Olive answers the door at last, the phone still in her hand.
‘We didn’t think you’d be that quick,’ she says. ‘Come in, boys. Come in.’
She shows us through into the lounge where her ninety-five-year-old identical twin sister Oona is stuck in the chair.
‘I just can’t seem to make it out,’ she says, puffing out her cheeks and scuffing her bandaged legs backwards and forwards. ‘I’ve been trying and trying but I’ve run out of oomph.’
‘Do you have any pain anywhere?’
‘We’re a bit deaf,’ says Olive.
I lean in and speak more loudly.
‘Do you have any pain, Oona?’
‘Pain? No – no pain. Thank the lord.’
‘Good. Excellent. Have you had trouble like this before?’
‘No – we’re pretty good on the whole.’
‘I mean you, Oona. Have you had trouble getting out of the chair before?’
‘We’re ninety-five,’ she says. ‘What do you think of that?’
‘That’s amazing. I tell you what, Oona. Let’s quickly check you over and see what’s what. Are you desperate for the loo or anything?’
‘I am pretty desperate, yes. That’s why we thought we’d better ring.’
‘Well I’m glad you did. Let me just do this then we’ll get you straight to the bathroom.’
Oona’s problem turns out to be more basic physics than anything else; the soles on her slippers don’t have enough grip, and the armchair is a little too low.
‘I was standing behind holding it still whilst she tried to get up but it wasn’t any good,’ says Olive. ‘I almost went over myself. Sorry to drag you out.’
‘It’s no bother.’
We help Oona out of the chair. Once she has a firm grasp of her trolley, she hurries off in a trunk-legged waddle out of the lounge towards the bathroom with me and Frank either side. Olive helps her settle on the loo, and we tactfully withdraw to the sitting room.
The main wall is covered with a dozen or so family portraits. There is an oval Edwardian print of the mother and father, staring back at the camera with a high-collared, straight-backed expression. The others are mostly of the twins on display in various situations, from their first appearance in prams, to little girls of increasing height standing by a garden wall, in front of an ocean, at a fairground, but always dressed identically, their hair worn the same – more like topiary than hairdressing, a spongy mass of dark curls cut into two circular bunches over each ear like the hat on a Mouseketeer. Even in the recent photos, in increasingly vivid colour, and with more and more people around them, the twins stay side by side at the shoulder, the height decreasing, and the hips spreading, the hair flattening and greying, but the expression essentially the same – sparkling eyes, and a warm and confederate grin.
‘Do you like our rogues gallery?’ says Olive, leading her sister back into the room. ‘You know, our father was a lovely man, but I’m not sure he ever really got over it when we were born. Did he, Oona?’
‘No. He wanted a boy and look what came out instead.’
Olive helps her sister back towards the chair.
‘Maybe I’d better put an extra cushion on it first,’ says Frank.
‘Maybe you could move in,’ says Oona.
After a wicked pause, they both laugh; the sound is exactly the same.