goldilocks (ret.)

For someone starving themselves to death, Rita has a remarkably healthy appetite.
‘I fancy some porridge. Do you know how to make it?’ she says.
‘I normally use a saucepan, but I can follow instructions.’
‘Good man,’ she says. ‘Not too hot,’ and settles back in the chair to sip her tea.
‘Sorry about the mess in the front garden,’ she says, nodding at the patio doors, ‘but I’m having some people in to do it up. It’s going to be a terraced affair. Two levels, one for sitting, one for planting. It’s quite a sunny spot. Think Mediterranean.’
‘Lovely.’
I tear open a sachet of two minute oatmeal porridge, empty it into a bowl, fill the sachet to the line with milk, give it a stir and put it in the microwave for two minutes. The microwave hums and turns, and an aroma of warming milk and golden syrup fills the little kitchen.
‘How often do you see your family?’ I ask her over my shoulder, washing up the few things on the sideboard.
‘Hardly at all. One’s in Australia and the other’s in Canada.’
‘Oh. Any grandchildren nearby?’
‘Michael’s in London, but he’s so busy, poor chap. I don’t think he’s got time for himself, let alone an old fool like me.’
The microwave dings ready. I take out the bowl, give it a stir, put it on a tray with a spoon and take it through.
‘Set it down there, would you?’ she says, waggling a finger at the kitchen trolley. ‘It’ll need to cool for a bit.’
She adjusts her position in the chair and then immediately sinks down again in a movement that’s more deflationary than anything else.
‘I’m done,’ she says.
‘What d’you mean, done?’
‘Finished. Kapput. What’s the point?’
‘I’m sorry you’re feeling a bit low. Have you spoken to anyone about it?’
‘Like who?’
‘I don’t know. The doctor?’
She laughs.
‘They’ll just put me on funny pills. No – I know exactly what the problem is. Old age! That’s why I won’t eat, you see. I simply don’t want to carry on.’
‘But look at your lovely garden, Rita. Think how great it’ll be when it’s done and you can sit outside in the sunshine and eat your porridge.’
‘Is it cool enough, d’you think?’
I move it around with the spoon.
‘Give it a go and see.’
I pass it to her. She takes a speculative mouthful.
‘Mmm!’ she says. ‘Just right!’

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