‘Shed door’s fixed, took me ages to get the old hinge off.’ He walked into the sitting room.
‘What about some lunch,’ he said, smiling, as he looked across at his wife? ‘Look at you, falling asleep, and it’s only twelve o’clock.’ He put his hand on her shoulder and gave her a gentle shake. When he removed his hand, she slumped over the side of the armchair.
‘Jessie, what’s happening? What’s going on?’
Grindal Falcon glanced through the window of the taxicab as it pulled away from the cemetery. Two or three people still hovered around the graveside where he had just buried his wife. One of them was his daughter Clare. They had not spoken.
Having few emotional links with the people at the funeral, he had booked the taxi for as long as it would take to get the funeral over with and get back home. The driver did not speak as they sped through the suburban streets on the return journey. The crackle of the two-way radio was muted. Even cab drivers know that grief must be suffered in silence. Grindal suspected the young driver was eager to discard the dour old man in the back seat. Depression is contagious death is for old people, he mused silently.
He stared aimlessly through the cab window as they stopped at a traffic signal. People in shops, people riding bicycles, for them nothing had changed. Life was the same as it had been yesterday and the day before. For him it was different. It was changed forever. Jessie was dead.
When they reached his house, Grindal handed the driver a fifty dollar note and waited for his change. The young man pushed it into his hand and turned quickly, avoiding eye contact.
As the cab sped away, he heard the loud blare of pop music as the young driver cleansed the silence and depression from inside the vehicle.
Grindal walked into the house and closed the door behind him. The stillness surrounded him like an unseen assailant it was thick and almost palpable. He forced himself to face it, refusing to strike it down with the sound of radio or television. And yet he knew that this game he played with himself was merely a diversion to mask his grief.
Sitting in his favourite armchair, he stared across the room at the chair opposite. It was empty. It was finished. Jessie was dead and gone. He must now pull himself together and get on with whatever life offered him.
The following morning, he went into his wardrobe for a clean shirt. There were none left. His clean underwear had run out two days ago. The laundry basket was overflowing with soiled clothing.
The washing machine made a high-pitched noise when he eventually found the ‘on’ switch. There was an array of coloured lights each highlighting some special function. His hand trembled slightly as he contemplated the electronic display. He pressed the button under the ‘large wash’ indicator and sighed with relief as water gushed into the bowl. Feeling more confident, he quickly added a cup-full of the blue liquid he had seen Jessie use. Then for good measure, added another half cup.
When he returned half an hour later to see how his washing was going, he discovered the laundry almost knee high in soapsuds.
He scrambled around on his hands and knees until he found the drain in the floor where the suds were coming from. Quickly he blocked it with a folded towel weighed down with a bucket of water.
The fact that he had been forced into the role of housekeeper without warning was no consolation to him. He was a man and came from an era where women did the things around the house. Failing miserably at what he had once thought of as minor domestic chores, reminded him of his inadequacy.
His attempt at ironing was almost as disastrous. He melted a printed windcheater and covered the iron with a sticky substance that refused to clean off.
The main meal of the day usually consisted of vegetables peeled, then placed into a saucepan, boiled for fifteen minutes and then thrown onto a plate with a slice of corned beef. Covering the concoction in tomato sauce enhanced the taste. His attempt to cook meat usually ended in a smoke-filled kitchen.
In the two weeks since the funeral he had spoken only to the man who ran the local delicatessen. The phone had rung a few times, but he had not bothered to answer it.
And so the days passed. He hardly noticed the automated routine that began to fill his empty life. Each day, moving from bedroom to kitchen to sitting room, from radio to television and back to radio, yet not really seeing, not really listening.
His grief climaxed at the beginning of the third week. Grindal absent-mindedly knocked a pan of boiling milk off the stove. As he reached out to catch the falling pan, the hot liquid covered his hands. He let out a long loud cry. It was filled with all the pain, anguish and frustration that he had successfully blocked out since the death of his wife.
