Alf’s daughter Susan answers the door.
‘He fell in the living room,’ she says, standing aside to let us in. ‘I tried, but for some reason I just couldn’t get him up this time.’
Alf is lying stretched out on the carpet, a cushion under his head. Ten years ago he would have been a formidable figure, six feet tall, broad, powerful, a haze of navy tattoos up his arms, a boxer’s nose. But Parkinson’s Disease has undermined all that, wreaking its particular horrors alongside the blander depredations of old age. Alf has been felled like some grand old oak of the forest.
‘Who’s this?’ he says, straining to see.
Susan is dressed in a black t-shirt and slacks. She’s pale, quietly spoken, hunched over. Her mother Vi is there, too, an eighty-six year old projection of the daughter, same profile, same demeanour, but thinner, quicker. Lighter on her feet, actually.
‘What do you want?’ says Vi. ‘Cuppa tea or sommat?’
We get Alf back on his feet. He staggers, holds. We try to walk him to the toilet because he urgently needs to go. It takes ten minutes to make it as far as the kitchen, just next door.
‘Come on, Dad. Don’t forget,’ says Susan, holding his hand. ‘One, two. One, two. Like they said.’
He does the Parkinsonian shuffle, like someone glued his slippers to the floor for a prank.
One, two. One, two.
‘It’s going!’ he says. ‘I’m losing it!’ He voids his bladder on the laminate flooring.
‘Not to worry,’ says Susan. ‘Let’s get you a chair to sit on, then we’ll clean you up and fetch you some clean pants.’
‘Sorry,’ he says.
We clean him up.
Things aren’t progressing well. Alf is shakier than normal; the worry is that on top of everything else he’s developed a urinary tract infection. He’s not safe to leave at home, so after some discussion we decide to take him to hospital.
‘Just a minute,’ says Vi. ‘I’ll fetch him down his jimmies.’
It’s extraordinary to see how she goes up the stairs. She’s like some hyperactive, octogenarian spider, taking the steps two at a time, hauling herself up by the handrail, her knotty back crooked and bobbing, her slippered feet digging into the plush.
She’s back in no time.
‘There you go, darling,’ she says, dropping to her knees and manipulating Alf’s legs to feed the pyjama bottoms on. ‘Don’t you look a picture.’
Before we go, she cradles his face in both her hands and gives him a big, sloppy kiss on the lips.‘See you later,’ she says. ‘Be good.’