I was here only the other day. In fact, kneeling down on Deidre’s porch by the key safe, scrolling through the numbers, the only difference would seem to be that the sun is overhead and not the moon. More than déjà vu, I have a sudden, clammy feeling that actually I haven’t moved at all, that I’m coming round from a long sleep.
I look to the side. Deidre’s cat Cecil is sitting on the porch watching me. It’s like that scene in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where Aslan breathes on Mr Tumnus to unfreeze him.
I ruffle Cecil’s head, then stand up with the key.
Cecil clacks back through the flap; I open the door.
Night or day the scene is always the same. A house utterly quiet, a chandelier hanging above the hallway like some lush stalactite in a cavern of antiques.
It’s a little unnerving, this carpet-thick silence, but after a few visits the apprehension that something is wrong diminishes.
Down a long, shadowy corridor towards the only open door on that side – Deidre’s bedroom. And Deidre, her arm in a padded sling, sitting up in bed.
‘Oh hello Duck. Did you let yourself in, then? I’m so sorry to have called you out but I didn’t know what to do. I fell on the floor, I’ve made such a fool of myself. I haven’t broken anything I don’t think. I pressed my buzzer and everything but then I thought I’d better try to get up at least. I’m sorry to have bothered you.’
‘So you’re all right, then?’
‘You’re all right? You haven’t hurt yourself?’
She plucks at the duvet with her good hand. Cecil mee-ows once, cleanly, decisively, and leaps up to join her on the bed.
‘I’m no good anymore,’ says Deidre. ‘Am I? I’m no good. What use am I to anyone? Why don’t you carry a gun in that bag of yours so you can shoot me? Just shoot me and get it over with. I mean what’s the point? I’m no use to anybody like this. Every night I go to bed and pray for the Lord to take me but he doesn’t, does he? Why hasn’t the Lord taken me? He’s taken everyone else. I’ve had a good life and it’s high time I went. But here I am, aren’t I? Hey? I say here I am.’
She stares up at me, petting the cat. Cedric springs up against the weight of her hand a couple of times, his tail straight up like an aerial, then breaks away to the side table where he reaches a paw into her water glass and starts flipping some into his mouth. I make a mental note to check his food and water before I go.
‘You daft apeth,’ she says, hauling him back. He looks scandalised for a second or two, shrugs, then settles down to clean himself.
I pull up a chair and begin writing out the form, stopping now and then to tickle the cat.
On the dresser is a picture of Deidre in a Hollywood-style dress, fur trim and diamante flash, arm in arm with a brilliantined moustache in a tux.
‘Where did you meet your husband?’ I ask her.
‘Which one? I was married four times,’ she says.
‘I don’t know. That one.’
She sits up and peers forward. Even Cecil stops preening his hind quarters, glancing over his shoulder with one leg in the air.
‘I’ve no idea,’ says Deidre, relaxing back again and closing her eyes. ‘Somewhere nice.’