He sat down at the kitchen table covering his face with scolded hands. The first few tears he tried to hold back but then, the unresolved grief he had contained for so long forced its way into the open.
Fifteen minutes passed before he finally blew his nose and took a deep breath. He walked slowly to the bathroom. As he leaned over to run cold water over his hands, he barely recognised the reflection that caught him by surprise in the mirror above the basin.
Three weeks ago, he was self-assured, confident, master of his own destiny. Now he was just a useless old prick who couldn’t even boil an egg. Everything he touched ended in disaster. That evening Grindal sat in his armchair fondling a small gilt framed picture of Jessie and himself. He looked across the room at the empty chair opposite.
‘I’m not coping very well am I, Jessie,’ he said out loud.
The insensitive beat of the wall clock filled the silent void in his head.
‘What about the lean piece on the tray,’ Grindal Falcon challenged the butcher as he watched him throw a fatty piece of meat onto the scales. ‘Would you like me to trim the fat off,’ replied the red-faced butcher?
‘If you did that, there’d be nothing left, just give me the piece on the tray.’
‘Like I said, that’s for display, just let me trim the f....’
‘Look,’ interrupted Grindal. ‘If you don’t want to give me the piece on the tray, just say so, don’t fuck around trying to sell me your rubbish.’
‘You’re always complaining,’ said the now irate butcher. ‘And don’t use that foul language in my shop’. He looked furtively around the shop; there were four other customers, all staring intently. ‘In fact, why don’t you buy your meat from someone else?’ he added more confidently.
‘Don’t worry, I will,’ shouted Grindal. ‘It’s probably dog meat anyway’. The four customers exchanged glances, shook their heads and rolled their eyes in mutual disgust.
‘I’ll get security onto you if you come in here again,’ he heard the butcher shout as the door closed behind him.
Grindal had now been potentially barred from every butcher’s shop in the centre. He could still buy meat from the Supermarket, but even there he was not the most cherished customer.
He went there anyway, to buy a frozen chicken. His current experiments of cooking meat in the oven were proving more successful. He removed the meat every fifteen minutes and tested whether it was edible. The chicken was on sale at half price. He looked at it suspiciously, wondering why.
The manager, whom he had confronted several times before regarding the quality of what was supposed to be fresh food, eyed him carefully as he paid for his purchase. Grindal returned the stare in a silent act of defiance,
He left the shopping centre and walked slowly through the dimly lit concrete car park towards the bus stop on the far side. It was quiet apart from the sound of his own footsteps and the rustle of the plastic bag in his hand. Grindal hated shopping centres, the stuffy air and the shallow glitz of the shop fronts repulsed him and yet, he was drawn there at least once each week to re-join humanity, just for a short time. Even though no one spoke to him except the shop assistants, it gave him the feeling of being part of a group, something he needed, yet could not find anywhere else in his present circumstances.
As he negotiated his way through the maze of parked vehicles, a sudden movement off to the right caught his attention. Three youths were huddled around a parked vehicle. They seemed to be excited and were talking to each other in loud whispers.
Grindal moved closer and quietly observed them. They were pushing what appeared to be a long metal hook between the car door and the window. The shortest of the three youths seemed very agitated.
‘For fuck sake hurry up Joe,’ he said, pushing the other youth against the car door.
‘Who are you pushing?’ The other youth turned around sharply. As he did so, his eyes fell directly on Grindal, who was still watching intently, some twenty feet away.
‘What’s your problem grandad,’ he shouted?
Grindal turned and attempted to walk away but before he had taken more than a few paces the shorter youth ran across and stood before him. They stared at each other for a few seconds; Grindal cautious and hesitant, the younger man dominant and aggressive.
‘Piss off, you old maggot,’ growled the youth, accentuating each word.
Grindal’s hand clutched tightly around the plastic bag that hung at his side, it contained the frozen chicken. One good whack ... soon sort this bastard out, he thought.
The youth glared at him without blinking, a split -second passed. Grindal recognised the cruel glaze that glinted in the staring eyes.
