the invisible man

Michael’s sister Stephanie shows me into the bedroom. Michael is lying on top of the bed, propped up on pillows, sipping from a thick-cut glass of mauve-coloured water.
‘Please excuse the mess,’ he says, resting the glass back on his chest. ‘And thank you for coming.’
‘Would you like a cup of tea or anything?’ says Stephanie to me, hugging the corner of the door. ‘Shall I fetch you a chair?’
‘No, no! I’m happy standing,’ I tell her. ‘But thanks anyway.’
‘Or kneeling,’ says Michael. ‘Isn’t that what angels are supposed to do? At the corner of the bed?’
He finishes the last of the liquid, then winces with pain as he puts it back on the side table, alongside a Jenga of medication and a digital clock, the kind where the figures flip over. To his left on the bed is a stand for a Kindle, and one of those grabbers that you work with a lever to help pick things up.
Michael is dying of cancer. The next move is into a hospice, but he’s delaying that as long as possible. Life’s getting more difficult, though. He’s in such pain he finds it difficult to get out of bed, and when he’s up he can’t stand for long or bend over.
‘If I fall I’m done for,’ he says. ‘Socks are a particular thing. Are you sure you wouldn’t like a coffee? Or one of these…?’
He nods to the pain meds. ‘Barman’s special.’
‘That’s kind but… I’m good.’

There’s a TV up on a chest of drawers at the foot of the bed. He’s been watching an old black and white drama, frozen since I came to the door. I’m guessing it’s from the 1950s. Michael sees I’m curious and unfreezes it. The scene continues. A square-shouldered guy is talking seriously to an empty chair; a disembodied voice replies. He taps out a cigarette and hands it to the empty chair. The cigarette floats in mid-air. The square-shouldered guy lights it, then carries on with his monologue.
‘The Invisible Man?’ I say.
‘Correct!’ says Michael. ‘The first TV version. The special effects are dreadful but it was early and anyway there’s something strangely comforting about all that. Don’t you think?’
‘I know what you mean. They must’ve had fun figuring out all the moves.’
We both watch as the Invisible Man gets up from the chair – knocking it over, for clarity, or maybe because being invisible makes you more clumsy – and then sitting over on the sofa, the cushion sagging nicely in the middle to show when he’s landed. A woman comes in looking concerned. She goes over to the sofa and sits next to the Invisible Man, putting a hand out onto his lap, or where his lap might possibly be.
‘It’d be easy to get that wrong,’ says Michael.
She emotes beautifully, staring with great compassion into the space beside her.
‘All those years at acting school were not in vain,’ says Michael.

After the examination and a chat about how our service can help, Michael’s mobile phone rings. It’s out of reach on the bed. I reach out to get it, but Michael frowns and shakes his head. He takes up the grabber, pinces the phone in a precarious but firm enough grip, and then slowly and very expertly drags it towards him.
‘There!’ he says, taking it into his hands. ‘And I’m sure if you’d squinted and ignored the grabber, you’d have thought I was invisible, too!’

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