Jack was worried. He was on his own, away from the safety of his sheltered housing and he had lost his scarf. He didn’t like hospitals. They kept telling him that he was doing very well for ninety but sitting in an almost empty hospital waiting area made him miss his wife Edie. She would have sat with him just like he had sat with her. She would have told him where his scarf was. She had been through a lot. There was nothing for him to do now but sit here and remember until someone told him to do something else. Twenty one years is a long time to miss somebody. That’s what happens when you get left behind to live a long while. He didn’t like hospitals. Coming here brought it all back. His hair needed cutting as well. She’d have made sure he saw to that.
A nurse came down the corridor pushing a wire mesh trolley with four tattered brown files sitting on it.
“You all right love?”
“I don’t know where my scarf is.”
“It’s on the inside of your coat- here look, tucked into your sleeve.”
Jack looked down. So it was!
He tried to turn his coat round. It was heavy. The nurse pulled the scarf out and showed it to him.
“There you go. There’ll be somebody along to sort you out soon.
She trundled off cheerfully. Jack watched her go.
“Thank you kindly.”
He didn’t mind waiting. He spent most of his time waiting these days. He had nothing better to do. He was missing his programme though, that was the only thing. The nice couple who sold houses. He liked them. They had sold one a few weeks back that reminded him of his old house. It had been worth a fortune and he had wanted to tell Edie about it. They had said it needed doing up but he had liked it as it was. There was too much of that these days. Things being changed for the sake of it. They had taken away the old wooden bench behind his bus stop and put these blue plastic things there instead. It was nothing like as comfortable and they weren’t proper seats, they were too thin and they tipped up when you stood up. You had to watch yourself. They matched the bus company posters and that was about all you could say for them.
There were posters all over the shop here. Telling you things because there were no people to tell you. Wash your hands. Evidently if you asked nurses if they’d washed their hands they wouldn’t be offended. He couldn’t make anything of that at all. That was as good as telling a nurse she was dirty. They’d not like that. Course they’d be offended. Bound to be. He had seen a notice near one of the wards he had walked past and there had been a number written in a box saying something about how many of them had washed their hands. Made no sense at all.
They had taken his blood pressure and weighed him before they told him where to sit. Not that he was going to take much notice. If you can’t have a bloody biscuit when you’re ninety when can you have one? They never said anything about it mind you. It was just what they did. He thought about having one of his mints but it would be too much fuss getting them out and the woman sitting opposite him had already picked his stick up for him once. He didn’t want her having to do that again. It was very kind of her, he just didn’t want her doing it again.
Edie’s friend had said to him, “there’s one thing- your daughter won’t let you down” and she had been right. Janet had been a big help but since the new job she lived too far off to come every week. She kept telling him about something called face timing and she had shown him his grandson on a computer she could hold in her hand but he couldn’t fathom that at all. He was all right so long as she was there showing him but he couldn’t fathom that sort of thing out for himself. They had to make do with the phone. He didn’t mind. She had her own life to lead and he didn’t want to be a burden. He didn’t like being looked after by anybody, let alone Janet.
They had told him what was wrong with him years back but he couldn’t remember what they called it. It was just the word he’d forgotten- he knew what was going on- he wasn’t daft. His heart was beating too fast and there was a word for it. He had tablets. To start with they had said at the doctors that it was some crab he had eaten but it wasn’t. It was his ticker. He had never eaten crab since, mind you, and he used to like buying a dressed crab when he went to the coast. Best not. He had wafer thin ham and philadelphia cheese now. They kept talking about giving him a pacemaker but so far it was just talk. If it ever came to more than that he would say no. Edie had had one of those and he hadn’t liked it.
It was too warm in here. No windows. No air. At least the good weather and the light nights were coming. He would be able to sit out soon and see the kiddies coming back from school on an afternoon. Like little chirping birds pecking around their mums.
The door of the consulting room opened and the young bloke in the red t-shirt came out looking cheerful. It would be Jack’s turn soon. He had seen his file go in. He didn’t like being asked questions and seeing the doctor write about him. Sometimes he wasn’t sure he had said the right thing. Do you get breathless? Well, no. It would be a bad lookout if he got breathless watching Countryfile and if he felt badly when he was out he slowed down. He was ninety. What did they expect? The bloke in the red t-shirt had gone away fast enough. Not a fat lot wrong with him, or not that you could see at any rate. Jack watched the door anxiously. It might be his turn for bad news.
Edie had taken her bad news very well considering. She had been more worried about him, but that was Edie. There wasn’t so much they could do back then. Twenty one years is a long time. He could still see her face when they told her; the sudden stilllness of shock and her hand gripping her skirt. It had taken nearly six months. Plenty of people had said afterwards that she would be looking down on him but he wasn’t sure about that now. She would have said something.
There was a pile of leaflets on the corner table telling you about support groups, giving you numbers to ring, with smiling people on the front. People were mad keen on telling other folks their business these days. They shouldn’t do that. Folks weren’t bothered. Those who wanted to know would ask and those who didn’t want to know should keep their noses out and not expect to be told.
The door of the consulting room opened and the nurse who had taken his file in came out. He caught a glimpse of the consultant next to his computer screen. At least it was the same doctor.
He started to get up but he had his stick, his coat and his carrier bag to manage and he fumbled around for a few seconds too long. He turned and frowned at her.
“Can I leave my stuff out here?”
The nurse swooped down and took his coat without asking.
“I’ll take these for you.”
Jack put his hand out towards his scarf. It was still safe. She bustled away ahead of him without looking back. He lifted himself slowly from his chair, balanced himself with his stick and followed her into the consulting room obediently. The consultant stood up to shake his hand and the door closed gently behind him.