He knew from past experience he was in a potentially dangerous situation.
‘Okay son, sorry son.’ Grindal turned hurriedly and started to walk back towards the shopping centre. He heard the light footfalls behind him and steeled himself for the anticipated blow.
The kick up the backside sent him staggering forward, falling across the bonnet of a parked car. The frozen chicken fell to the ground rolling some ten metres before it stopped. The youth strolled away laughing and re-joined his companions.
Grindal did not turn around. ‘Fuck them,’ he said out loud. As the rush of anger took hold of him, he quickly retrieved the frozen chicken and hurled it with all his strength at the retreating youth. It fell harmlessly far short of its target. The three youths decided to beat a hasty retreat and ran off whooping and laughing as they disappeared out of site.
Grindal’s anger and frustration eventually subsided. He had long ago come to terms with the fact that weakness and vulnerability formed an inevitable partnership with old age.
The journey back home seemed to take longer than usual. Grindal was feeling all of his sixty-seven years. The encounter with the three youths had upset him more than he cared to admit. His fatigue and frustration accentuated the depression and sadness that still lingered in his conscious thoughts.
‘Jessie, Jessie, where will it all end,’ he sighed under his breath. A vision of his late wife flashed across his mind. For some time, he had been talking to her in his head, the habit was becoming frequent. Grindal was aware of this new tendency but he had no friends, no God and everyone needed someone to talk to.
Like most lonely people, he had lots of imaginary conversations. These took place between people he had met, and some he had not. Most of the time the people and situations he disliked most filled these conversations, his glib retorts to questions that would never be asked gave him some comfort.
When he entered the house and closed the front door, the silence enshrouded him like a thick blanket. He immediately turned on the radio. Too much quietness made him despondent, a personal weakness to be avoided. He placed the now battered frozen chicken in the fridge and thought about having something to eat. Standing in front of the open refrigerator, he surveyed the contents. Nothing took his fancy, probably because he wasn’t hungry anyway.
Still feeling weary after the trip from the shopping centre Grindal sat in his favourite chair and closed his eyes for what seemed only a moment. He awakened to the sound of the radio playing ‘Amazing Grace,’ it used to be Jessie’s favourite song. Grindal listened to the melody. A montage of memories danced fleetingly across his mind. He slowly opened his eyes. The room was dark and for an instant he was confused. When he turned on the light Grindal saw from the living room clock that it was eight thirty, he had been asleep for three hours. It didn’t really matter. He wasn’t going anywhere.
Having not eaten since mid-day, grumbling sounds from his empty stomach reminded him of his hunger. It was too late for a large meal and in any case, he couldn’t be bothered. Still feeling tired; he decided tea and toast would do until morning. He put the bread into the toaster and sat back in his chair. On the coffee table that stood next to the chair was a small gilt framed photograph of Jessie and himself. It was his favourite. Next to it was a small hand painted wooden box. He had taken it from a draw in the dressing table that morning, but had not yet opened it. It belonged to Jessie. She called it her memory bank. He reached across and carefully lifted the lid from the box.
It contained small keepsakes that had been gathered over the many years they had been together. There were ticket stubs to various shows they had seen, invitations to weddings, special letters and photographs and a silver charm bracelet. The charm bracelet held great significance for Grindal. For the past ten years it had been a tradition that he would give his Jessie one extra charm each year on the day of their anniversary. She never wore the bracelet, preferring to keep it in her special memory bank. Grindal closed his eyes as his mind drifted back to memories of happier times.
There was sound of breaking glass and someone shouting.
‘Is anyone there?’
Grindal opened his eyes slowly as a favourite memory disappeared from his mind’s eye. The room before him was bright yet at the same time his vision was clouded. He was confused. The confusion vanished in a moment as the reality of his situation took hold. The kitchen was no longer visible; it was hidden behind a wall of raging flames. Clouds of grey black smoke surrounded him like angry ghosts. Within seconds he was gasping for air. As he pushed himself from the chair, his eyes fell upon Jessie’s memory bank that lay open where he had left it.
