June had been late coming down for the weekly trip up town, so Jack had knocked on her door. There was no answer and he thought he could smell burning, so he called Susan who had a spare key, and together they went in. They found her lying on the floor of the sitting room, her trolley tipped over on its side, drinks spilled, cushions, clothes, newspapers and address books scattered about. There were a couple of blackened poached eggs on the cooker which Jack dragged from the hob and doused with a cup of water. All in all the flat was in a riotous state. June was conscious but unable to talk; she lay there, naked from the waist down, breathing noisily, reaching up with her left hand and making blind, shaky gestures into the space between them. Susan called for an ambulance.
‘What’s wrong with her, do you think?’ Susan asks, as Frank checks her over and I clear a path to the door for the chair.
‘It looks like June may have had a stroke. Do you know her past medical history?’
‘No. Not really. I know she suffered with her joints, like we all do. Apart from that, nothing. Clear as a bell.’
‘Heart problems? Blood pressure?’
‘Oh yes, she had a few heart attacks. And her blood pressure wasn’t all that good. But apart from that, nothing to speak of.’
‘Did she have carers come round at all?’
‘No. We’re all pretty self-sufficient here. All good sturdy stock.
‘Yes, it is.’
‘Any relatives around?’
‘I know she has a daughter in America.’
‘A son in Leicester,’ shouts Jack from the kitchen.
‘And a son in Leicester, apparently,’ says Susan.
We pick June off the floor and put her into the chair. She fights us, and we wrap her tightly in our blankets to stifle her struggles. I give the pink bedspread they had covered her with back to Susan.
‘Oh dear,’ says Susan. ‘Is she going to be all right?’
‘She’s not too well at the moment, but they’ll take good care of her at the hospital,’ says Frank. ‘Okay? Let’s be off.’
We pass quickly out of the flat and in to the strange lift that runs from this mezzanine to the ground floor. Once we’re outside, Frank says: ‘I didn’t get her date of birth. Once we’re on the ambulance, can you scooch back inside and get it for us, Spence?’
All the doors are shut by the time I make it back. I ring June’s flat again, and when there is no reply, about every other button I can find. Eventually someone lets me in.
Jack and Susan are still there tidying up the flat.
‘Oh. I wondered who it was ringing,’ says Jack.
‘I just needed to get June’s date of birth. Do you happen to have it?’
Jack slaps me on the shoulder.
‘Come with me,’ he says.
He leads me out into the hallway and back onto the mezzanine lift. As we travel slowly down he rocks backwards and forwards with his hands lightly clasped in front of him, smiling strangely and smacking his lips, like a vicar struggling to make small talk.
‘I’ve got everyone’s birthday. On my calendar,’ he says eventually.
‘That’s nice and organised.’
‘Yes. I run a pretty tight ship.’
The lift shudders to a halt and I open the door for him.
‘Just in here,’ he says, and fiddles around with the keys to his front door. ‘Excuse the mess.’
‘I have to be pretty quick, Jack.’
‘Yes. Yes. Won’t be a moment.’
He disappears into what looks like a converted larder, and after an age of harumphing and throat clearing, re-emerges with an unfeasibly large glossy calendar. He struggles to find a clear space to put it down, then fiddles around with some glasses that hang round his neck on a chain.
‘Now then. June... June.... birthday in September, I think. Or is it July? Mm. June... June.... I know I’ve got it down somewhere.’ He looks down his nose at the calendar, licks his index finger, and slowly flips the pages.
I start to feel prickly with the need to get away.
‘Honestly. It’s okay if you haven’t got it, Jack. It was just if you had it somewhere handy.’
‘Now just a minute. I know how important these things are. June... June.... Not September – of course. That’s Sheila. Definitely not August, because that’s when mine is, and I’m almost sure no-one else here has a birthday in the same month.’
‘Honestly, Jack. It’s okay. I’d better be off.’
‘Just a minute. June... Mm. Got it! December. That’s why! I was getting her muddled up with Cynthia.’
‘Great. December the what?’
‘What day in December?’
‘What date is that, Jack?’
‘Oh. December the fourth.’
‘Lovely. And the year?’
‘Oh – I don’t write the year down on the calendar,’ he says, flipping it shut. ‘But looking at her I’d guess she’s about eighty-two. Wouldn’t you?’