Marcia doesn’t want to leave her little dog. She hugs him to her breast so tightly his legs splay sideways and his eyes bug out. Still, he manages to cheat just enough room to turn his head and liberally lick her mouth. Marcia tips her head back in delight.
‘You be a good boy till I get back,’ she says as he squirms in her embrace. ‘You be a good boy. Don’t worry, Pippin. Mummy be back soon. Yes she will.’
The dog – a Papillon, apparently, some expensive cross between a spaniel and something else, a chinchilla, maybe – a tremblingly alert creature with dark lines under his eyes like he’s wearing Kohl, or not sleeping nights.
‘I wish I could take you with me,’ says Marcia, giving him one last squeeze, then plumping him down on the duvet and waving him off in the direction of her mum and dad. ‘Use the rest of that chicken,’ she shouts after them. They hurry out after the dog to get Marcia’s things ready.
‘So the doctor said for you to go into hospital on the phone?’ I ask her.
‘He didn’t like the sound of my head.’
‘Have you had it before?’
‘Yes. But not like this.’
She dabs a handkerchief under her right eye, and takes a steadying breath.
‘Sorry,’ she says.
‘A couple of other things I think you should know.’
‘Well, just lately my saliva has seemed thicker.’
‘Yes. I don’t know if it’s significant or not.’
‘Okay. Anything else.’
She looks down and starts twisting her handkerchief, like she’s wringing out the tears. Then she takes a long breath in through her nose, lets it out through her pursed lips, looks straight at me and gives me a brave smile.‘It’s my lady time.’