Alan’s flat is tucked round the side of the main house. Everything is nicely ordered – the roses have been pruned back early, the bark chippings on the soil swept back from the path, the fallen apples from the neighbour’s tree picked up and put in a plastic crate. Alan looks tidily put away, too. He sits waiting for us on an armchair in the centre of the room, a view of the garden off to the left, a large TV to the right. A low bookcase neatly filled with DVDs – Jarhead, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, The Good, The Bad & the Ugly. To the left of the armchair beneath a picture window is a large wire cage with two tiny rabbits, whose ears hang straight down like the flaps on a winter hat.
‘Did the doctor leave a letter?’ asks Frank. ‘Or was it done on the phone?’
‘On the phone. He said we shouldn’t mess about.’
I go back out to fetch a chair.
The hospital is as busy as ever. Whilst Frank stands and waits his turn to handover at the desk, I wait alongside the trolley with Alan. He watches the chaos with the same taut readiness as one of his rabbits; I half expect him to leap off the trolley and scamper out the door if I cough or shift my position unexpectedly.
‘So your carer will look after the rabbits?’ I say.
‘She’s very good. I couldn’t manage without her.’
‘How often does she come in?’
‘Every other day.’
‘Do you manage to get out much?’
‘A little. To the corner shop.’
‘How long does that take you?’
‘Half the morning. It’s a major expedition.’
Frank waves to us from the desk, then leans back into a semi-conscious slump. I’ve never seen so many nurses, doctors, junior doctors, porters, police, patients, relatives – it’s like a casting call for a disaster movie.
‘Busy today, isn’t it?’ says Alan, studying me intently with his dark eyes.
‘Sorry it’s taking so long.’
‘That’s okay. I’ve got time.’
As if to illustrate the point, he folds his hands neatly on the blanket and sighs.
‘So – tell me about your rabbits,’ I say.
‘What about them?’
‘Erm – they look like baby rabbits.’
‘No. They’re actually quite rare. They’re Holland Lops, a dwarf breed. House trained, of course. Great company. They’ll wander about, then all of a sudden do a complete flip in the air.’
‘I’m glad you’ve got two. I think rabbits get a rough deal sometimes. Kids want them, but they get bored and the rabbit ends up banished to some lonely old shed.’
‘Oh no. Mine are great company. They help me undress.’
‘They help you undress?’
‘Yes. I slip my shoes off, they take a sock each and tug.’
‘They they climb up on my shoulder and we watch a film together.’
‘And what do they eat? Popcorn?’
‘No. They have special pellets that my carer gets. Looks exactly like their poo, but they seem to enjoy it.’
Frank comes over.
‘Sorry it took a while. But we’ve found you a space.’
Mind your backs, please! he calls, Mind your backs! And we nudge the trolley slowly forwards like an ice-breaking ship.