Finn is stretched out on the bathroom floor, his head just beneath the red emergency chord. He lies neat as a soldier, his arms straight along by his sides, palms, thumbs, fingers all parallel to his withered old legs.
‘Sorry to trouble you boys but I can’t get me self up. I toppled over on the way back to bed and I just can’t seem to do a thing about it.’
‘Have you hurt yourself, Finn?’
‘Well – I should say only my pride, boys. I had a touch of whisky with an old mate from Ireland. We haven’t seen each other in a good long while and one thing led to another thing and – well, I’m in the sorry state you find me now.’
‘Let’s get you up, then.’
Pete gets under one arm, I take the other. We help him bend at the knees, place his bare feet flat on the floor, then – on three – he’s up.
‘Thank you boys. God bless you. So now that’s the way up we’re all supposed to be and doesn’t it feel great?’
He ends the sentence with a little rising intake of breath, like he’s snatching a sample of the air we’re about to make our reply with.
‘Where would you like to go now?’
‘Back to bed, boys. Back to bed would be grand.’
Finn is eighty seven, his strong figure drained and made slack by the long passage of years. He shuffles between us to the bedroom, a chill, cell-like box with a low wooden bed and cheap wooden side stand. The bed linen is rucked up, grey and unwelcoming: pillow, sheet and mangy pink chenille bedspread. On the side stand he has a mug of water and a pair of dentures in a plastic container. There is a small enamelled portrait of the Virgin Mary above the headboard; behind the glass, she seems to clutch her baby against the silvery whisper of mould in the air.
‘Do you have any help here, Finn?’
‘Help? No, not really. I suppose I ought to. Do you think I ought to?’
‘Yeah, why not?’
‘Well okay then. If you think I ought to.’
Pete starts on the paperwork. I check Finn over and he’s fine, but we tell him we’re going to refer him to the Falls team and anybody else we can think of.
‘Ah you’re good boys,’ he says, pulling the awful sheets up around his neck. ‘Thanks for coming. I’m sorry to be a bother.’
‘Where are you from?’
‘Where in Ireland?’
‘Kilkenny. Do you know it, Kilkenny?’
‘No, sorry. I don’t know Ireland at all, really. I’ve got friends who come from Cavan.’
‘Cavan! Well! I know Cavan. Up there on the border. Oh I know Cavan. I’ve driven all over there, of course. All over the place. All over the world. You name the place, I’ll tell you. I used to be a driver, you know. That’s what I did. Mercedes, Rolls Royce. You name the car, I drove it. Buses. Trucks. That was my job. I was good at it. Then when I retired, I used to drive coaches, on the voluntary.’
‘Good for you.’
Finn lies holding the sheet up to his neck. He runs his tongue over his chapped lips, and I ask him if he’s thirsty. He nods, so I help him to sit up, and hand him the mug of water from the side stand. It has a lurid green picture of a leprechaun holding a mug of beer and winking. I wonder who bought it for him.
‘My grandad used to be a chauffeur for a family in County Mayo,’ I say, easing him back down on to the pillow. I remember the photo: a skinny young man in an unbuttoned starch collar and straw hat, standing in front of a charabanc with a dipstick in one hand and a fag in the other. ‘He died before I was born, though. I never met him.’
‘County Mayo? I know County Mayo very well. Beautiful place. Fancy that. So your dad was a driver.’
‘And he was a driver, you say? Who would’ve thought it? What a coincidence. Do you know the Heneghans? From Crossmolina? I think it was Crossmolina.’
And he tips off into a rambling commentary on people and places. It unwinds before us like a great foxed tapestry.
‘No finer people,’ he says, eventually. ‘No finer people in the world.’ He closes his eyes as if to see them all more clearly, smacks his lips once or twice, and suddenly falls asleep.
The paperwork done, we leave a copy on the side stand, turn the bedroom light out (but leave the hall light on) and creep away.