Michael has fallen in the garden of his house. His neighbours saw the whole thing and called for an ambulance. Luckily it’s a fine day, because we have some distance to travel. Meanwhile, the neighbours fetch out whatever they can, half a dozen pillows, a duvet, one of those big, curved cushions to help with breast-feeding, so he’s pretty comfortable, all things considered.
At first I think that Michael must be a war veteran. He has a devastating facial wound, missing much of the right side of his upper jaw, the lips distorted around the hole. But the neighbours tell us it was actually cancer, twenty years ago, and how well he’s managed since.
It’s something of a miracle he can talk at all. That he can is more akin to ventriloquism than anything else. Without teeth, an upper palate and fully mobile lips, he has to produce the sounds deep in the well of his throat, like gargling air. It’s difficult to understand him, but I find that the more I relax and go for the gist, the easier it is.
He hasn’t hurt himself. We help him up; he weight bears, walks okay with a stroller. Says he doesn’t want to go to hospital.
The neighbours give their thanks and carry all their cushions and things back inside whilst we walk with Michael into his house.
It’s a bare, functional place, more like a hobbyist’s office than a residence. There’s a tiny sitting room with an upholstered chair, television and coffee table; a kitchenette with a blue Formica cupboard neatly stacked with tins and packets of cup-a-soup; a boxy bedroom with just enough space for a single bed, a single wardrobe, a single lamp, and a roll-top bath in the bathroom, whose drip stains could probably date the place as accurately as tree rings. Everything else, every wall-space and alcove, is given over to books – shelves and shelves of them, cricket almanacs and biographies, books about the war, old train timetables, stamp albums, Goon show scripts.
‘Good insulation’ I say.
He stops, swipes his hand in the air, then carries on shuffling forwards again.
We help him off with his coat and then sit him down in his chair. He spreads his fingers, running them over the worn curve of the armrests, resting his head back on the headrest and closing his eyes.
A moment or two later he opens them again.
‘Ud oo ah a ha o hee?’ he says
I look at him for a few seconds before I say:‘That’d be great, Michael. Do you want one?’