Thelma is lying on her side on the carpeted floor, her legs in the dining room, her top half in the hall.
‘I’m all right,’ she says, the rich orange threads of the carpet muffling her words. ‘I’m all right.’
‘I couldn’t get her up on my own,’ says Harold, her husband, hobbling on behind us after he let us in. ‘It’s my back, you see. I just don’t have the strength.’
Harold is as decrepit as his wife; their skin has the colour and texture of parchment, their hair as finely silvered as fibre optic strands.
‘Usually Carol from the cafe across the road comes over to help, but she’s in Tenerife.’
‘I just need a hand,’ says Thelma, more loudly. ‘That’s all.’
I give her the once over and everything seems fine.
‘Why do you think you fell, Thelma? Did you trip, or did you have a funny turn?’
‘It depends what you mean by funny.’
‘Did you go dizzy, or pass out?’
‘No. I remember everything with absolute clarity. Rather too well, actually.’
‘Okay. Let’s get you up, then. Shout if anything hurts.’
We help her sit, then after a moment, up into a chair.
‘I need to go up,’ she says. ‘I’m tired and I need to go to bed.’
‘We can help you with that,’ I say. ‘We just have to make sure everything’s okay with your blood pressure and this and that.’
We settle into the routine. Whilst Frank does the obs, I start the paperwork.
‘So just talk me through what happened again, Thelma.’
‘I was on the phone. To my daughter. I finished the call, turned round and caught my heel. I went down quite slowly and I didn’t hurt myself in any way. But I just couldn’t get up on my own.’
She seems tearful.
‘It must be upsetting.’
‘Yes. Well. Yes. When your only daughter says she wishes you were dead, it is upsetting.’
‘What an awful thing to say.’
Harold totters over and drapes an arm around Thelma’s shoulder.
‘Don’t take it to heart,’ he says.
‘Well how can I not? What other way is there? “I wish you were dead”. She makes herself pretty clear.’
Harold looks at me and Frank, expecting some kind of judgement.
‘Families, eh?’ says Frank, curling up the steth and carefully storing it away in the bag.
‘Has this been going on a while?’ I say to Harold.
‘About a thousand years,’ he sighs, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket and handing it to Thelma. ‘Ever since she married that Steven and had a child.’
Thelma looks up, suddenly animated.
‘What do you expect? When you marry a mental deficient, you’re quite likely to give birth to a mental deficient.’
The force of her enmity almost lifts her off the chair cushion, but the power of it passes as rapidly as it came, and she shrinks away to almost nothing.
‘I’m so tired,’ she says. ‘If you could just help me onto the stair lift.’
Leaning on my arm she hobbles across the hallway to the foot of the stairs. I drop the plastic seat and handrail into position, and Thelma shuffles on.
‘If you could walk behind. Just in case,’ she says.
She presses a button and the seat begins its slow ascent. After a few minutes she reaches the dark landing at the top.
‘I’ll be fine now,’ she says, without looking back. ‘Thank you.’
I turn to go back down.
Harold is at the bottom, tightly gripping the banister, looking up.