Wednesday, May 10, 2006


The old vicarage is on a dangerous bend now.

Mrs Kimberly lives in the basement, down a steep flight of concrete steps. I walk through a rotten, half timbered door into an ill-lit anteroom with a concrete floor. There are empty plastic plant pots, boxes, picture frames, farmyard implements and ten-year old feed catalogues. The air visibly stirs as I move through it. There is a smack of uncut dust about the place, of unlit corners and earth. There is another door that must be her front door. I knock, and after a while I hear Mrs Kimberly shout 'It's open.' I walk in. 'Hello?'
Mrs Kimberly shuffles towards me with a zimmer frame from the shadows of her back kitchen into the better light near the centre of the room. Her long black t-shirt hangs straight down from her rounded shoulders. Her face has an erased look, as if living in this basement is slowly rubbing her out. The most real thing about her is her teeth, prominent and yellowing.
'Gosh. You're early.'
'Let's get you in nicely on time, for a change.'
'Did you hear about the other two appointments I had this week? Late, both times. I don't understand why these things should be so difficult. I'll just get my coat. Do I need it? Or would a waistcoat do?'
'A waistcoat would be perfect. It's not cold.'
'Won't be a tick.'
She shuffles back into the gloom.
On her mantelpiece and on the walls there are photos of her as a young girl, beside, on top of, pointing to horses. There are statues of horses on the mantelpiece, and prints of horses on the walls. There is a black cat curled on the tartan cover of the bed.
'Your cat looks comfy.'
Well what a perfect kind of life it is, really, when you're a cat. You just lie around a lot. Pleasing yourself.'
'I wouldn't mind it.'
The cat flicks its tail as I close the door behind us.
On the way up the stairs to the ambulance, Mrs Kimberly tells me what happened to her. She was having problems with her balance, and fell down the concrete cellar steps. She had been sitting on a low wall at the top, chatting to a neighbour, when she had suffered another bout of dizziness and fallen backwards. She woke up in a hospital bed, and was told that she had been unconscious for a month. She has a shunt in her head to ease the pressure, shuffles along with a frame, and can only make her words carefully, like a drunk trying to seem sober.
On the ambulance I say: 'Did you used – do you still – have much to do with horses?'
'All my life. When I was little I used to get on my horse in the morning, ride off with my friends and be out all day. We'd stop by a little shop in some village, get some milk and something to eat, and go and canter over to some trees. Back in the evening, just before dark.'
She stops to get her breath.
'They won't let me near a horse now, in case I go under its hooves.'

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