The silence in the old house is as palpable as the damp in that corner. Every wall and alcove is occupied with antique dolls, ceramic cats, books, pictures, musical scores – the hectic clutter of it all only emphasising the profound stillness. Marjorie is sitting in the living room in a high-backed, plush-rubbed chair, tucked to the side of the room’s main window. Light pours in from the street outside. She sits with her back to the wall, facing into the room. On the opposite side to her, in a prominent position amongst the bric-a-brac, is a portrait of Marjorie as a young girl. She may be seventy years older, but the smile is the same: an irregular triangle lain on its long side, like she’s wincing, breathing and passing comment all at the same time.
‘I can’t cook because I can’t stand for long.
I can’t remember the last time I had meat. It’s the basting, you see. I can’t stand to baste.
I was up the hospital with my foot the other week. The doctor arranged transport. Well, I say transport. It was more like a cattle run. I missed my appointment, of course, but they slotted me in. And then I was waiting three and a half hours for a ride back. Three and a half hours! I’ll never do it again. A woman whose husband still drives said she’d give me a lift back. But this person came running out and said “If you get in that car you’ll be struck off the list and never have transport again!” So there you are. That was that. But I will not be repeating the experience. I’ll have them come to me.
I’ve been off my food lately. I don’t really fancy much. A bit of salad or some fruit. A bowl of porridge – that’s my mainstay. They did arrange for meals on wheels to come round. But the carer at the time took off the lid and it was some kind of fish in a green sauce. I quite liked the look of it, but she said “No way you’re having that” , and she tossed the whole lot in the bin. So there you are. That was that. My one and only meal on a wheel.
The agency? No, they don’t come any more. They left a price list, you see, and when I rang up and queried the hours and the cost and so forth, she said “Well that’s what we do” and hung up. Amazing, really! I do have a girl who comes in to help with the shopping. Lovely thing. Blond, rushes about. She crashes through the door with a rucksack on her back and a shopping bag in either hand and I feel embarrassed to ask her to do anything else. She’s half dead as it is, poor thing.
Ever since the foot I’ve struggled to get out as much. I used to go to that place, you know, by the station. I used to sing songs from the musical hall and so on, although I took requests. I did something from The Phantom of the Opera, which went down well. But then my foot happened and now I’m stuck here all on my own and there you are. That was that.
Do you know of anyone who could come by for half an hour or so? This isn’t a friendly street. I’ve lived in this house fifty years, but these days I wouldn’t know who was right or left. Fifty years! Look at that postcard, no – the one by the jug. That’s what the street was like when it was first built. This house, then Jock’s on the corner, then the pub, then cows, fields and the sea. Now look at it. But there you are.
Just half an hour. I get a bit tired of my own company, d’you know?
You could tell them I have things here. Lovely garden. Board games of every description. Somewhere. Anyway – see what you think.’