‘Please – call me Johnny’ he croaks, ‘And by the way, before you ask, yes, I am allergic to rubber. Hurr hurr hurr.’
He reminds me of those make your own creature flip-books you used to get, where each section is something different, a duck’s feet, a crocodile’s body, a giraffe’s head, and so on – except in Johnny’s case it’s the feet of Bernard Bresslaw, the body of Charles Hawtrey, the laugh of Sid James.
His bedroom is strangely bare except for a bed, a television, and a stack of CDs, hopeless old British smut, Confessions of a Window Cleaner, Adventures of a Taxi Driver, On the Buses. On the wall to Johnny’s right is a full-sized colour poster of a naked woman, straddling a canoe or something. I’ve seen plenty of pornographic images in patients’ houses, of course. It’s mostly either elderly men with pictures of naked women, or elderly men with pictures of naked men. Sometimes it’s creepy, sometimes it’s poignant, but suddenly and for the first time I’m struck by just how downright odd it is. It’s probably just the juxtaposition of the skeletal man on a bed beneath such a hack and potentiated version of the female form. The woman has one arm crooked behind her head, sleepily gazing down at the camera, the areola of her breasts as perfectly defined as the drops of sweat standing out on her shoulders, her other hand draped over her iliac crest, fingers resting against the upper line of that dark triangle of hair. There’s a tension in the composition, a power that starts between the sleepy twin points of the woman’s eyes, running down her body through the points of her breasts to the stark presentation of her pubic hair. And it’s this, particularly, this blatant presentation of the woman’s vagina – particularly in this context, this bare and rather cold little room, with Johnny lying on his bed, a few weeks from death, propped up on cushions, sipping tea through a Tommee Tippee beaker, that strikes me as acutely and profoundly odd. Because of course that’s where Johnny started. It’s where he came from. Not that particular vagina (although anything’s possible), but no doubt one very like. He was conceived and carried in a woman just like this (or close), and when the time was right, he rode those uterine contractions head down, eyes shut, arms and legs tucked in, a nude and grimacing alien, braced for impact, wrung out into the world.
‘Gorgeous, in’t she?’ says Johnny.
‘Yep. She’s pretty lovely.’
‘Oh yes. One hundred per cent woman,’ he says. And laughs. Hurr hurr hurr.