Astrid has everything to hand: a copy of The Times, two homemade jam tarts on a plate covered with cling-film, a box of tissues, her nursing file, a radio, telephone, notepad and pen, and on a trolley just to the side of the bed, a jug of squash and a glass with a bendy straw. Astrid is propped up on a generous cluster of pillows, and for extra support, the kind of velour neck-pillow people use on long flights.
All this elaborate comfort accentuates Astrid’s fragility. She’s like some priceless artefact in a museum, so fragile even the sunlight on her bedclothes looks too heavy.
After a great deal of talking and questioning and a full complement of observations, it appears that the only change today is that Astrid remembered something her doctor once said, something about not having to suffer in silence. So she pushed her red button, and the ambulance came. But actually there’s no change, no new pain or unusual symptoms. It was more that she had forgotten what her situation was, and needed the whole thing explaining again. The other precipitating factor might be that her daughter Stephanie has gone on an afternoon shopping trip, and Astrid was unsettled by the thought she couldn’t be reached. For whatever reason, we’re here now, kneeling either side of her bed, doing what we can to reassure her that everything will be okay.
‘Look – do have a seat’ she says, gesturing with her fleshless arms to an empty space over by the window.
‘This is fine’ I say. ‘ I quite like it, actually. Your bed makes the perfect desk.’
‘You’re sweet,’ she says. ‘But what about a drink? I believe there are some cold cans in the fridge...’
‘Thanks Astrid, but we’re fine. We’ve only just had a cup of tea.’
‘Well. If you’re sure.’
‘How are you feeling now?’
‘Oh...’ She rests her head back and closes her eyes. ‘The usual. Falling, falling...’
Suddenly the front door opens and someone calls hello.
Stephanie comes into the bedroom, drops her bag by the door, takes a big, steadying breath, then sits down carefully on the bed.‘Well,’ she says, the flesh of her hand contrasting with the bones of her mother’s. ‘I didn’t get very far, did I?’