Leonard has a reputation
difficult to handle, apparently
(although, it’s probably fair to say,
the person who finds Leonard
most difficult to handle
is Leonard himself)
‘How am I?’ he says. ‘Not good, son. Not good at all
I just don’t want to be me anymore.
D’you know what I’m saying?
It’s all come to a head.
Maybe it’s time I cashed in my chips.
What do you think?’
He shrugs, gesturing to the room
like he’s inviting me to make an offer
on the pug-print scatter pillows, the fucked sofa
the walking frame, TV & box of medical sundries.
There’s a picture of Leonard on the wall
forty, maybe fifty, standing behind a hotel bar,
ruched shirt & reactolites,
the whole ensemble held in place
by a disquieting variety of stump-gapped smile
that – I have no doubt – could
drop from his face as suddenly
as the tea towel from his shoulder.
His right hand’s resting on a beer pump handle,
the left on his hip, with such shotgun bonhomie
it’s easier to imagine him ripping the handle
from the counter and hitting me with it
as pulling a pint of bitter.
‘That must’ve been fun,’ I say, ‘Running a hotel’
‘Fun?’ he says ‘Depends what you mean by fun.
The bastards never went to bed.’
stands in the kitchen doorway
back-lit, uncertain, hunched as a bear
prematurely brought to the mouth
of his cave by a dream of hunters
‘Thanks for seeing me’ he wheezes
ironic, given his condition
just back from the eye hospital
where the surgeon sorted his cataract
insouciant as a sous chef
peeling a lychee
‘I’m fine with everything normally,’ he says
‘I’m pretty independent.
It’s just – with this eye –
I needed help with the ointment’
I follow him inside, to a table
silted with post, pills and magazines,
spent scratchcards, pizza menus
and numbers and names, all in green ink,
scrawled on the backs of envelopes
‘Everyone referred to us
goes through the same procedure’ I say
immediately tripping over my bag,
fumbling my folders
and scattering all the forms on the floor
‘Oh dear, oh dear!’ says Raymond
‘Are you alright?’
and, popping the cap from his biro
he slides another envelope from the stack
‘And what procedure might that be?’
‘How was your day?’
‘Why? What happened?’
‘Every single referral
Was PROPERLY SICK.
I don’t just mean quite poorly.
I mean CIRCLING THE DRAIN
‘So why did they all come to us?
What about the other teams?’
‘Exactly. That’s what I said.
Where’s everyone else? I said.
They don’t have capacity, they said.
Oh really? I said.
So where’s our’s coming from?
The CAPACITY FAIRY?
It’s the closest I’ve come to giving up, Jim.
swear to God
I mean – it’s like no-one’s ever faced this before
Doctors, Paramedics, you name it
All of them reduced to a blind panic.
I was surprised I didn’t get a referral
from the UNDERTAKERS.
I may as well have
I’d have had the same odds
You see – what it is – they’re running out of options, Jim.
They don’t know what to do
The balloon’s goin’ down
and they’re chucking everything out the basket
Well I’m sorry, I know I’m good
I can fix most things but I can’t fix GRAVITY
I didn’t know what to do, Jim
I’d have taken them all home with me
if I had a bigger kitchen
I mean – these people are MORTALLY UNWELL
I would’ve sent the lot of them to hospital
a job lot of the damned
if it wasn’t obvious that was the last place
they needed to be’
‘You’ve had a bad day.’
‘BAD DAY? Officially the WORST.
All I need’s the T-SHIRT.’
She takes a crumbly bite of millionaire shortbread
a slug of tea
‘How’m I supposed to sleep tonight
thinking about all those poor people
balanced on the edge
looking in my direction?’
She looks in my direction.
