After the death of Mrs Dorothy Cheeseman’s husband Harold following a brisk but inelegant struggle with prostate cancer; and after an efficient funeral on an averagely sunny day in a square-cut crematorium with adequate attendance and foliage, undercut somewhat by a vicar who could not pronounce his R’s and A Nightingale sang in Berkley Square (Harold hated London); and after six months had fallen from the calendar like so many dead leaves; and after the health insurance that Harold had arranged with his usual prescience had fattened up the joint account overnight, Mrs Dorothy Cheeseman – acting on the instructions of their only daughter, Claire, a woman who had obviously hooked all her genetic ducks from Harold’s ancestral pond, especially a talent for organisation and a thin-lipped approach to problem-solving, (but Claire’s edginess in company could only have come from Dorothy, whose own particular terrors had grown exponentially since she was eight years old at her father’s Christmas work’s do, 1948, when she was pushed up first on stage to collect her present from Father Christmas and threw up three bottles of apple pop and a crab-paste sandwich into his sack) – Mrs Dorothy Cheeseman, widow, sold the family home and moved into the manageable, one bedroom flat Claire and her silent partner Ben had arranged for her just a simple bus ride away from their front door on the other side of town.
And now her sciatica was playing up.
She had been sitting on the sofa looking out at the newly planted communal lawn for a few hours. The washing line had one plain white tea towel fluttering there, but no-one seemed bothered to add any more or take this one down. She watched it for hours. The sun moved across the grass and changed the angles of its shadows at the edges, until the ache in her leg – a cramp that spread from the root of her hip to the heel bone – forced her to get up, move about, find an aspirin. She swallowed the pill with a glass of warmish tap water, then suddenly picked up the phone and dialled 999.
She let the ambulance people in via a short struggle with the entry phone, then sat back down on the sofa.
When they came in they seemed to fill the room completely with their bags and their bulky jackets and their overloud characters. Mrs Dorothy Cheeseman wished she had not bothered.
One of them, the older of the two, a man who reminded her of Harold’s German business associate Klaus, with the same squashy features and crooked teeth, except Klaus was always on the verge of clasping her round the shoulders to draw her to him, and smelled of yeast and pipe smoke. But this man only touched her lightly round the wrist, and smelled of disinfectant. The other ambulance man, a squared-off chap who looked as if he should be outside sawing logs, drew up a stool and sat quietly.
‘I bet they think I’m a fool,’ she thought.
She told them about her leg. And, no, she hadn’t been to a doctor because she had only just moved here and these things were not easy to sort out.
She looked about the room and realised with a low-down stumbling feeling that she had not made the bed. In fact, all her clothes were strewn about the floor. She had been meaning to have a tidy up. What would they think?
‘I’m so hungry,’ she said to them. ‘I haven’t had a thing to eat in days. And I can’t go shopping because of my leg.’
She had been expecting to be scooped up and rushed to the hospital, but the men in green did not appear to be in any kind of rush. Were they always this slow? The old one carefully wrote down the facts and figures whilst the short one fussed about with blood pressure cuffs and thermometers and blood sugar kits – though what all this had to do with a leg she could not possibly say. Suddenly the short one seemed to be finished with all that. He packed his kit away, stood up and asked if she would like a cup of tea, then wandered off into the kitchen to get it. Dorothy tried to listen to the old one talking on in a quiet voice about options and such, but her attention was really focused on the kitchen.
‘I haven’t any food at all,’ she suddenly shouted out to him. ‘Not a thing.’
But when he looked in the fridge for the milk, Dorothy knew exactly what he would see: two spotted rashers of bacon, a tub of marge, and a dried-out slab of Leicester cheese.