Saturday, August 04, 2012

the racer

The scaffolding is down now on Highfield Point, its refurbished walls as minty-white as the frosting on a magnificent cake. Even the doors have been replaced – a smooth, electronic affair, drawing us in to the polished lobby, and the polished lobby cat, whose ginger fur stands up in rows of freshly-laundered spikes.
‘Fourteenth floor’ says one of the wardens, leaning against the door of the reception office, momentarily lifting her mouth away from the phone to poke with her chin in the direction of the lift. ‘Mandy’s with him.’
The lift arrives immediately, intuiting our request. The doors open, their edges picked out in crisp, fluorescent green stripes. A female lift voice tells us to stand clear, then politely marks off the floors as we go. There are white spotlights in the ceiling to hold us in place. The air smells bright and disinfected. It feels as if I could ask the lift woman a question and she’d be happy to answer, but we ride up to the fourteenth so efficiently there’s no time to think of anything or take the relationship further. She closes the doors behind us without anything more being said. She descends.

Stanley is sitting on the edge of his bed, his hands draped into the v of his lap, an expression on his face as slack as the afternoon.
‘I’m not myself,’ he says.
‘In what way are you not yourself, Stan?’
He shrugs.
Mandy, the other warden, is sitting on the edge of a floral settee, her arms folded but her face flush with concern.
‘I think Stan’s been finding it a bit difficult to cope,’ she says. ‘He’s been off-colour for a long time now, and there was a bit of a worry that the dizziness that he’s been feeling was worse today.’
I look back to Stan, whose position hasn’t changed on the bed.
‘Do you feel dizzy now, Stan?’
He shrugs again – a minimal affair, something that barely disturbs his neatly ironed shirt.
‘So what’s the problem today, Stan? Do you have any pain?’
‘Pain? No.’
‘Shortness of breath? Nausea? Vomiting?’
He shakes his head.
‘Tell me about this dizziness, then. How long’s that been going on?’
‘I don’t know. Eight – ten weeks.’
‘Constant, or off and on?’
He curves his mouth down and raises his eyebrows.
‘Is it worse when you get up in the morning? Or does it come on whilst you’re walking about?’
‘Hard to say.’
‘Okay. Anything else wrong?’
He lifts his chin a little.
‘When I look at the curtains,’ he says, ‘it makes my eyes go funny.’
‘What do you mean? The light there?’
‘Yes. The light. I can’t keep my eyes open.’
To illustrate, he points his face at the curtains, his eyes two pale slithers of reflected light amongst the wrinkles.
‘So you’re a little sensitive to the light, would you say?’
‘I just can’t keep them open.’
Mandy leans in.
‘I think these things have been going on for a little while, as Stan says, but we were just a bit concerned they were worse today, and we didn’t know whether it might be the beginnings of a stroke or something. I’ve told Stan’s daughter Elly about it. She’s on her way over, but she says she might be a little bit delayed because she started a new job today and didn’t think it’d be easy to get away.’
‘Okay. That’s fine. So, Stan? Do you have any pins and needles? Numbness? Funny feelings anywhere else?’
He shakes his head.
‘I don’t feel right,’ he says. ‘I just don’t think I can be left on my own.’
‘Grip hold of my hands,’ I say.
He passes the test for stroke.
‘You’ve passed,’ I say.
Rae takes his blood pressure, temperature and such. Everything checks out.
‘Have you spoken to your doctor about any of this?’
‘My doctor? What does he know?’
‘Well it’s their job to know, really, Stan. If you don’t like your doctor, you can always change.’
He shrugs.
Mandy leans in with his care folder.
‘Stan has a cardiac appointment in a week or so and another for an eye check-up,’ she says.
‘Great. That’s good.’
I write it all down.
‘Well – what to do with you, Stan? You’re a man of mystery.’
‘Am I?’ he says. ‘Oh.’
Rae has wandered over to the other side of the flat.
‘Is this you on the bikes?’ she says.
He looks up.
‘I raced all through the fifties and sixties,’ he says. ‘TT, Grand Prix, you name it. Nortons, Triumphs. I was very keen. We went all over.’
I go over to join Rae at the board.
Amongst all the photos is one of Stan sitting on his racing bike with his arms folded. He’s wearing a tight leather jacket, a round white helmet with the goggles lifted up. Even though his balaclava is over his mouth, you can tell it’s him. He squints out at the camera, a younger, tougher version of the man who moments earlier was squinting at the curtains.
‘If you look at that photo you can see a van in the background,’ he says.
There is one – a converted furniture van, with Équipe Macintyre painted on the side, along with images of bikes leaning round bends and popping wheelies.
‘Is that your support vehicle, Stan?’
He nods, and raises a hand to point.
‘And can you see someone sitting on the top of it?’
There’s a blurry image of a small child sitting on the roof, her legs stretched out onto the windscreen.
‘That’s Elly. About six she was, then.’
And just at that moment, Elly comes into the room, a large, harassed looking woman in a freshly-starched uniform with a name badge.
‘Dad,’ she says, dropping her bag down beside the bed and leaning over to kiss him on the top of his head. ‘What are we going to do about you?’
He settles back into his original position.


Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

Daughter's question seems to be the most often asked one of our generation: Dad/Mom, What are we going to do with you? We really need to be able to answer this question, too, cuz the time is upon us to know...

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Lynda
Absolutely! It was difficult for both of them: the father, because he looked out of place / disconnected and rather lost in that place; the daughter, because she was doing everything she could to make him happy & safe & well (whilst trying to hold down a new job and keep her own life on track), but feeling frustrated because nothing seemed to be working.
Doubly hard for them I think because of their rich history - it was such a huge disparity between the confident and strong man on the m/cycle and the old man sitting on the bed. Heart-breaking, really.

jacksofbuxton said...

Never got into motorbikes Spence.I believe the official term given to a motorcyclist in A&E departments is "A donor"

Spence Kennedy said...

You must immediately go out and get yourself a bike, Jacks. Go on. I guarantee by the end of the week you'll be sticking your knee out and scything through the bend with the best of them. Don't worry about the accident thing. It's an interesting fact, but you'll find that as soon as you've thrown your leg over, you've become invincible...

jacksofbuxton said...

When you say "you'll find that as soon as you've thrown your leg over, you've become invincible..." we've got 2 daughters,does that count?

Besides which,Mrs Jack doesn't let me grow my sideburns to the length that I want,similar to Bradley Wiggins or Guy Martin (now there is a loony motorcyclist).Bottom of the ear,no further.

Apparently they tickle her thighs.

Spence Kennedy said...

Well I agree that was subject to misinterpretation, but come to think of it, the same rule applies. As far as sideburns go (and if you're Bradley Wiggins that's pretty far), you'll find you only need a helmet and a licence to ride the old m/cycles. 'Tickle her thighs'? I didn't know you were on the synchronized swimming team there, Jacks.

Unknown said...

It's heartbreaking to witness how aging and time in general can change our roles in life. No wonder he feels lost and disconnected. Maybe he should visit the lift and have a chat with her. She just may have the answers he needs.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Nari
I love that idea - an elderly person building up a relationship with a talking lift who helps them solve their problems. I think there's def a story there...