There’s no reply when I knock so I push the door open and walk in.
Stella is sitting in her wheelchair with her back to me, bent over with scoliosis, her hair a halo of white in the bright sunshine. It’s not surprising she didn’t hear me. Her hearing is poor at the best of times, but with The Rolling Stones playing at top volume on the radio I had no chance of making myself heard.
‘Stella? Hello – it’s Jim. From the Rapid Response…’
I walk over and gently tap her on the shoulder. She starts a little, then wheels herself round on the spot to look at me.
‘Hello!’ I say, leaning in and waving.
Just a minute…
She reaches over and with shaking hands pulls the lead out of the radio.
There she says. That’s better. Now then. Start again.
‘I’m Jim. From the Rapid Response.’ I shake her hand. ‘I’ve come to see how you’re getting on.’
Her wheelchair is adapted in the most extraordinary way. A wooden box stuck on the front with insulating tape. Pockets for things. It’s like a mobility aid from an apocalyptic future. Mad Max in a retirement home.
Let’s go through she says.
She scoots forward at an alarming rate, finely judging the width of the doorframe, and when I take a seat at the table she spins round to face me.
Now she says, edging forwards like a cameraman going for the close-up. Who did you say you were?
The expression on her face is extraordinary, half smile of welcome, half gurn of delight, everything intensified by the round and otherwordly colouration of her cataracts, and her ninety-five year old skin. She reminds me of Waldorf – or maybe Statler – one of the two old codgers in The Muppets who sat up in the Balcony and made fun of the show.
It’s kind of you to come! she says, and pats me on the hand.
After the examination we’re chatting about this and that.
Of course, you know how I lost my legs she says, as casually as someone describing how they lost their umbrella. I tripped over on the pavement, fell into the road and a lorry ran over them.
‘Oh my god!’ I say. ‘That’s dreadful!’
Luckily it was outside a surgery. A doctor came running out with something for the pain. Everyone was very kind. And now here we are, ten years later!
‘However did you cope?’
Well – these things happen. I used to work in a hospital during the war, so I know how it is. Anyway – have you got everything you came for? How am I looking?
‘You’re looking amazing!’
Amazing? I don’t know about that! I’m ninety-five! I think my amazing days are over.