‘My grandmother was a fortune-teller. I learned the skill from her. I can give you a reading if you like.’
Even though the house is just off the main road, it’s so quiet you can hear the carpet reclaiming our footsteps. I’m glad it’s Rae attending and not me. Lilly is just too unblinking, too close, with the flushed cheeks and open mouth of someone who hasn’t drawn the curtains in a while. She’s thirty but seems younger, anxious, etiolated, watchful.
I’m surprised Rae has said yes. I move along the sofa to make room, but she sits in an armchair and puts her hands palm up on her knees.
Lilly kneels down in front of her, shakes her long blond hair clear of her face, and leans over.
‘You like things done your own way,’ she says after a while. ‘But you can be flexible if you have to.’
‘That’s true,’ says Rae. ‘It’s just my way’s always the best.’
She looks a little tense, though, despite the joke.
I glance round the room.
A line of baby toys lined up under the window – a pull-along xylophone with googly eyes, a plastic telephone, a plastic cooker – but even from here I can see a layer of dust on their upper surfaces. Facing the sofa, a gigantic plasma screen, almost filling the wall. A sofa and an armchair. Nothing else.
‘You’re married,’ says Lilly.
‘Yep,’ says Rae, glancing down at her left hand. ‘Happily.’
‘You’re restless, though’ says Lilly. ‘You have strange dreams. Are there children?’
‘A boy. And a little girl.’
‘A girl, actually.’
‘I can see a boy, too. But he’s not quite here yet.’
She looks up at Rae, who smiles.
‘Should I stop off and get a pregnancy kit on the way home?’ she says.
‘That’s not what I mean,’ she sighs, then looks down at Rae’s hands again. Rae glances over at me, and I raise my eyebrows.
‘I see an elderly woman,’ says Lilly. ‘She’s very sweet and kind. She meant a lot to you but now she’s gone.’
Rae shakes her head.
‘No. I … er…’
‘You loved her very much and now she’s passed. But she wants you to know she still loves and cares for you. She wants you to know it doesn’t matter any more – if that makes sense? Let it go. Let it all go and just follow your heart. She’s nodding! That’s it! She wants you to let go and move on.’
Suddenly Lilly winces and sits back on her heels.
‘I’m sorry. I can’t seem to do it today. I’ve got that pain again.’
Rae puts a hand on her shoulder.
‘Oh – now – that’s what we’re really here for! Come and sit down. You really should come with us to the hospital.’
‘No. I’m fine, honestly. Sorry. I think I overdid it.’
I get up from the sofa to make room for her.
‘I can see a dog round your feet,’ she says to me as we swap places. ‘An old, sick dog.’
‘Buzz!’ I say to her. ‘He’s fifteen and struggling a bit.’
‘Buzz,’ she says. ‘Yes. That’s it.’ She hugs her arms over her tummy and joggles her knees up and down. ‘It’s his hips, isn’t it?’
‘They’ve almost given out. I hope it’s not a bad sign. That you can see him, I mean.’
‘Don’t worry. He’s still around. He’s just projecting. He’s getting himself ready.’
‘So – about this pain,’ says Rae. ‘After everything you’ve said I really think you should come with us to the hospital, to see a doctor.’
‘How will I get back, though?’
‘I don’t know. Bus? Taxi?’
‘I’ve got no money.’
‘I’m sure we can figure something out. The most important thing is we get you some help.’
‘But I’ll be sitting up there for hours.’
‘The most important thing is you’re in a place of safety. There’s no-one here to look after you if things took a turn for the worse. At least if you come with us we can start to make things better.’
‘I don’t know,’ says Lilly, biting her nails. ‘Somehow I can’t see that happening.’