Mrs Elswick is stretched out on the bedroom carpet between the second of the two single beds and the wall. She is neatly arranged; someone has put a pillow under her head and a duvet on top. She lies there looking up at us, her jaw springing up and down like a ventriloquist’s dummy on the back seat of a car.
‘I fell off the edge of the bed,’ she chatters.
Frank checks her over. There are two community responders in the hallway talking to Mr Elswick, a worn and rounded man with a habit of staring fixedly then blinking twice as an afterthought. He is standing in front of a long wall mirror; the effect is of someone split down the middle.
‘The very same thing happened yesterday,’ he says. ‘I just don’t know what to do.’
‘We’ll have a chair please, Spence,’ says Frank.
Out on the truck we run through our medical shtick.
‘We’ll be coming at you from all angles,’ says Frank, hauling out the ECG leads. ‘Like a pit stop at the Formula One.’
‘Ooh yes,’ says Mrs Elswick.
‘I’ll do your tyres,’ I say.
She doesn’t hear me.
Frank towers above the scene, his hands working with the easy autonomy that comes with repetition. If I looked into his eyes now I would catch him slouched back with his feet up on his brain’s console, flicking through a magazine.
‘Erm - one of the community responders told me not to call you Ruby,’ he says, peeling open the ECG dots, flipping the clear plastic circles into a vomit bowel and sticking her up. ‘Why’s that, then?’
‘Ruby’s my middle name,’ says Mrs Elswick, her jaw working up and down.
‘So what do you like being called?’
Frank switches on the ECG monitor and feels her pulse.
‘I don’t get it. We’re not to call you Ruby, but it’s your middle name, and it’s what you like to be called.’
‘I’m missing something.’
Mrs Elswick rolls her eyes upwards in an exaggerated expression of teacherly despair, but any fine motor function is difficult whilst her jaw springs up and down as it does.
‘My middle name’s Ruby, but my Father said I shouldn’t ever use it. He said it was a tart’s name.’
‘What nonsense,’ says Frank, poking a thermometer in her ear and sniffing at the result. ‘Now - rhubarb. That’s a tart’s name.’
We are all laughing when I open the door to Mr Elswick.
He blinks up at us, twice, with great precision.