• Kate Clarke

A Red Coat, A Red Apple

I've spent a few days back and forth to the hospital.

It's the same one Terry and I went when he had a heart issue a couple of years ago. Same staff, too, and the same roguish porter that we both noticed, slipping between wards with his slicked-back Teddy Boy hair. He is one of those men who still whistles. He probably winks, too. He's of that generation.

They kept Terry in hospital for a few long spells. I can barely describe how out of place he looked in hospital - it was like seeing a charm of hummingbirds on some scrubby roundabout in Slough. He shouldn't have been there among that inelegant utility furniture, the drip stands, the constant enervating drone of local radio in the background, the beeping monitors and the crushing fog of worry on the wards. There was nothing frail about Terry.

So, I was waiting to be called for my appointment today, and in the changing cubicle across the hall I spotted a red coat, neatly folded, that someone had left behind. Terry had one just like it, so it set me off, crying.

When Terry stayed there I was his only visitor, so I went in twice a day. He was climbing the walls with boredom and frustration and he was horrified by the food. But he found a couple of co-conspirators on one of the wards he was in. One was a Del Boy lookalike with some very comical patter and a deep love of Dean Martin, The other was an alarmingly handsome, softly-spoken lad. I'll call him David. He looked like a 19th Century consumptive poet. He was in his early thirties and critically weakened by years of drug use. David's adoring little nephew would visit him every day, climb up on his bed and they would read stories to each other, with the child up on the pillows with his uncle. David was a long-stayer on the ward, and was tired of being contained, so he would bicker with the nurses if they reprimanded him about ignoring hospital rules around visiting hours, or going outside for a smoke.

Once, he sent his nephew over to Terry's bed to hand him a red apple and to tell him a joke. Terry loved watching the pair of them together. They were charming. The little boy's mother, David's sister, was the only member of the family still talking to David. He was a notorious and inveterate burglar, and this is a small town.

We found out about his occupation a few months later when we spotted his fine face in the local paper on a crime report.

We worried about him a lot when Terry came home.

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