These air molecules, responding to a steady change in pressure between this stretch of land and the sea, flow down the steepening gradient, and eddy and rush according to the spinning of the earth, and the rising and falling away of the Downland rucks and rills, blindly flow on across the County, hurtle through stands of beech and sycamore, hawthorn, gorse and rhododendron, around the flints of a farmhouse wall, through broken fence slats, between the legs of these cows standing in the field and over the back of this one lying down, and on, through and across towards the town, scythe through an industrial estate, snatch up a strip of pallet wrap, ruffle the hair of a man on a fork lift, nip round the beeping end of a lorry backing up, rattle across the corrugated surfaces of doors and roofs, and then barrel on up a steeply inclined pathway to a group of three old cottages huddled at the top.
The door of the first cottage bangs in its frame.
‘Get that, would you?’
Malcolm, the eldest son, takes the door off the latch, closes it firmly, then rejoins the group in the living room.
‘Here’s a list of the medication she’s on.’
Stephanie, Malcolm’s wife, hands one of the ambulance technicians a prescription sheet. He skims it and nods, then turns his attention again to the old woman sitting in the chair.
‘How are you feeling?’ he says.
She looks at him, then away over his shoulder to the faces of the people standing around.
‘Where’s Barry?’ she says.
‘Barry’s here, Mum. He’s just here.’
Malcolm has his hand on Barry’s shoulder. Barry passively absorbs the attention. He has thick glasses, and his hair looks combed and wetted by someone else.
‘I want Barry,’ says the old woman.
Malcolm leads Barry over to the chair and stands him between the old woman and the fireplace.
‘Barry’s okay, Mum,’ he says.
Stephanie reiterates what the doctor found on his visit earlier that day. Suspected urinary tract infection on top of an existing chest infection, possible renal insufficiency – a general deterioration, not entirely out of keeping in a woman of eighty nine.
‘She was right as rain up until last week. Did everything for herself. Didn’t you, Molly?’
Molly sits at the centre of all this concern, desiccated and pale, her spindly legs drawn up and her arms around them, looking down on the scene like an ancient spider tucked up in the corner of a room.
Malcolm takes the ambulance technician to one side.
‘Of course we have two problems here. One is Mum and her well-being. The other is Barry. Mum's been the main carer for Barry ever since he was born brain damaged, and we simply don’t know what’ll happen to him if it turns out she can’t cope at home any more. We’ll take him for the time being, but after that...’ Malcolm takes off his glasses and cleans them on his t-shirt. ‘It’ll kill Mum to have him put in a home, but honestly – she can’t cope here any more. It’s been coming for some time. We’ve just been putting it off.’
The technician nods. It is a difficult situation, he says, one that will have to be resolved between the hospital, social services and the family doctor. For now the focus is on getting Molly better. The rest will have to follow.
Malcolm puts his glasses back on and thanks the technician for coming out. He asks him if they can all ride with Molly to the hospital.
‘We’ll just about fit you in,’ says the technician. His colleague goes outside to get a carry chair and blankets. As soon as the door is opened, the wind rushes in.
‘Hark at that,’ says Stephanie, wrapping her cardigan tightly around her. ‘We’re all going to get blown away.’