‘You see, what happened was, the old fool was moaning as usual about not being able to get to sleep. I couldn’t stand much more of it, so I said why don’t you take one of my sleeping tablets? Well, the truth is, he’s just not used to them. The next thing you know, he’s gone back into his room, left all the lights on, and started mumbling away in there like a madman. I thought he was having a stroke, so I got out of bed to go and see about it, and switch all the damned lights off. And that’s when I fell over. It’s my hip, you see. It’s just no good any more.’
We’ve already got Mrs Darlington off the floor. She’s propped up on a pile of cushions on the bed, a little scuffed and bloodied, but otherwise okay.
‘What a nuisance!’ she says, dabbing at her nose with a handkerchief. ‘I only had my hair done yesterday, and now look at me. I must look a fright.’
But in fact her hair wouldn’t look out of place on a punkish model, artfully teased out in spikes and curls and dyed a silvery purple.
‘You look lovely,’ says Mr Darlington, watching the whole thing from his vantage point at the foot of the bed, propped against the wall with a walking stick. ‘Shocking really,’ he says. ‘When you get to our age, falling over and wandering around aimlessly at night. When I rang I thought they might send someone round to shoot us.’
‘Shoot you, maybe’ says his wife. ‘You old fool. It was your fault for leaving the lights on. And being so hopeless about sleeping pills.’
‘Well they didn’t work. I’m wide awake now.’
‘Yes. You are – you and the rest of the block. It’s a wonder they’re not all standing outside the door with pitchforks.’
‘I went all through the war,’ sighs Mr Darlington. ‘Joined up at sixteen, served my time on the Atlantic convoys. Sunk twice, once by U-boat, once by plane. And now this.’
‘Oh don’t start blowing that old trumpet,’ says his wife, shaking her head. ‘We’ll be here all night.’
I start cleaning Mrs Darlington up.
‘For a minute there I thought you were getting into bed with me,’ she says when I sit next to her to examine her knee. ‘Don’t worry about that old duffer. He’s deaf as a post and half-blind.’
‘I see well enough,’ says Mr Darlington. ‘And so can he.’
He adjusts his position.
‘Why don’t you sit down, Mr Darlington?’ says Rae, moving some stuff off a chair.
‘Yes, before you fall down,’ says his wife, wincing a little when I dab at her knee with some gauze and sterile water.
‘That’s your department,’ he says. ‘Oh. Well. I might just rest a little. It’s so damned late.’
After a while he says: ‘Sixty-five years we’ve been married.’
‘You’d never guess,’ says Mrs Darlington. ‘But we’ve had some nice times, haven’t we, Henry?’
‘Oh ye-ess. When I finally made it back from the sea. Out dancing. Carrying on. You know. Or maybe you don’t.’
‘I must say it’s nice having a young man in bed with me again,’ says Mrs Darlington.
‘Don’t flatter yourself,’ he says. ‘Shooting. That’s what we really need.’
He laughs, shakes his head, then pushes himself back onto his feet with his stick.
‘Now then,’ he says. ‘Who’s for tea?’