The young woman crossed the road which separated the single story villa from the rest of the hospital building. She rang the bell and a tinny voice came from the intercom box beside the door.
“I’m looking for Arnold Long.”
“Arnie? You’ve come to the right place. Come in.”
There was a heavy click as the door lock released and Cynthia Long entered the corridor which ran the length of the building. A tall man, greying at the temples, was approaching her as she closed the door.
“My name’s Graham. I’m charge nurse here. I assume you must be some relation of Arnie’s as you have the same surname.”
“My grandad is Arnold’s cousin.”
“At last. We’ve always been worried that Arnold had no family and no next-of-kin. His affairs have always been looked after by our social workers and the Court of Protection.”
“My grandad is John ‘Jacko’ Long. He and Arnie fell out when they were both 18 and they haven’t talked to each other since. Jacko is now frail and wants to make it up before they die.”
“Can you tell me why they fell out?”
“I only found out a couple of weeks ago. I don’t think it will hurt anybody now. Jacko got Arnie’s 17-year-old sister pregnant and they had a tremendous bust-up. Then my grandad took Flo over to Lancashire where they flourished. I’m from Flo’s second son’s marriage. When they traced us I was the only one who wanted anything to do with it. Grandad told me the whole story and asked me to try and find Arnold.”
“I’d better warn you you may find this distressing. Arnold is completely detached from reality and I doubt whether he will understand your relationship to him.”
“For my grandad’s sake, having come this far, that is a risk I must take.”
“Very well. We’ll go down to the day room. Stay quite close to me, some of our patients can be a little unpredictable.”
They went down to the end of the corridor where there was a light and airy room which stretched the full width of the building. Most of the patients were sitting around the walls but a number were constantly on the move. One little old man was going around the same rectangular track time after time stopping from time to time to pick something invisible off the scrupulously clean floor. Cynthia started forward.
“This Uncle Arnold.”
The old man didn’t show a flicker of interest or recognition but went on his way dusting his hands over a waste she came back to the charge nurse and said paper basket from time to time. She raised her eyebrows to Thompson.
“We have no idea what it’s all about. But it’s always the same, the same rectangular pattern the same collecting something which has to be put in a being. He’s obviously doing some kind of repetitive job but none of us can work out what it is.”
“I don’t think I’ll get anything out of him this afternoon, I might not get anything out of him at all but I would like to come back and try if only for grandad’s sake.”
“You’d be welcome at any time Miss Long.”
They walked together down the corridor and the charge nurse let her out of the door.
Three weeks later she was back again but this time she had some news for the ward staff. As soon as she described what Arnie was doing to Jacko’s response was immediate he knew precisely what the old boy was up to. Cynthia had taken a tape recorder to Jacko’s house and recorded his explanation. His bronchitic voice crackled from the little machine.
“We were t’same age and when we got to 13 we had to go half time. We’d do morning six till 12 then one till six in school. That were when you got breeched. First job in were nit picking round Mam and Dad’s looms. Boring and backbreaking. Then on your 14th birthday you left school behind. You entered the grown-up world of work, this choose what.”