The house is a new-build – so new it feels more like a show home, the paintwork immaculate, grey slate unmarked on the kitchen floor, Lavender Sunrise drifting up from the plug-ins.
‘I didn’t want to call you,’ says Marion, closing the door behind us. ‘Bill only has a couple of weeks left. We’re really waiting on a bed at the hospice. But when I spoke to the doctor he said to get in touch to rule out a stroke.’
She leads us upstairs to the spare room. Bill is perched on the side of the bed, hands planted either side, breathing quickly, staring down at his bare feet like he’s watching them move further away.
He doesn’t look up.
‘Chest’s clear,’ says Rae, taking off her steth and looping it round her neck. ‘I don’t think it’s a stroke, Bill. All things considered I’d say you’ve probably got a UTI, but a urine dip will clarify. I think we can keep you out of hospital.’
‘Thanks,’ says Marion. ‘He called me a few choice names when he heard I’d called you.’
‘Let’s get you comfy on the sofa downstairs, then we’ll arrange for the GP to come out later.’
I walk backwards down the stairs in front of him, holding on to the banisters in case he pitches on to me. I offer him my hand at the bottom but he shakes his head and makes his own way, steadying himself against the walls. He lies down on the sofa in the lounge, and closes his eyes.
‘He gave me such a dirty look,’ says Marion, joining us in the kitchen. She takes a tissue from the tissue box on the counter and blows her nose. ‘It’s not easy.’
To the left of the tissue box is a bottle of Classic Coke; to the right, a cluster of medicine bottles and packets. Marion makes a small adjustment to the size order of the medicines, then tosses the used tissue into a shining bin.
‘Are you all right?’ says Rae.
‘I’ve got to be,’ she says. ‘It’s just – I don’t know. We both retired last year, bought this place. We had so many plans. Then my sister in law dies of cancer. My nephew was killed in a car crash. Bill gets sick. It’s just – everything’s happening at once.’
‘I’m so sorry,’ says Rae, putting down her pen and looking as if she’s about to give Marion a hug.
‘Don’t,’ says Marion. ‘Sorry. It’s just...’
She wets her lips, smiles, then lifts the kettle to check it’s got water in it, puts it back on its base and presses the switch.
‘I used to manage a nursing home,’ she says, putting out the cups, dropping a tea bag into each of them. ‘You’d think I’d be used to all this.’ Then she stops and stands quite still, staring at the blue lit water through the viewing port as it starts to bubble and boil.
‘Don’t think twice about calling us,’ says Rae. ‘We really don’t mind.’
‘You’re very kind,’ says Marion. ‘Everyone’s been so helpful.’
The kettle clicks off. She lifts it up and starts to pour water into the cups.‘Oh, well. At least I know what to expect,’ she says, carefully putting the kettle back on its base. ‘Milk and sugar?’