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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