This is the beginning of Assignment 5. Not sure where to take it next… Any ideas welcome.
Arthur sits alone at the oak dining room table looking at family photos, dappled by autumn sunlight from the French windows. On the table unread library books lie in neat piles. Crosswords cut from The Daily Mail are clipped onto a board behind a sharpened pencil, left undone. A half-eaten pork pie from yesterday lunchtime sits on a side plate. His dressing gown is a patchwork of thready holes.
A knock at the door is followed by the clicking of a key turning in the lock. His daughter, Sue, comes in smiling, carrying an armful of clean washing.
‘Oh hello dear… was I expecting you?’
‘Yes you were. Of course you were. It’s Tuesday.’
She sighs. In the past month It’s been getting worse. How much longer will he be able to stay here on his own? He drives her mad, but she can see no way out of his living with her. Neither of them want that. He would be fine with her coming to live with him, but she has a husband, three children, a Labrador and a job. No, he will have to move in with them. She looked out of the window. The last remaining leaf on the sycamore tree in the back garden falls onto the lawn.
‘You need to get dressed Dad. Your appointment at the doctor’s is in 15 minutes’.
At the surgery they sit in silence in the waiting room until the nurse calls them in.
‘I haven’t met you before have I?’ he says.
‘Oh yes Mr Saunders. We see each other every week. Don’t you remember?’ she says.
‘Do we?… Yes, so we do!’ he says.
Sue can’t help rolling her eyes and gives her bobbed hair a wipe over, her palm coming to rest propping up her forehead. The nurse glances at her. As they get up to leave she touches Sue on the arm gently.
‘Are you alright?’
Sue looks at her. A tear beads from the corner of her eye and dribbles onto her cheek.
‘Thought not,’ says the nurse. ‘Cup of tea?’
Arthur tucks into a chocolate digestive biscuit and sips his tea.
‘Mmmm,’ he says.
Sue and the nurse talk about what the nurse calls ‘difficult choices’.
‘Couldn’t you get a carer in?’ the nurse asks.
‘We can’t afford that. The government doesn’t think so, but we can’t. Anyway I don’t think he would like a stranger coming in, ‘ Sue says.
‘Hang on a minute,’ says the nurse, picking up a local paper from the table in the waiting room. ‘What about this?’
She shows Sue a small box ad towards the back of the paper.
Home Share Agency
If you are a senior wanting company
Or a young person wanting a room
Call us on 010-244-6231
The nurse says she has heard that the agency has a good reputation. Sue decides to call the number when they get home. She finishes her tea, drags Arthur from the biscuits and they get in the car.
Back at Arthur’s she makes him some lunch and settles him at the table. No time like the present. She calls the number. A polite young man answers straight away and he tells her all about the home share idea. It’s brilliant. Young people can’t afford to buy or rent their own places so close to London, and older people on their own want company and some help with the chores. Matches made in heaven. She makes an appointment for the next day.
They set off in Sue’s Volvo people carrier. She has dressed him in clean clothes, a clean hanky pokes out of his pocket, his hair is brushed.
‘They’re going to ask you lots of questions, Dad. Please try to sound normal,’ she says.
Arthur turns and gives her a look. ‘What do you mean? Normal?’ he says.
He didn’t think he had ever been ‘normal’. Neither did she actually.
The guy on the phone is at reception. He’s young, maybe twenty-one or twenty-two, skinny, smiley, coffee-coloured with a hemisphere of tight curly black hair. Sue tenses up and shoots Arthur a warning glance.
Karl says, ‘Arthur! Can I call you that?’ Arthur nods. ‘Cool! I’m Karl. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you, man.’
Arthur’s eyes switch from Sue’s to Karl, and open wider. ‘Erm… Good morning… Karl.’
Karl steps round the reception desk and takes them over to some plush armchairs arranged around a coffee table. Once Arthur has arranged his coat and stick by his chair, Karl passes him some papers.
‘OK Arthur, I just need you to fill out these details for me,’ he says.
‘Oh… I don’t know if I can do that. Have you seen my glasses dear?’ says Arthur.
‘Hey, no sweat man,’ says Karl. ‘I can do it with you if you like.’
Arthur smiles thinly at Sue. Karl explains that it’s a bit like a dating agency really. They would try to match Arthur up with someone suitable for him. For the best chance of a match he should only tick the boxes he feels most strongly about. Each tick narrows down the field.
Sue wonders if any young person could possibly want to live with someone like Arthur. What boxes would they tick to end up with him? Cantankerous, lazy, absent-minded, my way or no way? Judging by the many testimonials on the walls, successful matches did occur somehow.
Karl sits on the arm of Arthur’s chair and reads out each item to him, then ticks if Arthur wants to specify it. Karl certainly had a way with him. They chortled together as they worked down the sheet.
