We’re standing outside the lobby wondering about access when Mrs Goldman buzzes us in. A smart lift panelled in polished burr walnut takes us up to the top floor where Mrs Goldman, a ninety year old woman in a yellow turban and silk housecoat, is waiting by her open door. She waves us inside, shuts it behind us then immediately drops herself into a gold and red throne to the side.
‘He’s in the bathrump,’ she says, waving a heavily jewelled ring in the direction of the hall. ‘I can’t do nothing with him. He has been stuck forever.’ And she slaps the hand over her forehead, leaning into it with a theatricality that would make Gloria Swanson blush. ‘What to do with him? They have set him free of the hospital too early.’
We walk along the hallway to the bathroom. Mr Goldman is sitting on the toilet, comfortably set with his trousers round his ankles and the fingers of his vast, liver-spotted hands evenly spread on his knees. He lifts his head and regards us with the baleful look of an old dog who expects any moment to be put back on the lead.
‘Yes?’ he says.
‘It’s the ambulance, Mr Goldman.’
‘Yes. Your wife called us because she was worried about you.’
‘She called you?’
‘She was worried.’
He leans forward to shout past my shoulder.
‘You called these people?’
She shouts back. ‘What did you think I would do? I thought you was having a stroke or something maybe. You’ve been sitting there for an half hour or more. I can’t stand it.’ Then she mumbles some other stuff we can’t hear but the tone is clear enough.
‘So – are you okay, Mr Goldman?’
‘I’m having a little trouble going.’
‘A little!’ laughs Mrs Goldman. ‘There’s nothing coming out of there. Trust me.’
‘And is that normal for you?’ I ask him.
‘Is it normal for you to have trouble going to the toilet?’
‘He takes everything he can swallow and nothing makes the difference,’ shouts Mrs Goldman.
Mr Goldman shrugs. ‘Nothing works.’
‘Well shall we help you up and into a more comfortable chair?’ I say to him. ‘Then we’ll have a chat about things.’
He is so thin, even when his belt is tied his trousers sag dangerously at the waist. We help him to shuffle out of the bathroom, across the hall and into a brightly lit sitting room with a view of the sea on two sides. There are pictures hanging on every available wall space – lusciously dark oil paintings of forests and farm yards, modern abstract prints, broad and brilliant watercolours of ships at sea. Mr Goldman sits in a chair as extravagantly opulent as the one in the hall and lets out a great, deflationary sigh.
Mrs Goldman hobbles into the room and sits in a chair next to him. She sighs, too – and then they both look at us.
‘Do you have any carers to help?’ I ask them.
‘One girl, she comes on a Wednesday with the shopping. But my daughter Sarah comes in every day so we don’t need nobody else.’
‘Does Sarah live nearby?’
‘Not so far. She should be here soon. I call her after I call you.’
‘Sarah’s coming?’ says Mr Goldman.
‘I said she’s coming. Why don’t you listen?’
She widens her eyes and holds her hands out to me, palms up, appealing for a witness to her ongoing troubles.
‘That’s good news about Sarah. So, what I suggest we do – we check you over to see everything’s okay, Mr Goldman. Then when Sarah gets here we all have a chat about what to do next. Okay?’
Mr Goldman sighs again. Mrs Goldman shrugs, and begins twisting a fat, turquoise ring round and round her finger.
‘Mama? Papa? There’s an ambulance outside? What...?’
Sarah sweeps into the room and drops a bulging leather handbag down on the floor.
Mrs Goldman waves her hand backwards and forwards in the air as if she were brushing something aside to make their meeting that much quicker. Sarah reaches over and gives her a kiss, then touches her father on the shoulder.
‘What is it? What’s happened?’ she says, finally turning to us. Her eyes behind her glasses are two diminishing points of anxiety.
‘Nothing to worry about,’ I say to her. ‘Your mum was worried because your dad was taking a long time on the toilet and she thought maybe something was wrong. Which is why she called the ambulance.’
‘What do I know?’ says Mrs Goldman. ‘I thought it was like the last time. And he wasn’t answering, he wasn’t talking to me. Why don’t you talk to me, at least?’
‘I do talk to you. When I can.’
‘When I can, he says. What you do to me? What you do?’
‘Mum, Dad. We have company.’
‘They’ve seen this and worse. Two old people who should be dead arguing about a toilet. This is news to them?’
She settles herself back into the chair. Mr Goldman turns himself to face the other way, as far as is still in his power.
‘It’s okay, Sarah. We don’t mind. We’re just glad everything’s all right.’
‘All right, he says. Maybe for you.’
‘All right in the sense of nobody being ill or hurt or anything.’
Sarah nods for me to follow her into the kitchenette.
She leans back on the counter and folds her arms.
‘I’m so sorry to have wasted your time,’ she says. ‘It’s difficult for them these days. They hardly ever get out of the house, and I think they just drive each other slightly mad.’
‘It must be difficult.’
‘It is difficult. When you think how active they used to be . I mean they’ve still managed to hang on to their lovely flat and everything. And each other. But how long can they go on like this?’
‘How long can you?’
She smiles at me, something tentative and fragile and nearing the end.
‘I don’t know,’ she says. ‘Watch this space.’