The ward staff gather round the nursing station, eyeing the incoming visitors without interest.
Old people, white as the sheets beneath them, scan faces eagerly, their liver-spotted hands clawing at the cotton blankets.
Wayne strolls down the ward, in no hurry to get to his Gran’s bed. He’s here under protest, brow-beaten by his family who have pointed out in no uncertain terms that he’s not taking his share of the responsibility.
“Hello chuck,” his Gran croaks, as he sits down. “Did you bring me the tissues I asked for?”
“Nobody told me,” grumbled Wayne, remembering he’s left a bag of something on the back seat of his car.
Gran’s lips purse into what looks like a newly stitched operation scar, and she lapses into silence, staring into space.
Wayne sprawls on the chair, watching the clock. He doesn’t see the point of this; she’s in cloud-cuckoo land most of the time.
Gran’s hands move restlessly on the blanket, and Wayne’s attention is drawn to the rings on her fingers. One of them, a ruby, set in an old gold band, gleams in the overhead lights. He wonders how much it’s worth, and who she’ll leave it to.
Maybe I should pitch for the ring, he thinks.
“Me and Tracy are thinking of getting married,” he offers hopefully, “just as soon as we can afford a ring.”
Gran’s eyes brighten. “Ooh that’s lovely,” she says, “how long you been courtin’ then?”
Wayne has no idea. It feels like forever.
“Oh, a while now.”
“Where’ll you live?” Gran says, seeming pleased that there is something to talk about.
Wayne pauses, non-plussed for a moment then, “If we can get enough for a deposit we’re going to buy a house.”
“I thought you were unemployed,” she says.
Wayne is surprised. Maybe she’s not as batty as people said.
“Yeah well, I’ve got an offer of a job” he lies, “we want to make a proper start in life.”
Gran regards him doubtfully.
“How much d’you need for a deposit?”
This is going better than Wayne could ever have imagined.
“Oh” he says, thinking rapidly, “maybe a couple of thousand.”
“I’d have thought you’d need more than that,” says Gran.
Wayne panics. He should have asked for more, but two grand would cover a holiday, which is what he had in mind. Preferably one without Tracy.
“You’re probably right, Gran.”
She rubs her chin thoughtfully, staring into space. Wayne waits.
Gran starts to doze.
The bell rings to signal the end of the visiting period. Wayne gets to his feet, disappointed. Daft old bat, he thinks, not bothering to wake her to say good-bye.
Halfway up the ward she suddenly calls him back, and he sees she has turned partly away from him, as if looking for something. His spirits begin to rise.
She turns back and holds out her hand.
His heart leaps in anticipation, hand outstretched.
She presses her warm dentures firmly into his palm.
“You couldn’t just rinse these out for me could you, chuck?”