Mr Bristow settles back on the trolley, ready to go now that we’ve found his paper (he was sitting on it). A bright, frail man in his late eighties, his eyes diverge in a startling squint, like he’s caught between wanting to talk to me and keeping a close watch on the door.
‘Pick an eye – any eye,’ he says.
‘How are you feeling now, Mr Bristow?’
‘Exactly the same, mate. To tell you the truth, I don’t feel any different. I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Still, if the doctor says you have to go in, you have to go in.’
It’s all a bit of a mystery. There’s no letter, and nothing in the notes from Control other than the fact that Mr Bristow has COPD. All his observations are okay; the only thing out of the ordinary being a persistent cough, something he says is no worse than normal, and something he’s had these past ten years.
‘I can’t see what the problem is,’ he says.
‘No. Nor can I.’
But I’m not going to question it. The last time I did, it took ages to speak to the referring GP. And when I finally got through, she was pretty snippy. I’m sorry but I don’t really know why you’re questioning my decision she said. I’ve requested an ambulance to take this patient to hospital, and that’s what I’d like you to do, please. I told her that we had no information at all, and couldn’t find anything wrong. As tactfully as I could I said that as she hadn’t actually seen the patient, but only spoken to the carer on the phone, maybe there was a chance the patient could stay at home, as she really didn’t want to go. I have arranged for her to have a chest x-ray this afternoon the GP said, after an icy pause. Would you kindly see that she makes it? Of course. That’s fine. I didn’t know that. We had no record, you see. Click.
I smile at Mr Bristow and put the clipboard to one side.
We chat about this and that.
‘My daughter Lucy finally got herself a job. Working up at the hospital, funnily enough,’ he says. ‘In records.’
‘That’s good. Has it been a while, then?’
‘No. Not really. She’s twenty-two.’
‘Twenty-two? Do you mean your granddaughter, then?’
‘No. My daughter. We brought her up as ours.’
‘So what happened, then?’
He fixes me with his right eye.
‘Me and Sheila had six kids: Kenny, Thomas, Agnes, Billy, Jessie and Alice. They were all a bit of a handful, but Alice, she was wild. She was only about sixteen when she took up with this didicoy, and before we knew anything about it, they had a baby. Well after a lot of hoo-hah, the dust settled, like it does, you know, and then one day they came round to see us with the baby all tucked up in a basket. She put the basket down in the kitchen and she said Can you just keep an eye on Lucy while we nip round the launderette? So I said ‘course. So she said thanks very much and they both went out. We didn’t see them again for seven years.’
‘After a bit, when we knew they'd definitely gone for good, we went down the solicitors and got everything drawn up legal. Seven years later, to the day, she turned up again. I’m ready to have Lucy back she said. So we told her – you didn’t want her then so you can’t have her now. And that was that. None of the other kids had much to say about it, or if they did they kept it to themselves. We’re all friends, though. I suppose it was just one of them things.’