what happened to nobby

If the city is a cup, Mr Dexter lives on the rim. Not only that, you have to climb two flights of concrete steps to get to his front door. Even the flowers in the concrete flower bed strain upwards, as if everything round here has a compelling urge to be higher.

Mr Dexter told me on the phone I was to knock and let myself in. He’s sitting waiting for me in a pristine armchair, to the left of a room so clean it would take a team of CSI detectives to confirm anyone lived there at all.
‘Take a seat,’ says Mr Dexter. ‘Not that one. That one. Thank you.’

Unsurprisingly, like the plants, Mr Dexter is tall and drawn-out, like those stretchy toys you’d tug on the arms and legs and then toss on the window to stick and then slowly roll down.
‘So what happened, Mr Dexter? I know the basics – you got stuck in the bath, the ambulance came, you went to hospital for a while. But it’s good to hear it from you.’
‘Yes,’ he sniffs. ‘It’s true. I got stuck in the bath. It was all terribly embarrassing.’
‘Sounds awful. Do you have an emergency call button?’
‘No, but it’s on my list.’
‘So how did you manage to call for help?’
‘I didn’t. My cleaner found me.’
‘Goodness! How long had you been stuck there?’
‘A few hours. Six or so.’
‘And did they find out why you got stuck?’
‘No. They did all manner of tests. Nothing.’
‘Did you have problems before the bath incident?’
‘Nothing much. The usual wear and tear associated with extreme old age.’ He leans forward. ‘I’m old, in case you hadn’t noticed.’
‘I certainly didn’t think you were ninety-two.’
‘Well!’ he says, smiling, leaning back. ‘There’s my compliment for the day.’

*

I complete the assessment. All the usual checks are fine. I tell him the plan – that an Occupational Therapist will come round to assess the house for any pieces of equipment they think might help.
‘I don’t think the bath’s a good idea until you have a bath lift or something,’ I tell him. ‘Ultimately I think a wet-room shower set-up is the most practical, but it’s up to you.’
‘I couldn’t do without my morning soak,’ he says. ‘A wet room? Sounds barbaric – like something you’d have at the zoo.’
‘Baths are such a hassle though, aren’t they? I can’t remember the last time I had a bath – which sounds wrong now I say it. But you know what I mean.’
‘It’s good for the joints,’ he says, stretching his arms out like some great, gaunt, featherless condor demonstrating the principles of flight.
‘The Occupational Therapist shouldn’t come on Wednesday,’ he says, relaxing again.
‘Oh? Why? Have you got an outpatient appointment or something?’
‘No. That’s when my new car’s being delivered.’
‘Your new car?’
‘Yes. It’s one of those hybrid electric things. Save the Planet!’
He taps his nose and winks, like Save the Planet is code for something else, something less worthy.
I can’t believe he’s still driving, but I decide not to say anything. He’s so energised by the thought of the delivery, I can’t bring myself to ask whether it’s the best idea to be thinking of getting in a car when barely a week ago you couldn’t get out of the bath.

*

As I’m finishing off the paperwork we chat about other stuff. What he did in the past. He was an engineer, after a stint doing National Service.
‘I was in the RAF,’ he says. ‘I fared better than my friend Nobby, though. He went into the Navy. He told me about the time his ship was sent to witness one of the H bomb tests in the Pacific. They stood off about fifty miles or so, I think. Anyway, the Captain said All hands on deck! So up they went, and lined up on the port side. There’ll be a big flash! the Captain said. When it comes, just hold your hands up – like so!
Mr Dexter demonstrates, lacing his long fingers together and then holding them in front of his eyes palm inwards, like an extemporary mask. He holds them there whilst he says: ‘And Nobby told me, when the flash happened, it was so fierce, it lit up his hand like an Xray, and he could see all the bones there, clear as day.’
He holds his hands still a moment, imagining that, then slowly settles back into the armchair.
‘The bones of his hand! Well – you can guess what happened to Nobby.’

And I have to admit that – yes, sadly – I could.

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