‘Hello,’ she says, immediately turning away. ‘I’m on a hunt for the dog lead.’
‘Is there a dog on the end of it?’ says Frank.
‘No!’ says Mrs Swanley. ‘If only. He’s gone off on another one of his foolish excursions. Phil next door says he’ll fetch him back and look after him whilst I’m in hospital, but I’ll need to give him the lead before I go. You can’t see it anywhere, can you?’
We go into the house to look.
It should be easy to spot. The place is as spare and clean as a show home; a biscuit crumb would probably trigger an alarm. Mrs Swanley may be eighty-eight, but she still has enough energy to keep her house set to an invisible grid of perfection, and everything in it, from the perfectly plumped, fancy cream cushions on the scallop-backed sofa to the waxy curves of the dining table orchid – everything conforms perfectly to the pattern.
A carriage clock snicks away between a display of ceramic figurines, more like a pacemaker than a timepiece.
‘Found it!’ says Mrs Swanley, shuffling back into the room. ‘On the bread bin, would you believe? Definitely not the full ticket.’
It’s difficult to imagine a dog in this house.
‘What sort of dog is Cecil?’ I ask her.
‘A Jack Russell,’ she says. ‘And a very naughty one. Let me just drop this round to Phil, then we can be off.’
‘When the doctor came to see you, Mrs Swanley, did she leave a note?’
‘No. She said she’d arrange the whole thing by phone. Is that a problem?’
‘No, no. It’s just nice to have a little information beforehand. All we’ve been told was that you’ve been suffering with a headache for a few days.’
Mrs Swanley smiles bravely and drapes her free hand across the top of her head.
‘I wouldn’t say headache so much as fuzziness. And when I look up…’ she looks up… ‘and side to side…’ she rolls her eyes dramatically… ‘I see double. And feel dizzy. Like now. Urgh.’ She sways, and Frank steadies her.
‘Are you sure you ought to be running around like this?’ he says. ‘Here. I’ll give Phil the lead.’
‘You must think I’m an awful fraud,’ she says. ‘There are so many more deserving cases for you to see. I don’t want to take any more of your time than I can help.’
‘Can you give us a quick rundown of the problem, Mrs Swanley? Your past medical history?’
‘Yes, well – the fuzziness has been going on for five days or so. I called the doctor because I was just getting so sick and tired of it, feeling nauseous much of the time, not sleeping. She seems to think it’s worth investigating at the hospital, so I’m sorry to drag you out like this but there you are. As far as my past medical history is concerned, nothing much to report, really. I’ve done remarkably well, considering. A touch of arthritis. You know. Old lady stuff. A certain tendency to drift – the dog lead, for example - but , well… this is hardly front page news. Don’t get old, that’s my advice to you both. It’s no fun. The best thing is just to keel over in the garden when you’re watering the plants, or go to bed and not wake up. But what happens of course is you have to go on and on with everything running down. Ever decreasing circumstances. Sad, really.’
But she smiles, and shakes the lead in the air.
‘Here you are then,’ she says, handing Frank the lead. ‘Phil knows what to do with it.’
I help her on with her coat.
Just before she takes my arm to walk out of the door, she pauses and touches the top of her head again.
‘Oh yes. And I had a cerebral aneurysm last year. Apart from that – tip top.’