We’re a while on the porch waiting for Henry to come to the door.
‘He obviously likes a fag’ says Tom, nodding at the evidence: a miniature red fire bucket filled with stubs by a simple metal chair. ‘Still. Nice to have a hobby that gets you out. Shall I ring again, d’you think?’
As if in reply, Henry calls out from somewhere deep in the house Just coming, so we wait a while longer.
‘My hayfever’s bad today!’ says Tom, rubbing his eyes. ‘I took a Piriton, but the trouble is, it completely wipes me out.’
‘What about the non-drowsy stuff?’
He shakes his head.
‘Doesn’t touch it,’ he says. ‘No – I need the big guns. And then I end up looking like him…!’
He nods to a nightmarish plastic figurine by the side of the front door, a pixie (I’d guess), clothes made from flowers, flowerpot hat, holding a watering can, smiling vacantly.
Suddenly we see the shape of Henry coalescing behind the frosted glass, lurching from side to side as he harrumphs and curses his way down the hall. Eventually he’s near enough to reach out a hand, there’s a deal more swearing as he fumbles with the lock, and the door opens.
‘Sorry about the delay, fellas,’ he says, struggling with his words as much as his legs. ‘Only the wife’s left me.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that, Henry.’
‘No, no. I mean shopping. Come in.’
He turns round with some difficulty in the narrow hall, and then starts the long journey back to the bedroom.
‘I understand you’ve been having some trouble with your electric bed?’ says Tom as we follow him inside.
‘You can say that again,’ he says. ‘I tripped over the control panel and pulled the wire out.’
‘When did that happen?’
‘I don’t know. A year ago?’
‘I’m useless these days and there was no-one else. Here – I don’t suppose you want to buy a bed, d’you?’
The bed’s the first thing we look at. It’s something the family have bought privately – a simple divan affair with the head and foot end operated by buttons. I lift the bed up (it’s not heavy), whilst Tom lies on his back like a mechanic and wriggles underneath.
‘This is where I tickle you,’ says Henry to me.
‘No! No tickling!’ says Tom. ‘Ah-ha! I see the problem…’
He pushes home the disconnected cable, crawls out again, I lower the bed, he presses the control panel. The head end whirrs and rises.
‘You did it!’ says Henry.
‘I can’t believe you’ve been without it for a whole year!’
‘It’s amazing what you can do with pillows.’
‘I’ll take your word for it,’ says Tom. ‘Hold on… I’m going to sneeze.. aah… aaaah…. aaaaaaaah…. No. Sorry. False alarm.’
‘I’m disappointed,’ says Henry.
It’s astonishingly loud, like we’ve just been buzzed by a fighter jet.
‘Good God in Heaven!’ says Henry. ‘I’m glad I was holding onto something.’