The house has an up-to-the-edge perfection that makes me conscious of my boots. A colour scheme of white and cream, two vases of teasels and twigs left and right on the mantelpiece beneath a winter woodland scene; Lily-of-the-valley diffusers, down lights, corner lights, a polished and clutter free oak table, plumped cushions angled symmetrically on a sofa so sharp it could be chiselled chalk. Maggie is sitting in the middle; her husband Jim is standing behind her.
‘Hello,’ she says. ‘Sorry about the mess.’
Maggie has had chest pain since the early hours. She’s tried antacids, paracetamol, breathing exercises, but the pain has settled in and her left arm feels numb.
‘I know that can be a sign,’ she says, tailing off and staring down at the tissue in her hands. ‘I’m just worried about Jim.’
Jim has Alzheimer’s. He’s only been diagnosed a few months, and together they’ve been coping pretty well. The disease isn’t so far advanced that Jim is a danger to be left alone. He gets confused though, and it’s better if he has company.
‘My sister is on her way over. She might be a couple of hours,’ says Maggie.
‘Will Jim be okay until then?’
She nods, then turns round and smiles at him. ‘I think so. Won’t you? You’ll be all right?’
‘Oh yes,’ he says, smiling and folding his arms. Maybe it’s the contrast with the rest of the room, but his eyes seem incredibly blue. ‘I’ll be fine.’
Maggie is feeling dizzy, so she sends Jim upstairs to the bedroom to fetch down a few things – the t-shirt and sweat pants draped on the back of the dressing table chair, and a pair of knickers out of her drawer.
‘Any pair,’ she says. ‘Nothing too fancy.’
He walks out of the room and up the stairs.
A moment or so later Maggie says: ‘Would you mind going up and seeing he’s okay?’
Jim is standing at the foot of the bed. He’s opened all the dresser drawers and strewn the contents across the counterpane – tights, socks, knickers, camisoles. When I come into the room he’s standing with a belt in one hand and a bra in the other. He smiles at me, a little upset but still, on the surface, quite serene, his blue eyes bluer than ever.
‘There was something,’ he says. ‘I’m not sure...’