Jack is dying. Although he’s been in decline for a few months now, this marked deterioration has taken everyone by surprise. The doctor is arranging anticipatory meds, the District Nurses are case managing, and we’ve been asked to put in whatever extra equipment might be needed, especially a hospital bed and dynamic mattress. By the look of him, though, there won’t be time even for that.
Jack is dozing in his favourite recliner chair in front of the snooker, both feet encased in inflatable plastic boots to ease the ulcers on his heels. He doesn’t so much wake up as slowly unfurl, turning his preternaturally large eyes upon me as I come into the room.
And suddenly I remember what we talked about the last time I saw him.
Jack used to be a coal merchant. He spent much of his working life carrying hundred-weight sacks of the stuff, from yard to cart, from cart to house, all weathers. ‘It was a hard life,’ he said. ‘But we had a laugh and a joke. Waa’ll – you ‘ad to keep going some’ow.’ And then when that trade finished, he worked in a builder’s merchant, this time using a fork-lift to load the trucks. It was dusty work, and no doubt that played a part. But he loved the life, and carried on as long as he could till ill health forced him to quit.
‘It’s funny what we used to get delivered,’ I say to him as we pick up the conversation where we left off. ‘Coal. Milk. Corona lemonade. We even had the fish man come round on a Friday.’
‘Fish? I don’t know I could’a done that round,’ he says, rubbing his chin.
‘Waa’ll. It’s like everything else. You gotta know ya plaice.’