You have to understand. This is a man who never cries. He didn’t even cry at his own daughter’s funeral, for goodness sake, and here he is weeping like a child at the sight of a red jumper. What was I to think? Was this something worse than all the rest. He’d barely spoken a coherent word of late.
“Pillar box red!”, he cried, “it’s pillar box red.”
How should I know what the significance of such a colour was to him now? Red rag to a bull? I don’t think he’s ever been near a bull. He wasn’t a postman or a painter. I’m pretty sure he’s never seen that French film about the balloon.
“Just like the one she knitted for poor Sammy,” he sobbed, then “he saved us you know,” he said in a calmer voice.
“My best friend, and he saved us all. Pillar box red it was, that silly jumper.”
I took his hand again and patted it, “There dear, you’re so worked up. It’s alright, it’s just a jumper.” It’s not like it’s blood or something.
I have to admit I sighed when the receptionist told me Mrs Johnson was waiting to see me. Again. She gets so worked up about her husband, and unfortunately there’s not much I can do. I wish there was.
“Dr Stephens,” she began, “yesterday we were walking in the local dog park and he saw a woman knitting – knitting something red and he just started bawling. Bawling and then raving about someone called Sammy and the colour red and being saved. Is he getting much worse? Please. Is it a sign he’s…he’s…”
“My dear Mrs Johnson,” I thought for a minute, “you say he saw this red knitting and started crying? And then he started talking? He hasn’t been talking much of late, has he?”
“No, but it didn’t make sense, it was the ravings of a…a…”
I knew what she couldn’t bring herself to say, but I felt there might be something in this. “And did he keep repeating himself?”
“That’s right. Red and Sammy and being saved.”
“Perhaps he’s remembered something,” I suggested.
“Well I’ve never heard about it! It’s nothing…nothing sane…”
“Perhaps something from childhood? Could you ask his sister about it?”
Her expression changed. A glimmer of hope in her eyes, she nodded, “Thank you, Dr, I’ll ask.”
It was Gloria again, and not the best phone connection. I wish she wouldn’t scrimp on these things.
“What’s that?” I asked loudly. She repeated their morning’s episode.
“Oh Sammy,” I said brightly, “I thought you were saying Nanny. Yes, of course, Sammy.”
She asked me impatiently who Sammy was, as if I were trying to keep a secret from her.
“Sammy was our dog, a black poodle. I was 6 and Bert was 8 when Daddy brought his home.”
“A dog!” She sounded affronted. “But why would he start crying and raving about a poodle?”
I thought for a minute. “Well Bert was away at boarding school when Sammy had to be…put down. He never really got to say goodbye.”
“Oh,” said Gloria. “But what about the colour red? What about being saved?”
“Red?” I’d gone blank, but then I remembered, “Oh yes, that’s right, Mother knitted Sammy this little red jumper for the cold weather. He did look sweet in it.” I stopped talking again, lost in thought for a minute. We loved that dog, especially Bert, he was the friendliest little thing and so smart. “How could I have forgotten! We were all asleep one night and Sammy started barking. We thought he was just being a nuisance, but he was such an intelligent dog that one. Turns out the house was on fire. He saved us all.”
“Oh,”Gloria broke off as if on a sob. “Oh, Bertie. You do remember.”