‘I must say everyone’s been so nice’ says Anthony, staring down at me with his arms folded as I clean the blood off his toes. ‘For the most part. And even then you can see why they might be a bit off. Pressure of work and all that. The hospital was absolute bedlam, of course. People coming and going at all hours of the day and night.’
‘I don’t think they’re very restful places, hospitals.’
‘No. I spent three weeks trying to escape. And it was always the same thing. We’ll tell you when we think you’re ready to be discharged they’d say. We’re just waiting on this result or that review. And on and on it went, absolutely without end. Until one morning a nurse appeared and started shoving things in a bag and said I had half an hour before the transport arrived.’
‘That must’ve been a shock!’
‘I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a dream. I had such odd dreams in hospital, you see. I couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t. I had one particularly vivid dream about bicycles.’
‘Red ones. Growing out of the ground, like trees. What d’you suppose that means?’
‘I don’t know. It sounds kind of stuck.’
‘Well I suppose so. I was ready to start tunneling my way out with a spoon.’
There’s a knock on the door.
‘Ah! That’ll be June!’ he says, pushing himself more upright on the chair, dragging his cast leg back on the stool. ‘You couldn’t let her in, could you?’
When I open the front door I’m met by a small elderly woman dressed entirely in red. A red tartan shawl with darker red patches and golden thread; a red blouse fastened at the neck with a beetle brooch; a red corduroy skirt; red stockings, and shiny red patent leather shoes. She’s carrying a wicker basket with the handle looped over her arm, and the basket is draped with a white cheesecloth square.
‘Cake!’ says June, smiling at me as innocently as if I was a wolf dressed in a nurse’s tunic. ‘For the invalid!’
I can tell by the way she marches round the corner and into the flat that she’s been here many times before.
‘Helloooo!’ she calls ahead. ‘Only me!’
Anthony makes the introductions when I follow after her into the living room.
‘June is my oldest friend. The best mathematician I know. And I know a few.’
‘Oh now!’ says June, but she doesn’t deny it, giving me a broad, red-lipped smile instead.
‘We’re going to celebrate Anthony’s release with a lovely morning eating cake and talking algebra,’ she says, resting the basket on the table.
‘Well don’t mind me’ I say. ‘I’m all done with the foot. All that’s left is to write up the notes and I’ll leave you to it.’
I pick up the folder and click my pen. ‘And I promise I’ll only chip in if I hear you say anything completely outrageous about the theorems.’
‘Theorems?’ says June, suddenly serious. ‘What d’you mean? What theorems?’
‘Only kidding,’ I tell her. ‘I struggle putting the right number of shoes on in the morning.’
She looks at Anthony, they both laugh, and she sweeps off into the kitchen to divide up the cake.