I let myself in using the key from the keysafe.
Hello? It’s Jim, from the Rapid Response Team.
Everything cold and quiet. A family home, once upon a time, but the family gone these past twenty years, and nothing left of them now but a spread of photos on the wall and a large suitcase placed sideways on the third stair up, like an improvised baby-gate.
Mary is sitting in her armchair in the front room, anxiously looking over the sides, feeling down the cushions, in her pockets.
‘My watch!’ she says. ‘I can’t find my watch!’
‘Let me help you.’
The watch is on her wrist.
‘Here! You’re wearing it!’
‘Where did you find that?’
‘You already had it on.’
She grumbles and fusses with the strap of it, then seems to lose interest and ends up staring out of the window.
‘What a lovely garden,’ I say, sitting down opposite her with the yellow folder on my lap. ‘Now then. Let’s have a quick read…’
‘Have you come to help me?’
‘Yes. I’m from the hospital. I’ve come to see how you are and what we can do for you.’
Mary’s Alzheimer’s is quite advanced. She has carers three times a day but I’m surprised she manages with that. Apparently the son has approached the council about the possibility of a live-in carer, but the prospect of that happening anytime soon isn’t great. Over on the bookshelf there’s a stack of ambulance report forms. Mary plainly isn’t safe. She has no short term memory, and keeps coming back to the same things. With her wild hair, sharp blue eyes and scratchy voice she reminds me of a character from a book – Ben Gunn, the pirate who was marooned for years on Treasure Island. It wouldn’t surprise me if she asked if I had any cheese about me, but as it turns out, she’s too focused on her watch to worry about food, something that her extreme frailty emphasises. When I help her to transfer to the commode, it’s like lifting an old woman made of straw.
Later, when I’ve finished the examination and I’m searching through Mary’s folder for more information, I ask her what she used to do for a living before she retired.
‘Shorthand typist!’ she says with unexpected clarity, leaning forwards and holding her hands out on the home keys of an invisible keyboard suspended in the air between us. She wiggles her fingers a little, then relaxes back into the chair.
‘That’s an impressive skill,’ I tell her. ‘Who was that for?’
‘Who did you do all that typing for?’
She stares at me along the sharp ridge of her nose for a while, her mouth slack, and gradually the distance re-establishes itself between us again.
‘Where’s my watch?’ she says at last, and leans over the side of the chair to look for it.