i’ve been busy for a few days. this is something not made up.
She watched through the kitchen window as the ambulance pulled up outside on the road and her stomach tightened. Here we go, she thought to herself. She wiped the soap suds from her hands and walked through the flat to open the door; that was why she was here instead of at home with her son: she had his keys. She could hear the ambulance man and woman as they guided the old man out of the minibus, humouring him as they helped him climb down the ramp.
“Can I have my belt back?” the old man asked the woman.
“What belt?” she asked him, genuinely puzzled.
“My belt. I just had it on,” he said.
“You didn’t have a belt on,” the ambulance lady told him, shaking her head with its blonde bobbed hair.
“I did, just now,” he argued.
She looked over at the ambulance, before realising what he was talking about.
“You mean the seatbelt?” she asked him. “That’s not yours, it stays in the van,” she laughed, looking over at the woman stood in the hallway sympathetically.
“Ohhh, right,” the old man said, grinning.
“Are you going to be okay with him then?” the blonde woman asked the woman in the hallway.
“Yeah, I think so,” she lied. No, I won’t, please don’t leave him here with me, is what she wanted to say.
The blonde ambulance woman nodded and turned away, walking out of the flat and back to the ambulance, out of the picture for good, leaving the woman in the hallway with the grinning old man, unsteady on his feet.
“I’ve tidied up a bit for you,” she told him, motioning for him to come through from the doorway to his living room. It was the understatement of the century. “And I bought you a new duvet. Your old one had patches of blood on it and I didn’t want to put your clean bedding on it. I didn’t know if you’d want to keep the old one so I haven’t thrown it away…” she pointed to the dirty duvet on the floor of his room. He may want it for sentimental reasons, if ‘Babs’ had bought it for him, or slept under it or something. He had a pair of her underwear in the drawer so he was definitely still holding onto things. The old man didn’t say anything in response. “I’ve done the washing up and wiped down the kitchen,” she continued, lying again; she’d had to scrub the kitchen, not just wipe things down. And it still wasn’t completely clean. He still didn’t say anything to her, unnerving her even more, so she carried on talking. “I’ve put all the rubbish into bin bags. And I had to wipe down the bath…” she hesitated for a second, not looking him in the eyes. “There was poo in it.” she told him.
“There can’t have been poo in it,” the old man dismissed her, but it had definitely been poo. She’d thought it was a rusty nail in the bath and had touched it with her finger by accident. She knew poo when she saw it. She sighed, relieved that her nails were still cut short.
“Do you think I’ll get my belt back, he asked her, concerned.
“You didn’t have a belt with you,” she told him. “You’re wearing jogging bottoms, you didn’t have a belt on.”
“Hmmm.” He moaned.
“You’re thinking of the seatbelt in the ambulance again.” she said. “It’s attached to the van. It doesn’t come out.”
She followed him into the living room, listening to him moaning about it being cold as he closed the patio door that led to the garden overlooking the canal out back, and she wrinkled her nose up as the fresh air desisted from blowing in from outside and the stagnant smell of god knows what filled her nostrils
“I still need to hoover up in here,” she told him as he sat down, plugging the hoover into the socket by the wall. “I’m going to hoover up the tablets on the floor, they’re dirty now and you couldn’t have them even if you wanted to.”
She turned the hoover on and ran it around the room. The old man was talking to her as she pushed and pulled but she couldn’t properly hear what he was saying over the hum of the machine. Something about it being cold again, probably. The carpet didn’t look any cleaner. It was a rubbish hoover and the carpet was stained with tea and wine and whatever else he’d been drinking for the past few years. But at least it picked up the ants.
“You need to hoover more often,” she called to him over the noise. “The reason why you have the ants is because there’s food and crumbs on the floor.” He didn’t acknowledge it.
“I don’t think the bag has been changed since your mother did it,” he shouted back to her. Not my mother, she scowled. At least he’s not calling me Babs or Helen again though, she sighed.
“Well, you need to keep on top of it, the floor was really dirty,” she mumbled.
