Eileen opens the door.
‘He’s upstairs,’ she says, towelling her hands dry as she speaks. ‘I’m just finishing the washing up. You go on ahead.’
Then she turns and hauls herself back along the narrow hallway, vigorously swinging her body left and right to cheat enough play in her hips. It’s like watching a great ape learning to walk; I half expect her to wave the tea towel over her head and jump up on the counter.
Malcolm has gone to bed. Bruised and shaken after his fall a few days ago, his confidence has taken a knock and he doesn’t know what to do with himself.
‘Everyone’s been so kind,’ he says. ‘The doctor, now you people. Really, I couldn’t fault it.’
When I pull back the duvet to have a look at his injuries, I’m surprised to see that he’s fully and nicely dressed in a check shirt, knitted green waistcoat and corduroy trousers. He’s wearing something round his neck on a piece of string – not an alert button, but a smart phone in a black leather wallet.
‘It’s good!’ he says, tapping it gently. ‘I’m still getting the hang of it, though. I mean, the other day, when I rang the surgery, this blasted voice was giving me all these options – press one for this, two for the other – but there was nothing on the screen! I couldn’t get any further with it! I felt like a prize idiot! But my granddaughter showed me what to do. Easy when you know how.’
Eileen sashays in.
‘Still alive, is he?’ she says, considerably out of puff from the climb.
‘Not bad, considering.’
‘I’ve known this woman sixty years,’ says Malcolm. ‘She used to cut my wife’s hair. We all lived in the same street. I ran the garage at the end, Eileen had a little place just round the corner.’
‘Is it sixty years?’ says Eileen. ‘I’m not that old, am I?’
‘Sixty years,’ says Malcolm. ‘Then my wife died, and then Eileen’s husband died…’
‘When you put it like that it sounds a bit off,’ she says, wiping her hands on the tea towel like she’s just come from the scene of a crime.
‘Well – you know how it is,’ says Malcolm. ‘Things change, whether you like it or not.’
‘I’ll just be downstairs if you need anything,’ says Eileen.
‘You wouldn’t think to look at me now, but I used to be quite a handy fellow,’ says Malcolm. ‘I had an interest, you see? Cars. Motorcycles. Anything with an engine. I just loved getting my hands dirty, getting right in there, in the oil and …and the grease. Because you used to get dirty in those days. Not like now. It’s all computers now. I wouldn’t know where to start. Plug it in somewhere, I expect. Then what? No idea. Back then, you see, it was much more straightforward. You just had to see how it all meshed together, how it moved. All the timings and what have you. I loved all that. Tappets! Jets! Things you could put your hands on! Things you could see!’
It looks from the examination that Malcolm might have a UTI.
‘Maybe that’s why you fell in the first place,’ I tell him, writing out the specimen docket.
‘I’ve had them before,’ he says. ‘They made my head go all funny.’
‘Hopefully we’ve caught it sooner this time. Anyway, I’ll let the GP know what’s going on.’
Eileen shows me to the door.
‘Is he going to be all right?’ she says.
‘I think so. He’s doing really well.’
‘Good,’ she says, opening the door. ‘’cos I don’t know what I’d do without him.’