Dan spent a restless night. He was due to give the vote of thanks to the organisers of the conference and he was rapidly trying to remember all that he had seen and heard during the last few days. He found that he would develop a theme in his mind for what he was going to say and then suddenly the word image was overlaid by the photographic image of Martin in the store the previous day. The more he tried to concentrate on words, the more Martin came into his mind. Dan laid there thinking to himself, ‘What the hell is the matter with me?’. Yes, Dan had always been interested in disability issues and he knew more than most about the Disability Discrimination Act and the new legislation coming into force from October 1st. He had a couple of gay friends who also used wheelchairs, but somehow this was different. As much as he tried, he just couldn’t get this guy out of his head. He was struck again by his eyes and his smile, the strength of his arms and the powerful way he moved about. As he had thought the night before, it was Martin’s manliness that was exceptionally arresting. Sleep was eluding Dan, so at five-thirty he got up and made himself a drink, using the teas-made which Steve always ensured was by Dan’s bed. Steve was, Dan thought as he poured the tea, a most excellent host.
Martin wasn’t doing much better about half a mile away. He had slept badly. Some nights he went off fairly quickly, once he had got himself settled into bed. Last night he had inspected his bottom for any redness. The last thing he could do with was the development of a pressure sore. He used the small mirror which he always kept in his bed-side locker, to make this ritual inspection, first examining one buttock then the other. He then tried to get off to sleep. He had placed a pillow between his legs to stop his knees rubbing together, especially if he had a particularly severe bout of spasm. It had been a lost cause. His legs wouldn’t stay in any one position for long and this had kept him awake. Some nights he could sleep through this well enough, but this night had not been one of them. This was, Martin thought just one aspect amongst many, related to spinal cord injuries, including misjudgements about the art of the possible, which he felt folks in general would not have a clue about. As Martin lay there, tired but unable to sleep, he thought he might as well get up. It would be something to do at this ungodly hour. So Martin sat up in bed, swinging first one leg, then the other towards and over the side of the bed and slid his trunk across to the edge of the bed, in readiness to lift himself into his chair. This, the latest chair in a long series of them was fairly new, with bright yellow wheels, which he thought rather snazzy.
Once into his chair and having lifted his feet onto the footrest, he rolled into the kitchen and put the kettle on. It looked like it would be a nice day. Yesterday had been hotter than forecast. It looked like today would match it. Martin’s spasm hadn’t been the only reason why he had been awake. He was thinking about the guy he had met in Comet the day before. He had seemed an O.K. sort of a guy. But what if he didn’t bring the washing machine as arranged. Having paid for it, he would have no redress if it disappeared into the ether. He could, he thought, ring the store and ask them not to let this guy pick it up; bury his pride and arrange for it to come another day. Martin was on the verge of deciding he would do this, as he poured hot water into the cup with the tea-bag dangling inside, when he thought more closely about this chap Dan. He seemed O.K., in fact more than O.K. Indeed, Martin was aware of a certain arousal within himself when he thought of him. It was an arousal, with which he wasn’t entirely comfortable. After all, he had had several girlfriends and yet, he couldn’t help thinking that Dan was the sort of guy that he would like to spend a bit more time with. He shrugged it off as a man thing. The equivalent he thought, of the attractions of men in the shower after a football match. Martin rolled himself into the bathroom, did his usual ablutions, emptied his drainage bag, had a strip wash and shave, and went back to his bedroom to get dressed. It was seven o’clock by this time and the radio alarm came on, as it usually did at that time. The news was depressing, people were still trying to kill each other around the world and succeeding.
At seven o’clock precisely, the bells in St. Mary’s church rang for the entry of the priest to say the early morning mass. Dan stood up and bowed towards the priest as the robed figure passed him by. It was a lovely little church and Dan always worshipped here when he could whilst staying with Steve. It somehow transported him back to his roots. The service made its steady course to the administration of the Eucharist and Dan thought, not for the first time, how he had had to reconcile his gayness with membership of the church. It hadn’t been an easy journey, but at fifty, he was as settled with it, as he could be. He tried to lead a celibate life. Inevitably, like any man he would get testosterone urges, but most of the time he managed to keep these under wraps.
Once he was ready Martin had breakfast, coffee and cereal and planned the day ahead. What did he have to do? It might be an idea to make a list, he thought. Having decided to leave the arrangement about the washing machine as it was, thinking he would take his chances, he resolved that he would need to be back home by three o’clock, to be ready to receive the new machine at four o’clock. He needed to go to the bank and the post office. Both of these establishments had ramps which made entry into them at least reasonable, unlike the private electrical company next to the post office, the owners of which always stacked machines across the doorway, preventing his entry. He must, he thought, write to them to complain. It was because of this that he had gone some way out of his intended route the day before to the Comet store. Martin was still hoping that the planned arrangement would work.
