Mrs Rawlinson comes to the door. She seems quiet and precise, a fussy bonnet of metal grey hair, a tweed twin-set, an immaculately powdered set to her face. This bell has summoned a character actor out of stock.
‘He’s upstairs,’ she says. ‘It’s pouring out of him.’
She turns and we follow her up. The house has a freshly painted zest, vacuumed, dusted, ruled lines of lemon-scented sunlight angling in through the windows.
Bill is sitting on the side of the bed with one hand clamped to his nose and the other holding a blood spotted handkerchief.
‘All right, squire,’ he says.
‘Just look at him,’ says Mrs Rawlinson. She picks a yellow washing up bowl off the bottom of the bed and holds it in front of me. A few scrunched tissues and a slop of watery blood. She puts it back down. ‘I ‘spect you’ve seen worse.’
I kneel down in front of him.
‘Just take your hand away from your nose for a second, Bill.’
He cautiously lowers his hand, and tips his head back, presumably so I can get a good look down both barrels.
‘Don’t tip your head back. The blood’ll run down the back of your throat into your stomach and make you sick.’
‘Oh. Right-o, chief.’
His nose is dry. The only trace of blood is a dark red crust around the right hand side of his mouth.
‘Bad, is it?’
‘Hey! That’s all right then.’
They’re an unlikely couple. Whilst Mrs Rawlinson is solid, well-upholstered, Mr Rawlinson has the slack, strangely deflated physique of a superannuated clown. Now and again he jerks upright with a burst of energy, and has to put an arm out to the side to stop himself from rolling completely over.
‘How’s your health normally, Bill?’
‘Health? Me? Fit as a butcher’s dog, mate. An athlete. Cricket. Rugby. Football. Anything with a ball. Everywhere a hundred miles an hour.’
He straightens up, puffs his chest out, then taps it proudly with the hanky hand. ‘Not a day’s illness in me life.’
‘Here are his tablets,’ says Mrs Rawlinson, handing me a long list.
‘How old are you, Bill?’
‘How old do you think I am?’
He looks about ninety, so to be safe I take ten years off.
‘Eighty nine,’ he says. ‘Eighty nine years old. Imagine that. Don’t suppose you can, can you?’
We talk about his nose for a while, then I start running through a general health screen.
‘Sixty years we’ve been married. Sixty years next Thursday,’ he says, with a huge sniff. ‘She’ll tell you all about it.’
‘Try not to sniff, Bill. You don’t want to start it all off again.’
‘Sixty years! Incredible.’
‘Yep. Sixty. Count ‘em.’
Bill suddenly jerks round to smile at his wife, taking the BP cuff with him and almost pitching backwards on to the bed.
‘Hang on a minute, Bill.’
I help him set himself upright on the bed again. He dabs at his upper lip with the hanky.
‘Shall I get some things together?’ Mrs Rawlinson says.
‘Thirty years I worked on the railway,’ says Bill loudly. ‘The underground, you know. The tube. Mostly as a driver. That was a time, that was.’
He unrolls the hanky, studies the patterns of blood there, then suddenly flaps it at me.
‘Do you know, three times the train in front of me had one under – that’s what you call it when someone jumps in front of the train. One under. Three times, just the very second before I got there. It’s amazing how many do it. Horrible. Terrible. Arms, legs, whasisnames. Still goes on, I expect. I remember this one time…’
Mrs Rawlinson suddenly talks over him, describing his other nosebleeds, what was done, what was said.
‘Oops. That one hit the buffers,’ he says with a boyish smirk. Then he jerks round to wink at his wife, and I just manage to stop him crashing face down into the bowl. As I help him upright again, Mrs Rawlinson sighs and takes it away to rinse clean in the bathroom. It’s a sixty year routine and they do it seamlessly. When she comes back in a few moments later, I look to see if the bowl has been filled with confetti.