed to really aggravate him. It was the closest i’d felt i’d come to receiving a punch in the face so far in the consult.

“That’s just it, Doc. She’s not annoying me! She’s in trouble! She needs my help! And…” he paused and i wondered for a moment if he were about to burst into tears, “I think i love her.”


The Bistro smelt like every other small country town Pub Bistro in the country: aircon and cold beer, with an undernote of fried potato and the promise of seafood. Sam had insisted that i accompany him down to meet with this girl of his. The waiting room was empty, as was the book, and i hadn’t had lunch, so i figured i might as well. It would be interesting to see what happened, and the pharmacy would have to order the antipsychotics in, so someone would have to look out for Sam in the meantime. I figured it might as well be me.

He put the beers on the table and we sat down.

“Is she there now?” i asked, professionally.

He looked up; he shook his head.

The painting was one of the three classic Monets: not the bridge, not the waterlilies, but the irises. A blotchy impression of a long garden bed of purplish flowers, seen obliquely. I was sure that if i looked around at home i’d find, without too much difficulty, a postcard with the exact same painting on it. I vaguely remembered a girlfriend whose parents had owned a set of placemats with those same irises on it.

“Usually, see that post in the middle?” Sam asked, taking a tradesmanlike gulp of his beer, “she appears there. Just to the left.”

I nodded. It was a pity that she wasn’t there now. I would have liked, for purely professional reasons, of course, to have seen him interacting with her.

“She’s gorgeous, Doc. She has this long, wavy hair, a sweet little face, and these boobs!” He sat back, enjoying the thought of his figmentary girlfriend’s breasts. “I mean, pardon my French, but Fuck! Those’re some boobs, no two ways a-fucken-bout it.”

The schiz patients i’d seen clinically on my various rounds and placements had usually been more interested in regaling me with the word of the Lord, rather than describing boobs. I took a sip of my beer.

“Sometimes, get this, Doc: sometimes she’s talkin’ to me, and i forget that i’m here. You know? It’s like i’ve stopped being here and i’m with her. It’s weird; how can that happen?”

I wanted to explain about the pathology of the schizophrenic brain, its ability to construct new worlds and substitute them for the real world, but i knew that that wasn’t what he wanted to hear.

“So you go into the painting, then?” i asked. Most people who’ve seen that painting find it easy to imagine themselves into it, regardless of its impressionistic vagueness.

“No, not at all. This one time, she was with me and… Well, we had sex.”

I sipped my beer and said nothing.

“She just sort of came up to me, and i was there, with her, but not in the garden or anything, and then i was inside her, and she had those boobs up against me, and… Well, i fucked her. Let’s leave it at that.” He sipped his beer again.

I nodded, professionally. “So, is she naked, then? When you see her in the painting?”

He was looking at the painting. “Yeah, she’s naked. Always naked.”

The bowl of chips arrived and we ate mostly in silence. Sam had nothing much more to say. He was waiting for his girl to turn up, so he could introduce us.

I had no idea what i’d do if that happened.

More to break the silence than anything else, i asked, “What does she talk to you about?” I knew that it was wrong to encourage his delusions, but i felt safe in the knowledge that when the medication arrived, the girl in the painting would stop calling.

“I’d rather not say,” Sam said. “But she’s in a lot of trouble. A shitload of trouble.”

After two more beers and the girl still hadn’t turned up, i was starting to hope that Sam would tell me a little more about his sexlife with the girl from Monet’s garden. I realised that that meant it was time to go home, since i was slipping from professionalism into voyeurism.

“Well, Sam. I’m afraid i have to head home, now.”

He was disappointed.

“I’m sure she’ll be here soon, Doc…”

“Tell you what: drop by my surgery tomorrow, and i’ll give you a script for that medication i was telling you about, all right?”

He found this even more disappointing.

“I told ya, Doc. I don’t want to shut her out, i want to help her. She needs my help.” He glanced from me to the print and back. “She needs your help.”

I knew better than to encourage him in this hope.

“The pills will just make the visits she pays you a little less upsetting, all right? So you can have a clear head when you’re helping her. You’ll see: it’ll be fine.”

Take two Risperdal and call me in the morning.

I turned to leave.

“Oh, Doc,” he said, as if he’d just remembered, and pointed at the painting. “I’m gettin’ one of these m’self. Ordered up from Town. Big arsed framed mother, better’n me little book, so as she can contact me at home, proper an’ all. Pickin’ it up this arvo, actually. You should come over and see it when i’ve got it up on the wall. Meet Raz; she’s dyin’ to talk to someone like yaself…”

I smiled my most professional smile and weaved my way towards the door.


I did end up seeing the painting at Sam’s place, but it wasn’t up on the wall.

The local police sergeant, Peter Wigley, called me at seven in the morning the next day and asked me to come over to Sam Plummer’s place, as there’d been a death.

He met me in the driveway.

“Was Sam a patient of yours, Doc?” he asked. I was the only GP in town, so it seemed likely that i would be. If there had been anything wrong.

“I was actually seeing Samuel for a complaint, yes. I saw him yesterday afternoon, as a matter of fact.”

Wigley was leading me into the house and through to the bedroom.

“Does it infringe on doctor/patient confidentiality if i ask what he was seeing you for, Doc,” Wigley asked, a clear tone of irony in his voice, “or has that lapsed now that the poor prick’s dead?”

