Turns out, she was there all along.
I’d been ringing the doorbell, rapping the knocker, phoning the landline – nothing. There was a keysafe on the wall by the downpipe, but no-one back in the office had the number.
‘You might have to consider calling the emergency services,’ the co-ordinator told me.
‘And kick the door down?’
‘What if she’s on the floor and can’t get up? She lives with her son, Simon, but he’s obviously not in or he’d have answered.’
‘I’ll take another look. Maybe there’ll be a window open somewhere.’
When I go back to the house, I ring the bell one last time.
The door opens.
If I didn’t know better I’d think the man had walked straight out of make-up, on the set of ‘Clown Apocalypse’. He has tufts of orange hair poking out left and right of a scurfy pate, heavy lids, a pendant line of drool, a torn t-shirt caked in spaghetti sauce and a pair of soiled trackie bottoms.
‘Oh! Hello! Is Marjorie in?’
He doesn’t respond.
‘Marjorie? Your mum?’
He sways a little. Has he fallen asleep?
From behind him, an anxious voice.
Who is it, Simon? Simon – who is it?
He steps aside, revealing a plump, pale owl of a woman, thick black rimmed glasses, mouth in an O of anxiety.
‘I didn’t think you’d ever get here,’ she says.
‘I’ve been outside for a while but no-one answered.’
‘You were supposed to be here at three,’ she says. ‘I didn’t know what to do.’
‘Sorry. But I’m here now. Shall I come in?’
Simon lets go of the door and shuffles back into the sitting room and topples back onto the sofa. The TV is blaring at top volume – Judge Grinder – camping up a judgement on a broken wardrobe and a broken family.
‘They sent a new blister pack but I don’t know what to take,’ says Marjorie, following behind me so closely I have to take a step forwards to turn round.
‘I’ll have a look for you, Marjorie.’
‘Write it all down,’ she says. ‘On this pad. In big letters, so I can read it.’
‘I said no worries. I can do that for you.’
‘Big letters. Because I am worried. Dreadfully worried. I’m sick with worry.’
‘Just have a seat and I’ll see what’s what.’
‘Do you mind if we turn Judge Grinder down?’
I look at Simon, who doesn’t respond. He looks like he’s been watching TV for twenty years without a toilet break. I excavate the remote control and turn it down.
‘There! That’s better!’
It looks like Marjorie has been prescribed some morphine patches. I read the instructions, then go to put one on her arm.
‘But the pain’s in my back,’ she says.
‘I know. The medication gets absorbed through the skin.’
‘On my arm?’
‘But the pain’s in my back.’
‘Yep. You see, what happens is, the pain-relieving drug sinks into the skin, and makes the pain – erm – go away. It doesn’t need to be on your back.’ I try a different tack. ‘You swallow pain killers at the moment, and that helps your back, doesn’t it?’
‘I haven’t had any tonight. Should I have some now, d’you think?’
‘That’s not what the pharmacist is saying.’
‘What’s the pharmacist saying?’
‘To put this patch on your arm.’
‘But what about my back?’
‘I think this’ll help.’
I stick it on, pat it for luck and toss the wrappings.
‘I’m just going to have a look at your new blister pack, Marjorie,’ I tell her. ‘You stay here and rest.’
I go into the kitchen. Judge Grinder returns to top volume.
I find the pack on the table amongst a litter of crap. When I turn round, Marjorie is right behind me.
‘Write it down!’ she says. ‘In big letters! So I can read it!’