Seize Your Day by roger stephens
‘‘U for Uncle’ carried one thousand-pound high-explosive bomb; the rest of her load were four-pound incendiaries. All of 49 Squadron went in at between 12,000 and 13,500 feet – relatively low, because of the absence of flak.’
After six months, John was just over half way through the new book about the bombing of Dresden. That is to say, Richard, his reader was. In the middle of a vividly detailed description of the resulting civilian casualties, he faltered.
“Oh, God, O, God. Oh, God. Oh, God.”
John nodded in agreement.
“Yes, it was horrible. But what other option was there?”
Longer this time, with a machine-gun delivery.
There was an awkward pause.
“Are you OK?”, John asked.
“I just need to go there for a little … “
John could hear that Richard was shivering as he spoke.
“Soon … “
The book slid to the floor, a chair creaked, and there was the sound of a body slumping onto the sofa.
“OK?” asked John.
There was another prolonged silence.
John reached for his mobile phone and called the number for BlindAid.
After a couple of rings someone said,
“Hello, BlindAid Volunteer Reading Centre. Can I help?”
‘It’s John Edrich here. I don’t think Richard, my reader, is feeling too good.”
“Can you be more specific.”
“He seems to have reacted rather badly to the bombing of Dresden.”
“In what way, exactly.”
“He suddenly went ‘Oh, God, oh God, oh, God’, and now, as far as I can tell, he’s spark out on the sofa.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line.
“Just a minute. I’ll have to have a quick word with somebody. Can you hold on. Just a couple of minutes.”
Still clutching his mobile, John felt his way over to the sofa with his other hand.
Richard.” More loudly this time.
“Should have … instructed … sorry … should have … sorry mentioned you to … sorry … mentioned this to you.”
“No need to apologise. Perhaps I ought to call an ambulance.”
As he spoke, a tiny voice in the mobile said,
“Hello. Still there?”
“Yes. Still here.”
“I’ve had a quick word with one of the volunteer organisers, and it seems that he’s on medication for epilepsy.”
“I see.” Richard tried not to sound as shocked and icily disappointed at this deception as he felt. “I’m sorry nobody thought to tell me about this.”
“Confidentiality clause, I’m afraid. Besides, he didn’t want to make a big deal about it.”
“Certainly making up for it now. Anyway, first things first. What am I supposed to do with him?”
“Perhaps if I could have a quick word.”
“You can try.” John leaned over and put the phone near to the sound of Richard’s slightly strangulated breathing.
There was a low, grunting groan.
“Blind Aid would like a quick word.”
“Tell them I’ll … I’ll … get … soon back … back soon. Sorry, sorry … no vocalub … vocabull … words gone … better soon … “
At that moment John was reminded of his own ten-pints-a-night-or-you’re-a-sissy student days when rapidly achieved near incoherence was regarded as some kind of badge of honour. He spoke into the phone again.
“I don’t think he’s in a fit state to talk at the moment. If it is a seizure is there anything I need to know? Apart from not forcing any cutlery between his teeth, that is.”
The Blind aid woman half stifled a nervous giggle.
“According to his notes the best thing is for him to be put in the recovery position. You know. Roll him on his side. Keep him warm. Let him sleep it off.”
“Oh, sure. Anything else while we’re about it?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Maybe I should just call an ambulance.”
There was an anguished cry of protest from the sofa.
“Ambless? Absly noh. Absly no need. Fine. Onslee … Sleep … Fine … Sorry … Sorry …”
John spoke into the phone again.
‘He’s not too happy with that idea.”
“Yes, I heard.” The nervous giggle again.
“So … as long as he’s in the recovery position …”
“I’m not sure I’m going to manage that.”
“Perhaps we could talk it through with you over the phone. You know. Step by step?”
John gave an exasperated sigh.
“My chance to give something back, I suppose. Would help if I could actually see anything. … What do suggest I do first?”
The voice on the line shifted a gear to reading-from-training-manual speak.
Firstly – ascertain whether casualty is breathing.”
“Sounds OK to me.”
“Secondly – roll casualty carefully onto his side, whilst ensuring that breathing is not obstructed.”
It occurred to John that, despite the fact that Richard had been coming to his house for so many months now to read to him, he had absolutely no idea how tall or how heavy he was. These matters had somehow failed to crop up in the pre and post reading pleasantries. The only slight clue had been the size of Richard’s handshake when he arrived at the front door, and the fact that his voice was somewhere in the tenor-baritone range, and, on present evidence, capable of an impressively high volume. Strangely enough, he had never had occasion to ask him to step on the scales or to measure him for a suit. John’s days in gentlemen’s bespoke tailoring were long gone, along with his precious eyesight.
He spoke to the woman at BlindAid again.
“Just a minute.” John turned towards the sound of the loud breathing. “Richard.”
“Can you tell me how tall you are and how much you weigh?”
“You sound like hangman. They say that. … Six … six three … fourteen stone … can’t hang incent man …”
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to hang you. Just trying to shift you. Onto the floor.”
“Floor? Oh, yeah. Recuvvvposishn ..,. Piesscake …”
There was a stumbling crash as Richard slid to the floor and the sound of him rolling into what John hoped was indeed the recovery position.
“See? Piesscake … “
The mobile phone squawked,
“What was that?”
“I’ll just check.”
John felt his way towards the noise and bent down to check with both hands Richard’s position. It was like deciphering a very large piece of Braille. Heaving a sigh of relief John picked up the phone again.
“He seems to have put himself into the recovery position all on his own.”
“Fantastic. We’ve just spoke to his wife, and she should be over to collect him in about an hour.
“Fine.” John turned back to Richard. “Your wife will be here in about an hour to collect you.”
“Oh, God .. . Oh, God … NoNoNo … must stop saying that. She says it’s inna … inna … wrong thing for atheist to say.”
“Would you like me to get you anything. Cup of tea?”
“Can’t … lying like this … need to sleep … “
“A bit difficult on this hard floor.”
“Could read me to sleep. Sorry. Joke. Sorry. Sorry.”
John thought for a moment, then felt his way over to the bookcase and traced his fingers along the shelves until he recognised the feel of a book that he had not opened for very many years, probably since his youngest child was a little boy. He took it carefully down and gently turned the pages until he came to the bumps that told him he had arrived at one of his, and his son’s, favourite chapters.
Smiling to himself, John made his way back to his chair, and, as his fingers traced softly over the paper, he began to read aloud.
‘Eeyore, the old grey Donkey, stood by the side of the stream and looked at himself in the water.
“Pathetic,” he said. “That’s what it is. Pathetic.”
\'Seize Your Day is taken from \'Waterman\', a recently published collection of a dozen of my short stories.
It is available from Amazon in download and paperback format.
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