Jean is lying on the sofa in a cinematic attitude of distress, her towelling robe rucked up around her, one hand on her forehead, the other drooping out to the side. Her husband Malcolm leads us into the room, his big red face slack.
They’ve both been drinking, although I suspect Malcolm cleared the evidence away soon after making the call. I’ve been out to him before – non-compliance with medication, exacerbated by alcohol, emotionally volatile - but he doesn’t remember.
‘I’ve taken all my medicine, but it just hasn’t worked,’ says Jean, her eyes as wide as she can make them. ‘I’ve never known pain like it. D’you know what? Without wishing to appear dramatic, I had one of those whiteout moments, you know? That was it, whoosh, my life was over. I thought I was going to die.’ Her voice tails off into a stage-whisper; she grasps the collar of her dressing gown tightly to pinch off any further horror at the neck.
Rae examines her; I start filling out the form. Malcolm wanders around picking up things and putting them down again.
‘I bet you get fed up going to old farts like us, don’t you?’ he says.
‘No. Not at all. It keeps us in a job.’
‘I like that! You’re not denying we’re old farts, then?’
‘I think you need some help tonight.’
‘Spoken like a politician. But seriously. I’ve never seen Jean so bad as this. I wouldn’t have phoned, but I just didn’t know what to do.’
Rae calls out the figures; I write them down, along with all her other details. Jean sends Malcolm off to fetch her medication, and for the next few minutes they squabble over the random selection of boxes he wanders in and out with.
Eventually Rae comes to review the situation.
‘I don’t think the chest pain is your heart, Jean, but we’d need to run you down the hospital to be doubly sure. And I think it’d be as well to talk to a doctor there about your pain medication. Okay?’
Jean nods, then looks at her husband.
‘I’ll need my shoes, then, Malcolm.’
‘Yes, my shoes. Or slippers, or something. I can’t very well go out barefoot.’
‘Let me just make a few calls.’
‘Get me my shoes first. There’s plenty of time to make calls later.’
‘For god sakes, woman. Can you just… you’re going to the hospital. You’re seriously unwell. I have to make some calls. I have to tell our son. I think he has a right to know, don’t you?’
He drops down into an armchair and holds the phone close up to his face to start scrolling through the address book.
He lowers the phone and stares across at her, his temper riding up on a flushed wave of booze. There’s a moment where I think he might actually throw the phone at his wife, but it passes, and he drops it on the coffee table instead.
‘Right. Fine. What shoes? Where?’
‘Maybe you shouldn’t come.’
She looks at me. ‘I don’t think he should come with me. I don’t want him.’
‘It’s up to you.’
‘Why shouldn’t I come, darling? You’re my wife, for Chrissakes. I’ll get your shoes.’
He wanders off into the kitchen.
‘No! In the bedroom!’
I stand up.
‘I’ll get them for you.’
‘Would you?’ She holds out her hand, rests it on mine, and looks up at me with puppy eyes.
‘Thank you,’ she whispers. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone shouted Cut! and she suddenly dropped the act and looked away.
Whilst they’ve made every effort to keep the rest of the place tidy, the bedroom is surprisingly chaotic. All their clothes are out of the drawers and wardrobes, as if someone had ransacked the place looking for something. I manage to find a pair of slip-on sandals, and take them back to Jean. She steps into them on, one hand on my shoulder, thanking me profusely. Malcolm re-emerges from the kitchen, such an artlessly innocent expression on his face it’s obvious he’s been taking a few last gulps before we leave.
‘Okay?’ he says, his lips and tongue barely in synch. ‘Okay then? Ready?’
At A&E I’m waiting with Jean and Malcolm whilst Rae goes to hand over. Jean is telling me about her son, Sam, something influential in the business field.
‘Not a bit like us,’ she says. ‘Not an artistic bone in his body. No idea who he takes after. He’s always coming over, tidying up.’ She pulls a comic kind of po-faced expression, waggling a finger at me.
‘I’ve got two girls,’ I say.
‘Really? How old?’
‘Seven and eleven.’
But Malcolm frowns, the sudden change in weight distribution almost pitching him head-first onto Jean.
‘Seven and eleven?’ he says. ‘Aren’t you a bit old for kids that age?’
‘You’re very welcome.’
‘But you know what – I can’t decide whether it’s better to have kids earlier or later. Probably later, I think. What’s that line in that film? Something about Charlie Chaplin still having kids at seventy-three, but he just couldn’t pick them up?’
Jean reaches out and rests her hand on my arm again.
‘Do you know what we call Sam?’
‘Uh-huh. I see. Affectionately known as Hitler,’ I say.
Now it’s her turn to frown.
‘No, no,’ she says, and leans in to whisper: ‘We don’t like him.’