‘Wait a minute, now. Just a minute.’
Mrs Burrows fishes around in the pocket of her dressing gown, and eventually pulls out what looks like a massive pink plastic ashtray. She picks off the fluff with the tips of her fingers, then sets it in her lap.
‘Pass me down that tube, would you?’
There is a semi-circular glass shelf just above her head, covered with chintzy porcelain figurines; I find the tube at the feet of a startled shepherdess.
She unscrews the top, and squeezes gunk all over the ashtray. Then she spreads her mouth wide and slowly inserts it – a dreadful sight, like watching a python swallow a snooker table. It’s impossible that she could fit that thing in there, but somehow she manages it. It must be some mistake. The dentures are so huge they seem to push the entire side of her face outwards; they must be the wrong teeth. But Mrs Burrow’s husband, the only other person whose teeth they could be, seems happy enough. He looks on sleepily, fumbling with his dressing gown cord.
‘Would you like some tea?’ he says.
‘Let’s get your wife up first. Now then. Have you hurt yourself?’
She smiles, and the teeth loom forwards through the opening.
‘Just a minute,’ she clacks. Then very methodically, item by item, she begins checking herself, turning each hand from side to side, extending her legs, nodding her head and wriggling from side to side. She looks up again.
‘I’m all right,’ she says.
We get her up and holding her hands, lead her through into the kitchen.
Mr Burrows is shuffling around the tatty kitchen, his dressing gown cord still trailing behind him, his hair sticking up in tufts like a duckling.
‘Sixty three years we’ve been married,’ he says. ‘That’s us in the picture.’
He swings the kettle dangerously in the direction of a large black and white wedding photo, a bustling crowd of people at the doors of a church, a young man in uniform leaning in and touching heads with a round faced young woman in an upturned veil, both of them laughing at the camera through a storm of confetti.
‘I drove steam engines after that,’ he says, setting the electric kettle on the hob.
Mrs Burrows taps me on the shoulder. When I turn to look at her she leans in and starts to whisper: dementia, but on the slippery third syllable her teeth seize their chance and try to leap out at me from her mouth.