Grindal was suddenly filled with panic. The thought of losing this treasured link with the past caused him to cry out in anguish. In his eagerness to reach it, he stumbled into the table and tipped it onto its side. The contents of the box along with the photograph were spilled onto the floor. In his momentum Grindal fell full length over the table and landed face down. Clutching hands reached out in desperation, searching for the treasured symbols of his past. He now coughed continuously as his lungs searched desperately for air. He frantically searched for the charm bracelet, but his eyes were so full of smoke he could only grope around in a last vain hope that he might stumble across it.
The heat was now scorching the unprotected skin of his face and hands. The flames had moved quickly from the kitchen and were beginning to devour the surrounding area. The instinct of self-preservation caused Grindal to lift himself from the floor to try and escape the hot fingers of flame that were reaching out to consume him. His head was spinning. He staggered two paces before losing his balance and falling back to the floor. As his hands stretched out before him his fingers felt the shape of a familiar object. It was the small gilt framed photograph. He clutched it tightly pulling it to his bosom. The few last gasps of air in his lungs were sucked out as he dry-reached uncontrollably. His strength was gone he was done for.
Suddenly, a large pair of hands grabbed him roughly under the armpits and began to drag him swiftly across the room. Grindal was almost unconscious. The strong hands that were pulling him towards the door almost lifted him off the ground. Within seconds he was outside the burning house, away from the heat and smoke. His aching lungs automatically sucked in the cold night air. He found himself lying on the grass verge near the roadside. His knees bent double as he tried to clear the acrid smoke from his lungs. Someone pushed a plastic mask onto his face. Without being told, Grindal sucked hungrily at the oxygen that came from it. After a few desperate gulps he was forced to remove the mask, unable to control the need to cough up the smoke from his lungs.
‘That’s right, cough it all up,’ said a nearby voice.
The high-pitched noise of a wailing siren drowned out his attempt to reply. Grindal raised himself onto his knees. His head was now beginning to clear. He looked at the burning house. His mind refused to acknowledge the site before him. It was surreal. The flames leapt into the night sky like bright jagged fingers of light pointing upwards and outwards. Sparks of burning debris flew off the blaze like a cascade of fire flies, quickly disappearing as they were picked up by the evening breeze.
As full consciousness dawned on him Grindal realised the enormity of the situation. His house, his life, his links with the past were almost destroyed. Soon there would be nothing left. When he looked again, five or six fire hoses were bombarding the building. There were shouts and screams as firemen communicated with each other. People were running everywhere. The whole roadway outside the house was filled with a sea of flashing lights.
Someone grabbed him under his armpits and lifted him to his feet.
‘Come on old timer, you’ll be all right, just take it easy.’
Grindal wiped the tears that were still streaming from his smoke-filled eyes. Something cut into his forehead. It was then he realised he was still clutching the small gilt framed photograph of Jessie and himself. Momentarily embarrassed, he slipped it quickly into his pocket.
His head was now clear. The anguish and frustration he had experienced for the past few minutes was now being quickly replaced by a burning anger. He was filled with a need to hit back. And yet whom could he blame. Who could he vent his anger on?
‘What the fuck’s going on,’ he shouted at the ambulance officer.
‘Calm down, calm down,’ said the ambulance officer placing his arm around Grindal’s shoulder. ‘You don’t look too good. Let’s get you on the stretcher, then we can take you to the hospital for a check-up.’
Grindal pushed him away. ‘What do you mean, calm down, that’s my fucking house going up in flames. That’s everything I own.’ He stared incredulously at the burning shell. The house was a symbol of his independence and security. Something he owned that might link the past to his future. Now it was gone. The enormity of the situation fell upon him like a blackness that cut him to the bone. He could not take his eyes from the fire and watched for what seemed like hours, but was only a few minutes, as the flames were brought under control. What was left was a smouldering shell.
