We let ourselves in with a key from the safe.
‘Up here, love.’
A steep, narrow staircase with an awkward tuck at the top. Let’s hope she doesn’t have to be carried out.
On the landing, a sofa piled up with clothes, boxes, stuff.
The door to the bedroom standing open.
Donna is stuck half in and half out of bed. It looks like she went to swing her legs out and got them tangled in the pile of junk that’s piled precariously to her left. This whole section of the room is a disaster, a lethal, human-sized version of Mousetrap, cunningly improvised out of domestic items: the pile of books that will topple on to the carrier bag of fruit that will roll a heap of apples onto the upended chair that will tip back and tug the lead of the kettle that will teeter on the edge just long enough for the water to come to a roiling boil then dump its contents all over the bed.
There’s just so much of it. Once it goes it’ll really go. Donna will be swept away downstairs on a mini-tsunami of Jammie Dodgers, Household magazines, inco pads, make-up freebies, shoe horns, grab-sticks, remote controls, Catherine Cookson novels, a signed photo of Jim Reeves... her withered legs kicking in the air, her hearing-aids squealing.
‘Here we go.’
Donna’s no weight at all. The hardest part by far is the disentangling of her legs. We move what we can, then extract her slowly and carefully. Once she’s clear, putting her back to bed is no more effort than fluffing a pillow.
We check her over and everything seems fine. She was only discharged from hospital a couple of days ago, though, and it doesn’t seem as if any of the proposed changes to her house and care package have been put in place. It’s going to take some ringing around to sort the whole thing out and keep her out of hospital.
‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ I ask her, whilst Rae starts in on the numbers in the care folder. ‘How do you take it?’
‘As it comes. But you can make it up here, you know,’ she says, gesturing blithely to the Wailing Wall of Junk to her left. ‘It’s all to hand.’
‘Well to be honest, Donna, we’re not too happy with the way it’s balanced up there. You could have given yourself a nasty burn. You were lucky not to have the whole lot down on you just now.’
‘I’m used to it.’
‘Still. I’d rather make the tea downstairs.’
‘If you say so,’ she says, patting the sheets either side of her and squeezing her eyes shut contentedly. ‘I’m just so grateful to be back in bed.’
‘Let’s have a good old think about your set-up here.’
Downstairs the little galley kitchen is clean and bare. There’s a line of yellow and black hazard tape on the floor running a couple of inches in front of every cupboard and appliance front. A new clothes horse still in its plastic wrap. A couple of boxes of dressings and emollient creams. Plenty of room.
Whilst I wait for the kettle to boil I watch the sparrows squabbling in the bramble thicket that’s taken over the little back garden. Then I make three cups of tea and carry them up.
Rae is sitting on the bed waiting for a call-back.
I hand out the teas and join them.
‘Who’d have thought it?’ says Donna, cradling her cup.
‘Thought what?’‘All those years ago, when I joined the WRAF. There was a whole line of us. A whole long line – of seventeen year olds, all messing about outside the nurse’s office waiting for our inoculation jabs. I was so excited – about everything. It was all ahead of me, my life. And now look!’ She raises her mug. ‘Here I am, an old woman with a cup of tea. Who’d have thought it!’