Gloria Ellery welcomes me like a son, even though we’ve never met.
‘Richard! Look who’s here!’ she cries, clapping her hands together, her eyes shining. ‘Come in! Come in! He’s upstairs, if you’d like to follow me…’
She turns and starts to climb, pulling herself forwards on the handrail, cheating the swing of her arthritic left hip as much as the stairs will allow, her support stockings swishing and creaking like someone in a wet suit.
‘I’m afraid he’s not the easiest of patients,’ she wheezes. ‘We’re all finding it a bit much. That bloomin’ cast – it makes everything so damned awkward.’
‘Language..’ says a voice above us.
‘Well it does,’ she says.
I get the story on the way up. How Richard fell in the supermarket a few days ago. (He slipped on a grape. There was a kid riding in a trolley tucking into a bag of them. Gloria wondered whether it was one of hers. Not that it mattered, of course. These things happen). Richard fell onto his outstretched hand. They knew straightaway he’d broken his arm.
‘You could see the dip,’ she says, stopping just long enough to describe an elegant swoosh in the air.
Richard is standing waiting for us in the middle of the bedroom, his arm in a sling.
‘Wounded soldier, reporting for duty,’ he says, saluting with his good arm. ‘Pleased to meet you.’ And he holds out his hand for me to squeeze.
I tell him I’ve come to take his blood pressure and so on, and also to see if he needs any help with washing or getting ready for bed.
‘Oh, I think I can manage well enough,’ he says.
‘Now, Richard,’ says Gloria. ‘We both know that’s not true. You’ve had terrible trouble with that cast and I think it’s about time you accepted some help.’
‘Yes but – I don’t like to put anybody out.’
‘It’s no trouble, Richard. I know you might find it a bit embarrassing to begin with, but everyone needs a little help now and again. Don’t worry on my account. I’m used to it.’
‘Put him in his boxers and dressing gown for now,’ says Gloria, shaking out some fresh clothes from the laundry basket. ‘And a little shave wouldn’t go amiss.’
Richard still struggles with the idea that someone should help him dress.
‘Don’t worry,’ I say. ‘Just close your eyes and imagine you’re Louis Fourteenth of France. Or is it Sixteen? I lose count. Anyway – that guy – the Sun King – the guy who held out his arms and had everything done.’
‘We’ll go with fourteen,’ says Richard. ‘Sixteen was – you know – grrrccch…!’ He raises his cast and makes a little sawing motion in the general direction of his neck.
‘Or King Farouk!’ he says, following me into the bathroom.
‘I’ve not heard of him.’
‘Egypt,’ he says, ‘World War Two. Look him up.’
He stares at himself in the bathroom mirror whilst I run some water.
‘Equally useless,’ he says.