Faith and Rose are in their late eighties and have lived together all their lives. A pair of little troll dolls, white hair sticking up as fine and fluffed as polyester stuffing, perfectly round eyes, a permanently surprised expression, as if our breezy ‘halloo’ was the most incredible thing they had ever heard.
‘You were quick,’ says Rose, momentarily stunned, but then giving herself a busy shake and hurrying about the flat, pushing clothes and things into what looks like a toy suitcase.
‘Don’t forget my slippers,’ says Faith.
‘They’re on your feet,’ says Rose.
The block is eerily quiet. Every door has gradually had its letter box sealed with parcel tape so the postman can see which flats are empty and which occupied. Even though the flats have only been up twenty years, the main sewers have collapsed, and under-pinning is too expensive. So all the elderly residents are gradually being re-housed around the county. There are ten left. When the last letter box is taped, they’ll tear the place down and start again.
‘The hip’s gone,’ says Faith. ‘I woke up like it.’
‘She’s in a lot of pain,’ says Rose, tossing the suitcase on the bed.
‘How’s the pain, Faith?’ I ask her.
‘Terrible. You’ve never known pain like it.’
‘We can give you something.’
‘I’ll ask for help when I need it,’ she says, but lets me take her by the arm to make the move from the bed to the carry chair.
There are two girls with silver party balloons laughing and fighting in the street outside. They stop and stand either side of the pavement as a guard of honour as we pass between them. Faith looks straight ahead, but Rose nods and smiles at them, and raises the little red suitcase like the Chancellor on Budget day.
‘So what line of work were you in before you retired?’ I ask them when all the paperwork’s done and we’re still miles from hospital. ‘What did you do for a living?’
‘During the war I made parts for Spitfires. Then after that was all done we changed over to barometers,’ says Faith. ‘I made it to supervisor, so I must’ve had something.’
‘I made locks,’ says Rose, leaning round the seat and smiling.
‘Do you remember, Faith? We used to finish work, go home for tea and then go straight back out fire watching.’
‘We had the energy then.’
‘It was terrible. Worse than you can imagine.’
‘A German bomber crashed just over the road, in the old cemetery.’
‘The pilot was dangling by some strings, but no-one could help him.’
‘The bombs hadn’t gone off.’
‘Dangling, like a puppet.’
‘There was nothing anyone could do. We thought the bombs were going off.’
‘So what happened to him?’ I ask.
‘I’ve no idea,’ says Rose, her eyes shining. ‘I can’t remember.’
The ambulance suddenly pitches from side to side.
‘Sorry!’ says Frank from the front.
‘Honestly,’ says Faith, pulling the blanket about her.
Rose sits back and hugs the suitcase.