The anger and frustration welled up inside of him but there was nothing he could do. Nothing could change what had happened. He looked up to the night sky and let out a cry of grief. He was totally defeated. His emotions quickly drained away until soon there was nothing left, only emptiness.
He allowed the two ambulance men to help him onto the stretcher. There were crowds of people now gathered in the street, all staring and pointing like spectators at a firework display. He recognised the faces of many. Some he had known for years, at least by site, neighbours he would nod to occasionally. Yet none tried to communicate with him, they just gazed silence. The grief in his countenance was unapproachable.
As he was lifted into the ambulance, his jacket caught momentarily on the door. The framed photograph in his pocket fell un-noticed to the ground. As the doors closed he was immediately cocooned in an eerie silence that insulated him from the bustle and noise outside. Unexpectedly a finger of fear suddenly touched him. He closed his eyes tightly.
‘What now Jessie, what happens now,’ he whispered?’
When he awoke the following morning Grindal looked around cautiously. It was daytime; he was lying in a single bed covered with clean crisp white sheets. His memory of the previous night was fragmented. He remembered the fire vividly, but what happened after that was not so clear. He knew he was lying in a hospital bed, but there were curtains drawn tightly around the bed obscuring his vision. There was an oxygen tube clipped to his nose and the right side of his body felt sore. His throat was raw; when he swallowed Grindal could still taste the smoke. He breathed deeply stretching his lungs. The effort made him cough uncontrollably.
A concerned looking nurse swept open the curtains that surrounded his bed.
‘Are you alright Mr. Falcon,’ she asked anxiously?
Grindal stared at her and said nothing.
‘Are you alright,’ she repeated?
‘What do you think,’ he replied sourly?
‘You were a bit upset when they brought you in last night; the night sister said they had to give you a very strong sedative.’
‘Is that why I can’t think straight?’
‘Never mind, you’ll be all right in a couple of hours.’
Grindal pushed himself up on one elbow and made as if to get out of bed.
‘Now just you stay where you are while I check you out.’
The sincere smile she gave him made Grindal feel less irritated. He lay back on the pillow as she busied herself checking his blood pressure and temperature. When she pulled down the bed sheet, he could see why the right side of his body felt so sore. From his rib cage all the way down to his foot was bright red. He winced as she lightly touched his leg with the tip of her finger.
‘Sorry,’ she said, almost in a whisper as she pulled the sheet back carefully,
‘Is there anyone you’d like to get in touch with, any family?’
‘No’ said Grindal firmly.
She looked at him for a moment. ‘The police will probably want to talk to you about the fire. They rang earlier and asked if you were well enough to be interviewed.’
‘What, do they think I burned my own house down on purpose?’
‘No, nothing like that I’m sure, but they do have to make a report. Would you like me to draw the curtain back,’ she said, in an overly cheerful voice?
Grindal did not reply.
‘Breakfast will be here soon.’
She turned her back on him and strode away. As she passed the curtain she gave it a well-practiced flick that opened the enclosed space.
The ward was small, four beds on each side. All were occupied. From what he could see, most were elderly men who gazed vacantly at the walls or ceiling. This must be the geriatrics ward, he thought. The man opposite nodded slightly in his direction. Grindal nodded back, but that was as far as the communication went.
The events of the night before kept flashing across his mind. He could still see the roaring fire that had engulfed his house. The heat was still burning into his side. Yet, for some reason he still couldn’t focus on the seriousness of his situation. He decided the sedative he had been given was to blame. It was all too difficult.
When breakfast arrived, he made his selection from the foods on offer. Although he had not been in a hospital for many years, the taste and smell of the food seemed to be as he had remembered it. A real challenge for even the hungriest patient. He sipped sparingly on a cup of lukewarm coffee made with powdered milk. As he did so, a tall man in a dark suit entered the ward and strode purposefully toward his bed. He wore a pair of thick-lensed glasses and a toothy grin. It was not until he had reached the bedside that Grindal noticed the white dog collar around his neck.
