the swans

We’re standing round waiting for the enema to work.
‘Anything yet?’
William moves his head tentatively from side to side without lifting it from the pillow, the tube of his nasal specs shifting only slightly, the air compressor in the corner of the room clunking and whirring. Ralph the dog gives a harrumph from under the bed, rests his chin on his paws. Tina the nurse, William’s daughter Bella and I do much the same.

It’s a peaceful scene, all in all – quite a contrast from the cries of pain William made when we rolled him onto his side to administer the enema.
‘Shouldn’t be long now,’ says Tina.
‘That’s what you said when you give me the suppository,’ says William. ‘What’s the next thing on the list? A stick of dynamite?’

Only Fools and Horses is playing quietly on the TV behind me. I glance back at it. Del boy, Rodney, Grandad and Trigger are all sitting on the sofa, looking depressed. It’s a strangely bleak scene for a sitcom. More like a downbeat suburban drama.

William reminds me of one of the other characters, Boysie, the dodgy guy who ran the car showroom, the one who put on airs and graces and wore a mohair coat over his shoulders like a count but was really as rough as the others. His living room is the kind of living room Boysie might have had – plush velvet drapes pleated like cinema curtains, fancy plates wired to the wall, carved gilt chairs, comedy scatter cushions. It’s an expensive house though, overlooking a quiet stretch of the river.
‘Are the swans back?’ he asks Bella.
‘The what?’
‘The swans. Are the swans back?’
‘The white one is. Not the black one.’
‘I like the black one.’
‘Well he’s not back yet.’
‘Where is he?’
‘I don’t know, Dad. Maybe he’s on his holidays.’
‘At least someone’s having a nice time. This? This is suicide.’

It’s a pretty tough situation for William. He went into hospital with a broken arm and came out with a diagnosis of terminal cancer, prognosis four weeks. We’re filling in for the palliative team, but at least he’s got a hospital bed and so on.

‘How about now? Anything?’ says Tina.
‘You’ll know about it when it happens,’ says William.
‘Dad – the whole neighbourhood’s gonna know about it when it happens,’ says Bella.
‘Yeah,’ says William, then appears to fall asleep.

Tina takes her gloves off, checks her fob watch, then sits outside in the hallway to write up the notes so far. The front door bell rings; Bella hurries downstairs to answer it. I stay standing next to William. He opens his eyes and looks directly at me, as if he’d secretly been watching me from behind his eyelids.
‘I mean – landmines,’ he says, as if we’d just been talking about that.
‘I know,’ I say. ‘It’s a terrible thing.’
‘Why would you make something like that? Killing and maiming innocent people. What’s that all about, then?’
‘I’m pretty sure this country still makes them, though. And other stuff. The arms trade is pretty big.’
‘Why can’t we all just get along? If you want to go to a church, or a mosque, or wherever – fine. It’s none of my business. But the next thing you know, we’re at each other’s throats.’
‘That’s a good point,’ I say. ‘Too many wars over nothing at all.’
‘Then of course what happens is – you say one thing – I say another – fine – your lot have a go at my lot – I say what’s going on here – they move over there – I say hang on a minute – and the next thing you know millions are being slaughtered.’
‘It’s complicated.’
‘Is it really so hard for us to share this planet?’
‘That’s true.’
‘But I tell you one thing.’
‘What’s that?’
‘There ‘ain’t half been some evil bastards in this world.’
‘It’s definitely had more than its fair share.’
‘Take that Clinton woman.’
‘Hillary Clinton?’
‘I read a book about her. Now that’s evil on a whole other level.’
Hillary Clinton?
‘If I wasn’t laid up in bed – if I could get outta this bed – you know what I’d do? I’d take a machine gun and machine gun the lot of ‘em.’
Bella comes back in the room.
‘Amazon delivery,’ she says. ‘Any developments?’
‘The lot of ‘em!’ says William.
Bella looks at me and raises her eyebrows.
Tina walks in, snapping on fresh gloves.
‘Alright?’ she says.
Behind me, the Only Fools and Horses theme tune starts to play.

2 thoughts on “the swans

    1. I blame the opiates (to some extent…)
      Thanks Sabine! It’s good to know you’re out there – and don’t worry about commenting!
      I hope all’s good with you in these difficult times.


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