Sunday, May 07, 2006

Hard B's

She takes a long time coming to the door. I try to look through the letterbox. I'm not sure whether I heard someone cry out or not. But the letterbox has those thick black brushes on the inside, and whilst I'm trying to push a hole through them I hear her say 'The door is open you know.' I straighten up and open the door.

Mrs Baxter stands wheezing in the hallway. It's difficult to guess how old she might be; her face is swollen, and the lines she probably would have are all smoothed away. She is wearing a custard-coloured mackintosh, plate-size dark glasses, and her hair is swept up in an orderly bun.
'I have been in The Big House. I spent two weeks there after my last operation. But you wouldn't believe how noisy it is in there. Ninety-two, one hundred and two - they're the worst. You wouldn't think they'd be so noisy, but it's terrible. What they do, you see, they sleep all day, and then all night it's ping ping ping on the buttons. I'm not ready for that. I value my independence.'

'I used to be a store detective for C&A. I loved my job. I did it for ten years. As soon as the children were old enough to look after themselves I said to my husband "That's it. I've had enough. The kids are gone and you're certainly no reason to stay" - and I walked. Best thing I ever did. Got the detective job and I loved it.

'You wouldn't believe the people who stole. Mostly women, and always rich. Always had notes in their purses. It was never the poor. You'd get prostitutes coming in after a night's work, buying a whole new set of clothes and paying cash. But these other women, they'd swan through the doors in big fur coats, and the next thing you know they're rolling trousers round their arms and pulling their sleeves down over them. I've seen it all. Coat hangers in the toilets and all sorts.

'My eldest son and his wife never come to see me. It's always "Well we need more notice than that". He said to me one day "Don't think we'll be giving up our weekends just to come and see you." The eldest daughter's the same. They both take after their father, sorry to say. He was stubborn and mean and they were always going to be one thing or the other. But my youngest daughter, she's a different prospect. She comes and does my shopping once in a while. I see her quite a bit. And I've got a good nephew.

'I wasn't too happy with the nurse in the Big House. She kept impersonating my accent. She said I had "Hard B's". I said I was from Cumberland. I didn't appreciate that.

'I just wish the doctor could sort my legs out. I've got polymyelitis on top of the usual rheumatism and it's honestly terrible. I can't bear it. Nobody seems to know what to do. I've been for every test you could think of, x-rays, blood, the works. I'm on steroids, and they play havoc. Sometimes I get this feeling in my head, like a thousand bees stinging my brain. Urgh. But if they could only take me in and make my legs work as well as my arms, I'd be happy with that.'

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