Cynthia is sitting in her dressing gown on the edge of a luxurious, scallop-backed, aquamarine and corn yellow armchair, anxiously knitting and un-knitting her withered fingers. On every surface and every level around her, on bookcases, display cases, the mantelpiece, low tables, high shelves and deep window ledges, hundreds of porcelain Twenties figurines, every one a debutante, every one throwing the same coquettish backward glance over her right shoulder.
‘I’ve got tummy ache,’ she says.
‘How long has that been going on for?’
‘Does your doctor know about it?’
‘And what does he say?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘No idea what it might be, what you should do about it?’
She shakes her head.
‘Okay. Can you describe this pain for me?’
She untangles her fingers, then shakily moves her hands right and left over the lower part of her.
‘And what’s this pain like?’
‘I can’t put up with it anymore. I’m scared.’
‘Okay. Well let’s have a think about what to do.’
Frank gets back up off the sofa. ‘I’ll look for the folder,’ he says.
‘Do you have any help, Cynthia? Does anyone come in to help you with stuff?’
‘No. Not really. No.’
‘What about your family?’
‘He’s in Australia.’
‘My husband died. I miss him.’
There’s a small framed photo on a space of wall to her left, the only real picture amongst a spread of Aubrey Beardsley posters, Art Deco mirrors and old adverts for Cartier and Coco Chanel. In the photo, a young couple: the man in a tweed suit and tie, leaning back from the camera, looking away, as if he had something more important to be doing, or was embarrassed; the young woman, holding on to his arm, leaning in to the lens, a strangely intent look on her face, as if it wasn’t exactly a photo she was expecting from this but something else, something altogether more illuminating.
‘Let’s do your blood pressure and whatnot, and take it from there. Have you had the ambulance out before?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Do you have any medical problems? What do you suffer with?’
‘I’m supposed to be going to a group at the hospital.’
‘Oh? What’s that for?’
‘Okay. Well – you’re blood pressure’s absolutely fine. You don’t have a temperature or anything. So that’s good.’
Frank comes back in.
‘No folder,’ he says. ‘I found the meds, though.’
He hands me a faded plastic bag with something for AF and a couple of psych meds. In the bag is a scrap of paper – a worn kind of list, half shopping, half general notes. It’s been added to over time, in different coloured pen, starting out with patterned toilet paper, oven gloves, cake cases, then degenerating into a diffuse scattering of spidery capital letters – Ghana misspelled three times and then crossed out; Wembley, nr London, and in black and white underlined. Beneath that, a jumble of incoherent words and letters.
‘Someone’s been breaking in and leaving me presents,’ she says. ‘Things I like.’
‘I don’t know. I’ve never seen him before. A man.’
‘What’s he been doing?’
‘He left me a bar of chocolate. With some writing on the wrapper. I love you.’
And a shudder passes through her, from the top of her head to her feet. Her left foot stays planted on the carpet, but the right one starts to move – a curiously independent little dance, backwards and forwards along the fringed line of the armchair, toe / heel, toe / heel, toe / heel, and then back again: heel / toe, heel / toe, heel / toe. Backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, whilst Cynthia knits her fingers in her lap, stares at me, and waits.