“Fine thank you, never been better.” I reply, my cheeks locked into a grimace I hope passes for a smile.
“How’s your leg? Settling down I hope.”
‘Settling down, what is she talking about?’ I’ve had this gammy leg for sixty five years and it has always been a pain, both literally and actually. Of course falling down the stairs hardly helped.
“Bit stiff I suppose. Only stiff thing about me.” An unfortunate sexual innuendo I fancy, but she lets it pass without a second’s thought.
“Let’s have a look at your ankle, cumm’on Mr Betts let’s get you on the bed.”
I hop up as best as any eighty four year old can hop, and manoeuvre myself so that my ankle is raised. The nurse whose name is Margaret Pleasance according to her badge. “Margaret Pleasance, Sister. – Bupa”.
She removes my shoe and sock and reveals my deformed ankle. It is unpleasant to the eye. Lumpy, swollen and with several scars, my foot below looks as if belongs to a cadaver. It is white, skinny with horrid toe nails. What a very unpleasant job Sister Margaret has.
“I hope you’re paid reasonably well.” I regret the comment immediately.
Margaret replies very matter of factly, “Better than in the Health Service I must say but I do feel a guilt sometimes, I was a theatre sister, but I quit and did a bit of repping for a while for a drug company, quite enjoyed that but I was away from the kids and Dave too much so here I am looking after my favourite patients.” She looked up and smiled.
How nice she is, this Sister Margaret. Her soft hand rub moisturiser over my hapless ankle, and it is heavenly. “Oh, that’s so nice.”
“Good,” she says, “you need your feet doing, I’ll arrange the chiropodist to call, and I think a physio to help you with your leg. It’s very immobile.”
“Need a bike, that’s about the only exercise that works, the joint hasn’t rotated for years – worse now I suppose, but there we are, rugby and alcohol.”
The Sister laughs. Puts back my shoe and sock, and my visit is coming to an end. I suddenly feel I don’t want to go back to my rooms, I want to talk to Sister Margaret, I want to take her to lunch.
“Everything else seems fine, your blood pressure is good, and weight stable we’ll see again in a month.”
I mutter a sad thank you, pick up my stick and as sedately as I can, withdraw.
Margaret, Margaret, I didn’t see you fade, I did, but I didn’t want to see what was in front of me. The prospect of children had faded, we’d talked briefly of the idea of adopting. But by the time of our first crisis and my second ascent to reasonable success I was concentrated on me, me myself and I. Margaret held the fort, hid her suffering and gave of herself without thought. I was clambering up the business pole whilst the girl I loved began to die and I just didn’t bother to look at what was before my very eyes.
I shut the door and put on the kettle, I am crying again, mourning that lovely girl who died for me forty years ago.
There’s a knock on the door,
“Come in!” It’s Joan the sexy commandant matron.
“Mr Betts, sister says you’re in good health but we have to keep an eye on your leg.” She held her elbows as if I were going to attack her, at the same time she’s looking round to see if I’ve done something frightful, made a mess or been at the scotch before lunch.
“Bugger off Joan, I’m fine and I have enough sense to let you know if I need any help, medical or otherwise.”
“Now, John watch your language there’s a good man, we always look after our folk, we care about you John.”
I sigh, I don’t want to talk to Joan. Despite her smart appearance there’s something about her I don’t like, I have no idea, but it may be her authority, her smarty arse ‘I’m in charge’ aura. She’s just too bossy, I’m too old to take orders, I wish she’d bugger off.
“Forgive me Joan, I’ve got things to do.”
The door closed behind her, there was a muffled noise from the corridor, I filled my tea cup and topped the dark tea with a large scotch. Nothing stalks the room.
‘Don’t be so miserable John, Sister Margaret, she’s very sweet, and I know she reminded you of me. Be a good boy now, we were happy you know, I know we didn’t have the child we wanted, but we loved each other – didn’t we?’ Margaret’s eyes are filled with tears, “I was proud of you, you worked so hard, and you held me when I was ill, oh! How I loved you, I hated saying goodbye even if I didn’t know what I was saying through all that pain. One thing, John that made it tolerable, even beautiful, was that we loved each other, never forget that John, never..”
The noise outside is louder, what’s going on? I open the door and I see Dan being wheeled off to the lockup. Well, I suppose it was inevitable. I hope Geoff is free for a chat, that ‘nothing’ is too close for comfort. I have second thoughts, I feel sorry about Dan, poor man has done nothing to hurt me yet I’ve been impatient and rude. Now he’s failing, I feel a shit, a nasty grumbling miserable old shit.
What if something happens to Geoff? I’ll have no one to talk to or have a beer with, maybe I’ll be next off to the lockup. How do I feel? Pretty good actually, I get tired a bit and my gammy leg hurts but then it always has. I dare not doze because I know I’ll think about Dan, poor bugger. I expect that Mr. Bloody Boyd, the bishop of Swallow House will be waving the good book about and ministering to dear old Dan as he inevitably looks forward to his exit from this home for the hopeless.
I cannot do this mooning about in my rooms, after lunch I shall go out. No idea where or who with, but out I shall go and make sure ‘nothing’ doesn’t monopolise my day.
I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this but Bishop Boyd is the only man at lunch, Dan of course is in the lockup, apparently had a stroke this morning, Geoff has a chill and is confined to his room.
“What ho! Boyd.” I’m as jolly as I can be, “sorry to see Dan unwell. Still poor old bugger hasn’t been in top form since I’ve been here.”
“Indeed Dan has succumbed to a stroke, I have had the opportunity to visit him briefly, sadly, he is barely conscious.” He devoured his bread roll as if were to be his last. I tried had to stay attentive, after all I’m running out of chums. “I know that spiritually speaking that Dan will have gathered some strength from my visit, and hopefully this will help his recovery.”
‘Bollocks’ I said but under my breath, what a sanctimonious twit Boyd is. “Is he to remain in the lockup or are they taking him to the hospital?”
Much of the excellent tomato and basil soup has been spilled down the bishop’s shirt, he is I assume unconscious of this, the cross he wears is smeared with the reddish soup, his purple shirt blotched as if with blood. I muse that this may be a premonition of things to come, maybe I’ll murder the boring old bugger.
“I do wish you wouldn’t use that term, ’the lockup’ you know it’s the medical facility and we have excellent care, so whatever is decided I’m sure Dan will receive the best of care.” He ladled what is left of his soup up with a quiet but lengthy slurp, yet another drop drips and reduces the holy man to the short fat, silly old man that he is.
The lunch passes slowly, Boyd talks of his apparently distinguished past as a clergyman and academic. He can’t fool me, I know a joker when I see one and he fits the bill to a tee. I skip coffee, go to my room, pick up my wallet and march out as smartly as I can dragging the gammy leg with me. I have no idea where I’m going, so I stand at the bus stop outside Swallow House.