Fingle was rough with the old man; not actually violent, but he spoke sharply and moved at a speed that was always just a little faster than the old man was comfortable with. Handing him a cup of tea, Fingle would move so fast that however quickly the old man responded he would be conscious of having kept Fingle waiting. Negotiating doors, Fingle would catch his heels or bump his shoulders, always making it appear that the old man’s sluggishness, and not his own impatience, had been to blame.
The old man never took his eyes off Fingle, and I was reminded of a farmer who, punching a puppy dog between the eyes without warning, explained that he wanted it always to be paying attention to him.
The old man seemed slower and more stooped each time I saw him, seemed always to be straining to keep up, despite his shuffling, hesitant steps, as if afraid of falling behind; afraid of the consequences he might bring down upon his bowed head. I thought he was getting frailer; that one day Fingle, seemingly by accident, would knock him to the ground; that Fingle’s voice, harsh and peremptory, would strike him dumb, and paralysed.
It was when they crossed the road that I feared for him most, for it seemed that Fingle chose to cross when only a precipitous rush would get them safely through the gaps between the speeding cars. I even began to suspect that he was working towards the staging of an incident in which the old man would not make it across.
Perhaps that was why, when I heard about the accident, that I imagined the old man had been knocked down, and it was him I was thinking of when I exclaimed, not killed? It was him I thought of when I was told, no, but he’ll be in a wheel-chair for months.
But it was Fingle who had been crippled. Eye-witnesses said that the old man had stepped forward into a gap far too narrow and that Fingle, seeming at first to want to hurry him onwards, had found himself out in front, when the old man, with a nimbleness that had taken the watchers by surprise, had stepped back into safety.
The vehicle that struck Fingle was large, and moving fast. He suffered multiple injuries including several broken bones. It was a miracle, people said, that he had not been killed.
When I saw the pair of them, some weeks after, the old man was walking briskly beside the chair, which was being pushed by a young man I did not recognise. They were negotiating the heavy twin doors into their local pub, trying to manoeuvre Fingle’s out-thrust plaster-encased leg and arm through the gap, when the old man, seemingly by accident, let slip his grip on the metal handle. The door swung to against Fingle’s foot and he gave a cry of pain. The old man winced, I think.
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