‘No, no, no,’ he was thinking as he was waking. ‘Too early.’
‘Damn birds. Damn, damn.’ His protestations lacked the vigour to drive him up and doing. He pulled the covers over his head. But he lay there tense. He knew; that was enough. Too much light. Too much…busyness. It was in the air. And it was stifling under there.
‘Someone turned on the heating? I’ll kill… The bills!’
But it wasn’t that. What it was, he knew, he had to shell-out for a new mattress. Sticking into his back again.
‘Memory foam. Not one of these…with metal bits sticking up into you…’
But at least this got him up and dressed.
‘Something…was it King Albert? Edward? Someone who shoulda known better, died through…tetanus…septicaemia…from a bed spring?’
And that had him washed and dressed, and presenting himself downstairs.
A cheer as he walked into the workshop. Sarky lot, he groused. He looked at their beaming, lively faces.
‘Come on, Granddad. Get this down you.’ A mug of strong tea. Too strong, His constitution…there’s a word from his younger days, when he had the gift o’ the gab… Well, his stomach could no longer take it.
They meant well. He looked at them again, felt a warmth for them. A part of him whipped out, ’Infectious. Infectious good-will.’ And that part of him knew that bode ill.
And then they brought out the chair. The wheelchair. He froze. That anger felt good; he felt better. Slightly. But he couldn’t sustain it. To his shame, and yet…relief, admit it…he slipped into it, as if into a made-to-measure suit. He thought about it, his old wardrobe, those suits up there. Maybe he could donate them. The styles, well. They say it all comes round every twenty years or so. So…
They were all looking at him. Their young, eager, and innocent expressions. It was an unhurried, but expectant look. Does that look have a name? He no longer cared…cared to follow through, find the lost connections. Is youth an expression? It’s…an age…thing…
‘Let him rest,’ they were saying, looking over to him. Benevolent, he thought, that’s it. That’s the word. He’d slumped. They’d left him near a window, and it was too bright, too hot.
‘Has one o’ yous put the heating on?’ But he couldn’t get the tone right. It came out like a snarl. Had he upset them now? But the bills!
‘Come on, old man,’ they were saying, gently – like to an old pet? No, there was respect in their faces, their manner. His students. And suddenly he felt proud of them.
‘Just this one last job, eh?’ They wheeled him to the engine room, lifted his hands to the iron wheel.
‘Easy, now,’ they soothed. ‘Just one last slow, steady push. Then it’s all over, eh. Plenty of sleep.
Those daisies don’t rise by themselves, Mr Winter.’