Hugh fell in the hallway on the way back from the bathroom. He managed to get himself into a sitting position, but now he’s stuck; a fatal combination of three factors – his illness, his Falstaffian physique, and the narrowness of the hallway – have left him stuck there, feet wedged against one wall, back pressed against the other, like Father Christmas stuck down the chimney.
‘Get me up, would you?’ he says. ‘I feel such a prat.’
He’s too big to hoik up by the shoulders, so I go back down to get the Mangar, our inflatable cushion.
When I get back, Marion, Hugh’s ‘woman that does’, has arrived on scene.
‘So now you’ve got two good-looking young men, Hugh. I don’t know – you just snap your fingers and they come running.’
‘You lascivious bastard,’ he says in thunderous Welsh tones. ‘You’re jealous. Just because for once it’s not you getting all the attention.’
‘That’s the last time I soap your balls.’
‘I don’t know whether you’re doing a good job down there or not. I said goodbye to my balls about five year ago.’
‘Well I’m here to tell you, Hugh, they’re not all that.’
‘Maybe I should get you a mirror on a stick.’
‘Maybe I should get you fired.’
Marion laughs, a rich, smoker’s bubble.
‘No-one else would put up with you’ she says, then dabs at the corner of her eye with a knuckle like it’s the funniest notion ever. ‘Hugh, Hugh, Hugh. Huge Hugh. What’ll we do with you?’
Whilst all this is going on we’ve been setting up the Mangar, giving instructions, getting into position. Hugh is naked, and I have to keep adjusting the modesty towel.
‘Make sure you keep that puppy covered,’ says Marion. And then just before we start, ‘Where d’you want me?’
‘On the sofa stuffing your face with chocolates, where you normally are,’ says Hugh, grasping on to my hand and struggling to haul his legs back as the pump moans and the first cushion begins to inflate.
Hugh is enthroned back in his favourite chair, swaddled in blankets, with a round of toast and jam and a mug of tea on the side table.
‘That’s wonderful,’ he says. ‘Ahh! King of all he surveys.’
Marion clears up in the little kitchenette.
‘I’ll get started once the boys are gone,’ she calls out.
‘Started on what exactly?’ says Hugh, wiping a gob of jam from his beard.
‘You, you great lummox,’
It’s a lovely flat. Bright and warm, with a fascinating collection of theatre posters, photos and paintings. Next to a portrait of Hugh exuberantly daubed out in vibrant colours, is an equally striking portrait of a young woman in a safari suit, leaning forwards, smiling mysteriously, against a background of Acacia trees and an orange, African sunset.
‘Who was that?’ I ask as Rae finishes the paperwork.
Hugh leans sideways in his chair to look up at the painting.
‘That,’ he says. ‘That was the only woman I ever knew who had the keys to the Kremlin and the Vatican.’
Marion is leaning in the doorway of the kitchen, watching us. Her eyes shine as she looks at Hugh.
‘He could tell you some stories,’ she says, wiping her hands on a tea towel.
‘Oh yes,’ says Hugh, relaxing back in his chair. ‘It’s not just a lot of soapy old balls, you know.’