sweeteners

Geoffrey is watching a creepy black and white film. There’s a corpse on a gurney covered in a white cloth, two scientists bunched up excitedly on one side with an enormous syringe.
‘How are you feeling, Geoffrey?’ I ask him, putting down my bag.
It’s difficult to concentrate, what with the corpse about to sit up, and, unbeknownst to the scientists (unbeknownst?) a car-load of policemen bristling with Tommy guns rolling quietly up the drive.
‘Terrible,’ he says, wobbling back towards his chair. ‘Absolutely bloody awful.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
‘I’m sorry, too.’
‘Have a seat and tell me all about it.’
‘Ah!’
He shoots the TV with the remote, lowers himself into his recliner, and starts a long and impenetrable story that I try to supplement on the sly with info from the folder.
‘So what are you going to do about it?’ he says when he’s finished.
‘I don’t know. It must be very frustrating, living with such a long-term condition. But I’m not sure what I can add, other than to follow up the last referral and make sure it goes through okay.’
‘I get so fed up,’ he says. ‘People say they’re going to do something, and they never do. And anyway – it’s not as if they’re really interested. I don’t get any help. Just a minute. There’s someone at the door.’
‘No, no! I’ll get it.’
Unbeknownst to the Rapid Response Team, Ray, a nurse from a different department, has been sent round to take blood.
‘I could’ve done that!’ I tell him.
‘Never mind.’
Ray sets his stuff out.
Geoffrey laughs.
‘I don’t mind the company. It’s the waste I can’t abide. No wonder the NHS is on its knees. They sent me a box of catheter supplies through the other day. I haven’t had one of them in since Christmas.’
‘Oh. Well, I’ll let them know to take it back.’
‘You do that.’
Ray starts tapping up a vein.
‘Shall I make you some tea?’ I say.
‘That’d be grand!’ says Geoffrey. ‘Nice n’strong. Two sweeteners.’ He hands me his mug – a vase-sized affair with two faded Hula Hula girls dancing round the side of it.
In the kitchen I hear him talking to Ray.
‘No – no family. Just me, on my Jack Jones. The wife died last year. The second wife, I mean. Although the first wife died as well. Then I married the second. Then she died. I had two wives and they both died. And here we are!’ He sighs loudly and heavily, a conversational re-boot. ‘What I don’t get, Ray, is – what I just don’t understand – for years I volunteered, helping out with the old folk who lived near me. Making them dinners. Taking them shopping. Taking them places. And now it’s my turn, suddenly there’s no-one….’
I bring the tea through.
‘There you go!’ I say.
The mug is so heavy I’m worried about putting it on his side-table.  The table is piled with junk, and leans at a precarious angle.
‘Will it be all right on there, Geoffrey?’
‘This old thing?’ he says, tapping it lightly. ‘I think so. It’s made it this far. I don’t suppose one more mug of tea will make a difference.’

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