By nine o’clock Dan had walked to the conference centre and was chatting with this one and that. The final sessions began at nine thirty, and at twelve twenty Dan rose to give the final key-note lecture. By one o’clock, having included the congratulatory comments for the organisers, Dan was off to lunch with some colleagues from one of the other northern universities. Once two o’clock in the afternoon was reached, most people were drifting off for their trains. Dan wasn’t in any hurry. He planned to be back at Steve’s by two thirty, to change into casual clothing and to walk down to Steve’s rather upmarket furniture emporium. Steve didn’t like it being called a furniture store, and Dan having been a close friend of Steve’s for so many years, pandered to his whim.
As planned, Dan arrived back at Steve’s house at two thirty. He had a quick wash and brush up, though he wondered to himself quite why he was doing this; changed into some light coloured chino’s, a rather expensive blue and yellow check causal shirt he had bought in Jermyn Street, and a yellow cotton crew neck pullover and set off for Steve’s shop. It wasn’t a particularly long walk and he arrived at a quarter to three, to find one of Steve’s vans being loaded with three expensive three piece suites. At this point Charlie, one of Steve’s warehousemen came along muttering about having his delivery interrupted. He was closely followed by Steve, saying that, ‘If a good turn can’t be done for a good friend, who could it be done for?’
Dan felt the need to apologise at this point, and he had just begun to do this, when Steve gave Dan a broad smile, winked at him, told him that Charlie was one of the biggest moaners in the world, but was as strong as an ox and we were going to need him. Best keep quiet advised Steve, so Dan kept his counsel. At three fifteen, the van had been loaded with other items of furniture and Steve, Charlie and Dan set off for the Comet store. The traffic was snarled up along the high street due to what seemed to be instant road works and it took until three fifty to reach the store and park outside. Dan went into the shop and found the pimply faced youth who had served Martin the day before. He at first feigned ignorance of the arrangement until Dan became quite forthright and told him that if he refused to remember, perhaps a phone call here and now to head office about his behaviour might jog his memory. This seemed to rally the pimply youth and he arranged for the washer to be brought out. Dan being something of a perfectionist about these things, said that he wanted to inspect the goods before it left the shop, on behalf of its new owner, to make sure that it was in perfect condition. The pimply youth thought this was really over the top, but had the good sense to capitulate. Dan inspected the washer and it seemed fine. Steve, who had also started to feel that he had become part of this playlet, also had a good look and pronounced himself satisfied. Charlie merely sat in the van, muttering to himself.
Martin had had quite a successful day on a number of counts. He had been to the bank and the post office. He had renewed his driving license, having applied for one of the new ‘credit card’ type with a photograph emblazoned on the front. He didn’t look his best in the photograph, but as he told himself, one never does on this type of thing. He had also been to the local superstore to buy food for the week-end. He wandered round the store with a basket on his lap. Not the most convenient way of shopping, but when on his own, it wasn’t that easy to steer one of the attachable trolleys, especially when the contents became quite heavy. He hadn’t meant to buy so much, but it was one of those occasions where, once you have got started, food just seems to pile itself into the basket.
When he got to the check-out, the young woman at the till asked if he wanted any help packing his bags. This was a standard question from all the assistants to all the customers. Martin assured her that he could manage very well thanks, and in what seemed a trice, the food was out of the basket, onto the conveyor, through the scanner and into bags, deftly packed by Martin, as soon as the food was coming through. Having paid for the shopping with his debit card, Martin pushed himself out to the car park. He reached the rear of the car, put on his brakes, opened the boot lid and putting his left hand on the left wheel of his chair for support, lifted the food into the boot with his right. Martin closed the lid, released the brakes, swung round to the side of the car, got in and drove home. He was home a little later than envisaged, having earlier taken time out to have a pub-lunch. A move he now regretted, arriving home at three thirty. He wondered if he would be too late and whether the washing machine might be on his doorstep. What would he do then he thought?
When Martin got home, he reversed the car park procedure, and got his shopping into the kitchen, preparing to put the food away. As he was doing this, he dropped a bottle of milk on the floor. The milk and shards of glass went everywhere. Blast he thought, it would happen now, when these guys were expected. He did his best to mop and sweep up the remnants and went to empty his drainage bag down the lavatory. The beer he had had at lunch time was taking its toll, in terms of output. Four o’clock came and went, as did four fifteen and four thirty. He was beginning to have serious misgivings. At about twenty to five a furniture van pulled up outside. Martin at once started to feel relaxed. Dan had been as good as his word, although the machine still had to find its way into the flat.
