The stair lift was out of action. The engineers had been out earlier in the day to fix a broken switch, and now that they had gone, the thing would not move at all. Mrs Ellerman’s carer had tried to get them back, but what with one thing and another, the soonest they could fix the lift was midday the following day. As Mrs Ellerman’s knees lacked the chutzpah to make the climb to the first floor, the carer had made up a temporary bed in the lounge, dragging down the single mattress, layering it with a paisley, duck down quilt, a rainbow-coloured crochet throw, sheets, blankets and numerous pillows and cushions, all artfully arranged in the centre of the living room floor, looking like a thrift shop take on a Sheikh’s tent.
Mrs Ellerman sits on the carpet beside it all, her grey eyed stare falling strangely short, hanging somewhere in the quiet space between us.
‘Did I do the right thing?’
Physically she is in good health, apart from a pair of creaky knees. She looks up at us, like a child who suddenly found themselves sitting on the lounge floor in the dark hours of the morning, eighty years later.
‘My Phil caught that trout,’ she says, looking over to a silver framed portrait of a man holding up a fish. Phil supports the fish with both hands, emphasising the weight. He has a moon man smile, a big shining curve running from one side of his hat to the other. The fish stares out through his fingers.
‘I used to work in a typewriter factory,’ she says as we help her into a chair. ‘I went in to work one day and I says to the foreman “There you are, mate. That’s your lot. There’s my resignation. I’m off”. “Why’s that, then, Rene?” he says. “How come’s you’re off?” So I turns round and I says “You know full well why I’m off. It’s that little girl, always hanging round, spreading rumours, tittle-tattle. You ought to know better than listen to someone like that.” So the next day I goes to him and I says “Let’s have that job back then.” And he turns round and he says: “What about little rumour girl?” and I says “Never you mind about her, mate.”
‘Do you take any medications for anything, Mrs Ellerman?’
‘Only what they give me. I don’t know.’
She looks over by the table with the fish photograph. Underneath it is a silver suitcase with a combination lock.
‘In there,’ she says.