‘I tried to get him up me’seln but it was no good, fella, I just don’t have the whatsisname – the leverage I used to have, you know what I’m saying? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t.’
Aidan is standing next to me looking down at his friend, who is lying on the bedroom floor stuck between the bed and the dresser. Both men are in their nineties.
‘I threw that quilt over him because he was making the place look untidy.’
‘You can’t go around lifting people up, Aidan, not at your age. You’ve got to watch your back.’
‘Yes, good advice. But I’ve always been one for watching my back, now. Isn’t that right, George? Are you still wit’ us? I say I’ve got to watch me back, specially round here.’
George tries to look up but he’s just too squashed up.
‘Don’t listen to him,’ he says. ‘He’ll bend your ear all day if you let him.’
‘Let’s have a look at you,’ I say.
I pull the quilt aside and check him over. Luckily it was an easy slide out of bed and he hasn’t hurt himself. I’m able to shove the bed over, get a hand to him and with a judicious balancing of my weight, get him up. Once he’s safely on the edge of the bed, I go to open the curtains and let in some light. Unfortunately the rail comes away in my hand.
‘Don’t look, George. He’s breaking the place up, now,’ says Aidan. ‘Jayzus, but these paramedics are a fiery bunch.’
‘Don’t worry,’ I say. ‘I’ll fix that in a minute. Now then, how’re you feeling, George?’
‘All right,’ he says. ‘I could use a cup of tea.’
‘I’ll see to’t,’ says Aidan. ‘I know just how he likes it.’ He pivots smartly on his walking stick and heads for the little galley kitchen, calling back over his shoulder. ‘Would you like one for yourself, fella?’
‘Okay. No sugar.’
Whilst Aidan sorts out the drinks, I help George through to the lounge and sit him in his favourite chair. He’s feeling cold, so I drape a blanket round his shoulders. When Aidan comes in with the first cup of tea, I say: ‘Here he is – King George.’
‘King Kong, more like’ says Aidan, putting the mug down. ‘I don’t know. What you won’t do for a bit of attention.’
‘Is that you in the photo, then, George?’
‘Yep. That’s me. Eighteen years old in the Royal Navy.’
Aidan leans in.
‘George was in the Navy, I was in the Merchant Marine. Guess who worked the hardest.’
George dunks his biscuit, only just managing to get it to his mouth before it falls apart. He chomps the biscuit down, then follows it with a sip of tea. Aidan watches him carefully, his silvery, chin-strap beard and small bright eyes giving him the look of some giant species of owl.
‘I sank two minesweepers,’ George says, putting down his mug.
‘Is that so?’ says Aidan. ‘And what did you sink ‘em with? Your ego?’
Aidan has a blurry tattoo on the back of his right hand.
‘Can I have a look?’ I ask him.
‘Be my guest.’
He holds it out.
It’s hard to see, but it appears to be the picture of a bare-chested woman in a WREN’s hat, surrounded by a garland of fruit.
‘Singapore,’ he says, then leans across with his other hand and taps George on the side of the leg with his stick.
‘Did ya hear what I said? I said Singapore, you old fool.’
George shakes his head sadly.
‘Here we go,’ he says.