There were a number of day chairs, leather, yet covered in those brownish throw rugs from IKEA. Several older people sat on them, chatting, reading, knitting, doing crosswords, watching the mute television, or sleeping. Some were dying.
Two of the men looked a little different from the others. One, in brown corduroy trousers and a beige silk shirt with an old-fashioned wine-coloured cravat around his neck was standing, laughing and quite animated; the other, slightly scruffy, but clean shaven in grey trousers, white shirt, blue and white tie and a blue sports jacket, was pretending to read a newspaper.
The mid-morning sunlight streamed in making the dayroom bright and seemingly happy, but Des and Barry were obviously at different points of the joy spectrum!
“Strewth, I thought I was going to relapse!” He was virtually battling to breathe, and his face was brick red. “Gawd love us, that was funny. See smoking is a health hazard!” Des sat down, still giggling.
It was just a veranda with windows. Not an old, pre-war breezeway, but a modern, well-lit sunroom. The large glass windows let in the light and the sun - yet protected from the cold and the heat. The quiet buzzing of the air-conditioning saw to that. In any case, today, the place was pleasantly warm from the winter sun which streamed in picking up the lazy dust particles and where the rays missed an obstruction, they gave an imagined hallowed appearance. It looked like Heaven, and perhaps to some, only a step or two away.
Certainly, it was Heaven to some, while Hell to others. To a few it was the last vestige of a kind of independence, the kind that is “guided” rather than self-expressed.
The two men looked at each other as Basrry said without a smile. “That’s not how I remember it!”
Todd, the doctor, wandered in. He clocked the two old men, and then smiled his usual genuine smile, “What’s got into you two?”
Des recovered slightly enough to get out, “Silly old Bazza here went out for a fag – and,” he almost convulsed again, seemingly struggling to relate the story, “Well, it was a few years ago now, and we were at the wedding of a colleague’s son. Barry has had a few, quite a few really, and went out for a fag, you know, a smoke – he used to smoke a bit then. He took his beer with him. When he finished the smoke, he went to come back in, and obviously thought the door, you know, one of those big aluminium ones, was not open, so …” He took a breath and as told the story, he mimed the action, expertly of course, and his skill at humour was to the fore. He was very funny and some of the other residents were watching and enjoying the play. “So, he sort of told it, the door that is, that he knew it was closed and that it couldn’t trick him, wagged his finger at it, toasted it with his glass of beer, then side-stepped to the glass panel next to it, and went to go through it. But it was solid glass! His face! It was such a shock – of confusion, horror and pain! He couldn’t believe it! He tentatively put out a hand and felt the glass, then felt it again. He furrowed his brow and made what looked like a considered but bold decision. He sidestepped back to where he started and felt for the glass – which was still there of course. He double checked and looked thoroughly puzzled. You could see him trying to work out was going on. Then he made up his mind, spoke to that door too, and sidestepped past the other one to where the door actually was. He wasn’t quite sure if it was open or not. He tentatively tested it with a nervous hand, and when it went through, he followed it, falling through! He actually fell back inside! And he didn’t spill a drop. Crikey, it was funny!”
Todd, caught up in it, joined in and laughed too. Barry’s face was sour. “That’s not how I remember it. It wasn’t anything like that. It was nothing at all. I simply went outside for a smoke and came back in afterwards. That’s all! Your performance was a charade, a fiction, just to demonstrate how good you are at showing off! Don’t believe a word of it, Doc!”
Todd, however, was genuine in his praise, “It surely doesn’t get better than that! You’re very good, Des.”
“He’s a pro, so it should be. He’s been doing it for years. Pity he didn’t have a script, it might have been better!” Barry actually sneered.
The silence was quite electric. Then, “You don’t remember half the things you did when you were full. And you were full most of the time.” Des was quiet. Barry almost exploded. “You old swine!” he hissed. “you’re always ready to put me down, aren’t you!” It was not a question. “So self-righteous, so clever. You make me sick. And you then must exaggerate and decorate the truth, just so it makes a good story. You love seeing me make a fool of myself, don’t you?”
Des jumps at this opportunity. “So, you admit it. You did make a fool of yourself at that wedding!” Todd starts to intervene but is cut off by Des. “You were full and entertained us. I was only explaining what you did. If you weren’t so sensitive and vain, you’d see the funny side of it too, wouldn’t he, Doc?”
“Don’t bring me into it. I wasn’t there. And if Barry is upset at the memory, perhaps you could respect that, Des. It was funny, though, even if it was a bit exaggerated!”
“A bit?” Barry turned his face away from Des. “It didn’t happen like he said. That’s all.”
Des started to leave, and as he passes him, he pats Barry on the head. “Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story, Baz,”
Outside the sun went behind a cloud, Inside, a storm was about to hit!