A week later Arthur gets a call from the agency. Strangely, they put all his ticks into the system, and the perfect match turned out to be Karl the receptionist who is looking for a share himself.
They all (Arthur, Sue and Karl) meet in a pub one lunchtime. Arthur likes pubs. Sue says it’s the only time he comes alive. Sue has a Pinot Grigio, Arthur has a red wine, and Karl has a Malibu and coke. Sue had never ordered one of those before. Sue goes to the ladies room.
Arthur leans over to Karl, ‘She’s told me not to talk about you being black.’
‘That’s good,’ says Karl. ‘Because I’m not black. I’m mixed race.’
Arthur raises his eyebrows. ‘Oh… any Anglo-Saxon in there?’
‘Anglo-Saxon is about as mixed as you can get actually,’ says Karl. ‘So yes, probably.’
‘Yes… I suppose you’re right, now I come to think of it.’
Arthur sits back as Sue returns to the table.
Sue is keen to set some boundaries, as she calls them. Karl would call them rules, but he knows the ropes from being on reception, so he is happy to go along with it. They talk about (not) coming in late, (not) bringing friends back, chores, TV, noise, use of the garden (really?), laundry, cooking and money. Karl listens as she goes down the list, nodding occasionally. Arthur is silent.
Karl says,’ OK, and what about my boundaries?’
‘Oh,’ says Sue. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, I reckon you are getting a pretty good deal here, Sue. I look after Arty here for you. You don’t have to be around so much. He gets some company (and trust me, he will now). So don’t I get some boundaries too?’
Arthur puts his glass down. Smiles to himself, and looks at Sue.
‘Well yes,’ she says. ‘I suppose so…’
‘And shouldn’t our boundaries be about me and Arthur? Rather than about you?’ says Karl. He turns to Arthur. ‘Is that OK with you man?’
Arthur says, ‘That’s OK with me… man.’
A week later Karl is moving in. He gets a choice of three bedrooms. He chooses the one giving on to the garden – he likes the idea of waking up to the sounds of nature, which he has never done before. He carries a suitcase, a laundry bag (half full) a huge flat screen TV, a crumpled lampshade with burn marks on it, a laptop bag and a plastic packing box full of pens, pencils, crayons, brushes, paints and paper.
Arthur is sitting on the settle in the hallway downstairs watching these items as they pass by and up the stairs, like the conveyor belt on The Generation Game he thinks.
‘Mind the paintwork, Karl!’ he says.
‘Don’t worry Arthur, I’m good at this. I’ve been moving this stuff around for years,’ says Karl.
Arthur and Sue hear clumping and bumping upstairs as Karl sets things down and moves them around. He’s talking to himself very quickly in a syncopated monotone.
‘What’s he saying?’ asks Arthur.
‘I think It’s rap, Dad.’ says Sue.
They have a month to see how it works out. The next day Arthur gets up as usual at seven. Karl doesn’t. He has to get to work by ten and ends up rushing out of the front door eating a piece of toast at nine fifty. Arthur gets up to close the door behind Karl. As an ex-army man he notices unpunctuality. Karl leaves a smell of coconuts in his wake which Arthur quite liked. When he gets back from work at the Agency Karl carries in some groceries in plastic bags.
‘Ready for some tea Arthur?’ he says.
‘It’s a bit early for me to be honest. I usually go up the pub for a glass of red early evening. Could we do that first?’ says Arthur.
‘OK, as long as I can have a bag of crisps – I’ll be starving otherwise,’ says Karl.
The pub is too far to walk but not really far enough to drive. Nevertheless they go in Arthur’s blue Ford Fiesta. As they walk in under the gaily-coloured flower baskets the chatter inside goes down a notch.
‘Usual, Arthur?’ says Tom the barman. Arthur nods.
‘Nice lad. I’m not sure about that tattoo on his neck though,’ Arthur says to Karl over his shoulder. ‘What would you like anyway?’
‘Oh… just a coke please,’ says Karl.
They take the drinks over to a table in the bay window next to a log-effect gas fire.
‘I love it here,‘ says Arthur. ‘It’s a real village pub. Not many of those left you know.’
Karl takes this in and nods once. Everyone looks worn, well-fed and white. A group of late middle-aged men crowd at one end of the bar. They are wearing garish, multi-patterned sweaters and trousers. They greet Arthur.
‘Oh my God. What are they wearing?’ says Karl.
Arthur laughs, ‘They’re golfers.’
‘Do you play golf then?’ says Karl.
‘Oh I used to, yes, of course. Not for a bit now though. My knees can’t take it anymore,’ says Arthur.
‘In that gear?’ says Karl, sniggering.
Arthur doesn’t want to go into how you can tell a lot about a man from his choice of golf clothes. It had got him into trouble before in here.
On the way home in the car, Arthur suddenly thinks how quickly today has gone.