The door stands open. I knock and push it open even further. A dark hallway, with dull light spilling down from a first floor landing, over photos and pictures, a narrow shelf of souvenirs, a chair-lift track with the chair upstairs. I say Hello, but there’s no reply, no sound.
We go in, head up towards the light.
Charles Westinghouse is fussing over his wife in the main bedroom he’s adapted for her. Everything has been cleared out except the basics – a hospital bed, a hoist, a commode, an electric armchair by the window, and another, simpler chair nearer the door. Emma Westinghouse is lying in bed with the back fully in the upright position. Her wasted arms are along by her sides, the right one under the duvet, the left on top. She doesn’t wear teeth anymore; as a consequence her mouth is a puckered crater. A PEG tube winds out to the left, a catheter tube to the right. Her skin has the waxy pallor of the profoundly inert, someone whose main experience of movement over the past eight years has been the hoist or the body roll, and of the outside world, sunshine filtered through curtains, and traffic passing in the street. Apart from the rise and fall of her chest and a certain flickering of her eyes – which, for all the low light and late hour, seem sharp and blue – she is absolutely still. Surrounded like this by all the details of her care, utterly immobile, she could be the centre of a tough new display by Tussauds, something to bring the collection up to date, Domestic Trials and Tribulations, sponsored by the NHS.
‘Oh! There you are!’ says Charles, straightening up and pushing his thick grey hair back. ‘Sorry to drag you out like this.’
He called because Emma had started grunting in a new way, something that suggested pain. There’s no sign of it now, though. All her observations are within range.
‘We’ll be guided by you, Charles. We’re more than happy to take Emma to hospital. The other option is to see how you go tonight and get the GP involved tomorrow morning – on the understanding that if anything changes you give us a call back.’
‘Will do. Just give us a hand to make her more comfortable.’
Whilst we’re doing that, Emma stretches her face a little more, making strange little panting noises, her eyes flashing.
‘Is that what she was doing?’ I ask him.
‘No. She laughs at me sometimes. I think it’s when I bend over her and my stupid hair flops forwards. Is that it, Em? Is it my hair again?’
We lower the back of the bed.
And slowly, like a doll whose weighted eyes gently close when you lie them down, she drifts off to sleep.