The house was tidy now, and she just wanted to leave. Without the motion of cleaning she felt vulnerable in there with him and she didn’t know what to say. She watched him as he struggled to stand and went into the bathroom. He didn’t shut the door. She turned her back as he made pained noises as he relieved himself. Though what relief it would be put together with the urinary infection he’d picked up before getting to hospital she didn’t know.
“You need to make sure you take your antibiotics for that,” she called in over her shoulder. “You have a urinary infection. That’s part of why you were in the hospital in the first place,” she added as he emerged from the bathroom.
“Well I best go back so they can all take the piss out of me,” he retorted, grinning and showing his false teeth.
“Go back where?” she asked him.
“To the show,” he said.
“What show?” she asked.
“You know? The show. You know that was funny, they nearly had me there you know.” He grinned at her sideways and seeing the flash of silver towards the back of his teeth reminded her of a pirate.
“What do you mean?” she asked, dreading the answer.
“It was a hospital show. They were doing role playing. Me and my mates were extras on it.”
“No, it wasn’t a show. You were really in hospital.” And there it was, that sinking feeling again.
“Okay,” he said, grinning, and she knew he didn’t believe her.
“No, you collapsed in the shop. You’ve been in hospital for two days and now you’ve been released.”she explained.
“So how did I get there then?” he grinned.
“Where?” she asked, getting exasperated now.
“The hospital?”he said.
“The people in the shop called an ambulance for you. You were taken by ambulance to the hospital, you had three seizures on the way, and they sedated you and put you through a cat scanner. And then you woke up, they kept you in for two days and then discharged you today.” She watched to see if this sank in. “You need to tell them ‘thank you’ next time you’re in there. You were lucky it happened there and not at home…”
He stopped and cocked his head as he thought about this and she thought she’d finally got through to him. But then he grinned his pirate grin again and went back to sit down in his living room. She followed him in and the smell of urine and the ant powder got into her throat and she coughed. I have to get out of here, she thought. She looked at her watch. Five eighteen. Her husband wouldn’t be out of work yet, let alone be on his way to rescue her. She felt her heart beating faster as the panic set in. I can’t do this today, she said to herself. She went to the back room to get her things and he followed her.
“What are you doing?” he asked her accusingly.
“Getting my things together,” she told him. “This is my coat and my bag and my shopping.”
“Oh,” he said.
“I have to get to preschool before it closes,” she lied. “I have to go now.”
“Oh, right,” the old man said.
She put her coat on and swung her bag strap over her head. The relief at the decision was immense. He didn’t need her here, and she didn’t want to be here. It was just awkward for the both of them.
“I’ve got you some fresh milk, and some bread, and some chicken and crumpets,” she told him, “and there’s a sausage and mash and a hot pot dinner in the fridge too.”
“Oh, good, I can have the sausage and mash for my tea,” he said.
“I have to go now, before preschool closes,” she said.
She backed towards the front door, finding that it hadn’t been locked. Opening it into the fresh air she stepped back into the hall to where the old man had followed her and gave him a hug goodbye.
“You take care of yourself,” she said. “Make sure you eat some food. And make sure you don’t have any alcohol with your tablets. That’s part of why you were in hospital in the first place.”
“Well, I’m in for a long or early night then aren’t I?” he huffed, and she knew he’d be out the door and round to the pub within the hour.
“You should get an early night anyway,” she said, stepping backwards out of the door. “Remember to close all your windows before you go to bed,” she reminded him, seeing the kitchen window still open.
“Yeah,” said the old man.
“Well, bye, I’ll give you a ring,” she said, as she started to walk onto the street and away from the flat.
“Yeah, I’ll ring you if I need anything,” said the old man, closing the door.
She was going to have to walk all the way home from here in the rain without her husband picking her up, but she didn’t care. She had escaped. She was out in the daylight again. She didn’t have to stay in that flat choking on ant powder anymore, or avoid looking into the pale blue eyes that were the exact colour of her own. Crying with relief she took off in the rain down to the end of the road.