how to make an impression

‘To begin with, I’m not Cedric. I know it says Cedric on my birth certificate and all those official places, but it’s really a terrible mistake. I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to be a Cedric. I think my parents must have lost at cards or had some kind of fit or something. So although it says Cedric, please feel free to ignore it and call me Bill. Everyone else does.’
He settles back in his armchair.
‘The bathroom’s through there if you’d like to wash your hands,’ he says.
‘It’s okay. I’ve got a bottle of hand cleanser here.’
‘As you wish.’
I take a small bottle out of my bag and pull the cap off. I’m a little heavy-handed, though. When I squirt some foam onto my left palm, a gob flies over and lands on the leather pad of an antique writing desk.
‘Oops,’ I say. ‘Sorry.’
‘Will it stain?’
‘I shouldn’t think so.’
‘Here. Give it a dab, would you?’
He passes me a pressed cotton handkerchief and I gently pat the area. It doesn’t look great, but I’m hoping the difference in colour is due to the wetness rather than any damage caused by the antiseptic soap.
‘Oh,’ I say. ‘Have you got any polish? I’m sure that’ll sort it out.’
‘Hm’ he says. He takes the handkerchief back from me, folds it up and puts it on the little table next to him.
Bill is so immaculately dressed – hair oiled and combed to one side, silver moustache trimmed to an even millimetre around his mouth, a precisely knotted tie just visible at the V-neck of a treacle-coloured jumper, an ironed crease running mid-leg down to a pair of monogrammed slippers – he hardly looks real. In fact, he’s so perfect I wouldn’t be surprised if, when he stood up and turned sideways, he revealed that he was in fact a tall, beautifully illustrated, two-dimensional bookmark.
Funnily enough, Bill used to be an antiquarian bookseller, a job he strode into when his frigate docked for the last time after the war. It’s easy to imagine him, sitting at the back of the shop, reverentially turning the pages of a rare book, then swiping off his glasses and getting down to business.
‘One thing I do want you to do is look at my back,’ he says.
‘Because of the fall?’
‘So what happened, Bill? I read the ambulance report but I wouldn’t mind hearing it from you.’
‘Would you? Very well. It happened about a week ago now. I was getting out of bed to visit the bathroom in the early hours, as one does. Especially at this age. Several times. So anyway, I sat there a moment on the edge of the bed, collecting my thoughts, berating my fate and so on, and I thought – I wonder what the time actually is? So I reached forward to look at the watch I keep on the dressing table. Well – for some reason that I cannot account for, that simple gesture extended, and extended, and the critical point came and I just couldn’t help myself. I think as I rolled forwards I must have turned and caught my back on the dressing table, because apparently I have a mark there that rather supports the supposition.’
‘Okay. Let’s have a look, then.’
He stands up, and then holds on to his zimmer frame whilst I untuck him and expose his back. As well as a livid, generalised bruise across the upper left side, there’s the impression of one half of a dressing table drawer – the corner of it, mostly, with some of the ornamental handle – everything picked out in a livid red line.
‘Ouch!’ I say. ‘That’s pretty harsh! It’s so clear I could almost read you the name of the cabinet maker.’
‘Yes. Well – it is a fine piece. I bought it at auction fifty years ago. Probably paid a little over the odds but what can I say? It rather made an impression on me.’
And he gives me a perfect, stage wink as he begins the painstakingly slow process of gathering together his many layers and tucking himself back in.

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