When Vera finally answers the phone I tell her how relieved I am.
‘Sorry,’ she says. ‘I was chatting to Dolly. She’s my darling little sis’ and I love her to bits but she doesn’t half go on.’
‘I’m just glad everything’s all right, Vera.’
‘What d’you mean? Why wouldn’t it be?’
‘I was worried when I couldn’t get through. I thought you might have knocked the phone off the hook or something. I thought you might be lying on the floor.’
‘Well I did have a fall,’ she says. ‘But that was last year.’
‘I thought for a minute I might have to kick the door down.’
‘Kick the door down? Why would you do a thing like that?’
‘How else would I get in?’
‘I’d come and let you in.’
‘You wouldn’t be able to, not if you were on the floor.’
‘But I’m not on the floor.’
‘Anyway – you couldn’t come and let me in, could you? It’s absolutely freezing out here.’
‘Out here. Outside your front door. I’ve been ringing and knocking for the last twenty minutes.’
‘I haven’t heard anything.’
‘Never mind. Could you come and let me in?’
‘Well I’m looking out the window and I can’t see you.’
‘I’m at the front door.’
‘What do you mean, the front door?’
‘The door. At the front.’
And suddenly I realise what’s happened.
‘What number are you, Vera?’
‘Ninety. Why? What number are you?’
‘Eighty. Don’t worry. I’ll be with you shortly.’
A minute later I walk through a gap in a large privet hedge and see Vera waiting on the step with her ancient bull terrier Riley. The only difference between them – apart from height and number of legs – is that Vera is wearing a wig (apparently made of straw, and tilted at an angle, like a bonnet put on in a hurry), and Riley is completely bald.
‘There he is!’ says Vera, leaning down to tap Riley on the head.
Riley stiffens, leans forward to focus, then after giving me a wheezy kind of bark, pushes himself up, and turns to lead us all inside.
‘I bet you’re glad you didn’t go kicking down any doors,’ says Vera.
‘Oh – I would’ve tried a few other things first.’
She laughs, and when Riley turns to look at me, I could swear he raises an eyebrow.