The flat is in uproar. Joyce is having her hair done by Janice’s friend Mary; she is sitting in a plastic bib at the kitchen table, her excitement as tightly wound and brightly coloured as the curlers in her hair; Mary is holding up her hands in their yellow washing up gloves like some crazed surgeon, chasing Joyce’s husband Harry out of the kitchen and back into the sitting room. Janice is still on the phone, and waves pleasantly as we come into the room. When Mary turns Harry round with the points of her elbows, we see the knitting needle he sat on sticking out of his butt like an arrow.
‘Wait a minute,’ he says. ‘Just a minute.’
‘What have you been playing at, Harry?’ says Frank, dumping his bag on the floor and going over to him. ‘Cowboys and Indians?’
‘I – what? No – you see – Joyce had to have the table for her hair, so we swapped places. Only she’d left her number sixes on the cushion, and I got one up me jacksy.’
The needle has gone through his jeans, the tails of his shirt, his boxers and about an inch into the flesh at the top of his right buttock.
‘They told us not to pull it out,’ says Joyce.
‘I don’t think you could pull it out,’ says Harry, wandering over in her direction. ‘But have a go, by all means.’
‘No! I’m not pulling it out. Who d’you think I am? King Arthur?’
Harry looks at us. ‘You see what I have to put up with?’
Frank gets out his shears.
‘Good god! What are you going to do with them?’
‘Just a little minor surgery, mate. Don’t worry. I’ve read all the manuals.’
‘Oh, yes? That’s encouraging.’
‘We’re just going to cut your jeans around the needle so we can inspect the wound. Sorry. I hope you weren’t too attached to them.’
‘What can you do? If they’ve got to go, they’ve got to go.’
I help support the needle and stretch the material whilst Frank makes a few neat cuts. We get down to skin level, and Frank gently feels around the wound to get an impression of the depth and severity of the injury.
‘It’s gone in about half an inch, but it’s a fatty part of the body, so there are no other organs or blood vessels to worry about. We can pull it out for you if you want.’
‘Yes. Go on. I’m not bothered. It’s nothing to me.’
He points over to a glass display cabinet on the wall. Pinned to the red velvet of the case, a line of old battle medals.
‘See that?’ he says. ‘When you’ve had lumps shot out of you in North Africa, shrapnel in the leg at Suez and your eardrums blown out in Korea, you don’t worry much about – oh!’
He turns round and looks at Frank, kneeling on the carpet behind him, waving the knitting needle in the air.
‘There you go. That wasn’t too bad, was it? Now then. When did you last have a tetanus?’
Frank stands up and hands the needle over to Joyce, who makes a face as she takes it.
‘I’m not using that,’ she says. ‘I know where it’s been.’
‘You could always frame it like his medals’ says Frank.
Harry wanders over, rubbing the seat of his trousers. ‘Good idea. Maybe then I won’t end up sitting on it.'