A man as ancient as Mary comes to the ambulance door.
‘Fetch my bag would you, David? It’s on top of the fridge. Make sure my phone’s in there with my address book and purse. And could you ring Ann and tell her? Only don’t lay it on too thick – I don’t want to worry her.’
‘Righto. Anything else?’
‘Could you turn the heater off? And make sure the back door’s locked.’
‘Will do. Anything else?’
‘Can you ring Jessica and tell her I won’t be there today? Tell her I’ll give her a call from the hospital when I know what’s what.’
‘Okay darling. Here. Give us a kiss.’
He hauls himself up the steps, holds on to the yellow rail, and then bobs about arthritically from one side to the other as he struggles to figure out the cleanest, least painful place to kiss her. In the end he opts for the top of her head.
As he’s shuffling back towards the house I ask Mary if David is her next of kin.
‘I don’t know,’ she says. ‘He’s my boyfriend.’
‘Okay. Shall I put him down as your next of kin?’
‘I don’t know. We don’t live together. We’re not living in sin.’
‘Oh – don’t worry about that, Mary. I don’t think anyone minds about that stuff anymore.’
She goes to put her injured hand up to her face, then winces and slowly relaxes it back down again. Her left eye has swollen up and closed now, but she fixes me keenly with her right.
‘I kept my house and he kept his.’
‘We’re not getting married.’
‘I think whatever works best for you is fine.’
‘When my husband died I didn’t want to get married again.’
‘No. I can understand that. But then things change, you come up with new arrangements. It’s perfectly understandable.’
‘Because if we got married it would affect things.’
‘Sure. And I think it’s a good idea to have your own space.’
‘No. You don’t understand. If we got married I wouldn’t be able to carry on collecting my first husband’s pension.’