DRESSING GOWN AND PAPER SLIPPERS

I sat in an abandoned wheelchair on the right of the steps leading to Wards 18 – 20 and sucked greedily at my first cigarette of the day. On my second or third fag rain began to fall. It took all my strength to haul myself out of the chair and ponderously climb the steps leading to the automatic doors. As I sheltered beneath the broad Victorian overhang to finish my cigarette, I saw a Honda CRV draw up in front of me. From the passenger side Robbie Fraser and his paramour, Marion, emerged. They skipped past me and Robbie raised an admonitory finger to the side of his nose. I had no idea what he was attempting to communicate. Marion gave me a big smile and stuck her tongue in her cheek. She stopped in the gap in the doors, staring at me the whole time.

I shrugged and holding the collar of my old dressing gown with my right hand I skittered across the wet pavement to the driver’s window of the Honda whose engine was still running. The green paper slippers were already starting to disintegrate in the rain. Water was pouring down the back of my neck and my entire body was becoming chilled. Thankfully, the driver I recognised. He was called John and he was our cameraman in Spain. I rapped on the window with my lighter to get his attention. He wound the window down about twelve inches and smiled broadly as he surveyed me from my crumbling, green slippers through my waterlogged dressing gown right up to my soaking wet hair.

There was a young woman sitting behind him staring at me with a congealed face, like she just got belted on the back of the neck by a shinty stick or caman. I realised I was not a pretty sight. The rain was running into my eyes and my shoulders were drenched and bowed. The sopping dressing gown was far too short and I felt the rain beating down on the back of my scrawny thighs.

“You got something for me, John?” I said.

“Like what?”

“A key to get into this truck,” Isaid.

“No need for a key, man,” John said. “You’re here and you’re getting soaked. Jump in.”

That’s what I did. John introduced me to Lena Walker from Lochboisdale who was one of Marion’s pals. I turned round to face the front again when my portable phone rang.

It was Robbie. “Norman, where are you?”

In the Honda with John.”

“You’re supposed to be up here in the ward,” Robbie accuses me. “Didn’t Marion spell it all out for you on Wednesday night?”

“Look, I’m already down in the van and John has some notes to show me.”

I turn towards the driver and accept his A4 notepad. Each page is divided vertically by a slim black line. On the left there are instructions for sound. These seem to be voice-overs, deliberately opaque, with little more than the cursory legend NORMAN SPEAKS. On the right hand side of each page there are copious and alarmingly detailed descriptions of scenes Robbie hopes to capture on film – ‘waves wash over Norman’s face . . . Norman is poised to make the dangerous jump known in South Uist as Leum an t-Saighdeir, The Soldier’s Leap . . .’

The horror of what lies before me is in danger of smothering me.

I’d never been all that keen to leave my cosy, wee hospital bed in the first place. Now, with the prospect of an SAS assault course before me in Uist, I’d rather rub treacle in my hair than be where I am at this point in my life.

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