The bare bulb hanging from the ceiling lit up the dingy room well enough to see that something very unusual had happened there. Sam was lying facedown on the bed naked, in what seemed to be all of his blood, on top of a shattered and crushed picture frame.

“Now,” Wigley began, “i’m no doctor like yourself, Doc, but i’ve watched enough episodes of CSI to be able to say that it looks to me like our Sam Plummer here has fallen or been thrown onto a large, framed painting, and that, when the glass of that painting has broken, a shard has pierced his femoral artery, leading to him bleeding the fuck to death. Would you concur on that as your professional opinion?”

Wigley lit a cigarette as a prelude to my own deliberations.

“I’ll need to examine the body before i give any opinion, Sergeant.”

“Yeah, OK,” Wigley said. “By the way, his mate found him like this at six this morning when he didn’t turn up to take him to a job. Looks to me like he had some sort of difficulty hanging that picture?”

There was another policeman in the room, one in uniform. He snickered. “Or nailing it, maybe, Pete?”

A cloud of cigarette smoke accompanied the Sergeant’s laugh. “Now come on. Sam here was one of us, Craig. The fact that he seems to have died on the job on top of a painting shouldn’t diminish his memory in the community.”

I examined the body carefully, asking for assistance in lifting Sam’s corpse far enough off the wreckage of the painting to confirm that the femoral artery had indeed been severed.

“So, Doc?” Wigley asked. “Was he fucking the painting, or what?”

“There do seem to be seminal residues,” i admitted, having noted their presence. I didn’t mention that death from a severed femoral artery would not be instantaneous, nor that there was clear evidence that Sam had been thrusting himself against the spider’s web of broken glass for some time after he’d inflicted the fatal injury, causing cruel and no doubt agonising damage to his genitalia. He had no doubt been engaging in delusional intercourse with the smashed painting for as long as it took him to die.

“Cause of death is most likely exsanguination – that’s loss of blood, Sergeant – although i would defer to an autopsy in Town, if that’s all right with you?”

“I do know that ‘exsanguination’ is loss of blood, Doc, but tell me this,” Wigley said, not all that interested in my confirmation of his own diagnosis. “Why would he be fucking a painting of some flowers?”

I looked him right in the eye. “I’m sure i can’t imagine.”

“And look at this,” Wigley said, directing me to a blood spatter on the sheets alongside the crushed frame. “What the fuck is that?”

I looked where he indicated.

“That’s blood, Sergeant.”

“No, Doc. Look at it. Look at it.”

I looked at it.

“It’s a face,” Wigley said, impatiently. “It’s quite clearly a human face. In the blood.”

I looked again and saw what he could see. It was indeed a human face, female, framed in long, wavy hair.

“Did Plummer draw that with his fingers or something?” the police officer asked.

“Impossible,” i explained. “It’s clearly just a fluke of the random flows of blood on the sheets. You can see that no hand has made that.”

“Thing is,” Wigley went on, even though i was certain the matter was closed, “I know who the face is.”

I smiled. Country towns!

“Girl from around here, actually, but going back, maybe twenty years. I remember her face because she was in my daughter’s netball team. I wasn’t even a copper back then, just a farmer like everyone else. Anyway, no good came to that girl. Poor kid.”

“What happened?” asked the young policeman.

“This is that girl got murdered up in the Bot,” Wigley explained. “Before both your times, and the sort of thing the locals don’t talk about. She was walking through the Botanic Gardens and a group of men jumped her.”

“Shit,” the constable offered. “The Rowan girl?”

“Yeah. Raped, murdered, and then raped again, according to the report. Cut her up like a side of beef.” He turned to me. “She’s the one we tell young coppers like Craig here about when they say nothing ever happens around here.”

“They say,” Constable Craig went on, warming to the story, “that she was up there to meet her boyfriend, and these other guys got to her instead.”

“Locals?” i asked, beginning to wonder where Wigley had been on that night, twenty years ago.

“Nah, no locals would have done that,” Wigley said. “City kids, most like. Little fuckers.”

“Rachel!” the constable remembered with a snap of his fingers. “Rachel Rowan.”

“Except the kids all called her Raz, way i remember it,” Wigley said, and the history lesson was at an end.


I figured that Sam had heard the stories of Raz Rowan and her grisly death. A murder like that was not the sort of thing that people would just not talk about. Then, combined with his schizophrenia, he’d constructed a world in which Raz was trying to contact him.

Through paintings of flowers like the ones she’d died in.

He probably imagined that he would be the one to fulfill the promise of a loving sexual encounter, rather than the brutal one that had ended her life.

And in the off-kilter logic of the schizophrenic mind, he’d had sex with the painting that he thought she was trapped in.

Poor bastard.

I thought about all this sitting on the toilet in my en suite. I looked down at the lino, the ugly floral pattern curling about my feet. It would be so easy to do what Sam had done with the visual white noise of an Impressionist painting like the Monet. In fact, i thought as i stared at the pattern at my feet, i could see an arm there, the corner of a ribcage there, even a face, not unlike the “face” that the police had imagined in the blood swirls.

I smiled down at the face: the human mind is a sense-making machine, designed by a million years of evolution to turn nonsense into sense. That’s just what it had done for Sam, for Wigley, and now for me, with this face in the linoleum.

And then the face in the linoleum blinked, and said my name.