Gerald is sitting on the bottom step. He isn’t as bad as they’d described on the radio. The collapse turns out to be a petulant kind of sitting down and refusing to budge; the seizure, a mild shaking of one of his arms that stops whenever he talks, like an old engine when it’s put into gear. But this carer hasn’t been to Gerald much, so the whole scenario is still quite alarming for her.
‘I was helping him out to the doctor’s for his appointment,’ she says.
‘That’s a decent walk for you, then, Gerald.’
He looks up.
‘Germans,’ he says. ‘Nazis. Germans. The Germans have taken over the whole town. And your Doctor Sprailes is the biggest Nazi of the lot. I hate Nazis. Hate ‘em. If it was up to me, I’d have the whole lot of ‘em rounded up and shot.’
‘Let’s get you on your feet, Gerald. That step can’t be very warm.’
‘Yeah, well, the Nazis built this place. They made sure it was cold. They want you to catch your death so they don’t have to bother with you anymore. I hate Nazis. The council. The Mayor. The Mayor’s the biggest Nazi of the lot. The Mayor’s big mates with Hitler, Mussolini. He used to be a Storm Trooper. That’s where he learned his trade. And he used to do all these experiments, but no-one can say nothing about it, because the Nazis won’t let ‘em.’
‘Oh? So, anyway. Give us your hand, let’s have you up and back in your flat, Gerald. And then we can have a good old chat about what you want to happen next.’
He grumbles on in the same way, but lets himself be helped up. We trudge back up the steps, the carer opens the door, we ease him out of his coat and back into his favourite chair – a sky-blue throne raised up on supports overlooking the busy main road that runs past the block.
‘Can I make him some tea?’ asks the carer.
‘Sure. Cup of tea, Gerald?’
He nods, and sinks into a grumpy reverie, staring out of the window.
We check him over. But, as always, the only thing wrong with Gerald is the biggest thing wrong with Gerald, which is the devastating after-effects of a life of heavy drinking. You can see it in his face, blasted with alcohol, a face rudely thumbed out of old red wax. But if Gerald himself is in a poor state, at least his flat is good. Through the good offices of the community health team, the council, the surgery and whoever else, he’s finally pitched up in a tidy little place, everything squared away, the carpet swept, the kitchen stocked and clean. The irony is that Gerald doesn’t seem the least bit aware of it. He sits in his chair like a grumpy version of the shoemaker and the elves.
It’s a wonder the elves keep coming back.
‘I like your tattoos,’ I say to him.
‘I’ve got a big one on my back.’
‘Oh? What’s that one, then?’
‘Japanese? That’s interesting. And what do they mean?’
‘It’s a poem.’
‘A Japanese poem?’
‘I think so. Anyway, I liked it.’
‘And what’s the translation?’
‘It means: I’ll use my walking stick and smash the skull of any Nazi that comes within my reach.’
‘Yeah. They know what I’m like. That’s why they don’t come round here. They know I’m ready for ‘em.’
I take the blood pressure cuff off his arm. Underneath is a tattoo that’s supposed to be Betty Grable in her famous swimsuit pose, looking backwards over her shoulder, hands on hips, hair piled up. Only the tattooist must’ve been wearing boxing gloves or been in a screaming hurry, because it looks more like the Elephant Man being paraded in front of the Academy.
‘That’s a nice one,’ I say, putting my steth away.‘Yeah,’ he says, shakily putting down his sleeve. ‘I like stuff about them wartimes...’