Patrick needed help. Someone to drive him into town, to wait for him while he paid a few bills, that sort of thing. Because his wife didn’t drive and because he’d been told by the Staff Nurse he wasn’t safe driving, not yet, not after that kind of surgery. In fact, the hospital had issued him with a Patient Information Leaflet which stated that patients having undergone that kind of surgery must not drive for at least a week. So Patrick knocked on his neighbour’s door and he said ‘Bob, mate, I need to get into town, to pay a few bills, that sort of thing, but I shouldn't be driving just yet –’ and Bob said ‘Come back in ten minutes. I’m going into Town in ten minutes’ and Patrick said ‘Oh, that’s great, but it’s a bit early - the painkillers need a while yet to kick-in –’ and Bob said ‘Tell you what I’ll do, just this once I’ll go into the Village first and pick-up the racing papers then I’ll knock for you at twenty-past nine’ and Patrick said ‘Thanks, Bob, you’re a gentleman.’ So Patrick limped back to his wife who made him another cup of tea so he could take the rest of his medications, the medications the doctor had prescribed three days earlier, during a home visit, because Patrick was in such pain. Such pain. Was still in pain. Bob knew all about pain. He’d said so, three days earlier, on the day when Patrick’s wife had tap-tap-tapped on his door, just after the doctor had finished with Patrick. And Patrick’s wife had said ‘We need your help, Bob’ and Bob said ‘I noticed the car hasn’t moved for a few days now - is it serious?’ and Patrick’s wife said ‘He’s not too good. He’s in a lot of pain’ and that’s when Bob said ‘I know all about pain, me’ and left it at that. And later that evening, when Patrick’s wife reflected on what Bob had said, she remembered thinking that perhaps she should have asked Bob about his pain; perhaps she should have said to him So, Bob, how come you know all about pain? but she hadn’t. Because, truly, she really didn’t want to hear about Bob’s pain. And so she’d left it at that. So after Bob had said ‘I know all about pain, me’ (and had left it at that), he’d then said ‘no’, he didn’t mind driving to the village pharmacy to collect Patrick’s medications; that if he couldn’t do that one small thing for his neighbour, what a sad world it would be and if only more people thought that way - thought more like him, that is - the world would be a much better place. And Patrick’s wife had smiled a little smile and nodded and said ‘yes’, then coughed a little cough and glanced at her wristwatch and, noting that it was already twenty-minutes-to-one, had said ‘By the way, Bob, I think the pharmacy closes for lunch on a Thursday’ and Bob had said ‘Don’t worry about me, m’dear, I don’t mind going in after lunch - the big race isn’t until half-past three’ and Patrick’s wife bristled inside and thought she must ask Patrick to ask Bob to desist from addressing her as ‘m’dear’, then she’d said ‘That’s very kind of you, Bob, but I really am concerned about Patrick - the pain, he’s in such pain you see - that’s why we called for the doctor in the first ––’ and, unhooking a bunch of keys from a skull-and-antler nicknack guarding the entrance to his small, silent, stone cottage, Bob said ‘I know all about pain, me’ then slammed shut his front door with, so Patrick’s wife had judged, unnecessary force. And Bob got into his car and mutely departed for the pharmacy, just before it closed for lunch.
So at twenty-past nine Bob thud-thud-thudded on Patrick’s door and as Patrick’s wife was dab-dab-dabbing at her dressing gown (where the tea had jumped from her teacup into her lap, when she had jumped having been startled by Bob’s fearsome knocking) Patrick kissed his wife’s crinkled brow and limped to their freshly-painted front door to greet Bob.
