‘Just a minute,’ called out in the robotic tone of someone holding their nose.
There are so many locks and bolts on this door, I guess it would take Ms Wilkinson a full minute to open it normally. But reduced to one hand, she struggles first with the top bolt, then with the bottom bolt, the mortice lock, and finally the Yale lock in the centre.
‘He likes it secure,’ she pipes when the door is finally open, then turns to walk back along the hall. ‘Come on in.’
We follow her into the living room, an austere box dominated by an old gas fire in the centre where the fireplace used to be. The wallpaper is so heavily striped it feels like a cream and mustard downpour, ceiling to carpet. There are no pictures on any surface. A few small ceramic figures measure out the dusty wooden mantelpiece above the fire, but other than that the room is empty, except for a TV in one corner, and a three piece suite in a semi-circle opposite.
Ms Wilkinson sits herself down on one of the armchairs.
‘It’s been going on for an hour now and nothing I do makes any difference. I’m sorry to call you out, but I didn’t know what else to do.’
She holds a bunched up bloody tissue in her right hand; her left arm crooked above her head, her thumb and forefinger pinching her nose.
‘The last time this happened I had to have a nostril cauterised. Not very sexy.’
The toilet flushes upstairs.
‘My father’ll be down in a minute. He’s very old and confused, so I’m afraid if we go to hospital he’ll have to come with us. I hope he won’t be too upset when he sees you. He gets worried easily.’
Heavy footsteps to the top of the stairs.
‘Down here, Dad.’
‘Who’s that with you?’
‘It’s the ambulance. About my nose.’
She gives us a smile, a diffident bob of her head.
‘He does get confused,’ she says.
Mr Wilkinson’s entrance is dramatically heightened by a prolonged clumping down the stairs.
‘Don’t worry. He may be ancient but he’s steady on his pins.’
When he finally makes it to the bottom and enters the room, a lick of cold air swirls in around him. He stands in the doorway, one hand on a stick and the other on the door, glaring into the room like a Dickensian schoolmaster ready to lay in to an unruly class. Except – there is a distinct lack of focus to him. His face and figure may be a caricature of patrician rage, but his eyes are fogged and helpless.
‘Are you going out?’ he says.
‘Don’t worry. You’re coming too,’ says Ms Wilkinson. And she gets up to find his outdoor shoes.