Malcolm doesn’t have a phone. Not one that works, anyway. So all you can do is pitch up and hope for the best.
It’s a fair bet he’ll be in, though. For one reason or another he’s had a series of falls – getting dizzy and going over at the bus stop, the queue at the post office, the supermarket. They’ve put him through the usual tests, given him a pacemaker, a range of medication, a walking stick. He’s been to countless follow-up appointments (falling over on at least two of them). He’s had a new hip. If you x-rayed his arm you’d see two plates and a line of screws. All in all, he’s a walking (and falling) phenomenon. All they can really do now is adjust his meds from time to time, and maybe dress him like an American football player when he wants to go out.
‘Come on in, why dont’cha!’ he says when I knock on his open door.
He’s bent over a boiled egg and crumpet, working away at it, his good elbow pointed straight up.
‘Lovely!’ he says, leaning back and wiping his chin. ‘Now,’ he says, waggling the eggy spoon in my direction, ‘you can’t do no better than an egg in the morning!’
These days Malcolm’s flat is pretty down-at-heel. Casting your eye about the place is like sending a deep water drone through the wreck of the Titanic – a settled and claggy sediment over every surface. Despite his straitened circumstance he declines all offers of help, though.
‘I keep myself to myself,’ he says. ‘I don’t do too bad.’
There are two black and white pictures on the wall behind him: Malcolm as a young man in the army. The first picture is of his unit, posing in full uniform in four rows; the second is a blow-up of the same picture, zooming in on Malcolm and the guys on either side. It’s hard to see any likeness, though. Both pictures are so faded, it’s disconcertingly like someone’s dressed a row of mannequins in uniform, the peaked caps emphasising the blankness of their faces.
‘I’ve jes’ got to nip down to the laundry room,’ he suddenly announces. ‘You don’t mind, d’you? Only the other fellas’ll be gurnin’ on about it.’
Before I can even offer to go for him – it’s down two flights of stairs after all – he’s pushed himself up from the armchair and set off.
‘I’ll come with you’ I say, hurrying after.
At least he lets me go down the stairs first.
When I take his bed clothes out of the dryer they’re so hot I have to juggle them around.
‘Done!’ he says, slamming the dryer door in a blast of superheated, fabric conditioned air. ‘C’mon, fella!’
And we’re off again.
He nods at the manager’s door.
‘Furloughed,’ he says. ‘Alright for some.’
‘You can pause on the landing,’ I say, chasing after him back up the stairs, almost tripping on the bottom sheet. ‘There’s no rush.’
He waves his hand in the air – which I’d rather he’d use to hold on to the rail.
‘Feck it. If I go, I go,’ he says. ‘You can catch me in the sheets.’
Back in the flat, he tells me to dump the stuff on a chair by the bed. It’s only then I notice his bed is heaped up with what looks like skeins of shredded cotton. It reminds me of the bedding my hamster Horace used to have, how he’d scuffle it all up and then bury himself in the middle.
‘Are you sure you wouldn’t want someone to look in on you, Malcolm?’ I say. ‘We could get you some new bedding, if you’d like?’
‘That’s kind, but I’m okay,’ he says, throwing himself down into the armchair again. ‘Phew! That little jaunt took it out of me. You’re spinning like a regular Father Christmas!’
‘Father Christmas? Why? Does he spin?’
Malcolm rests his head back and closes his eyes.
‘I don’t know, fella,’ he says. ‘I don’t know. It certainly looks that way to me now.’