it’s never too late for a nice day

[After ten minutes of knocking and waiting, Mrs Gribbins eventually comes to the door. She’s wearing a quilted blue housecoat, a red scarf round her head, her arm in a collar-and-cuff support. Her face is the same colour as her scarf.]

MrsG: What the hell do you want?
ME: Hello, Mrs Gribbins. I’m sorry to disturb you.
MrsG: No, you’re not
ME: I did ring to say I was coming, but it went to answer machine.
MrsG: You should give me longer to get to the phone. I can’t run about like you.
ME: No. Well – I’m sorry about that.
MrsG: Don’t you know it’s Sunday?
ME: Yep. But I’ve been asked to come and see you to make sure you’re okay. And unfortunately you were first on my list.

[She stares at me]

Specifically – they want me to look at the wound on your arm.

MrsG: How am I supposed to get better if you people keep bothering me?
ME: Well that’s just it, you see? The doctor’s asked us to visit and see you’re okay.
MrsG: What doctor?
ME: [hesitantly] I’ve got it written down somewhere…
MrsG: You don’t know, do you? You come round here, dragging me out into the cold all hours of the day and night. How’m I supposed to get better with you carrying on like that?
ME: I was told your dressing needed changing.
MrsG: By this doctor, I suppose? This mystery doctor no-one’s heard of?
ME: I’ve definitely got it written down somewhere. But it’s fine, Mrs Gribbins. Honestly. If you really don’t want anyone coming round, you don’t have to.
MrsG: It’s ridiculous. You can see I’m alright.
ME: Well actually – I can’t. Not from here.
MrsG: I’ve never been treated like this before. Not ever.
ME: I’m sorry you feel like that. It’s all with the best of intentions. The fact is people are worried about you and want to make sure you’re okay. But like I say – you’re perfectly entitled to say no thanks, and we’ll leave it at that.
MrsG: And you won’t knock on my door again?
ME: No. I’ll just refer you back to the care of your doctor. The doctor I’ve got written down somewhere.
MrsG: [warily, like she doesn’t quite believe it] I don’t mean to be rude.
ME: It’s okay. Don’t worry. Let’s just shake – by your good hand – and we’ll say no more about it.
MrsG: I need time to get better.
ME: Absolutely. Bye, then, Mrs Gribbins.
MrsG: Don’t take this the wrong way, but I hope I never see you again.
ME: Have a nice day.
MrsG: A nice day? [She gives the shoulder of her bad arm a tentative shrug] It’s a bit late for that.

into the arena

Mr Thomas uses his cane to move the strip curtain aside, then after staring at me levelly, thumps the rubber ferrule a couple of times against the glass, then lets the strips fall back into place.

I’m not sure what he means. Is there a keysafe round the side I haven’t seen? Is the door open and he wants me to let myself in? Or is it something else?  I’d guess from his expression – a terrifying species of imperial rage – that he wants me to clear off.

I did try to call him beforehand to warn him I was coming. But Mr Thomas’ phone rejects anonymous calls, and even though I used the 1470 function to remove the anonymity, it still hadn’t accepted the call. In the absence of an alternative number, I’d decided to call round on spec. Which is beginning to feel like a catastrophic error of judgement.

He hooks the strip curtain aside again, to see if I’ve taken the hint. When it’s apparent that I’m not leaving, the strips fall back into place again, and I assume from the isolated flashes of movement I catch that he’s decided to come to the door.

It takes a while.

Across the road, two painters have stopped for lunch. They’ve sat down with their legs happily swinging over the edge of the scaffolding, and are busy setting out their flasks and sandwiches. It’s like they’re settling down to watch a film. Gladiator, maybe.

There’s a doored porch to Mr Thomas’ house – a heavy, white, plastic-and-metal affair. Eventually the inner door opens, and Mr Thomas stands there in his dressing gown and slippers, holding a zimmer frame in one hand and a walking stick in the other, worryingly like a net and trident. He glares at me despite my ingratiating smile, then starts the precarious business of negotiating the front step. I can hardly bear to watch. In fact, the whole thing’s so alarming I try the outer door so I can go in to help. But it’s locked, so all I can do is stand there helplessly as he gets himself in a terrible muddle, trying to manoeuvre the frame with one hand whilst he waves the walking stick in the air. More by luck than skill, and with a huge amount of crashing and swearing and flailing about, he manages to reach the porch door, where he stops to catch his breath, clinging on to the handle. When he’s sufficiently recovered, he starts fiddling with the intricate locking mechanism, flashing me a look every once in a while, as if all this was my fault, and I’m going find out soon enough what he thinks about it.

I glance back at the painters on the scaffolding. One of them raises his sandwich by way of salute. I nod feebly, and then turn back just in time to see the door thrown aside, and Mr Thomas standing there in the full and unmitigated fury of his dressing gown.
Just what the bloody hell do you think you’re playing at? he says.
‘I’m Jim. From the hospital. Come to see how you are’ I say. And as bravely as I can, I hold out my hand, like a Christian martyr offering the lion something to sniff, or tear asunder, depending.