Jeanette has fallen over at the home. Although she only bruised her shoulder and knee and seems happy enough in herself, we find that every now and again her heart rate drops to the forty mark for extended periods, and it looks like this is the reason she went over.
‘I’m afraid we’re going to have to take you in to hospital to get this checked out,’ I say to her. ‘A nuisance, I know, but we want to make sure you’re okay.’
‘Fine. Yes. You carry on,’ she says, resigned to the whole affair, despite the late hour – on the coldest night of the winter so far – and despite the fact she’s ninety.
‘I’m in your hands,’ she says.
We bundle her up against the cold and wheel her out to the ambulance.
The nursing staff wave her off.
All our checks are done. The ambulance rocks gently from side to side as we glide along empty streets to the hospital. The heater whirrs in the background; Jeanette is tucked up to her chin in blankets; I’ve switched on the smaller overhead spots and turned off the main lights. Jeanette is perfectly awake despite the cosy interior. The light plays across her glasses as she looks around.
‘Yes. Very comfy, thank you.’
‘You’re a good traveller,’ I tell her, putting my clipboard aside.
‘Oh – I’ve done it a few times,’ she says.
‘To hospital, do you mean?’
‘When I worked.’
‘What did you do?’
‘I was an air stewardess. For BOAC. I went all over the world. And when that was that I went into training and took care of the other side of things for a while.’
‘Where were you based?’
‘All over. London mostly. Do you know London?’
‘I was born there.’
‘Pimlico! Fancy that. Where in Pimlico?’
‘Just off John Islip Street. Near the Tate.’
‘I know it! If I’d had a pound for the number of times I’d walked along Millbank.’
She settles her head deeper into the pillow.
‘We used to go dancing at that place in Victoria. What was it called…?’
She drifts off, the creases and folds of her face smoothed out beneath the spotlights like an actor’s mask left on stage.
I check the ECG and reach over to feel the pulse at her wrist. It suddenly drops down almost to nothing, the merest echo of a pulse from the wrist line of a leather glove waving at the doorway of a DC10 at Nairobi, the trace of an echo behind a wrist watch waving for a cab on the Horseferry Road. But just as I dab about wondering if I can feel it at all, getting up to ask Frank to pull over, the trace on the machine comes back again, quicker and stronger, and the pulse resurfaces beneath my fingers.
She opens her eyes and looks at me.
‘Where was it?’ she says.