Bell Book & Handbag Part VI
An unwelcome visitor on the ward
…So there I was, wigless, toothless and about to be sucked into care in the community against my will. To be honest wearing a paper night dress doesn’t do much for your self esteem either. To say I was at my lowest ebb would have been an understatement and I had a terrible feeling that things could only get worse.
And as soon as I heard those footsteps I knew there was trouble brewing. Nobody else could make that amount of noise on a wooden floor, not even a Bogdan.
‘There you are!’
The curtains parted to reveal Beattie as red as a beetroot and panting for all she was worth. Even in rubber soles she is not capable of launching a surprise attack.
‘That stupid woman on the desk, I think she’s a Sullivan by her second marriage which explains a lot, only sent me all the way over to male urology. I don’t think so, I said, but she was would have it that she was right. Although why she thought you’d be in a ward full of old men with catheters I really don’t know. I tell you Maureen if there is a part of the body that can be drained, stitched back or cauterized I’ve been there.’
She made an ill-tempered flourish with the headscarf she was mopping her face with. I noticed it was one of her best ones too; the one with the map of the Isle of Wight on it. She’d bought me one but I honestly thought it was a tea towel.
‘I thought for one awful moment they’d sent you to the Princess Diana. Dropping like flies they are over there, not to mention loosing limbs left right and centre,’ she puffed before adding the comforting afterthought that at least here I could die of my own ill-health and not from some second hand infection.
‘And’ she said looking round with uncharacteristic caution, ‘did you know this place is crawling with Orientals? I had to ask three of them the way before I found one that could do more than smile. You want to be very careful Maureen.’
‘Now you can’t say that Beattie’ I said. Love her dearly as I might she could be a bit too BNP for my liking. In her black and white world everything should have been white. Come to think of it I wouldn’t have been surprised if it wasn’t her who spread the rumour that Mr Patel scratched the sell by dates off things in the first place.
Beattie snapped back that she could and she would. She’d watched ‘Tenko’. She knew!
‘When I think of poor Alec Guinness,’ she huffed, ‘and what he went through building that bridge....’ she snatched the curtains closed behind her.
‘Anyway I nipped back to your house and brought you these!’ She whispered and pointed to a carrier bag as if she was supplying me with Class A drugs.
I was expecting the bunch of grapes but I was not prepared when she produced what, given the location and the circumstance, could well have been a human scalp and part of a jaw. As it was it was only a wig and my spare top set.
‘I know it’s Liza Minnelli but I’m sorry to say some little brat called Tyrone snatched up Shirley Bassey before I had a chance to clip him round the ear. And would he give her back? No he would not. I almost had to break his fingers. And his mother was no help. You know the sort I mean Maureen; about twelve in a pink tracksuit and with ‘co-habitee’ written all over her. Still that’s modern life for you although why wearing one of those scrunchy things means you have to lose your moral standards I know. They must be the hula hoop of the new millennium I suppose. Still we are where we are and if people will insist on voting the wrong way what can the rest of us expect?’
Before I had a chance to say anything she rammed the wig on my head oblivious to the dressing Staff Nurse Carole had stuck over a very nasty head wound. Thankfully the painkillers were so strong that I merely winced.
‘Umm. She didn’t look like that in Cabaret.’
I reached up through a haze of pain in my shoulder and tugged the wig round the right way.
‘I think you were done you know. She definitely didn’t look like that. A slut yes, demented no. Mind you I never saw all of it; mucky and far too much gratuitous thigh for my liking.’
I reached up and gave the wig another tug. Then I remembered the cut over my right eye and settled for comfort and something more Rolling Stone than Weimar Republic. Beattie merely listed heavily to one side as if she had suddenly suffered a shift of cargo below the waterline. Her lips pursed and I could tell she still wasn’t convinced that anybody could have won an Oscar with that hairstyle.
‘I expect she was on drugs anyway’.
According to Beattie most people under the age of forty were. For those that weren’t it was only a matter of time. Her whole life appeared to be spent shoring up her defences against a rising tide of drugs and delinquency. That probably explained her corsets. They were a sort of Maginot Line with eyelets.
‘I have to say Maureen I don’t know what you thought you were playing at!’ She wiped a finger along the window sill and grimaced at the dust. ‘Fancy making an exhibition of yourself like that, and in a public place?’
‘I was pushed’, I said.
‘You fell flat on your own face. I was there remember?’
‘But I was!’ I protested. I thought mentioning that the police would be calling to take a statement might wipe the smug expression off her face. Instead she looked like somebody had plugged her whalebones into the mains.
‘Are you mad Maureen Truscott? They’ll take one look at you in that wig and have you put in a home! Which reminds me, did anybody ask you who the Prime Minister is?’
I nodded. I didn’t say that I’d got it wrong. Well there was no point provoking her further when she was in one of her moods.
She said that she hoped for my sake I hadn’t said Gordon Brown and reminded me of what happened to Polly when she’s said Margaret Thatcher.
‘Six weeks she was in that place!’
‘Three weeks’, I said.
‘I happen to know different Maureen, remember my Arthur’s niece works at the Council Offices and as a government employee she would hardly lie about such things would she? All of which brings me back to the police and your misguided attempt to make a drama out of this little incident. If you ask me (which I hadn’t) you’ve only yourself to blame. I mean fancy wearing those stupid shoes at your age. Well it’s to be hoped you’ve learned your lesson Maureen. Honestly falling about like that is it any wonder people think you’ve got a drink problem?’
I sighed. That was the first I’d heard about that one. Normally it was just wigs and prostitution. The trouble with Beattie was that because you could never tell when she was being deliberately cruel or unintentionally hurtful, you never knew when to bite back or when to let it all go over your head. And right now my head hurt so I ducked that one without even a second thought.
She said that if I took her advice I’d forget the whole thing. After all what would people think if they read that sort of thing in the local paper?
‘I’ll tell you what they’d think’ she continued before I had a chance to interrupt her. ‘They would think that our dear little town was a haven for thugs and vandals and before you know where you are our houses would be worth next to nothing.
‘But I was pushed I tell you,’ I said. ‘I felt somebody shove me in the back just before I fell over.’
I could feel myself beginning to come over slightly peculiar and prayed for death before I had to listen to Beattie again. But no such luck. When she was in this mood she was like one of those giant super tankers, you could turn the engines off but it took a bloody long way before it stopped.
‘Tripped over your own silly shoes you mean,’ she snapped. ‘I was right next to you remember? I saw everything.’
Glossing over the fact that she had been hit by an invisible stone herself, she reeled off a sequence of events that saw her leaping into a taxi and, being the good friend and neighbour that she was, going back to my place, braving my mucky kitchen, grabbing Liza Minnelli and helping herself to the travel tokens I kept in a teapot on the mantelpiece to pay for the round trip.
‘And this is how you repay me, threatening to slice half off the value of my home overnight!’
I had no way of knowing how much of this was fact and how much was Beattie. Mind you the bit about her raiding my secret store of rainy day bus tokens sounded very much like her. I was about to take my life in my hands and ask if she’d seen anybody following us on the promenade, well not just anybody, more specifically Jean Shanks when the curtains twitched and Beattie spun round like a fornicator caught in the act.
‘And who are you?’ she barked at the thin young woman who had slipped quietly into the cubicle behind her.
Apparently this was Monica and Monica had been assigned as my social worker….
© Ian Ashley 2014
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