He held out his hand. ‘Good morning, I’m Reverend Charles Charlesworth, the hospital Chaplain.’
‘Good morning Charlie, and goodbye’. Grindal rolled over on his side turning his back on the smiling clergyman; the fact that it was his scalded side endeared him even less to the unwanted visitor. He had no respect for anyone connected to the church and regarded them as a total waste of time.
‘Now I know you must be upset, but there are lots of things we must discuss. I only want to help you.’ The chaplain placed his hand on Grindal’s shoulder.
‘I don’t need any help from the likes of you, just go away and leave me alone.’ Grindal was beginning to lose his temper.
‘Now don’t be like that,’ insisted the Chaplain.
‘Just piss off,’ said Grindal sourly.
‘Show some respect laddie, diny talk to the reverend like that.’
A new voice had joined the conversation. Grindal looked across to see where the broad Scots brogue had come from. A bald, red faced, old man was staring at him intently from the bed opposite.
‘Mind your own business Granddad,’ said Grindal staring back at the old man.
‘Who are you calling Granddad heh; I’ll be over there and sort you out if you diny mind yer tongue? The old man’s face was turning a bright purple colour.
‘Scotch git,’ retorted Grindal.
The reverend Charles Charlesworth seemed to be lost for words as he stared from one man to the other. ‘Gentlemen, gentlemen, please calm down,’ he eventually blurted out.
But it was too late; the old Scotsman was now out of his bed and making his way quickly across the ward.
‘Diny talk to me like that, ye bastard,’ shouted the old man.
Grindal was taken by surprise with the speed the old Scotsman had sprung out of his bed. At first glance, he looked quite comical dressed in his long white hospital gown. He had no hair and no teeth and was now flailing his arms around like a windmill.
‘Nurse, nurse, somebody, anybody’, shouted the now very much alarmed Reverend Charlesworth.
Recovering from his momentary daze, Grindal slipped his feet out of the bed and stood up, ready to take on the mad Scotsman, who was now slavering and making grunting noises. The Reverend Charlesworth stepped in between the two men to try and stop the imminent confrontation.
The moment Grindal got to his feet the blood drained from his head, and he fell back onto the bed. Which was just as well, because the flailing fist of the now totally out of control mad Scotsman just missed the side of his face. The Reverend Charlesworth was not so lucky as the big roundhouse swing caught him square in the eye. His glasses broke in half. He dropped like a stone, wailing in anguish as he hit the hard-concrete floor with the back of his head.
Grindal stared wide-eyed as the berserk Scotsman who was now shouting obscenities and bearing down on him. He covered his face and closed his eyes waiting for the impending blows. Luckily the blows never came. A very large orderly saved the situation when he grabbed the flailing old man from behind, pinning his arms and lifting him off the ground.
‘Let me go, I’ll kill the bastard,’ shouted the old man.
‘Calm down Mr. McDougal, calm down,’ said the large orderly, who seemed to have no problem whatsoever in restraining his captive. He lifted him like a rag doll and carried him back to his own bed.
Grindal opened his eyes just in time to see the nurse inject the mad McDougal with what must have been a very strong sedative.
Within seconds the old man’s arms flopped down to his sides, and his head fell forward.
‘Silly old bugger,’ said the smiling orderly.
The nurse was still not sure exactly what had happened. She walked over to Grindal’s bedside.
‘Are you alright Mr. Falcon?’
‘Don’t worry about me I’m fine. He never laid a glove on me.’
Reverend Charlesworth was now back on his feet rubbing his head with one hand, and covering his eye with the other. He was groaning softly, ‘Oh, my god, my god.’
The nurse was trying her best to comfort him. ‘What happened here, Charles, whatever was it that caused Mr. McDougal to go off his head like that?’
‘We were just having a chat together when that mad Scotsman charged over and started laying into us,’ piped in Grindal.
