The Scheme Manager’s worried about Harry.
‘He’s always ploughed his own furrow, if you know what I mean,’ he says. ‘He’s got his ways. He lost another carer last week because of his behaviour. Saying inappropriate things. But I’m not sure if that isn’t a symptom of something else. I mean, the other day he came into the office and asked me to call him an ambulance, and when I asked why he said it was because he’d swallowed his teeth and wanted an x-ray before he ate himself up from the inside. And then of course he put the kettle on the stove and melted it. The doctor gave him some antibiotics for a water works infection, and I know that can make you go a bit funny. But anyway, see what you think. He’s up in his room.’
Harry is sitting in a threadbare armchair watching TV. To his right is a bed and a bedside table. Apart from that, the room is completely bare. No pictures on the walls, no ornaments on bookshelves. No bookshelves. It’s more like a cell, a machine for living: the TV for entertainment, the kitchen for eating, the bed for sleeping.
‘All roight?’ he says, nodding as I come in. ‘Now I wonder what you’re after?’
He has a rich Fen accent, strangely flattened O’s and sudden upward inflections. I try to think of some way of making him say toast or ghost.
‘I s’poos it was the ol’ doctor sent fer ya?’ he says.
‘She wants us to keep an eye on you the next few days. Just to make sure the antibiotics are working.’
‘Oh thar workin’ all roight. Oim already feelin’ a bit more of a spring in me tail!’
He holds his right arm up at the elbow, fist clenched, and gives it a lascivious wiggle.
I don’t doubt the carers had their hands full.
I unpack my stuff and start the examination.
‘But they’ve already done all this,’ he says, rolling up his sleeve. ‘They can’t foind nutthin’ wrong. Oil bet oim fitter’n what you are, mate.’
He’s not wrong. For someone in his late eighties, he has a fine set of obs.
I pack all the gear away again and chat whilst I write my notes.
‘So where are you from originally, Harry? The Fens?’
‘Tha’s it! How’d’you noo that, then?’
‘Wild guess. What work did you do?’
‘You name it. I could put moi hand to moost things. Buildin’, labourin’, pickin’. Oi was what you moight call handy!’
‘And what about now? Do you have any family in town?’
He suddenly looks serious and points up at the ceiling.
‘Only moy woif,’ he says.
For a second I think he means she lives upstairs, but then I realise she died.
‘I’m so sorry,’ I say.
‘Oim not,’ he says, brightening up again and folding his arms. ‘She ran orf with Stooart, ‘er fancy man. But when she doid oi ad ‘er cremated all proper, loik. Waa’ll, she was the woif, ar’ter all. Apart frem thet, oi wurnt thet baa’therd.’