‘Oh here they are, the Seventh Cavalry,’ she says, rapping the stick twice on the floor, counting us in. ‘I said it was you and I wasn’t wrong was I, Cheryl? I said it’d be the ambulance. My goodness you were quick, though. I haven’t had time to get a thing ready. Not that there’s much to get ready. Is there, Cheryl? Cheryl’s very good, you know. I don’t know what I’d do without her. Well, I know exactly what I’d do without her. The answer is – Not Very Much. Look. She’s packing my bag. I make it a point never to go anywhere without a good book and some glasses to read them with. You can improvise the rest. What time is it? I seem to have been sitting here for approximately one thousand years.’
Cheryl smiles quietly, drifting around the margins of the room like a breed of domestic ghost. The objects she picks up seem to float in mid-air as she approaches, before silently disappearing into a cat-motif shopping bag.
‘Both pairs please, Cheryl,’ says Mrs Wilson. ‘One for reading, one for looking out on the world.’
Mrs Wilson’s silver hair gleams in the fall of light from a standard lamp. It’s like the hairdresser’s equivalent of a sampler – twists, braids, half a bun and a French plait, all in hair so fine it could be raw silk.
‘I like to talk so put your ear plugs in. And then of course when I’m anxious I talk even more. Cheryl will tell you. It’s this wretched knee, you see. Gave out on me when I got back from the club. I went down like the Titanic and was still crawling in to the kitchen to get to the blaming phone when Cheryl came by for her regular visit and came to my rescue. I’ve had enough, I really have. Just take me out and shoot me. I don’t mind. I’m a horse whose race has run.’
Cheryl appears at her shoulder and gives her a reassuring pat. Mrs Wilson lays her hand on top of Cheryl’s, and the moment passes.
‘Like I say, I love to chat. It’s just my nature. I was fifty years on the stage you know. Local Am Dram. They used to cast me as the maid or the woman in the shop, the comedy headmistress, that kind of thing. I absolutely loved it. Gave me a chance to show off a bit. Do you know what my favourite role was? Madame Arcati. Have you heard of her? Blythe Spirit? The Margaret Rutherford role? Absolutely loved it. Thirty years I was with that company. I’d be there now if it wasn’t for these blessed knees. I had a lovely job as a secretary in a solicitor’s office. So if you ever need your will doing, just give me a call. The thing was, though, they moved to these premises more in the centre of town, a lovely old building, but on the first floor, and really, getting up those stairs was like climbing the Matterhorn, and in the end I just couldn’t manage. So they let me go. It was a damned shame, because I loved that job – the shorthand, the typing, you know. Answering the phone. Chatting to people.’Cheryl puts the cat bag by Mrs Wilson’s feet, and waits.