the globe

In the corner of the kitchen, a white plastic globe bubbles with a milky fluid, wisps of vapour venting at the top.
‘What’s that?’ I ask Sandra.
‘I’m very conscious of the air I breathe,’ she says. ‘Every time I have a cigarette I turn the machine on to take out the impurities. Watch what happens when I do this…’
She presses a switch. The lighting changes in the globe, green, to purple, to red, to blue.
‘It’s like being in a club,’ I say.
‘I wouldn’t know.’
She sits back down on her stool and glumly surveys her husband. The red quilted silk dressing gown with its velvet cuffs and sash cord should make him a spit for Noel Coward; instead, it only serves to emphasise his pallor, his frailty and his strangely passive demeanour.
‘How do you feel, Stan?’
He lays his sad eyes on me.
‘With these,’ he says, lifting his hands.
‘Answer the man’s questions properly, Stanley,’ says Sandra. ‘He hasn’t got time for your messing about.’
It’s been a fraught interview so far. Some barbed shtick about money for the swear box, leaving the toilet seat up, a barney Sandra had with the doctor, the consultant, what happened when, who turned round and said what to whom. I thought a lot of it was probably bravado, fireworks you put on when you want to show off to visitors. But then I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t figure them out. I felt I had to choose my words carefully, especially with Sandra. I was over-compensating. Sweating, in the over-heated kitchen.
‘I’m afraid I’ve got to take some blood as well,’ I tell Stan. ‘How does that sound?’
‘How much shall I charge him, Sandy?’
‘Just roll up your sleeve.’
‘Righto.’
‘He bruises easy. Don’t you Stan?’
‘I have the skin of a peach. And the face of a coconut.’
He speaks slowly, and without his teeth there’s the trace of a sibilant whistle.
‘We normally see Lily for bloods,’ says Sandra, sighing, picking up her fag packet, giving it a speculative shake and then putting it down again. ‘You know, the nurse at the drop-in. She’s good, is our Lil. Very good. You’d hardly know she’d been there when you see his arm after. Some of them you’d think they got his arm and slammed it in a door. But with Lil, well! He said it was like a butterfly landing on his arm. Didn’t you, Stan?’
‘I did. A lovely, colourful butterfly. Not like those other bloodsuckers.’
‘And she’s funny, too. She could be on the stage. Last time she went on about how she met this fella on holiday and all this and that. Doesn’t she, Stan? She’s hilarious!’
‘She had me in stitches. And not the kind you’re thinking.’
Meanwhile I’m laying out my kit. Sandra comes and sits next to me; Stan gazes down on it all from a great, sad distance.
‘I felt that!’ he says, when I enter the vein.
‘Sorry.’
Sandra tuts.
‘You’ll be black and blue come the morning,’ she says.
Behind her, the globe bubbles red.

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