We are running out in response to a personal alarm, one of those big red buttons worn around the neck or wrist to push if you need help. It’s come through as a silent activation; meaning that Button Control has not been able to talk to the client. If the person sets the button off accidentally – and they do, all the time – Button Control can reassure themselves that everything’s okay by speaking to them over an intercom system. A silent response is invariably a bad sign.
The instructions we have been sent to gain out of hours access to this flat are complex. There is a code for the front door, a code for a safe that contains a key to another safe that holds, amongst other things, the master key for all the rooms in the block. We are also to pull a chord to let the office know what we’re doing.
But it all works. The master key is hanging on its own peg inside the safe; I grab it, we re-shoulder our bags, and haul ourselves up to the third floor.
An elderly woman shuffles past us in the corridor.
‘Good evening to you both,’ she says, pleasantly. I’m struck by the thought that had we been dressed in gorilla suits, she would have been equally indifferent.
We reach the door and I knock twice.
Not waiting for a reply, I use the master key and we step inside.
The hallway is just big enough to accommodate the front door and access to the bathroom, kitchenette and sitting room. The door to the sitting room stands a little open, and I push it inwards.
There is an angle poise lamp up on a writing bureau over at the far side of the room, dumping a pool of bright light onto the high-backed chair beneath it. On the chair is the lumpish figure of an elderly woman, slumped forwards, motionless.
I stride over and touch her on the right shoulder.
She jumps backwards into the chair and lets out a yelp.
‘Hello – it’s the ambulance.’
The woman is clutching a pear in one hand and a little curved knife in the other.
‘Are you all right?’
‘Am I what?’
‘Your button went off.’
‘I know that.’
‘People were worried about you.’
‘I heard them calling. I was on the loo. And they’d gone when I’d finished.’
‘So you’re okay?’
‘I’m having a pear.’
‘Who called you?’
‘The Button people.’
‘But there’s nothing wrong with me.’
She shakes the pear at me, as if that proves it.
And, I suppose, in many ways, it does.