Agnes has being doing well up till now, considering her age. Thoroughly independent – bloody-minded, according to Stella, her great-granddaughter, who lets me in and shows me through to the bedroom.
‘My husband was a Jim,’ says Agnes, smiling sadly, reaching out to me.
‘It’s a sign! says Stella.
‘You’ve brought the cold in with you.’
‘I know. It’s pretty foggy out there.’
‘I can’t see a blessed thing out of the window. It’s like someone’s made off with the world whilst I was asleep.’
‘A real peasouper.’
She watches as I put my bag down and take my coat off.
‘You know, I couldn’t help thinking what we used to do with the horses when they were like this,’ she says.
‘Agnes and Jim had a veterinary practice,’ says Stella, sitting down on the other side of the bed and stroking her hand. ‘Didn’t you, nana?’
‘We did. Oh yes, we did. And I was just trying to remember what used to happen in similar circumstances.’
‘I can tell you exactly what used to happen, nana. You took good care of them in the stable, and you had them back out, running round the field in no time.’
‘Ah!’ says Agnes. ‘Yes.’
There’s a delay getting the equipment we need to the house; for now, Agnes is so frail it’s easy enough to slide her up the bed using the bottom sheet. Once she’s comfortable, I take the blood sample I’ve been sent round to collect.
‘Have you had much time off?’ she asks.
‘It’s been all right, thanks, Agnes. It’s worked out pretty well.’
‘We were always so busy over Christmas. But that was our life, you see, and we loved every minute of it.’
‘There! All done. You’re a model patient,’ I tell her, taping a square of gauze to the crook of her arm.
‘Am I?’ she says, gently touching the dressing with the tips of the fingers of her left hand. ‘Well – I should hope so, too.’
Back outside the freezing fog has lifted a little, and the low sun on the frosting gives everything a sharp, delicate quality, from the sagging strands on the cobweb strung from the porch light, to the last, dark apple at the top of that tree.
I get back into the car. I’ve only been gone half an hour and it’s already cold, so I turn the engine over to warm it up. After I’ve written out the blood form and the labels on the bottles and stashed everything neatly away, I take out my diary, note down the finishing time, and set off.
There’s a large field to the left of the road. I can make out two horses high up on the slope of it. They hardly look real, standing absolutely still, silhouetted against the irradiated glow of the fog. It would make a great photo, I think – but there’s nowhere safe to pull over and take a picture, even if I had the time. So I turn the heating up instead, and carry on to the hospital.