Cynthia is just able to make it to the door, even though she says her legs have gone numb from the knees down.
‘They said they thought I might be getting some peripheral neuropathy, but it was never as bad as this.’
‘Have a seat, Cynthia and we’ll talk about it.’
‘I’m sorry to call you out but I was just so worried. It felt like it was creeping up my legs, and I didn’t want to get to the stage where I couldn’t get out of bed. It’s a damned nuisance. I’ve only just been discharged, you know.’
She struggles to turn round in the narrow hallway, the rubber ends of her zimmer frame getting tangled up in the curtains that stretch across the doorway and an elephant’s foot umbrella stand.
A large, white cat watches the whole performance from the bottom of the stairs.
‘Oh – don’t let Meowth out. And that’s difficult to say without your teeth in.’
‘Meowth? Isn’t that a Pokemon name?’
‘I don’t know, dear. I inherited the damned thing. Pull that curtain aside would you?’
Once she’s untangled, she leads us through into a small but beautifully furnished front room. There is a bed piled with embroidered cushions along one wall; a religious triptych above the fireplace; a pair of dark green velvet drapes across the windows, and a dressing table with a cheval glass and a few neatly placed porcelain pots against the other wall.
‘Please excuse the mess,’ says Cynthia, plopping down onto the bed. ‘My goodness! What will the neighbours say? They’ll have me hounded from the street, that’s what. And who could blame them? What time is it?’
‘Oh. I thought it was later than that. Listen, dear – you’ll find all my information in a yellow folder in the kitchen. It’s on the table along with all my dreadful medications.’
She sighs and shakes her head.
‘Don’t get old,’ she says.
* * *
All her observations are okay, but the fact remains she has this new onset weakness.
‘I’m sure the doctors are right when they say peripheral neuropathy. But from our point of view we have to treat for the worst case scenario, which means a trip up the hospital, I’m afraid.’
‘I thought you were going to say that. Oh well. Needs must and all that. Would you do me an awful favour and hand me down that shawl? That’s the one! That’ll see me through most eventualities.’
It’s an amazing garment, heavy and rough like old tweed, but run through with gold thread and a hand-stitched leaf-motif.
‘What about the rest of me?’ she says, standing up with the zimmer again. ‘Do I pass muster? Or should I put on some pyjamas?’
‘I think you’re fine like that, Cynthia. You’ll only have to change into a hospital gown when you get there, so I wouldn’t worry too much.’
‘But I’ve hardly got anything on under this dressing gown. Look!’
She’s been unbuttoning the thing as she talks, and before I can stop her, she pulls the dressing gown aside with a little flourish to reveal a black bra and knickers combination that wouldn’t look out of place in a burlesque cabaret.
‘But if you’re sure...’ she says, and does it up again.
We help her into the carry chair.
‘I suppose so,’ she says. ‘Although of course I’ve only got one thing to say about this whole sorry affair.’
‘I shall spell it for you. F-U-C-K.’I could swear the cat has its paws over its eyes as we reverse out.