Vera’s sitting room is a refuge for soft toys: a child-sized bunny in pinafore and bonnet collapsed in the corner, mobbed by a hundred smaller rabbits; a teddy bear ghetto crammed into an armchair – from eyeless, older bears through to cheap, foam-filled, fairground bears, Pudsey, Paddington and a fairy bear in wings and tiara, clutching a velvet heart that reads I wuv you; a sofa devoted like a hefty, brown leather ark to every duck in a lab coat, tiger in a flying hat, monkey in a space suit, pig in a tutu or giraffe in pyjamas that had ever been stuffed, stitched and put out for sale – whilst above them all, on a special shelf set high up on the picture wall, Minnie and Mickey Mouse, toy royals waving with fixed enthusiasm to the crowds below.
Vera is sitting slumped over to the left in her own chair, her own stuffing depleted by the high temperature she has been running these past few days.
‘Do you always keep it so hot in here, Vera?’ says Frank, throwing off his jacket. ‘Even Minnie’s got a sweat on.’
‘I feel the cold,’ she says. ‘Always have. Would you like something to drink?’
‘No. We’re okay, thanks. But look – I think we need to take you to the hospital. You’ve got a bit of a fever and I don’t think you can cope here on your own.’
‘I don’t think I can, either.’
‘We’ve got a chair here for you.’
‘I’m very heavy.’
‘But look how strong we are.’
‘I can see that.’
‘Come on then.’
We help Vera into our carry chair, the air almost rippling around her.
‘You’re like a little furnace.’
‘I wish someone would put me out.’
‘Don’t be like that.’
I hold the back of the chair whilst Frank gathers her medication together and puts it into a plastic bag. Vera watches him quietly, then says:
‘Can a high temperature make you hallucinate?’
‘I think it can, sometimes. Why? Have you been seeing things?’
‘Last night I woke up, and there was a woman standing at the bottom of the bed, staring at me.’
‘What did she look like, this woman?’
‘She was very tall and elegant, in an old style Empire line dress. And she had long grey hair that went all the way down to her hips.’
‘Did you recognise her from anywhere?’
‘No. I’d never seen her before in my life. I wasn’t frightened. I was just curious. She stood there for a long while, looking at me. Then she held up two plates. Just like that – two, plain white dinner plates. Up in front of her, and smiled at me.’
‘Did she say anything?’
Frank is standing there now with the medication bag.
‘How much for these?’ he says, and places the bag on Vera’s lap.