Mrs Crayford is slumped forwards on an armchair, heaving into a bucket. Her son, Graham, a middle-aged man in a trouser/sweatshirt combo as worn out as he appears to be, stands beside her with one hand patting her on the back and one hand redundantly down by his side. When the nausea subsides, Mrs Crayford slumps backwards away from the mess; pushing it away with one hand, dabbing her mouth with a floral handkerchief with the other.
‘She’s been like this all day,’ says Graham, hurrying the bucket away at arm’s length into the kitchenette. ‘I didn’t know what else to do.’
His mother is ninety-five, with about the same number of significant ailments and a wheeled suitcase of meds.
‘She can’t afford to go on like this indefinitely,’ he says. ‘She’s really not well.’
We’d have to agree. She has a temperature, her blood pressure is lower than you might expect, and she’s already suffering dehydration.
‘I think it’s a trip up the hospital,’ I tell her. She shakes her head with her eyes closed, waving the handkerchief in front of her face.
‘Come on, Mum,’ says Graham. ‘I’ll come along too. It’s an adventure.’
She shrugs, then presses the handkerchief to her mouth.
Whilst I wait for Rae to take the bags out and come back with a chair, and Graham to gather together everything his mother needs, I glance round the room.
‘Turtles,’ I say.
She raises her face to look at me.
‘You collect turtle stuff.’
‘Oh!’ Mrs Crayford waves her handkerchief dismissively and closes her eyes.
All around the room there are turtle-themed products. Carved turtles in exotic hardwoods; fabric turtles knitted, stitched, and stuffed; brass turtles, ceramic turtles ranged in graded lines along the mantelpiece; two stone turtles either side of the fireplace; a miscellany of turtle dishcloths hanging from a line; turtle cards and prints; and taking up half a wall, a 3D turtle picture – a bunch of turtles skimming the reef, the front one looming into frame with a kind of wistful resignation to its face – not unlike Graham, who emerges from the back bedroom to the right of it, two floral jackets in his hands.‘Which one?’ he says.