‘You wanna watch out for him, he’s disgusting,’ said Lisa. They were outside Mr Kemble’s door. ‘He tried to grab me. He’ll do it to anyone, even you, pretty boy.’
Brendan watched Lisa walk down the corridor in her white uniform, then carried on with the linen trolley. It was his second day, and he was still unused to the smell of the nursing home carpet, with a nastiness that had not quite been sanitised. They should’ve had hard floors, he thought, but then he remembered the coldness of lino: Flintleigh Boys’ Home. The name, Kemble.
A crash came from Mr Kemble’s room. Brendan went in. The old man was on the floor.
‘If you’re getting out of bed, you’re meant to press your bell,’ Brendan said, crouching beside him. Mr Kemble’s eyes snapped open and stared at him, the eyelids gaping and red. Brendan stood up and pressed the button. It’d take two people to get Mr Kemble back into bed.
‘Don’t tell anyone,’ leered Mr Kemble. ‘This is our little secret.’
‘I’m just getting some help, Mr Kemble,’ said Brendan. ‘We need to get you back up. I can’t do it on my own.’
‘Just me and you,’ whispered Mr Kemble.
‘No,’ said Brendan. ‘She’ll be here in a minute.’ He studied the old man’s profile. White hair, thinner now, the skin rutted with wrinkles, teeth gone. The cruel hands, the signet ring. It really was him. Jeez. Him! Kemble!
He had to get out. He opened the door. Lisa was striding back along the corridor.
‘He’s fallen,’ he said.
It took ages to coax and lift Mr Kemble into a half-standing position, and manoeuvre him to his bed, so that he could get back in. They washed him and changed his linen.
‘Going for my break,’ said Brendan afterwards. There was a small garden, and behind a shed was a little gap where you could smoke. The red tip burned as he inhaled, trying to think. The ash fell; his fingers were trembling. He coughed. His smoke blew away through the trellis.
‘Hey, Brendan.’ Someone was looking through the trellis from the street.
‘Hey, Jack! Didn’t know you lived round here.’
‘Heard you got a job.’
‘First week. Home. From. Home.’
‘He’s here, then. Knew it.’
‘Kemble? Yeah. The tables turned, eh?’ Brendan dragged on his cigarette, his anger as hot as the glow.
‘What you gonna do?’
‘If it was me…’ said Jack.
‘Yeah, well, it ain’t.’
‘He was a really important guy. Makes me sick, what he did to us. I’d -‘
‘Well, I’m not you. And I ain’t him, either. I’m better than him!’ Brendan dropped the butt, and crushed it down with his heel. ‘I gotta go, mate. My break’s over.’
Lisa looked up from the nurses’ desk as Brendan went in.
‘You shouldn’t smoke, Brendan,’ she said, ‘it’s bad for you.’ There was something sweet in her eyes.
He grinned. ‘I’ll give it up if you’ll go out with me,’ he said.
© 2015 chateauxenespagne.com
All characters are fictional.