“Granddad? Granddad? What the hell is going on? What’re you doing out here?”
“I’m going to meet my lawyer”
“I was told I had to meet my Lawyer. I was told to wait here to meet my lawyer.”
“You don’t have to see a lawyer. You don’t even have one”
The wind was bitter, cutting through meagre clothing. It had started to spit dirty, gritty rain.
“He called me up. He called me up”
“Come on granddad.”
“Come on. I had to rush over here. Just… come on!”
Alex took his arm and attempted to guide the old man inside, but he stayed fast. His thin flannel trousers and cardigan began to dampen and grey from the rain.
“No! Who… who are you? I have to wait here”
“It’s me. It’s Alex.” His eyes moistened in the rain. He refused to cry. He was the only one who could deal with this situation. John refused to look at the boy.
“Look. If you stay out here, you’ll catch your death. Come inside with me and I promise that when he comes he’ll ring the bell and I’ll let you know.”
John stopped, looked at Alex, then gruffly nodded, allowing the young man to lead him back inside.
“Alex!” Marianne, the Sunday manager, was in tears. When she had called him up, she had been barely able to speak. Alex hadn't wanted to leave- he didn't feel like he should be dealing with this kind of thing, or in fact know what he would be dealing with. Joanne was staying at a friend’s. He’d sent her a message, no reply. She had started ‘that age’. The age he was just seeing the end of. Marianne had almost broken down on the phone. Her voice had wavered and just about held as she said ‘please’. This couldn't have happened two days ago, when his parents were still in the country, of course. Barely a child, Alex knew better than to let his parents know until he had to. His mum was so highly strung about everything since his grandma had died and granddad John had become more and more distant. He held his tongue. He didn't desperately or ask what had happened. Too much high emotion already. Be a man. He didn't demand to know why trained healthcare professionals couldn't handle one old man, or why he had just suddenly started acting like this after two years. Just get on. Be a man.
“Thank you for coming! He was… He went…I couldn't stop him”
“I’m going to take him downstairs and… make him change his clothes. Uh, do you think you could get him a hot drink or something? Sorry to ask”
Marianne smiled and nodded and Alex led his granddad downstairs to his room. The old man muttered indecipherable words as Alex sat him on a seat next to his bed. John wasn't too badly soaked. He didn't think he’d have to have a bath or anything. Alex looked through the cupboard and pulled out a pair of green cords and an ancient grey cotton shirt. The collar and cuffs had been darned. Probably by his grandma. Alex lightly ran his finger over the stitching, over the label, before roughly folding the shirt and placing it with the trousers and a change of underwear on John’s bed.
“Now granddad. Granddad?”
“I’m going to turn my back and let you change, OK? I want you to let me know if you need any help.”
“Don’t need bloody…”
Alex stared at the wall, at the photograph of an old landscape that looked like a painting. A giant tree growing in some kind of desert. He’d always been fascinated by it. It was like a surrealist painting. Trees didn’t grow in the desert now. Nothing grew there any more.
He could hear the sound of fabric and rustling. Heavy breathing and frustration. He turned round to see his grandfather tangled up in the clothes, one arm caught at the elbow, two legs in one trouser leg.
“Oh Jesus Christ”
Alex knew how patronising and dangerous it was to think of old people as children. They were helpless at times, but after two years of visiting his granddad here he knew this not to be true. He could still see the flashes of brilliance that had always been there, the wit, the dry humour, the knowledge, the things he was only now beginning to appreciate, the things that were more and more scarce.
“Come here. Look. Sit on the bed.”
John sat on the bed. Alex put on his shirt properly, then his trousers and picked some shoes. Brown. Soft leather. John’s breathing had calmed, but he hadn't begun talking again. It seemed at least that this episode had passed.
“Where’s Alice? Is she coming to get me?”
“Granddad… Alice is… Gran’s dead. She passed away.”
“What??? No!!! When???”
“About three years ago”
John held in a dry, desperate sob.
“Where… where is she? Where’s Alice?”
“She’s… She passed on granddad. She died.”
“Uh… uh… James”
“James is my uncle, granddad.”
“Uh… sorry… It’s just… where’s Alice?”
“She’s… She’ll be here soon”
Marianne brought in some tea. They sat and drank it in silence.