Helen is sitting comfortably in her favourite chair, wired up to the Lifepack, her arm in a BP cuff, her finger in a SATS probe, pinching a tissue in her other hand to the pin-prick where we took a sample of blood. She seems quite content though, like a melancholy queen surrounded by disappointing courtiers. There are four of us in attendance: Rae, me, and Helen’s two neighbours, Martin and Sheila, a bright, elderly couple, striding from the kitchen to the sitting room with tea, toast and information.
‘I think Helen’s son Richard’s the nearest, but it’s still a fair stretch for him to come.’
‘Diane’s had more to do with everything.’
‘Yes, but she’s in Spain. I hardly think she’s going to fly back today.’
‘If I know Richard, he’ll be straight down in the car.’
‘They’re both so good.’
‘It’s just getting very difficult for them. For everyone.’
‘Do you want me to call Richard?’ says Martin, picking up the phone. ‘I’ve got his number right here.’
‘Let’s just figure out what we’re going to do next, then we’ll give him a call,’ says Rae.
‘Right you are.’
‘Oh, don’t bother Richard,’ says Helen. ‘He’s got enough on his plate.’
All her observations are fine. Any chest pain she may have had early that morning has resolved. There’s nothing on the ECG, and nothing of concern anywhere else. I start taking everything off.
‘Good,’ says Helen. ‘Now I can have my breakfast in peace.’
‘It’s a bit of a worry,’ says Sheila, standing in the doorway, drying a cup. ‘Helen did have more care organised, but cancelled it because it was costing too much.’
‘I think not taking the medication has been a factor,’ says Rae. ‘Stepping the care back up would be good. The GP should co-ordinate all that, but we’ll certainly do our bit to flag it up.’
‘Could you? That’d be great’ says Sheila, ducking back into the kitchen.
‘I fed chips to the dead once,’ says Helen, calmly taking another bite of toast.
‘Oh? Hello!’ says Martin. ‘Hallucinations! Tick that box.’
‘So what happened?’ says Rae, sitting back a little, her pen poised over the clipboard. ‘Where was this?’‘Oh, years and years ago. I was with my friend Rose. We’d bought a bag of chips each and we were eating them outside the shop when I said why don’t we go and sit somewhere comfortable? So we went over the road into the churchyard. We sat down on this old tomb by the side of the church, and started eating our chips. All of a sudden, this big, booming voice come up from the ground and it said: Those chips smell nice. Give us a couple. Well of course Rose dropped her bag and ran off screaming. I wanted to see what happened though. So I said to the voice: “How’m I supposed to do that, then?” and the voice said: Just pass them down. And the next thing you know, these two hands come up through a grille at the bottom. So I passed them the chips Rose dropped, and they seemed quite happy with that. Well, when I finished my bag, I thought I’d look into it all. So I went round the front and I knocked on the church door. After a while the vicar came out and I said “I’ve just been feeding chips to the dead people in your graveyard” “Oh?” he said. “That’s interesting. And very kind of you, I might add.” So then what he did was he said: “I think I can shed some light on this strange occurrence. But only if you’re feeling brave. Are you feeling brave?” I said I was, so he said “Good. Follow me.” So he led me through the church, through some big old gates at the back, down some steps and in to the crypt underneath the church. We went along there a ways to another set of gates at the far end, and there were two workmen, sitting on a pile of bricks eating Rose’s chips.’