I have to say I am pretty au fait with the clothes horse (more and more I wonder was my past life just a dream) and because of the temperamental weather, I often end up wrestling it in and out of the house in foolish combat with Mother Nature.
“What on earth is wrong, Fabien?” Fionnuala was peering at me. “Have you diarrhoea?”
“I hit myself with the clothes horse. I swear I’ve broken a rib.”
“Men,” she said, laughing, and went about her business. “Clothes horse!”
Later that evening I was still in agony and was beginning to get alarmed. Now, I’m not a hypochondriac but this pain was new, and every time I breathed a knife went through my torso. Fionnuala phoned the out-of-hours doctor and they said that I should go to A&E: it could be a punctured lung.
“A clothes horse?” the woman said, raising her eye from the computer. “I see. Did you fall off it?” I didn’t take the joke but who could blame her. She took my details and told me to wait in one of the chairs and my name would be called. “This is Friday night and it can be busy, so just be patient.”
I found a seat between an old man with a bloody bandage on his head and a young mother and baby. They were watching the TV with the sound turned down.
As I gasped and groaned as silently as I could, I looked around at the other patients. It was like Dostoevsky’s House of the Dead. All different shapes and sizes and ages; ashen faced, hyperactive, worried. And every now and then a muffled voice through a tannoy: “Joe Bloggs. That’s Joe Bloggs.” And Joe Bloggs would perk up and head for the door and get buzzed in.
The old man spoke. “What’s wrong son? You’re in a bad way.”
“Accident with a…” I couldn’t bear to say it. “…horse.”
“Oh, they are a dangerous boy. Are you a jockey?”
“God no.” I regretted my lie instantly. “Just a hobby for me.”
“A hobby horse?” Thankfully his name was called and he disappeared behind the iron curtain.
I glanced at the young mother. “What’s wrong with junior?” The baby was sleeping.
Every time he looked at me, he pointed and silently shook with laughter, his mouth like a digger bucket
“Hopefully nothing. She had a temperature and some spots on her tummy, and, well, it’s just better to be on the safe side. The nurse isn’t too worried but we are gonna stick it out.”
The nurse wasn’t worried but the mother was. “You are in the right place,” I offered, weakly.
Then all hell broke loose when a young drunken man sat beside us, roaring and laughing with a huge egg-sized bump above his eye and blood on his clothes. He never shut up for about five minutes, talking to everyone, joking about the state of the other boy he was fighting and then ostentatiously shushing himself when he saw the baby. “So, so, sorry sweetie,” he slurred to the mother. He started to cry, then caught himself on.
He was entertaining if nothing else. He demanded the TV was turned up and danced to whatever song was in his head, all with a palsied balance, before with utter sincerity asking an elderly woman did she know where he get a drink round here.
When he sat back down, he asked me what was wrong and the mother said I fell off a horse. I corrected her: “It was a clothes horse, not a real horse.”
Then the drunk sat bolt upright, his one visible eye gleaming, and roared to the waiting room: “He fell of a clothes horse!”
Everybody turned and stared. He pirouetted around, so amused by this that his laugh was mute. And every time he looked at me, he pointed and silently shook with laughter, his mouth like a digger bucket.
I whimpered the verdict to Fionnuala the next morning. “Paracetamol and rest, the doctor said. Severely bruised chest wall.”
“Well, that’s great news.” She was just wakening up.
“And did he tell you to always wear the proper gear when you are dealing with those big animals?”