weather report

I trip the alarm as soon as I open the door. The call box on the table just inside beeps and squawks, and then a voice booms out:
Hello? Mrs Castle? Is everything all right?
– Yes. Hello. Sorry. It’s Jim, from the Rapid Response Team. I’ve come to see Mrs Castle for a health review.
Oh. Hello, Jim. That’s fine, then. Is everything okay there this morning?
(I can see Mrs Castle, lying facing me on the bed, hugging a pillow. She’s smiling dreamily, raising her head from the pillow, ready to get up)
– I’ve only just got here, but she seems okay.
Great. I’ll close the call then. Have a good morning.
– You, too. Bye.
The box beeps and whines again for a second, and then the red light goes out.
I shut the door behind me and go further in.
‘Hello! Good morning, Mrs Castle! I’m Jim, from the Rapid Response Team at the hospital. I’ve come to see how you are today.’
She sits up and puts the pillow aside.
‘What’s the weather like?’ she says.
‘A bit misty and murky,’ I tell her. ‘At least it’s not cold, though.’
‘Shall I make you a cup of tea?’
‘That’d be nice.’
‘Half a spoon.’
‘Won’t be a mo.’
I go through to the lounge, put my bag down and then on into the kitchenette to make some tea. There are laminated signs stuck to various doors and objects. Don’t put anything under here on the grill; The carers are doing your meals on the microwave (turned off at the plug with a note over that, too);  Don’t go outside on the patio doors.
Whilst the kettle’s boiling I go back into the bedroom to help Mrs Castle into her dressing gown. She holds both my hands as we walk together into the lounge, where I settle her into her favourite chair.
‘What’s the weather like?’ she says.
‘Not so nice today. A bit dreary. Not like yesterday, with all that sunshine. Maybe it’ll perk up later, though.’
‘Let’s hope so,’ she says.
‘I’ll get you that tea.’
‘Tea? Oh you are good. Half a sugar.’

Once she’s settled with her tea I start getting ready for the examination, setting out all the forms I’ll need, writing her name and date of birth on the top, the time of the visit and so on.
‘Where were you born?’ she says.
‘Pimlico. Just off the Vauxhall Bridge road.’
‘What about you?’
‘Camberwell,’ she says.
‘I’ve only been there once,’ I tell her. ‘I can’t remember much about it. Seemed like a nice place, though.’
‘It was a nice place’
‘Did you work there?’
‘I was a machinist.’
‘Making what?’
She laughs.
‘Now you’re asking!’ She takes a sip of tea. When she puts the cup back on the saucer she says: ‘What’s the weather like?’
‘I’ll show you – look.’
I draw back the curtains. The earlier, heavier fog has lifted into something thinner and more vaporous. I watch the commuter traffic nudging in one unbroken line along the coast road, from the gently irradiated banks of cloud to the east, to the darker outlines of the city to the west.
‘A duvet day, if ever there was one,’ I say, going back to my chair.
‘Oh dear!’ says Mrs Castle, taking another sip of tea.
‘Shall I get the examination over with? It’ll only take five minutes. And then I can make you a nice big bowl of porridge.’
‘Right you are.’
I take her pulse, SATS reading, count her resps.
‘What’s the weather like?’ she says.
‘Not too bad. I’ve seen worse.’
‘Where were you born?’
‘London. Pimlico. Behind the Tate.’
‘Were you? I was born in Camberwell.’
I suddenly remember that one of the guys I used to play softball with lived in Camberwell. He bought a tiny flat in the basement of an old fever hospital there. It used to be the mortuary, he told me, running his hand appreciatively along the curved walls.
‘Nice place, Camberwell,’ I tell her. ‘I like London. It’s just so expensive these days. My eldest sister’s still there, though. In Ladbroke Grove. You know. To the West.’
I put the blood pressure cuff round her arm.
‘What’s the weather like?’ she says.
‘Not great,’  I tell her.  ‘Still making up its mind.’
‘Is it? Well I wish it’d hurry up!’ she says.
‘Your blood pressure’s fine,’ I say, taking off the cuff and rolling it up. ‘You’re fitter than I am.’
‘You look all right to me,’ she says.
‘You’re welcome.’
‘I’ll see to that porridge.’
There are sachets of instant porridge in a cupboard marked Let the carers do this for you. There’ll be here soon. It’s quite fiddly, tearing off the top of the sachet, emptying the oats into a bowl, filling the sachet to the dotted line with milk and then pouring it into the bowl without spilling it everywhere. When it’s finished the two minutes, I have to add more milk to thin it out, stirring carefully because the bowl is actually just a little too shallow. Once it’s just right, I take it through and set it up at the table, putting out a clean spoon, and a square of kitchen roll folded into a triangle.
‘There you go!’ I say. ‘Breakfast is served. I can make you some toast as well if you like.’
I help her out of the chair and over to the table.
‘Lovely!’ she says.
I sit opposite, writing out my notes as she eats.
After a couple of mouthfuls she gently rests the spoon on the edge of the bowl, places her hands in her lap, and sits back in the chair.
‘All right?’ I say. ‘Not too hot?’
‘Just right!’ she says.
‘You’re welcome, Goldilocks!’
She smiles at me, the light in her eyes as delicate and evanescent as the mist passing by the window. Then she gives herself a little shake, and picks up the spoon again.
‘What’s the weather like?’ she says.

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