the december deadbeat club

Walking up the steep stone steps to the Gaynors’ front door is like ascending to heaven – a drowsy, sweet-scented, brightly-coloured heaven, with bees thrumming drunkenly flower to flower, and the afternoon sun laying so thickly over everything I just want to lie down in the shade of that azalea and sleep.

The oldest thing about the house seems to be the door – a worn, iron-riveted oak construction that would look more at home on the front of a medieval abbey. As it is, I can only think the door was here before the house, standing on its own on top of a small hill, before the garden and the other houses and the road and the lines of parked cars. And it was such a perfect door, they thought they’d build a house around it.

Mrs Gaynor is as old as the house. She hobbles to the door and then steps back whilst I put on my mask and gown. She tells me about her accident – or non-accident, actually, as she can’t remember anything about it. Only she caught her leg on something and now it’s swollen up. Mr Gaynor is there, too, a gaunt figure in the background. He hasn’t got much to add, other than that the thing happened, and Mrs Gaynor is on Warfarin, and it’s a bad business all round. The ambulance came and dressed it, she says. They just need something a little more permanent, and some advice.

They show me through to the front room. Oak panelled, a carved settle in the bay window, a Windsor chair, and a spread of framed family photos around the room, daguerreotype to digital, a hundred and fifty years of the same beaky nose and quizzical look, give or take a bonnet or a ludicrous moustache.

‘Let’s have a look,’ I say, after setting up my wound care station on the settle. ‘Does it hurt?’
‘No, no,’ says Mrs Gaynor. ‘I’d hardly know it was there.’
‘Until you fell over,’ chips in Mr Gaynor.
‘That had nothing to do with the leg’ she says.
‘Ah!’ he says. ‘There we are.’

The whole thing is pretty straightforward. We chat about things whilst I work, how long they’ve lived here (they can’t remember exactly), how they’re coping with the lockdown (business as usual, really). I’m overwhelmed with sleepiness again, probably because it’s so hot in the front room, especially in the apron, mask and gloves. I have to wear glasses to see properly, but then they steam up.

‘I’ll be glad when all this is over,’ I say, straightening up and trying to clear my glasses by wiggling my eyebrows and then pushing the glasses back up with the back of my wrist.
‘It’s certainly dragging on,’ says Mr Gaynor.
‘And then my leg happens,’ says Mrs Gaynor.
To force myself to stay awake I jump on another subject – the fact that I share a birthday with Mrs Gaynor.
‘The fag end of the year,’ I tell her. ‘My dad was the same.’
‘He wasn’t!’
‘Well – not exactly. His birthday was the day before. The joke was that I delayed coming out till I could have a birthday of my own.’
I hold my arms out left and right to illustrate how I did it.
She laughs.
‘Your poor mother.’
‘I’m a December baby, too, you know,’ says Mr Gaynor, in case Mrs Gaynor decides not to tell me.
‘So we’re all Capricorns!’ says Mrs Gaynor. ‘How extraordinary!’
‘The December Deadbeat Club,’ says Mr Gaynor. ‘Present company excepted, of course.’

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