There’s a slumped and disappointed hang about Constance that her shapeless grey t-shirt and jogging bottoms only emphasise.
‘Come in, won’t you. Please excuse the mess.’
The place is scrupulously tidy. In fact, the messiest thing about it is the old cat that comes out to investigate, a scraggily ancient animal whose arthritic joints make him walk with a robotic, side-to-side waddle. He yowls once, then marches back to his cushion.
There’s a bulb of garlic on top of the thermostat, but I don’t ask.
‘What’s the problem this morning, Constance?’ says Rae.
‘Look at my face, dear. What do you think? Do you think I’ve had a stroke?’
We check her over.
‘Everything seems fine, Constance, but if you feel there’s been a change, then we’ll go on that,’ says Rae. ‘Let’s just get a few details, then we’ll take you to the hospital for more tests.’
‘If you say so. But they hate me up there. Last time this foreign doctor came up to me and started shouting Do you have carf? I said what on earth do you mean? Carf he said. Do you have carf? So I told him I couldn’t understand a word he was saying and would he please learn to speak English. At which point he started to swivel his eyes – like this – yelling at me that I was a racist and he refused to treat me. It was only later that I understood he meant cough, but honestly, if they will not speak English, how is one to make any progress?
‘I don’t have any luck with doctors. I’ve been banned from my local surgery, simply because I had one of them suspended. And I did feel a little sorry for the poor thing, but you see, it wasn’t my fault. And if I hadn’t taken action, who knows what else she might have done? I’d gone in to ask about my bites, you see, and whilst I was in the chair I began to feel a little swimmy. I told the doctor, who started banging on the desk and shouting at me to pull myself together and what did I think I was playing at and this sort of thing. So of course I didn’t want to hang around, and I went to get up. Only, the swimminess got worse and I collapsed to the floor. When I came to I found they’d dragged me out and put me in the waiting room – insurance you see, clever – and later that day, when I took myself up to casualty, they found I’d broken three ribs and was suffering from concussion.
‘I know what the problem is, of course. These young girls, they go into medicine, then have a number of babies in quick succession to make the most of maternity leave, then when they’re forced to go back to work because of school fees they take it out on the patients. It didn’t give me any joy to have her suspended, but really – what else could I do? What do you think about these bites?’
She holds out her arms, both of them scarred with eczema and a few other spots.
‘I’m waiting to move,’ she says, relaxing her arms back down. ‘The whole block is infested, all manner of biting insects. It’s your cat people say, but I treat her with spray every month, so it can’t be that. And anyway, when the man from the council came to re-do the bathroom, he lifted up the lino and thousands of creatures came running out. I suppose they like the moistness. So the pest control people are coming sometime soon, and hopefully they’ll put a stop to it.