Eddie hadn’t been feeling all that clever since he got up. Still, he always makes the best of it. He got himself ready for the usual Tuesday morning jaunt to ASDA. His niece picked him up at ten. He didn’t tell her how he felt. (He didn’t want to worry her. She’s got enough on her plate). She dropped him back just after lunch. He watched a bit of TV. Had a nap in the chair. When he woke up it was four o’clock. He did a quick shufty round the bins in the bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, took a bag full out into the yard. That was when the chest pain started to come on strong. He struggled back to his chair and took his spray. His neighbour Gill comes round every teatime to help him work the microwave. She found him still in the chair, grey around the gills, a bit tearful. She phoned for the ambulance.
‘Has the spray helped?’ I ask him as we blanket him up in our carry chair.
‘I don’t know,’ he says. ‘What do you think?’
‘Let’s get you out to the ambulance. We’ll do an ECG and then take you down the hospital for some more tests.’
‘Oh no. Really? I’ll be fine. I just need a rest, that’s all. I’ve been overdoing it lately.’
‘You might be right, Eddie, but we’re worried it might be your heart. That’s why we need to look into it. I know it’s a nuisance, but better safe than sorry, eh?’
‘I’m in your hands,’ he says.
‘You’ll be all right, Eddie’ says Gill, leaning in and kissing him on the top of his head. ‘Back before you know it. I’ll call the gang and let them know.’
Eddie clasps her by the hand and his eyes fill.
‘You old silly,’ she says, giving him another kiss. ‘Come on. Let’s be having you.’
We wheel him out.
The sun is so bright after the muted light in Eddie’s flat it’s hard to keep my eyes open.
There’s a gang of kids sitting on the low wall that runs along the front of these flats.
Where’s he going?
Is he dying?
‘Ssh now!’ says Gill, following behind us with his bags.
Eddie does his best to smile and wave. The kids jump down off the wall and run on ahead to the ambulance. They stand either side of the tail lift in a cheeky guard of honour as Eddie rises up on it. He carries on waving, even when he’s inside and can’t see them.
The tail lift clatters shut.
* * *
‘I’m pretty good normally. I take care of myself, you know. I don’t need much. Mind you, I’ve got some good friends and neighbours. I dunno what I’d do without them. It used to be just me and Cheryl, ‘course, but she died three years ago and it knocked me off my feet a bit. I’ll never get used to it. I met her the day after I come out of the army, when I was wondering what I was gonna do with myself. So just goes to show. We got married a year later. Sixty-five years it would’ve been come Christmas. Sixty-five years.’
He rests his head back on the pillow and stares up at the ceiling of the ambulance as we bump along through the traffic.
‘Are you okay, Eddie? How’s that chest pain?’
I reach over and touch him in the centre of his chest.
‘How’s the pain now? Has it eased off at all?’
He shrugs, then carries on talking.
‘I was fifty year on the railway,’ he says.
‘On the turntable to start with. Switches, signals. Bit of everything, really.’
‘It must’ve kept you fit.’
‘A life on the railways – nothing better. Funny, ‘cos when I was in the army I didn’t think anything of it. You know, trains.’
‘I think they should re-nationalise the railways.’
‘Well - it’s complicated’ he says. ‘It’s not what it was. They made a lot of changes, and it’s not always easy going back. Anyway, I never worried about any of that. I just took ‘em in, turned ‘em round and went back home for my tea.’
He shifts his position a little, looks back up at the ceiling, and grips the handrails either side of the trolley. He shakes his head, like someone trying to clear his thoughts, or struggling to bring to mind where something might be that’s now unaccountably gone.
‘All right, Eddie? Soon be there,’ I say, glancing through the hatch at what I can see of the road, then glancing at my fob watch.
‘Oh?’ he says, still looking straight up. ‘Where’s that, then?’