Monday, November 19, 2012

twinset and hearing aids

The scaffolding is finally down at Blenheim Court. It rises up on the corner of the street as fresh as an architect’s model, every Art Deco detail – the curving, metal windows, the kinked brass fittings, the epic marble friezes of Achievement, Reward, Industry – everything sandblasted free of a hundred years of grime.
It’s a windy night, cloudless, half a moon. The wind has been picking up the last hour or so; the block is so exposed here, maybe the scaffolding was simply swept away, the last traces of dirt lifted from the bricks, the corners of the building rounded off.
No-one answers the intercom.
I’m just about to call Control to ask them to get back to the caller when the intercom crackles.
‘Ye-es?’
‘It’s the ambulance.’
After a long pause the door clicks, letting me in to a small atrium with another, identical door and intercom just ahead.
I walk up the marble steps and buzz again.
‘Ye-es?’
‘It’s the ambulance.’
Who else do they think it might be?
Another pause.
The original door buzzes.
I push the second door - still locked.
I buzz again.
Pause.
‘Ye-es?’
‘Could you let me through the second door, please?’
Pause.
Buzz.
In my haste to get in I pull instead of push, and then in a panic to get it open before the buzzing stops I crash against it, almost demolishing a panel in the process, stumbling through.

The interior lobby is eerily vacant. The renovation has swept through the place so thoroughly, everything hangs in a strangely indeterminate state, as if the building had been newly built and then dropped through a wormhole into the next century.
I follow the golden arrows on the lacquered wooden signs to number ten, put my bags down and knock.
Another pause, the door opens.
‘Ye-es?’
‘Hello. It’s the ambulance. Are you the patient?’
‘You want my sister, Vivien. She’s just through here.’
She turns and leads me through.
Even though Barbara is as old as the building – was born in this flat – sadly, the renovation process has passed her by. She is sweetly decrepit, lavender talc and peppermints, the ropes of her neck rising out of her dressing gown in frank, anatomical cables. Her skin is as fragile as a parchment map marked out with liver spots, scars, moles, bruise-patches. She’s wearing a hairnet and curlers, the whole thing like some mad professor’s prototype –  a machine for dreaming yourself young.
Barbara shuffles ahead of me down a hallway into the sitting room where her twin sister Vivien is sitting on the couch.
‘Vivien?’
‘Hey?’
‘Vivien?’
‘What?’
‘It’s the ambulance.’
‘Who?’
‘The ambulance.’
‘What?’
‘She’s deaf, you know,’ says Barbara, straightening up and patting her hairnet.
‘So what happened tonight?’
‘She got up and came in here. When I followed to find out what was wrong she said she couldn’t breathe, so I called 999.’
I crouch down next to Vivien.
‘How are you feeling?’
‘What?’
‘How are you feeling?’
‘How am I what?’
‘Your breathing. Do you feel short of breath?’
Vivien turns to her sister.
‘What’s he saying?’
She leans in and touches her on the shoulder.
‘Your breathing, Viv.’
‘My what?’
‘Your breathing. You said you couldn’t breathe.’
‘I can’t hear a word you’re saying. My what?’
‘Does Viv have a hearing aid?’ I ask Barbara.
‘No, but she ought to.’
The SATS probe on Viv’s finger supports what’s apparent anyway – Vivien is not having trouble breathing. In fact, she looks better than her sister.
Barbara leans in again and shouts in her ear.
‘You said you were having trouble breathing, Viv.’
‘When?’
‘When you got up.’
‘I had trouble sleeping.
‘What?’
‘Sleeping. I had trouble sleeping.’
‘Oh,’ she says, sighing, and then burying her hands in the deep pockets of her dressing-gown, she turns to me and says: ‘I see.’

6 comments:

Chris said...

Oh my. This is both funny and sad, and as always, great writing. I love the "lavender talc and peppermints."

tpals said...

Oh my. But at least it was an honest mistake.

Alan @ It's not work, It's gardening! said...

Love this one, probably because nobody is being purposefully difficult.

The paragraph describing Barbara is the highlight of the story for me:

"the renovation process has passed her by"
"ropes of her neck"
"anatomical cables"
"machine for dreaming yourself young"

Brilliant!

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks very much, Chris, Tpals & Alan.
It was an honest mistake - and entertaining - so no harm done.
I know what you mean about that business of 'nobody being purposefully difficult.' It's a relief to write about a situation that doesn't involve drink & drugs &c. :)

jacksofbuxton said...

Hearing aids always make me think of the Fawlty Towers episode Communication Problems with Joan Sanderson as the wonderful Mrs Richards.

"Do you by any chance wear a hearing aid?"

"A what?"

"A HEARING AID"

"Yes,I do."

"Would you like me to get it mended?"

"It's working perfectly well thank you"

"No,it isn't"

"Yes it is.I don't have it switched on at the moment.It wears the battery down..."

Spence Kennedy said...

Such a classic!

'Call that a bath? It's not big enough to drown a mouse'
'I wish you were a mouse.'

Just about every line quotable!