Dan, Steve and Charlie had circled the small estate where Martin lived three times. The journey had started at a disadvantage when Dan thought he had left Martin’s address in the shop. After much fumbling through his pocket, he found it next to his own debit card in his wallet, where he had put it for safe keeping. Some of the parked cars obliterated the road signs and it had taken three circumnavigations to find Flat 12A Dorchester Court. Martin’s flat was contained in a modern, low rise set of flats, in a very pleasant housing estate. Steve got out of the van first, Dan having sat between Steve and Charlie who had been driving. As Dan got out and walked towards the common entrance hall of the flats, he noticed, as he passed that a bright silver three door car had the advantage of hand controls. Was this, he wondered, Martin’s car? If so, it was very smart. Dan rang Martin’s door-bell. Dan, who was normally calm and unflustered, suddenly felt flushed and could feel his heart racing. Martin wheeled himself to the door, turned the handle and drew back to enable the door to open. He was pleased to see these guys. At last he could wash his clothing he thought.
Having established where Martin lived, Dan walked back to the van. Steve and Charlie were just about to lift the machine off the loading platform when Steve asked Dan what was to become of the old machine. Blast, thought Dan, he hadn’t thought of that. Neither had Martin, so taken up had he been on the delivery of the new one that he hadn’t thought about the disposal of the old. Dan pointed out that Martin was unlikely to be able to get rid of it himself. This wasn’t thought Dan, anything to do with Martin having to use a wheelchair and was everything to do with the sheer bulk and weight of the thing.
Dan looked pleadingly at Steve, who with his usual friendly approach, said he would take it to the tip along with the old furniture that was piling up at the back of his store. People who bought new three piece suites, it seemed, had the same trouble. Having got this arrangement out of the way, it was recognised that the old machine would need to come out first. Dan and Steve knocked on Martin’s flat door, as much out of courtesy as anything, and asked where the kitchen was. Martin showed them and wheeled himself back into lounge. Dan and Steve pulled out the old machine and quickly disconnected the rubber inlet hose and the drainpipe, so that it could be taken out to the van. As this was being done, Charlie wandered in, said ‘afternoon’ to Martin and told Dan that given his soft northern ways, it would be better if Charlie and Steve’s experience was brought to bear and they carry the machine out. Dan would have been quite happy to help, but silently nodded his agreement.
With this Steve and Charlie, with one apparently effortless motion, lifted the machine from where it stood and carried it out. Both Dan and Martin were individually impressed with the ease with which this was done. Martin had boiled the kettle in anticipation of the machines’ delivery. He had put the kettle on again to warm up as soon as he saw the van arrive outside his flat. The least he could do was offer them a cup of coffee, and perhaps ten quid for their trouble.
Martin turned the kettle on again and went out to see how Steve and Charlie were doing. They were just about to put the old machine on the loading ramp and pick the new one up, but understandably, they were having a minute or two’s rest. When Martin went back into the kitchen, he found Dan on his haunches. To be honest, when Dan had turned up at the door, he had hardly recognised him, he seemed so much more relaxed when dressed in much less formal, though still reasonably smart clothes. Dan had noticed that there was a mixture of what seemed to be some spilt milk under where the old washing machine had been and also a small amount of water, which had leaked from the water supply, even though Steve had turned the mains supply off, the tap for which stood convenient under the sink unit.
Dan seemed quite at home mopping up this liquid mixture. He hadn’t been able to find a floor cloth and as Martin seemed to have gone out of earshot, he took a number of sheets of paper towel, mopped up the liquid and threw them in the bin. He was now repeating the operation with a handful of paper towels slightly moistened with a mixture of water and washing up liquid, and was wiping over the floor. Dan had thought this might be the best thing to do to ensure that Martin didn’t get this sticky goo onto his tyres. As Martin came into the kitchen he thought again, what a decent guy Dan seemed to be. Not scintillatingly young, but mature; worldly-wise; yet extremely sensitive. Dan was struck again by Martin’s beauty. Sat on his haunches as Dan was, Martin and Dan’s eye-line were exactly on a level. Dan was pleased about this, as it meant he could see Martin from another angle. Martin for his part generally became tired of constantly looking up at people and this made a decent change, even though the circumstances were unusual. Martin offered to make Dan and his fellow workers some coffee. As he did so his hands were resting on his knees. Dan looked at his fingers, they looked so fine and elegant. Dan accepted Martin’s offer on both his own and his colleagues’ behalf.
Just at this point, Steve and Charlie carried in the new machine. In what seemed a trice, Steve and Charlie had it connected and in place. There wasn’t going to be any time for coffee, Dan thought and his heart sank. Dan brightly suggested they have the coffee which Martin had offered, but Steve and Charlie refused it saying that they had to get on with the remaining deliveries of the day. Dan felt downcast at this. Here was this guy who he really would like to get to know a little more and the opportunity was going to slide through his fingers. Steve seemed to sense this and brightly suggested that as Dan had been the one to arrange this delivery, he might stay and have the coffee for all three of them and make his own way back. After all, as Steve said, there was no point in Dan wandering round half the Kent countryside. Dan knew this to be an exaggeration, but took the opportunity and said he would stay. Within what seemed seconds, having refused any form of tip from Martin, Steve and Charlie were out of the door and on their way, leaving Martin and Dan on their own. The speed of this left both Martin and Dan slightly flustered, and their automatic response was to burst out laughing.
To be continued...