Mr Franklin opens the door so briskly you’d think he’d been standing there waiting for the knock. It’s difficult to resist taking a step back – not just for the suddenness of the greeting, but also for his eager expression. If I was forced to give an artist’s impression, I’d probably reach for a geometry set: compass points for those perfectly round eyes, a ruler for that mouth. Even his shirt is checked.
He hardly waits to hear who we are, but throws the door wide and gestures to the stairs that lead up to his maisonette flat.
‘After you!’ he says, everything punctuated with an exclamation mark, his eyebrows quivering in his hairline.
The place is as crisp and oddly perfect as Mr Franklin. A cold collection of rooms, each with the minimum amount of furniture to identify the function: a sofa and two armchairs for the sitting room; a single bed for the bedroom – and nothing whatsoever in the kitchen, to speak of, certainly not to eat.
‘What are you doing for food, Mr Franklin?’
‘Oh! Well! When you’ve gone, I’ll probably nip out to the shop and buy a sandwich!’
At least there are signs that may be true. A bin liner with empty sandwich wrappers, one for each day of the week.
‘Can I go out and get you something now?’ I ask him.
‘No! I can manage!’ he says. ‘But thank you!’
The GP has referred Mr Franklin to us.
‘I don’t know him myself,’ she says. ‘In fact, no-one seems to know Mr Franklin, and I’m a bit concerned he may have fallen off the grid. The paramedics went out to him and diagnosed a UTI, so that’s all in hand, at least. When I saw him he wasn’t too bad, all his obs were stable and so on, but there’s something… I don’t know. I’ll be doing a safeguarding report, of course, but in the meantime if you wouldn’t mind following up with bloods and so on. I mean, for goodness sake – he doesn’t even have an NHS number.’
Mr Franklin is ready for me to take his blood now. It’s disconcerting to see how detached he is from the business, like a puppet proffering his arm, his eyes lit from behind by a low watt bulb. When I’m done, and he’s shown us back downstairs to the front door, I can imagine him simply turning off the light and hanging himself up on a hook.
‘How long have you lived here, Mr Franklin?’ I ask, as much to distract myself as much as the patient.
‘Now let’s see…’ he says, not blinking or diverting his gaze from the needle at all. ‘I don’t know, is the answer!’ he says.
‘Does that surprise you, not knowing?’
He doesn’t reply, but continues to smile down at his arm as the blood fills the vial.
‘No!’ he says. ‘Should it?’