When Patrick told his wife all about it, she’d said ‘How awful!’ and ‘Should he still be driving?’ and ‘You know I’ve never liked him’. So Patrick told his wife how he’d not had a chance to secure his seat belt even, before Bob had, as Patrick put it, given it full throttle, and how Patrick could feel the stitches on his lower right side pulling and stretching as Bob accelerated into each of the bends on the very windy road and Patrick told his wife he was worried they might pull apart but didn’t like to say to Bob Slow down, you mad bastard because that would have been rude and would likely have created a certain coolness between them. And Patrick told his wife how he and Bob had then caught-up with a tractor, or was it a caravan - no, it was a tractor towing a caravan - and Bob had said quite loudly ‘Arsing caravans!’ and gripped the wheel so tight Patrick told his wife he could see Bob’s blood vessels all purple and pulsing like they were straining to free themselves from Bob’s skin. And Patrick told his wife he was concerned Bob was about to do something reckless when Bob had said ‘I can pass them all, after this bend –’ And Patrick told his wife how his shirt had felt damp and he was fairly sure the dressing on his wound was now fully-soaked with blood and he’d hoped the bleeding wasn’t going to seep through to his jacket. And it was then that Bob had said ‘Hold tight!’ before he spun the steering wheel and pointed the vehicle into the middle of the road, just before the sharp turn after the Rustic Crafts Heritage Centre and Tea Rooms on the left hand side. And Patrick told his wife he'd been sure he and Bob were going to die. And after Bob had overtaken the caravan - and the tractor towing the caravan - he’d flicked at his indicator and Patrick told his wife that Bob couldn’t pull in, in front of the tractor towing the caravan, because a Vauxhall Adam, a bright pink one, was already there, in what should have been Bob’s space, and Bob shouted ‘Arsing pink cars!’ before raising two fingers at the driver of the pink Vauxhall Adam who turned and smiled and waved at the two fingers, before speeding into the next bend and disappearing from view. And as Bob pulled in front of the tractor towing the caravan, he’d said ‘That was my missus, my ex missus. Arsing ex-wives.’ Then Patrick told his wife that when he and Bob got to town Bob had said ‘Where do you want me to park?’ and Patrick had said ‘Up by the Town Hall; I think I can manage to get to the bank from there, being as it’s all on the flat’ and Bob had said ‘the Town Hall? You sure? Will I be safe there? Isn’t it a double yellow?’ and Patrick had said ‘I brought my Blue Badge. You don’t have to worry - looks like it’s going to rain again, better get going.’ And Patrick told his wife how Bob had then said ‘But if I park down the bottom of the hill, next to the taxi rank, couldn’t you manage from there? It’s not much of a hill’ and Patrick had said ‘I’m sorry, mate, but I’m in a lot of pain - the stitches, you know?’ And not appearing to know anything Bob had said ‘I know all about pain, me.’ And after Patrick had taken several minutes pulling himself out of the passenger side, Bob had said he’d better activate the central locking: ‘Better safe than sorry,’ he’d said to Patrick, ‘being as you’ve made me park-up on these double yellows.’ Then Patrick told his wife that by the time he’d done all he’d needed to, at the bank, it was raining hard and he wasn't feeling too good so he took it slowly, back to Bob’s car. And when he got to Bob’s car, the engine was revving, the wipers were scraping and Bob was thud-thud-thudding his fingertips on the steering wheel so Patrick had said ‘Sorry about that, not feeling too good’ and Bob didn’t respond, just spun the steering wheel and jerked out into the middle of the road, right in front of a National Express coach which braked so hard its tyres let out a long, high scream against the wet tarmac. And Patrick told his wife all he could do was mouth a silent Sorry at the excited-looking coach driver while Bob yelled ‘Arsing coaches!’ before his left foot slid violently off the clutch pedal and the engine cut out.
'And on the way back', Patrick told his wife, on the way back from Town, Bob had been telling Patrick about his hundreds of friends in Dorset. And Patrick’s wife, who ever since she’d first met Bob - and it must be, yes, it must have been fifteen years ago now - had never liked him, ever since he’d thud-thud-thudded on their freshly-painted front door and he’d introduced himself to Patrick as if she weren’t there and then said, and this bit she’d never forgotten, he’d said That’s brave! Did the missus make you choose that colour? without even looking at her - ever since then Patrick’s wife had never liked him, the loner next door who dyed his hair, who’d never had a decent word to say about any female, not even his cat. And Patrick’s wife had said ‘In Dorset? But he never goes anywhere and no-one visits him - except the Jehovah’s people and the meter reader - and his daughter, who’s only after money he hasn’t got, so Bob says.’ And Patrick told his wife how, on the way back, Bob had told him he had a best friend in Dorset - a ‘Jim’. And Jim was a real man’s man, so Bob said. And Bob said ‘Jim could drink six pints before the racing, drive home to watch the racing, then drive back to the pub and get proper arse-holed - and when they banned him’, Bob had said to Patrick, ‘when good old Jim got banned, he got himself a bike and carried on, business as usual. That’s a real man’s man for you.’ And then Patrick had said to Bob ‘But Bob, mate, you turned 75 last birthday - how can you be sure any of your hundreds of friends in Dorset are still alive?’ And Patrick told his wife that right then Bob had spun the steering wheel, just like he’d done earlier that day - to overtake the caravan being towed by the tractor - though this second time there hadn’t been any traffic in front of them, that Bob had spun the wheel for no good reason at all and there they were, out on the wrong side of the road, just as a Waitrose lorry was coming the other way and Bob had shouted ‘Arsing know-it-all!’ And Patrick told his wife he'd been sure he and Bob were going to die. So Patrick told his wife that after the Waitrose lorry incident there arose a certain coolness between them, that he and Bob didn’t speak for the rest of the journey, not until they got home. And after Patrick had taken several minutes pulling himself out of the passenger side, Bob had said ‘And don’t you worry, about the money I mean, about paying me back, for all the extra petrol I’ve had to use this week, because if I couldn’t do that one small thing for my neighbour what a sad world it would be - and if only more people thought more like me, the world would be a much better place.’
"I therefore decided to say No henceforth to every suggestion, request or inquiry whether inward or outward. It was the only simple formula which was sure and safe. It was difficult to practise at first and often called for heroism but I persevered and hardly ever broke down completely. It is now many years since I said Yes."
O'Brien, F. (1993). The Third Policeman, London: Flamingo Modern Classics, p.31