a woman of substance

Nothing has changed in the few months since I was last here. Rene is still sleeping on her sofa, wearing as many clothes as she can, the whole ensemble bound together beneath a vast red towelling bath robe; there’s a commode to the right of her, a radio to the left; a pile of extra-large print Barbara Taylor Bradford romances on the floor, and a line of dusty faced dolls watching over the scene from their various shelves around the room. Even if Rene’s swollen legs would function sufficiently to allow her upstairs to the bathroom, she wouldn’t be able to lift them into the bath, and even if she could, there’d be no point, because the bath is filled with more junk than the sitting room.
‘How are you, Rene?’
‘I’m very well, thank you. Not bad. Now – don’t go moving anything or I won’t know where I am…’
She doesn’t allow for much in the way of help. Every so often she experiences another crisis, the GP refers to us, and we go through the same fruitless attempts to get her to accept equipment, physiotherapy, medical interventions – a tidy up, at the very least. I’m fit enough but even I have a job picking my way through to the kitchen to make a cup of instant chicken noodle soup.
‘Just put it down there,’ she says. ‘Lovely. I don’t suppose you can you find volume four of A Woman of Substance? I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t read.’

After I’ve completed the examination and made my notes, I ask if there’s anything else she needs.
‘No, thank you,’ she says. ‘So long as you’ve made sure all the doors are closed upstairs.’
‘Yep. All shut.’
‘Good,’ she says. ‘That’s it, then.’
I shake her hand.
‘Happy New Year, Rene.’
‘And a Happy New Year to you,’ she says. ‘Are you out celebrating tonight?’
‘Only at home. I’m working tomorrow.’
‘Shame,’ she says. ‘I’m having a party.’
‘Are you?’
‘Yes,’ she says, waving volume four in the air. ‘A party for one.’

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