‘Help yourself to shortbread’ she says.
the only thing upright in the flat
is Jake’s old Gibson
tall and sunburst proud amongst
the general carnage
the scattered mags
bags and bottles
a kid’s crayon portrait
on yellowing sugar-paper
a monster with loopy hair
and big scrawly paws
stomping on a line of kisses
up on the wall
an island of shine against the damp
two framed photos:
Jake with his arm round Lemmy, and
Jake on the bonnet of a Ford Capri
the sun engoldening his hair
whilst he sits, one knee crooked
fagged hand draped
staring at the lens
with a slack mouthed, low-lidded
three denimed girls
out of focus behind him
smiling, their heads together
‘Cool!’ I say
turning back to the bed
pulling on my gloves
‘Y’know what I really need right now?’ he says
‘No. What d’you need?’
he chuckles past his tooth
unclips the buckle
of his jeans
and, bridging as best he can,
reveals an urgent press
of iliac crest
beneath the skin
‘A little Dr D’ he says
Just a coupla fingers’
Clive lives in a grotto
(portmanteau word: rotten, grot and odour)
there’s a foetid curtain hanging across the bottom of the stairs
that reminds me of those doors
you used to bang through on the ghost train
– Watch out! There are horrors ahead!
Clive is not sitting in his armchair
so much as being slowly consumed by it
he’s smoking a fag, artfully balancing
a long and crooked stack of ash
with the wizened fingers of a mummified count
‘hello’ he says. ‘And who might you be?’
Clive doesn’t want any help, thank you
he’s quite happy as he is
he already has a heap of equipment
(toilet aid, perching stool, zimmer frame)
tossed in a bath that last saw water
when Nasser was blockading the canal
Clive has a cat on his lap, a placid brindle coloured animal
(though it’s perfectly possible that, along with everything else,
the walls, the furniture and me, probably,
it’s actually a snow white cat kippered by all the smoke)
‘He’s lovely,’ I say. ‘What’s his name?’
‘She!’ says Clive, losing his ash. ‘It’s a girl. And I call her Thingummy’.
Have I got your attention?
Are you listening?
Yes. Absolutely, Ken. Sorry.
Just trying to multi-task.
What did you want to say?
He rests his flat gray eyes on me.
I used to be a black belt. In Judo.
I had private lessons. From Joe Robinson.
Do you know who Joe Robinson was?
No. He was an actor and stuntman.
Was he? Wow.
Do you know who his other student was?
For some reason I want to say Kendo Nagasaki
but Ken interrupts me before I can
Sean Connery, he says
You must’ve heard of him.
Sean Connery? I say. Yes. Absolutely.
Ken drapes one wasted leg over the other
and links his fingers round the knee
Do you think I will ever be well? he says.
We’ll certainly do everything we can to make you better
Yes, but what I’m saying is – will I be well again? Like I was?
I think the likelihood is that you’ve got an infection
but the antibiotics should help with that
and we’ll certainly keep a close eye on things.
Ken is not convinced
He kicks his foot up and down
and takes a sad, sighing kind of breath
I used to be a dancer, he says,
rolling his lips back over his gums
then releasing them with a smack
Did you? That’s fantastic
Ballroom, waltz, polka, tango, he says.
Have I got your attention?
Are you listening to me?
Yes. Absolutely. You were a dancer as well.
Do you know what my favourite was?
I have to think a minute
going through all the dances I know
Eventually I say: foxtrot?
No. It was the cha cha…
but he’s run out of steam or interest or both
and the unsaid cha
wobbles in the space between us
like an unpricked bubble
Do you think I’ll ever be well? he says
Rita’s eyes are as rimmed and round
as the eyes of an affronted chicken
scratching for bugs and other scraps
in the dusty wastes of her filial duty
I’m a fully paid up member of the NHS
she says, wagging an admonitory claw
in my approximate direction
waltzing in here with your can-haves, your might-haves
I’m not interested in excuses, mate
if I’d come in on a boat, washed up on the beach
there’d be a long line of people waiting to help
but no, don’t you worry, we’ll take care of it
we always have and we always will
now then, mum, do you want this pie or not?
she rips open the packaging
and thrusts the foil tray beneath her face
why don’t I heat it up? she says