‘The doctor, he was here yesterday, he said Squeeze my hands. Hard as you can. I said to him, I said You sure you want me to do that, squire? He said Do your worst. So I grabbed a hold and give him a squeeze, and the next thing you know he was pulling ‘em away shouting All right, mate! All right! You’ve made your point!’
Mr Wilson laughs, a desiccated kind of rattle, and shakes his head.
‘I was a stone mason all my life. I could squeeze the juice’ve a pebble.’
I think the doctor was being kind, though. Whilst it’s true Mr Wilson’s wrists are still impressively thick, the rest of his body has been sadly depleted by age and illness, and he pays for his enthusiastic outbursts with a degree of gasping that the oxygen through his nasal cannulae struggles to correct.
I’ve arrived at the same time as Mr Wilson’s morning carers. It’s lovely to see how they chivy him along, making a game of it all, distracting him from the frustrations and indignities of his situation. I’ve no doubt Mr Wilson has been a positive kind of person all his life, though, used to making the best of things. He cusses and carries on in the wheelchair, tetchily snapping the oxygen cable when it gets in his way, kicking his slippers off when they snag in the footrests. The carers obviously love him.
When he’s settled in the wheelchair and recovered his strength, and the carers have given him a peck on the cheek, signed the book and left, he folds his great hands on his middle and shakes his head.
‘I can’t go to Catania,’ he says. ‘I don’t suppose I’ll ever see it again.’
I get the story in short bursts. He fought in Italy during the war. Met his wife there. Settled back in the UK, but every year they went back to Catania to see her family. But his wife died last year, and his illness had progressed, and he was faced with the fact that he’d never see Catania again.
‘I wanted to say goodbye proper, like,’ he said. ‘I wanted to say Addio. Now look at me.’
He picks up the green plastic tube and holds it in front of him, like he was showing me something else, the thing that was tethering him to this world, the line that he’d play out if he could, all the way to the eastern shores of Sicily, and Catania, and his wife, and the adventures and the life they’d had together, so he could relax his grip, and let go the end, and disappear himself, off into the sun.