From where I stand on the other side of the street, the old terrace seems less like a row of houses than a long, defensible wall, striped in different coloured paint, chequered with windows, crenellated eaves running along the top like battlements and regular breaches in the wall at the bottom for the steps that lead up from the pavement to each double porch.
At least the gaps are numbered. I go up the steps to Mary’s house. It takes a little searching around with my flashlight to find Mary’s keysafe. In the end I pick out the hunched black shape of it, clinging to the wall behind the drainpipe like a species of giant mussel.
The door opens so easily I hardly need the key.
A cry from upstairs.
I hit whatever switches I can find and head up.
Mary is sitting on the floor of the bedroom where she fell, her plastic over-knickers round her ankles, an upturned commode behind her. When I come into the room and turn on the light, she moves her whole face in my direction. On or off, it makes no difference. Mary’s lost her sight years ago.
‘Have you hurt yourself, Mary?’
‘No. No. Well, a bit, but I don’t want to go to hospital. Have I made a terrible mess? Has it gone everywhere?’
I pick the commode up and set it back on its legs. Incredibly, a great wad of tissue in the bowl has combined with the generous rim to keep the contents inside.
‘No – you’re fine,’ I tell her, putting the lid back on. ‘But it was a close run thing.’
‘I can’t believe that,’ she says. ‘It tipped right over.’
‘There’s nothing on the carpet.’
I ask her more questions about the fall. It seems she got a bit tangled when she went to stand up, and went down hard on her bottom. I give her a few exploratory prods and get her to move her legs. She says she’s not in any pain.
‘How do you feel about standing up?’
‘I just don’t know how I’m going to do that.’
She’s not at all heavy, so it’s not too bad. I crouch down, take a firm grip and we stand up together. Once we’re vertical Mary winces, staggers a little, grips tightly on to my arms.
‘Oh – oh!’
‘I won’t let you go,’ I tell her. ‘I promise. Let’s get you sat on the bed. It’s just a couple of feet to your left.’
She can only take tiny steps, dragging her right leg awkwardly.
‘That’s uncomfortable for you, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, a little, but – I’ll be fine.’
I help her onto the bed, drape some blankets around her, prop her up with a stack of cushions.
The pain appears to be deep in the crease of her groin.
‘You’ll need an X-Ray,’ I tell her.
‘Such a stupid thing to do,’ she says. ‘I’ve only been home a month. It was my breathing, last time.’
She tells me she lives in the house alone, with carers coming in four times a day.
‘What’s your mobility like normally?’
‘A bit iffy. Well, I am ninety, so I suppose it’s to be expected. I have a stick of course, but it takes me a good while.’
I radio for a truck. Luckily there’s one nearby, so it won’t be long. Meanwhile, I fill in some details and take a few obs.
‘Can you tell John next door I’m going in? And Wanda on the left? I know it’s early but they’ll both be up. They’ll worry otherwise. And could you let the care agency know I won’t need them? It’s a lot to ask and I’m so sorry to be a nuisance.’
‘When the crew gets here we’ll sort everything out.’
She looks at me with her filmy eyes, and moves her head very slightly from side to side.
‘Thank you so much for all you’ve done,’ she says.
And she holds out her hand.