Eileen is sitting on the sofa over by the bay windows, the late afternoon sunshine blurring her outline. She mutters to herself, plucking distractedly at her nightie one moment, then suddenly stopping and leaning forward pleasantly, as if she hadn’t quite understood what was said.
Along with her temperature, her confused speech and unsteadiness when she stands, I would guess she has a UTI – something she’s suffered with in the past. But Eileen doesn’t have any carers and she’s not safe to leave at home whilst we call someone in to find out.
Alice, her daughter-in-law, sits on the piano stool opposite.
‘Eileen is so independent. Which is a polite way of saying bloody-minded, of course. Won’t have anyone round to help, absolutely insists on keeping things as they are, even though she’s had a few falls recently. I mean, she’s wonderful for ninety-five, but it’s getting to the stage where we need to think of alternatives. Eileen’s been unwell with these damned UTIs before, but never as bad as this. It was lucky I popped round when I did.’
Alice is sixty-something herself, immaculately dressed. With her Louise Brooks hairstyle, scarlet lipstick, cashmere sweater and pencil skirt she could be the Head of some Parisian couturier. There’s a solidity to her, something you could depend on.
‘All in all I think it’s best if we run Eileen up the hospital,’ I say. ‘Just to rule out anything else. If it is a UTI, they can start treatment immediately. It’ll also give everyone a chance to review things at home and see what needs to be done.’
Alice smiles. For a moment I think she’s going to say something, but her eyes have suddenly blurred and there’s a brave set to her face.
‘Sorry,’ she says after a moment, suddenly pulling a handkerchief out of her sleeve. ‘I’m so sorry.’
She blows her nose.
‘That’s okay. I know this is upsetting.’
She takes a few settling breaths, shakes her head, seems a little more restored.
‘Would you mind if I didn’t come with you to the hospital?’
‘No! Not at all!’
‘It’s just – I don’t think I can do this. Right now. This afternoon. It’s been a difficult couple of years. One thing after another. First my father-in-law. Then my mother. Then my husband – and now Eileen. I feel like I’m falling headfirst down some great big hole.’
‘I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a difficult time. Don’t worry, though – we’ll look after Eileen. You take care of things here, then ring the hospital in a couple of hours and see what they have to say. But I think it’s important you take some time for yourself.’
We sort out the chair, the medication and the basic information we’ll need. Alice helps us with all this, then gets a bag of things together and carries it out to the ambulance. She kisses Eileen goodbye when she’s comfortably settled on the trolley, then stands back and watches from the pavement as I slam the back door and climb into the cab.
‘See you later.’
I catch sight of her in the rear view mirror as I turn at the top of the road, still standing where we left her.