The Chaplain stared at him blankly for a few moments before the nurse led him away to treat his injuries. Grindal chuckled to himself. ‘Sorted out that bastard all right’.
He looked across at the bed opposite. The curtains were drawn tightly. Grindal guessed they must have given the mad Scotsman a very serious dose of something. All he could hear was heavy breathing. The rest of the patients in the ward avoided eye contact with him. When the nurse came back into the ward she treated him rather coldly, he reasoned that she must have heard the Reverend Charlesworth’s version of the fracas. This did not disturb him. He was totally unrepentant and believed the crazy Scotsman and the preacher both got what they deserved.
Later that morning the doctor gave him a thorough examination and informed Grindal he would be well enough to be discharged by Friday. This meant he had two more nights’ accommodation, after that he was looking for somewhere to live. The doctor’s pronouncement brought home to him the gravity of his situation. Since he had arrived in the hospital, Grindal had avoided thinking of his predicament. Now it was becoming blatantly clear. He would soon have to make some plans for his immediate future.
His first thought was to find out exactly what he had brought into the hospital the previous night. He couldn’t recall whether he had taken his wallet out of his back pocket before he fell asleep in the chair. A sudden urgency fell upon him as he recalled the photograph he had slipped into his pocket after he had been dragged from the house. A quick investigation of his bedside draw revealed nothing. Grindal pressed the call button and anxiously waited until the nurse arrived. When she did, he spoke to her quite sharply.
‘My stuff, what happened to it?’
‘I beg your pardon,’ she said defensively.
‘My clothes, the stuff I came in with, where is it?’
‘If you just wait a minute, I’ll find out for you. And don’t get cross with me, I’m just the hired help, I didn’t put you in here.’
Grindal tried to rein in his anxiety. ‘I’m sorry, but I just need to find out what I came in with.’
She turned and left in a huff. Grindal heard a snigger from across the ward. It was the mad McDougal. When he looked across the man stared up at the ceiling, but he was still smiling.
The nurse returned some twenty minutes later carrying some clothes and his wallet, all of which she dumped on the bed apart from the shoes which she put on the floor.
‘Please put them in the cupboard when you’ve finished,’
‘What about the photograph,’ Grindal said anxiously.
‘That’s it, that’s all there is,’ she replied.
‘But the photograph, there was a small gilt framed photograph, I’m sure, I put it in my pocket, I know I did.’
The nurse sensed his alarm. ‘Look, I’m sure this is everything. I’ll double check with Sister, but I’m certain there was no photograph. Just try and calm down, I know you’ve had a bad experience, but getting angry with the people around you won’t solve anything.’
She turned and left him to inspect the small pile of clothing and his wallet. The trousers and shirt were torn and scorched and beyond repair, he consigned them straight to the rubbish bin. He was left with a pair of black shoes, some cream coloured socks, a worn-out singlet and a pair of black underwear. There was no photograph.
Grindal was heartbroken. The photograph was his only tangible link with the past. ‘I’m sorry Jessie It’s gone. It’s all gone,’ he mumbled to himself.
Grindal turned his attention to the wallet. It contained eighty dollars in cash, an out of date driving licence and his pension card. Looking at the wallet caused him to think how much he had in his savings account. He was not sure, Jessie had looked after that side of things. Probably a few hundred dollars at most, not much to show for a lifetime on this planet, he thought dejectedly.
Later that afternoon a visit from the police had confirmed his worst fears. The house he and Jessie had lived in for all those years was now a burnt-out shell. An investigation by the fire department concluded that a faulty electrical appliance caused the fire. Grindal grimaced when he thought of the toaster that had been playing up for the past two weeks.
‘Never mind,’ the Sergeant had said, ‘the insurance will pay for all the cleanup.’
‘What insurance,’ Grindal had replied.
With that, the policeman shook his head, wished him good luck and left.
For the rest of that day Grindal had slipped into a state of despair. Sleep that night was impossible. He tossed around in his bed and did not fall asleep until the early hours of the morning.