Denis takes a while to get to the door. It’s a long way from the bedroom, he’s exhausted, his legs are shot.
‘They took all the veins out for the bypass,’ he says, turning round painfully.
‘I don’t know they’d take all of them.’
‘A lot, anyway,’ he says. ‘It’s a big operation. The biggest.’
I follow him back through the flat, everything cream and white, a designer’s rule between each chrome fitting, glass table and black leather chair, framed pictures of nothing in particular, cracked willow with fairy lights in a floor-standing, rough stone vase – all the warmth and amiability of a show home.
Denis makes it back to the bedroom and climbs into bed.
Above it, a sepia print of the Golden Gate bridge.
‘I’ve put a chair out,’ he says, gathering the quilt around him.
His yellow folder is on the seat. It’s stuffed full of everything from final demands to hospital discharge summaries; I have a job to keep it all together on my lap.
‘No-one wants to know,’ he says, watching me from the bed. ‘I’ve got heart problems, back problems, they bodged my knee and lied about it. I’ve got all this going on and I’ve paid in all my life and I don’t get any of the attention I deserve.’
And then he turns his head to the side and cries – or, at least, gives a strange, dry-eyed approximation, like he’s been hiding one of those tragedy masks amongst the folds of the quilt, held it up to his face, and then just as suddenly dropped it down again.
‘I’m sorry you’re feeling so low,’ I say. ‘Have you spoken to your doctor?’
He straightens up and looks at me with his normal face.
‘They just fob me off with more pills. They don’t care.’
‘What about talking therapies? You know – counselling and the rest. Would that help, d’you think?’
‘Talk about what? How my life’s fucked up? How I’ve been dicked around and hung out to dry? How’s talking going to help anyone?’
‘I don’t know. I think it’s good to get these things out in the open sometimes. Otherwise they just grow out of proportion and take over.’
He turns to the side again, another brief display of the mask.
‘I’m sorry,’ I tell him, putting the folder on the carpet, and getting out my obs kit. ‘I can see you’ve got a lot on your plate.’
He straightens again.
‘My daughter won’t talk to me,’ he says, pulling a tissue from the box by his side and dabbing his nose.
‘Why? What happened?’
‘Laura, the granddaughter, she was due to get married, and of course it causes all kinds of ructions, ‘cos no-one likes the guy. I mean I didn’t like him either, but – what do I know? Anyway, my daughter was putting her under a lot of pressure, so Laura comes to me and asks me to get involved. Which I try to do as nice as I can – but then it all blows up and I get the blame and now nobody’s talking to me. Me! So sick they had to open my chest and stuff a load of leg veins in there to keep it all working. The most dangerous operation you can have. But they don’t want to know. They don’t ring, they don’t write. I asked the doctor to call my daughter and tell her how sick I am, but the doctor says it’s something I’ve gotta sort out for myself. Me! In my condition!’
‘It’s difficult. But I’d be tempted to take a deep breath and make the call. I bet she cares more than you think. Someone has to make the first move.’
‘Nah, fuck it,’ he says, tossing the tissue in the bin. ‘It’s not gonna be me.’
After I’ve finished the assessment and written up the notes, he seems to brighten up a little.
‘Pass me that iPad, could you?’ he says. ‘D’you know much about these things?’
‘A little,’ I tell him. ‘Shame my daughters aren’t here. They’re pretty good with this stuff.’
I wonder if it was tactless to have mentioned daughters, but he’s too engrossed with the iPad to notice.
‘What’s the problem? Email?’
‘What? No – the iPlayer’s stopped working. What d’you think it is?’
He hands me the tablet.
‘It looks like it needs an update.’
‘Can you do it?’
‘I’ll have a go.’
I click around. Luckily, it seems to work.
‘There!’ I tell him, handing it back. ‘Ready to go.’
‘Great,’ he says. ‘I can watch the last episode of Poldark.’