candid camera

With the rail at the bottom of the stair lift extended, there’s no room to open the front door. So I stand outside watching through a window as Mrs Michaels rides down, her son Lionel behind her with one hand resting on her shoulder to keep her in place. Once the chair reaches the bottom – after such an inching, infinitesimal glide it feels less like the chair moving and more like me growing – there’s a great deal of chivvying and coaxing and psychological game-play to get her onto her feet and far enough forwards so Lionel can put the chair into reverse and re-activate the folding mechanism.
He hits the button.
The rail judders and flexes back into position.
He opens the door.
‘Sorry about that!’ he says, breathing hard. ‘Bad timing!’

I follow them into the front room.

You’d never put them as mother and son. Mrs Michaels is a tiny silver mouse of a woman, with pinched features and uncertain blue eyes; Lionel is enormous, his t-shirt riding up over his belly, his palms pointing backwards as he walks, and a friendly if rather dazed expression, like he turned to say hello and unexpectedly walked into a wall.
‘It’s been that kind of day,’ he says. ‘Everything happening at once. Not as bad as yesterday, though.’
‘Why? What happened yesterday?’
‘Well – we’d been waiting for this new fridge to be delivered. I had to pop out for an hour, but I made sure I was back for the time slot they said. When they didn’t show I rang them up. We delivered it they said. Er – no you didn’t I said. Er –yes we did. The driver got a signature and everything. So I said to them, I said Well how come I’m looking around and I can’t see no fridge? They said they couldn’t do nothing about that. They had a signature. The driver dropped it off. They’d fulfilled their side of the bargain. You’ll have to take us to court they said. Well for a start that doesn’t scare me, ‘cos of the job I used to do.’
‘What job was that?’
‘Bailiff. So anyway, I said Fine, then. See you in court. I think they were a bit taken aback by that. It’ll just be your word against ours they said. But I told them I had a secret weapon…’
He nods at the wall behind me. At first I think it’s just a normal flat-screen TV, but then I realise it’s divided into segments, each one a different view of the house, timed and dated.’
‘Smile! You’re on candid camera!’ he says, and then exhaling heavily through his nose, and tugging his t-shirt down,  and folding his massive arms across his belly, turns to look at his mum.
‘In’t that right?’ he says. ‘Candid Camera?’
But in a spooky way, although her eyes are open, and there’s a suggestion of a smile on her face, I think Mrs Michaels is actually asleep.

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