well used to falling down

by uzwi

Soon after we moved into the Dulwich house, we were called over to number 31 at one in the morning to help pick Lord Arquiss up.

His wife ran about in the empty street for a while, trying to attract our attention. A light, dry snow was dusting the road, wreathing and twisting along like dust round each quick little step. “Look at this,” said Elaine, who knew a performance when she saw one. “Not dancing but waving.” She waved back until the ballerina gave up and rang our bell.

“I wouldn’t ask,” the ballerina told us, “but he’s had a little bit much to drink, so we can’t really call the ambulance.”

Their front room was full of furniture too big for it, dimly lit by standard lamps with tasseled satin shades. Lord Arquiss lay waiting for us on the carpet at the base of a display cabinet, arranged on the glass shelves of which were hundreds of very small items in a kind of bright blue glass. He was looking up mischievously from the side of his eye. One of his slippers had fallen off. His legs, thick but somehow graceful, poked out of the bottom of the shortie dressing gown, their color somewhere between white and cream. His skin was very smooth. He had a faint, distinct smell — not unpleasant — which reminded me of babies. We got him up off the floor and back into his chair with difficulty. He was still a heavy man, even in a dressing gown and with naked, biscuit-colored balls.

He looked unrepentant; the ballerina looked relieved. “You must have a drink,” they urged; filled two glasses with Famous Grouse; and spent an hour telling us anecdotes of people called Tippy or Ticky — people who were Malcolm Sargent’s mistress in some old days even the participants barely now recall — people who had been well used to falling down and being picked up again.

from “Black Houses”, in Things That Never Happen, 2002.