It would be hard to understand what Michael’s trying to say because of his asthma, even if You’ve Been Framed wasn’t playing on the telly, so loudly that normal conversation is impossible. Michael’s mother sits right in front of it, held in the armchair by a series of strategically placed cushions and a moveable table. Behind her in the corner of the room is her bed, a hoist just beside it along with all the other pieces of kit you might expect.
‘She likes it loud,’ he says, walking over to turn the TV down. His mother stirs in the chair and starts looking around blindly with her chin up, as if it’s not her ears but her nose that’s sensed the difference; Michael rests a hand on her shoulder: ‘I’ll put it back up ... in a minute ... when they’re gone,’ he wheezes next to her ear. Pats her once and then comes back over to us.
We give him a neb and take some details. History of infective exacerbation, smoker, this and that. He’s in his early fifties but looks older. The walls of the flat have a yellow tinge to them. The whole place feels sick. I’m sure if I pressed on the back of this sofa it would ooze tar like a sponge.
‘Is the neb helping?’
He nods, gives us the thumbs up.
On the TV, a sequence of people falling off swings, stages, ladders.
A duck attacks the camera.
‘You could probably do with a visit from the out of hours, to see about your chest infection.’
‘Okay ... Fair enough ... I can’t be going anywhere ... ‘cos of mum.’
His mum has switched her attention to a cigarette lighter on the table in front of her. She clicks it off and on, fascinated by the flame. Michael doesn’t seem to mind.
An arthritic dog – heavy, hairy – knuckles in from the kitchen. It shows only a cursory interest in us and our equipment, then straightaway sinks to the floor at the old woman’s feet.
‘Good boy,’ says Michael, the neb misting and hissing through the mask.
We both look over at the telly again.
You’ve Been Framed is back on.
Some old feller dancing at a wedding, everyone whooping and clapping. He falls backwards into the sound system.
We both laugh.‘That’s gotta hurt,’ says Michael, shaking his head. He puts both hands on the kitchen counter and takes a deep breath. ‘Still,’ he says, looking up at me over the edge of the mask. ‘That’s two hundred ... and fifty quid ... right there.’